Alaska News

Three Weeks, No Flights: Diomede Residents Stranded without Mail, Food Deliveries

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-11 11:57

Little Diomede sits on the border of Russia and the United States. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm, August 25 2008.

The only aircraft flying to one of Alaska’s most remote communities has been down for maintenance for nearly three weeks—leaving residents of the Bering Strait community of Little Diomede with empty mailboxes, bare grocery store shelves, and no way on or off the island.

Andrea Okbealuk works at the Diomede school, and on Tuesday afternoon she was escorting children to lunch. The kids were eating alongside classmates, but also other members of the community, parents and aunties and grandfathers. No mail or cargo deliveries since Jan. 22 has left store shelves empty, and with no checks coming in the mail, wallets are thin and essentials hard to come by. So the school has opened its doors, serving nearly 300 lunches and dinners to Diomede residents since Saturday.

“In our store, it’s pretty bare. We do have a bunch of food here at the school, which will last for a while,” Okbealuk said. Hunters have been on the ice daily, she said, but strong winds, rough water, and poor ice conditions have made catching game difficult. “In our home,” she added, “I think the hardest part is having milk for the babies.”

Even with the school sharing its food, Okbealuk said, for mothers with young babies, no new stock on the shelves means there are few alternatives.

“It is hard when there’s no milk,” she said. “When you’ve switched your baby to regular canned milk to whole milk, to nonfat milk, to two percent milk, and then to nonfat milk again, and then now to powdered milk, it upsets the baby’s stomach.” She sighed. “A couple of us are going to that now.”

The needs go beyond the right food on the shelves. Late Friday night and into Saturday morning, an Army National Guard Blackhawk had to be dispatched to medevac a pregnant 18-year-old from Diomede to Nome’s Norton Sound Regional Hospital. While on the ground the Blackhawk crew and four medical providers were alerted to a two-month-old with an airway issue. That infant was identified as a “critical patient” and medevaced to Nome as well.

Diomede’s remote location means there are not many options when it comes to passenger and freight service to the island. Its unique geography—set along the shore of an island that’s little more than a mountain jutting sharply from the Bering Sea—means there’s no runway, save for the occasional ice runway that can be carved into the sea ice.

That leaves just one company, Oregon-based aircraft operator Erickson Aviation, that provides helicopter service to Diomede.That service is paid for with a $337,520 subsidy of federal and state dollars under the Essential Air Service program set up in 1978. Under the program, the federal Department of Transportation pays $188,760 for the helicopter service, with the rest of the money coming through Bering Strait regional nonprofit Kawerak.

Erickson’s program director Chris Schuldt said the company only keeps a single helicopter—a twin-engine Bölkow BO-105—for service to Diomede. That helicopter has been down for routine maintenance in Anchorage since its last flight to Diomede in January.

“We’ve had some maintenance on the aircraft, but the goal is to return it to service in the next one to two days,” Schuldt said Tuesday. “Pending weather, [the helicopter] will return to Nome and begin operations as soon as that’s complete, [and] make sure our aircraft are in the top condition before we begin flying passengers and cargo again.”

Shuldt said Erickson’s customers, including DOT, are aware of the company’s maintenance status and plans to return to service this week. Erickson also contracts with the U.S. Postal Service for weekly mail service to Diomede.

According to Kawerak’s Pearl Mikulski, who worked on the EAS contract for the nonprofit in the past, the contract requires Erickson to make a certain number of trips each year, but otherwise allows the company to set its own schedule when it comes to flights, as well as stoppages for weather and repairs.

Kawerak can do little, Mikulski said, beyond cautioning Erickson to use the funds in such a way as to ensure flights last all year. That’s an especially difficult proposition during winters with poor ice conditions, Mikulski added, as the contract assumes an ice runway for part of the year. Last winter, that ice around Diomede wasn’t thick enough to support a runway.

Andrea Okbealuk said, for her and the residents of Diomede, every day without a helicopter means people are closer to not having what they need.

“Some of us do have meds that were supposed to come a couple weeks ago,” she said. “I’ve had meds that I ordered a couple weeks ago, and I just ran out.”

She sighed again. “Hopefully, in the next few days, we’ll get chopper service here.”

This isn’t the first time Diomede has been without air service.Late applications for the Essential Air Service Grant caused service to lapse for more than two weeks in July.

Categories: Alaska News

For Yukon Quest Musher Lance Mackey, ‘Retirement’ Is A 4-Letter Word

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-02-11 11:44

Lance Mackey cooks up a snack for his dogs. (Photo by Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks)

Lance Mackey is currently running in 12th place on the Yukon Quest trail. He is the winningest musher in Yukon Quest history. The four-time champion is a cancer survivor and both his public and private life hasn’t always been positive. The lifelong musher knows he can’t run dogs the way he used to, but he may never be ready to hang up the harnesses.

In the 2013 Yukon Quest, Lance Mackey made it is far as Pelly Crossing. That year, the weather was too warm for his young dog team, they were sick and he decided to scratch. This year, conditions are nearly the opposite and Mackey is determined to cross the finish line.

“I ain’t going to let them down. My fans, my friends they might understand, but my dogs they don’t,” Mackey said. “We started this, we’re going to do everything we can to finish it.”

But many of Mackey’s competitors and some of his fans have voiced concerns about whether he can handle extreme cold, exposure and tough trail. Even he says his body isn’t holding up the way it used to.

“I don’t know what my future holds in these long distance races, but it looks like it’s going to be more challenging and that’s going to give me more satisfaction if I get to the end of this thing,” Mackey said.

For Mackey, ‘retirement’ may be a four-letter word. But he does say his priorities in racing have changed.

“I did my time, I achieved my goals and now its just about being in this sport as long as possible because I do love it and don’t know what the hell else I would do,” he said.

This is Mackey’s seventh Yukon Quest. He’s never finished lower than third place. Regardless of where he finishes this year, he says his dogs are still up front.

“Every team in this race, every dog team in front of me at the moment has dogs from my kennel,” I contribute to the success of these people and that’s something that just won’t ever go away.”

Mackey’s Comeback Kennel legacy began with a dog named Zorro, who finished the Quest as yearling back in 2001.

Mackey himself is still on the runners, driving teams from that line. And with more than 500 miles of trail ahead the former champion still has plenty of opportunity to claim a spot in the top-10.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Consider Repeal Of Some Credits And Subsidies

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 20:05

Every year, the state of Alaska forgoes roughly a billion dollars because of tax credits, subsidies, and fee exemptions. With the state facing a multi-billion dollar deficit, the Legislature is taking a closer look at these potential revenue sources.

A report by the Department of Revenue identified more than $40 million indirect expenditures for reconsideration, and another $446,000 for outright termination. Among the potential cuts are a discount to cigarette companies for putting stamps on their packaging that verify they have paid taxes, and a corporate income tax loophole that could encourage taxpayers to move assets to foreign subsidiaries.

At a House Finance committee hearing on Tuesday, Fairbanks Republican Steve Thompson described the report as a guide for legislators working to trim the state’s budget.

“This is going to be a valuable, valuable book to make people go back and take a look to see what kind of legislation we need to pass and what we need to repeal,” said Thompson.

Legislative and agency staff were careful to note that the value of a tax credit or subsidy may not be recovered in full if the measures are removed from the books.

While a bill to repeal some of these credits and subsidies has not yet been introduced, legislators are considering the possibility of an omnibus bill that could remove multiple items at once.

The report is the first assessment of the money the state forgoes from credits and subsidies. The reporting process was created last year as part of a bill establishing automatic sunsets for indirect expenditures.

Categories: Alaska News

In A Social Media Fracas, Walker Withdraws Appointee

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 20:02

Gov. Bill Walker has pulled the name of an appointee to the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Grace Jang, a Walker spokesperson, confirmed on Tuesday that Jeff Landfield’s nomination was withdrawn because of “disrespectful” and “misogynistic” images posted to his social media account.” Many of the photographs circulating through the Capitol featured Landfield in swim briefs while vacationing in Las Vegas. One photo showed Landfield with his hands on a woman’s chest, and another had him making a crude gesture using a bachelorette-party prop.

Landfield says he is “disappointed by the decision,” but that he does not want his removal to serve as a distraction from work in Juneau. The 30-year-old Anchorage resident also believes the reaction to the photographs may be the result of a generational divide between those who have grown up with social media and those who have not.

“This is probably a big part of the reason many people have no desire to get involved in public service,” says Landfield.

Landfield adds that he disagrees with the description of the photos as “misogynistic.”

Landfield currently chairs Anchorage’s Federation of Community Councils. In 2012, he attempted an unsuccessful challenge against Sen. Lesil McGuire in the Republican primary. McGuire currently chairs the Senate’s Judiciary Committee and had been assigned Landfield’s confirmation hearing. McGuire was not available for comment.

According to Walker’s spokesperson, Landfield was appointed at the recommendation of Craig Fleener, an Arctic policy advisor to the governor and his former running mate. As of Tuesday evening, Landfield had not been contacted by the Governor’s Office about his nomination.

Categories: Alaska News

NTSB Report on Wasilla Midair Crash Inconclusive

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 18:34

 The National Transportation Safety Board  has released a preliminary report on a January midair collision of two light planes.  

According to the report, released on Tuesday, eyewitnesses say the January 31 crash, in clear weather, occurred when the planes were flying at about the same altitude, one heading Southwest, the other Northwest. They collided at a 90 degree angle a few miles Southwest of Wasilla. The crash sent both pilots to the hospital with serious injuries.  NTSB Alaska Chief Clint Johnson:

 ”The information that is in the preliminary report does reflect what we know up to this point. We were able to interview a number of witnesses who actually saw the collision took place, and the airplanes basically came together right over the South Hollywood airstrip, just coincidentally. The collision took place anywhere between 1500 and 2000 feet. We are still trying to nail down exactly what the altitude was, but at this point right now, that is what the Trooper pilot was able to tell us.”

Both planes were Piper PA 18 Super Cubs. One was piloted by Levi Duell, 35, a state Wildlife Trooper, the other, by 53 year old Jeffrey Bara.

The damaged planes spiraled down into birch and spruce forest. Bara’s plane lost most of a wing after the collision, and his plane landed upside down.  

“The Trooper airplane after the collision had minimal elevator control, whereas the elevator controls the pitch of the airplane, the up and down basically. And however, he was able to regain limited control before going into the trees. The other plane, Mr. Bara’s airplane was not so lucky. It actually lost the entire right wing and descended in an uncontrolled spiral into the trees, ” Johnson says.

Johnson says that it is possible the pilots were not tuned to the same radio frequency. He says Duell transmitted his take off intention on a prescribed frequency for the area.

“Both of those radios were removed from each one of the wreckages and sent to our vehicle recorder lab, and they’ll be examining them to see if by chance they were on the same frequencies, but that is just a data point at this point right now. That is part of the investigation ”

The planes’ radios are being sent to NTSB facilities in Washington DC.

The actual cause of the crash will not be determined for months. Johnson says the NTSB tries to complete accident  reports within a year. He says midair collision are rare.  The last one in Alaska, in Talkeetna in 2011, took four lives.  

 

I’m Ellen Lockyer

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Weigh Exempting Alaska From Daylight Saving Time

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 17:12

A state Senate committee has advanced a bill that would exempt Alaska from daylight saving time.

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The bill, from Sen. Anna MacKinnon, moved from the Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

It would exempt Alaska from the annual time change beginning in 2017. That means Alaska would be five hours behind the East Coast, instead of four hours behind, from about March to November.

MacKinnon told the committee that there are health impacts associated with changing the clocks each spring and fall, and she wants to help Alaskans avoid those. Those include increased rates of heart attacks, suicide and traffic accidents in the spring, she said.

Under the Uniform Time Act, the state has the authority to exempt itself from daylight saving time, but not to change time zones entirely.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Seeks Delay In Tribal Sovereignty Case

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 17:10

Governor Bill Walker’s administration is seeking a delay in a long-running tribal sovereignty case, saying it wants to form a working group to explore policy issues and potential alternatives to continued litigation. But the tribes’ attorney says the state’s request for a delay is just a ploy to get around its loss in court.

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In an email, Department of Law Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills said the state is looking at ways to improve the State’s relationships with tribes and would rather reach out to stakeholders before launching further into litigation. She said a six-month delay would give the new administration time to consider other options, including a Congressional remedy.

Native American Rights Fund senior attorney Heather Kendall says her clients had hoped for a different approach from the new administration:

“Obviously they’re not happy with this. The Governor had indicated before the election that he would consider dropping the litigation altogether,” Kendall said. “This is clearly not the case based upon his recent actions. What he apparently is trying to do is put the case into limbo so he can look at potential Congressional alternatives, looking for a political fix.”

At issue is whether Alaska tribes have the same rights as Lower 48 tribes to put land into trust –a protected status that exempts lands from state jurisdiction, including taxation. In the 1970s, the Department of Interior Solicitor’s office issued an opinion that Congressional intent, as expressed in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, was that Alaska Native tribes not be allowed to put land into trust.

Four tribes and several individuals filed suit, and in 2013, the Washington, D.C. federal district court ruled that Alaska Native tribes retain their right to place lands in trust under the authority granted by Congress in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

In its motion requesting the delay, the state stated it has a good chance of winning its appeal of that ruling.

But Kendall says tribes won a solid court ruling that agrees with the tribes on all counts, and has the federal government on their side. She says the state is just trying to delay the results of a ruling it has little chance of winning on appeal.

“The state is seriously unlikely to succeed on the merits of an appeal and that is why the state has now shifted ground and asked to suspend the briefing in the appeal itself,” Kendall said.

Following the 2013 ruling, the Department of Interior issued final regulations allowing the Secretary to consider proposals to take lands into trust for Alaska tribes. The court directed the agency not to act on the petitions until appeals are decided.

Kendall says the tribes and individuals who brought the case should not have to endure further delay in final resolution of the issues, which have been pending in court since 2006.

“There have been several tribes that have applied and have petitions actually before the Secretary for consideration and who knows but it’s very possible the secretary is in the process of considering those petitions,” Kendall said. “I want to be clear in that although it may take a while for the Secretary to act upon those petitions once the stay is lifted, there are active petitions before the secretary even now.”

The district court may deny the state’s motion, allow a delay of six months or a delay of some period of time less than six months.

Categories: Alaska News

Honey Buckets Here For The Long Haul

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 17:09

Governor Tony Knowles wanted to put honey buckets into a museum. 20 years later, experts meeting in Anchorage recently heard that they’re not going anywhere soon.

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Categories: Alaska News

Brent Sass First Yukon Quest Musher To Reach Dawson

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 17:08

Brent Sass was the first musher to reach Dawson during the 2015 Yukon Quest. (Photo by Emily Schwing/KUAC)

Brent Sass was the first Yukon Quest musher to arrive today in Dawson City, the halfway point on the Yukon Quest trail.

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The 200-mile stretch of trail to Dawson City is the longest between official race checkpoints. Sass’s team overtook Hugh Neff’s when he blew through Pelly Crossing early Monday morning. Sass says he has been looking over his shoulder ever since, especially when overflow slowed his team just outside of Dawson.

“When I got in that overflow I was like, ‘uh oh, they’re going to catch up to me right here,’ but it was like 15 minutes and I got through it,” Sass said.

The 200-mile stretch of trail to Dawson City is the longest between official race checkpoints.

If he crosses the finish line in Fairbanks, Sass will win the Dawson award: four ounces of gold, valued at roughly $6,000.

“Oh the gold, I’m not going to talk about it until the finish line, because I had a little incident last year, but it’s great to be here, but my goal was never been to be here first, my goal has been to be to the finish line first and that’s still to happen and there’s a lot of work to do before then,” Sass said.

The first Yukon Quest musher to arrive in Dawson City is awarded 4 ounces of gold.

But, in order to keep the money, the team also has to finish the race. But, gold or not, mushers have to find a ways to get to Dawson with teams that can still be able to race on the Alaska-side of the trail.

Allen Moore’s team arrives in Pelly Crossing. (Photo by Emily Schwing/KUAC)

Allen Moore was explaining his race strategy when his alarm went off in the Pelly Crossing Checkpoint.

“Uh oh, it’s time to get up. Alright, I’m awake!” he said.

Moore says he’s only slept for two hours since the start, but because of the shorter mandatory layover in Dawson City, his team has had more rest than it did two years ago.

“We figured we probably need a little more rest going into 24 instead of 36,” he said.

Moore says he’s not so sure about is fellow competitors’ plans.

“It’s going to be something at the end of the race to see who has what left with three teams a couple of them especially running hundred plus mile legs at the race and we’ll see what they have at the end,” Moore said.

Early on, Jeff King ran his team for 100 miles straight to Braeburn.  Hugh Neff ran over a hundred miles straight between Carmacks and Pelly Crossing.  But Tagish musher Ed Hopkins says he is intentionally under-running his dogs.

“Whenever they feel like they want to really take off, I’ll just stop and I’ll just let them roll around until they ‘ll take off again slow and start climbing,” Hopkins said. “So when it’s time for me to let them go, I’m just going to let them go.”

Hopkins says that time won’t come until after he’s crossed the Alaska border.

It’s the kind of plan experienced Quest mushers execute well, which is frustrating for well-known Iditarod musher and Quest rookie Ray Redington Jr.

“In Iditarod, I kind of know where I’m at all the time, where here you’re just hoping you find the next spot,” he said.

More than half the race still lays ahead. The trail includes three major summits and it’s notorious for both jumble ice and overflow. Whether banked rest or early long runs will pay off remains unclear.

Categories: Alaska News

Seabird Decline Could Signal Drop In Ocean Productivity

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 17:07

(USGS Photo)

Seabirds are on the decline in the North Pacific, from the Western Aleutians to Vancouver Island. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey compiled and filtered the data of hundreds of thousands of surveys of different species conducted in the last 40 years to document the decline. They say the decline could signal a drop in the overall productivity of the ocean.

Gary Drew is wildlife biologist with the United States Geological Survey who spent more than a decade compiling the data set with a colleague. He says the overall trend was a decrease in seabird biomass of about two percent, but the decline varied from species to species.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 10, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 17:06

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Tax Credits, Subsidies Could Be Things Of The Past As Alaska Faces Multi-Billion Dollar Deficit

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Every year, the state of Alaska forgoes roughly a billion dollars because of tax credits, subsidies, and fee exemptions. With the state facing a multi-billion dollar deficit, the Legislature is taking a closer look at these potential revenue sources.

Lawmakers Weigh Exempting Alaska From Daylight Saving Time

Associated Press

A state Senate committee has advanced a bill that would exempt Alaska from daylight saving time.

Ethan Berkowitz Enters Anchorage Mayoral Race

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Former Democratic state legislator Ethan Berkowitz has entered Anchorage’s mayoral race. He announced his candidacy to a small crowd in midtown Tuesday afternoon.  He’s the ninth candidate to enter the pool.

Alaska Seeks Delay In Tribal Sovereignty Case

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Governor Bill Walker’s administration is seeking a delay in a long-running tribal sovereignty case, saying it wants to form a working group to explore policy issues and potential alternatives to continued litigation. But the tribes’ attorney says the state’s request for a delay is just a ploy to get around its loss in court.

Gov. Walker Pulls Alaska Commission Of Judicial Conduct Nomination

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has pulled the name of an appointee to the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Mat-Su Pursues Waste Solution

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The city of Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are wrestling over the problem of disposal of the Borough’s septic waste. A Borough waste treatment facility is years away, while Anchorage’s wastewater utility has had its fill of the Borough’s sludge.

Honey Buckets Here For The Long Haul

Johanna Eurich, APRN Contributor

Governor Tony Knowles wanted to put honey buckets into a museum. 20 years later, experts meeting in Anchorage recently heard that they’re not going anywhere soon.

Brent Sass First Yukon Quest Musher To Reach Dawson

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Brent Sass was the first Yukon Quest musher to arrive today in Dawson City, the halfway point on the Yukon Quest trail.

Seabird Decline Could Signal Drop In Ocean Productivity

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Seabirds are on the decline in the North Pacific, from the Western Aleutians to Vancouver Island. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey compiled and filtered the data of hundreds of thousands of surveys of different species conducted in the last 40 years to document the decline and say it could signal a drop in the overall productivity of the ocean.

Categories: Alaska News

Mat Su Pursues Waste Solution

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 16:59

The city of Anchorage and the Matanuska Susitna Borough are wrestling over the problem of disposal of the Borough’s septic waste.  A Borough waste treatment facility could be years away, while Anchorage’s wastewater utility has had its fill of the Borough’s sludge.   Back in the 1980s, the Borough did construct a waste treatment facility, in Houston, but the state shut it down due to groundwater impacts.  Since then, pump trucks have hauled Valley septic sludge to an Anchorage facility, and that’s not a solution, according to Helen Munoz.

Munoz is a dimunitive woman with an energy level that belies her 84 years. She’s at a local Palmer coffee shop, discussing one of the passions of her life : septic sludge and how to deal with it.

“Look at what we are doing to the ocean,  look at what we are doing to the ocean, look at what we are doing to Cook Inlet. Give me a break! Are people blind”

Munoz says too much human waste is going into Cook Inlet.   Munoz, who’s son still runs the family’s A1 Septic, has been in a decidedly unsexy business since her family moved to the Valley from  New York in the early 1970s. She says since that time, the Borough has built new schools, roads, not to mention thousands of houses to meet a growing population demand, yet has neglected one basic human need.. waste disposal.

“You don’t build a house and ask to use your neighbor’s bathroom for the rest of your life.”

Mat Su has no Borough -wide sewer system, although the cities of Palmer and Wasilla have their own sewers and treatment plants. Most residences in the Borough have septic tanks, which must be pumped out every year, or two. And the septic sludge, as it is called, is hauled to Anchorage in pumper trucks for treatment at municipal facilities.

Mike Campfield, an environmental engineer with the Borough, along with Munoz, is a member of the Borough’s wastewater and sewer advisory board.

“One of the projects that is at the top of our list of priorities is to develop a septage and leachate treatment facility. The board in the past has recommended that the Borough Assembly pursue funding in the form of both a grant and a DEC backed loan, ” he says.

In December, the advisory board approved a  Borough Assembly resolution authorizing the Borough to ask for a $22 million loan from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for design and construction of a sewage treatment plant in the Borough. Campfield says, there is still a long way to go on the project. But the arrangement the Borough has with Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility may be coming to an end. Brett Jokela is AWWUs’s general manager.

“We don’t have any deadline, we’re not going to turn them off. But on the other hand, we are not in control of the timeline for reauthorization of our permit, either,”  Jokela says. 
Jokela says the utility’s board wants to halt taking septage from the Valley. He says that decision is driven in part by the status of the utility’s EPA permit.

 ”We have a permit that was issued under a special authorization of the Clean Water Act section 301 H.  And section 301 H of the Clean Water Act allows for modification of the permits to provide for discharge of wastewater that has been treated to a primary degree, as opposed to a secondary degree.”

The EPA permit is up for reconsideration, normally a five year process, although there is no final determination yet.  Anchorage is one of a handful of cities with a water treatment waiver from the federal agency. The city’s largest plant, the Asplund plant at Point Woronzoff , must meet nine conditions that control toxicity to protect the marine environment. Jokela says the treated septage does not harm Cook Inlet’s waters.

“Once the discharge is mixed into the receiving water, it is essentially lost to our ability to detect it.”

Yet, the Valley septage is not in the best interests of the city, he admits, since it’s volume may jeopardize Anchorage’s permit, and that could cause expensive upgrades.

AWWU accepts about ten million gallons of septage a year from the Valley, about 45 thousand gallons a day during summer months when most people get their septic tanks pumped. AWWU charges pumper trucks $22 for a thousand gallons, and that cost is passed on to the consumer

 Meanwhile, the Borough is making progress toward getting it’s own facility. Mike Campfield says two possible sites are being evaluated at present, and he expects a decision by April.  And that’s good news for Helen Munoz, who has peppered the Borough Assembly for years with her comments in support of a Borough sewage plant.

 ”And I’m still the loud voice. I’m looking for the future, and nobody seems to care.. when they flush the toilet,  they don’t care. “

Borough studies have determined that it is most economical to construct a facility would also treat fluids that leach from the local landfill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Berkowitz enters Anchorage mayoral race

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 16:07

Ethan Berkowitz officially announces his candidacy to a group of supporters on Tuesday afternoon. Hillman/KSKA

Former Democratic state legislator Ethan Berkowitz has entered Anchorage’s mayoral race. He announced his candidacy to a small crowd in midtown Tuesday afternoon. He’s the ninth candidate to enter the pool.

Berkowitz says he wants to focus on improving public safety and strengthening Anchorage’s economy. He says solutions for Anchorage’s problems will happen at the local level and through public and private partnerships. He hasn’t held political office since 2007.

“I think my time outside of politics has given me a perspective that’s gonna be extremely useful because it’s given me a deeper understanding of what the fiscal needs are of the business community. We’re never going to solve Alaska’s problems simply by relying on government.”

Berkowitz says he’ll also be a passionate advocate for education and tap into state and federal resources to promote his goals.

“The first I’ll do is — I’ll advocate for this — I’m gonna try to find ways to get pre-K available to Anchorage’s people,” he told the applauding crowd who gathered to hear his remarks at Spenard Roadhouse.

The final filing deadline for the Anchorage race is on Friday. Berkowitz says he waited to file until former mayor and Senator Mark Begich decided not to run.

Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Police: Missing Hiker’s Body Likely Found on Pyramid Peak

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-02-10 12:39

Pyramid Peak in snow last winter, seen from the Unalaska Valley side of the trail. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

Unalaska police believe they’ve found the body of a hiker who went missing on Pyramid Peak on Sunday.

Jessica Acker, 33, apparently left Westward Seafoods for a hike near Pyramid on Sunday afternoon. She was reported missing when she didn’t return that night.

Late Monday afternoon, a search team spotted a person who appeared to have fallen down a snowy ravine. Unalaska police chief Jamie Sunderland says they believe it’s Acker, and have contacted her family.

But they weren’t able to recover the body or make a positive identification by nightfall.

“Conditions up there apparently were really horrible,” Sunderland said on Monday night. “Apparently visibility was limited to about 10 feet, [with] a lot of wet, blowing snow.”

He says the team will go back Tuesday morning to try again.

Acker was working as a fisheries observer with Alaskan Observers. Sunderland says she appears to have hiked around the far side of Pyramid, where there’s no cell service and even radio reception is patchy. The peak is 2,300 ft. tall, with miles of popular but sometimes treacherous hiking trails.

“Early on, the searching was a little more toward Westward, that side of Pyramid, but some folks had seen some tracks the day before out farther, beyond the gates out there,” Sunderland says. “So we shifted our search over there in the afternoon and, of course, the body was discovered quite a ways from there still.”

Sunderland says it’s not an easy trek — but he and Acker’s family also say she had plenty of experience hiking in Alaska.

Monday’s search lasted at least 12 hours and involved about a dozen public safety and Coast Guard officials and civilian volunteers, as well as a Coast Guard helicopter.

Categories: Alaska News

As Alaska Warms, Climate Change An Awkward Subject For Lawmakers

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 19:24

When it comes to climate change, Alaska is seen as a bellwether. Temperatures have risen nearly 4 degrees over the past 50 years, double the national average. But even though Alaska figures in discussion of climate change nationally, it’s rarely a major topic of conversation in Juneau. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez examines why.

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The last time legislation specifically focused on climate change was in 2006. There have since been energy efficiency bills, and air quality bills, and resolutions pushing back on air quality regulations, but nothing that gets at the massive, complicated issue of climate change.

So, it was a bit unusual to hear legislators air their opinions on the matter last week.

The discussion kicked off when Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican, led a press conference on a new report on Arctic policy.

“There’s no question that the Arctic and the climate are changing,” said McGuire.

The document lays out the positions Alaska should take as sea ice melts and different nations try to carve out influence in the Arctic. The word “climate” appears nearly 30 times in the document, occasionally in the context of an “investment climate.” The word “opportunity” appears in equal measure.

Over the course of an hour, lawmakers focused on the possibilities for resource development, for increased commerce, and for private investment to the tune of $100 billion.

McGuire described their approach as realistic.

“The development’s going to happen with or without Alaska,” said McGuire. “It’s already happening.”

Some members, like Anchorage Republican Cathy Giessel, even described it as potentially a good thing.

“What’s happening is a cyclical thing. And it’s another opportunity,” said Giessel. “It does depend on how you view change, as either an opportunity or a threat. And of course, I think our commission views it as an opportunity.”

The climate change discussion bled into other committee meetings. At a House Resources hearing, Rep. Bennie Nageak, a Barrow Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, expressed dismay at federal rules meant to protect species from climate change.

“Everything created in this world has its own adaptive capabilities to changes in anything in their lives,” said Nageak. “Not only man does that, but the animals — they adapt to everything.”

Some, like Anchorage Democrat Andy Josephson, pushed back on the statement that the ecosystem is that resilient.

“We are the poster child because of the change is so self-evident, and I think empirically proven at this point,” said Josephson.

But it was Rep. Craig Johnson, a Republican from Anchorage, who seemed to capture the pervading attitude in the building.

“When I hear arguments about opening 1002 — ‘Oh, climate change’ — I don’t think it’s maybe one coal plant in China [in equivalence]. So, until we get a handle on the world’s climate change, I’m tired of Alaska being the poster child and the fundraising tool to save the planet at the expense of our economy,” said Johnson. “I am not certain that if we shut down every development in the State of Alaska, moved everyone from Alaska and moved them out, that we would have any effect on climate change.”

To some, it’s not surprising that exchanges like these are rare.

“Alaska is a tough place to talk about climate change,” says Michael Tubman, a fellow with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “But it’s also a microcosm of the whole issue. At the same time, the fossil fuel industry is a very important part of the state’s economy.”

Tubman worked on energy and environmental issues for Govs. Sarah Palin, Frank Murkowski, and Tony Knowles. He says there’s a tension where the state is dependent on oil production for its economy and at the same time vulnerable to a lot of the immediate effects of those same fossil fuels.

And as those effects are becoming more obvious, the national conversation about it has become polarized.

“I think over the last ten years, we’ve seen climate change change from a bipartisan issue that was able to be discussed with different types of solutions coming from different types of governors and federal officials to a far more partisan conversation, and that’s been really unfortunate,” says Tubman.

So, climate change is kind of an elephant in the room. It could hurt the fishing and tourism industries, and the state needs to figure out how to deal with erosion in villages along the coast and melting permafrost and all the associated costs. But tackling climate change itself can seem too ambitious and maybe even contrary to the state’s economic interest.

Tubman thinks there are a few things that can be done at the state level to address climate change beyond mitigation. He notes Alberta has put a price on carbon while still maintaining a healthy oil industry, and that Texas has made big strides in wind energy.

As far as development of Alaska’s resources go, Tubman says that can be done in ways that reduce emissions by capturing carbon and using it to produce more oil instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

Tubman also thinks it’s worth reviving something like the climate change sub-cabinet that existed during the Palin administration.

“There is a lot of value in having an ongoing conversation where people can look at this long-term issue from all different angles,” says Tubman.

Larry Hartig has served as the commissioner of environmental conservation since 2007, and he was part of that group while it was active. He says the Walker administration is currently discussing its strategy for climate change, and sees it as a significant challenge.

“Our glaciers are getting smaller. We’re seeing higher rates of coastal erosion. We’re seeing thawing of the tundra on the North Slope. Our surface ponds are disappearing, draining away,” says Hartig. “You can’t sit there and say it’s not happening.”

Hartig says he wants to re-examine the work of the climate change sub-cabinet to find out what’s changed and what work still needs to be done. He says the pragmatic approach is likely the right one for Alaska.

“You don’t have to sit there and figure out, ‘Well, how much is due to greenhouse gas emissions from a man-made source?’” says Hartig. “You just have to think about erosion. You have to think about melting permafrost, and these things.”

Basically, Alaska doesn’t have to solve climate change: It just has to start dealing with it.

Categories: Alaska News

As Capital Budget Work Begins, A Call For Lower Expectations

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 19:10

As the Legislature digs into the capital budget, a leader of the Senate’s finance committee is advising that discretionary spending will be kept to a minimum.

At a Monday hearing, Co-chair Anna MacKinnon said the Legislature had already received more than $1 billion in capital requests from communities and organization. Of those, only health and public safety projects will get priority considerations.

“I would like to lower the expectations of the general public with what we can do in regard to the capital budget this year,” said MacKinnon.

The Eagle River Republican added that projects that come with matching funds might also fare better in a year where the state is facing a $3.5 billion deficit.

The capital budget submitted by Gov. Bill Walker to the Legislature appropriates $150 million from the state’s unrestricted general fund. The previous capital budget spent $600 million from that fund.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire Sweeps Wasilla Assisted Living Home

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 18:07

 

Firefighters responded to a blaze at an assisted living home near Wasilla early Monday afternoon. 

Matanuska Susitna Borough deputy emergency services director Casey Cook says that 20 residents and all staff were safely evacuated as firemen arrived at 2:30 pm. No injuries have been reported.

Fire crews contained the blaze at the Northern Comfort Assisted Living Home within an hour.  Cook says the fire affected almost half the building.

 ”First arriving units gave a size up of about a forty percent involved three story structure with approximately twenty residents inside, so it was not an all clear. During the course of that, the staff that worked there at Assisted Living were able to get all of the folks out without any injuries. A good majority of them were wheelchair bound, and also someone also that was bedridden, so they had to carry that one out in a blanket.”

 

About a dozen of the residents were in wheel chairs. The home’s staff and residents were outside in zero temperatures. Cook says Valley Mover buses were called in to take them to shelter. Initial reports indicate the fire started on the front porch of the home, although an investigation is ongoing to determine the cause. Cook says most of the fire damage affects a front porch and an upstairs apartment, while other parts of the building incurred smoke and water damage.

“There was an added on balcony on the second and half of the third floor, and that was pretty much demolished by the fire. The actual living structure was sprinklered, and so the sprinkler stopped a lot of fire extending into the actual living structures. So the real damage right now is a little bit to the roof, on the third floor and in an apartment on the third floor and water damage on the second floor and third floors and some smoke damage as well.”

Fifteen fire crews responded to the call, Cook, says, and two ambulances were on scene. The Red Cross and the state’s Adult Protective Services are finding shelter for those displaced by the fire.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 9, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 17:05

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Climate Change Rarely Major Discussion Topic In Alaska Capital

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

When it comes to climate change, Alaska is seen as a bellwether. Temperatures have risen nearly 4 degrees over the past 50 years, a number that’s double the national average. But even though Alaska figures in discussion of climate change nationally, it’s rarely a major topic of conversation in Juneau.

Alaska Lawmaker Introduces Right-To-Die Legislation

The Associated Press

An Anchorage lawmaker has introduced legislation that would allow terminally ill patients the right to decide to end their lives with the help of a physician.

North Pacific Halibut Bycatch Limit Could See 50 Percent Cut

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Halibut harvests have been on the decline in the Bering Sea for years. But the amount that trawlers and catcher-processors are allowed to take [incidentally] has stayed the same. Now, federal regulators have agreed to consider stiffer limits on halibut bycatch.

Middle School Teachers Think Planning Time Cuts Are Hurting Students

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Middle School teachers in Anchorage fall into two groups – elective teachers and core class teachers. Before this year all of the teachers were given extra time to collaborate and try to ease the transition of students from being kids in elementary schools to young adults in high school. But this year it’s different – elective teachers don’t get time to collaborate. And some say it’s students who are losing out.

Economic Group Sees Affordable Housing Shortage As Barrier To Growth For Anchorage

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Affordable housing is an issue across much of Alaska, and Anchorage is no exception. The city ranks in the top 20 most expensive housing markets in the nation. The Anchorage Economic Development Corporation sees it as one of the biggest barriers to improving the city’s fiscal future. And the group wants to start addressing the problem by focusing on homelessness.

New EPA Standards Slash Wood-Fired Heater Emissions

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued updated standards for wood fired heaters.

Little Green Apple Ends Haines Junction’s Long Grocery Commute

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Haines Junction is a small town in Yukon Territory at the intersection of the Haines and Alaska Highways. It has a couple of restaurants, but no grocery store, until recently when two locals opened the Little Green Apple.

Yukon Quest Trail Puts Dog Sled Designs To The Test

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Brent Sass is leading the Yukon Quest Sled Dog race. He left the Pelly Crossing checkpoint at 3:25 this morning. Hugh Neff followed at 6am. Joar Ulsom, Jeff King and Allen Moore round out the top five.

On the Yukon Quest Trail, there are a few things mushers have to be especially picky about including a sturdy sled.  Jumble ice near McCabe Creek, half way to Pelly Crossing is testing sled engineering this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Economic Group Sees Affordable Housing Shortage As Barrier To Growth For Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 17:01

Affordable housing is an issue across most of Alaska, and Anchorage is no exception. The city ranks in the top-20 most expensive housing markets in the nation.

The Anchorage Economic Development Corporation sees it as one of the biggest barriers to improving the city’s fiscal future, and the group wants to start addressing the problem by focusing on homelessness.

Last week, AEDC applied for the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant. If awarded, IBM will send a handful of analysts, along with some sizeable computing resources, to Anchorage in order to begin crunching the numbers on how much money homelessness costs the city. After determining the price-tag, they will offer the most cost-effective solutions.

“Homelessness, if we don’t address the situation, becomes more and more of a drag on our economy in terms of attracting that new investment and that new blood that we need in [the] professional workforce,” said AEDC President and CEO Bill Popp.

Popp sees the high cost of homes hurting two very different groups. There are the younger, more mobile professionals deciding whether or not to settle in Anchorage. And there are lower-income individuals and families that are more likely to suffer homelessness than to simply move elsewhere. The shortage of affordable housing units is the common issue hitting both groups, and costing the city resources.

“If those pieces aren’t in place,” Popp explained, “then your successful investment of dollars in the community becomes less.”

Should they win the grant, AEDC will work with other Anchorage organizations to collect the numbers showing the real story of how housing prices affect Anchorage residents. The focus on homelessness as the starting point for a larger conversation came from local community groups, 147 of which have formally partnered with AEDC on past projects.

“All the organizations that we have talked to, they have homelessness as an important issue,” said Arcahana Mishra, Director of AEDC’s Live.Work.Play. initiative.

Mishra is hoping the grant will provide an opportunity to put together a data set showing how much the city spends just managing its homeless residents through a patchwork of social and emergency services, compared to alternative housing options.

Anchorage is competing with other cities from across the globe, and will not know for several months whether it has won the Smarter Cities grant.

Categories: Alaska News

New EPA Standards Slash Wood-Fired Heater Emissions

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-02-09 16:46

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued updated standards for wood fired heaters.

The EPA wood heating appliance emissions standards reduce smoke by two thirds compared to current levels set in 1988. Alison Davis with EPA’s air quality standards office stresses that the new standards, which take effect this spring, only apply to newly manufactured units.

“If you have an existing wood stove or other wood heaters, this rule does not affect you, you can continue to use that,” Davis said.

Davis says the EPA is allowing retailers until the end of this year to sell off wood stove models that do not meet the new emissions standard, but adds that most units already do.

“The majority of adjustable burn rate wood stoves sold in the U.S. today actually meet that limit,” Davis said. “So we think that we’ll have a lot of wood stoves that are already available that will meet the limit.”

The new standards also cover previously unregulated units, including wood fired boilers, but Davis says some of those appliances are also already up to the new standard.

“A number of manufacturers have been participating in a voluntary program with EPA to make cleaner units available, and a number of those will already meet the step-1 standards for those heaters,” Davis said.

A second tier of stricter wood heater emissions standards will take effect in 2020, covering new units manufactured and sold after that date. States are allowed to additionally limit emissions, and Cindy Heil, with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation air quality division says recently updated state standards for new wood and pellet stoves are initially stricter.

“DEC’s standard is a 2.5 gram per hour from 2015 to 2020, where the EPA standard is 4.5,” Heil said. “But then 2020, our standards would remain the same at 2.5 and EPA’s would drop to 2.0.”

Heil says that’s also the case for Alaska’s wood boiler emissions standard, and that the state will have to revise its wood and pellet stove standards in 2020 to come in line with federal regulations.

Categories: Alaska News

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