Heavy cloud cover over the Alaska Peninsula is making it tough for scientists to monitor Pavlof Volcano. The Alaska Volcano Observary hasn’t been able to get a clear picture of the peak by satellite for almost two days.
According to pilot reports today, the volcano is still erupting, but the ash plume has dropped from 20,000 feet to 10,000 feet or less and is blowing out to sea.
That’s good news for regional airlines, which canceled flights to southwest Alaska this week over concerns that the ash would damage their planes. PenAir President Danny Seybert says the airline restored all of its routes today and started adding some extra planes to work off a backlog of more than 300 passengers.
The Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, or KABATA, wants an independent source to review findings of a state audit of revenue projections that almost swamped the Knik Arm Bridge project in the waning hours of this year’s legislative session.
The Parnell administration says it will appeal the dismissal of its lawsuit over the roadless rule in the Tongass National Forest.
Meanwhile, faced with no participation by the state government, and limited participation by environmental groups, the Tongass Futures Roundtable group has decided to shut down. The organization was formed to resolve Southeast Alaska forest-issue conflicts.
A factory trawler that frequently participates in the Bering Sea pollock fishery caught fire Monday afternoon.
The catcher-processor Arctic Storm was working off the coast of Grays Harbor, Washington, processing Pacific whiting, when a fire started in the engine room.
The Coast Guard sent helicopters and lifeboats to the scene to help evacuate crew. According to the vessel’s parent company, Arctic Storm Management Group, none of the 120 people on board were injured. The 334-foot ship is being towed back to port so the owners can assess the damage.
Ten Sealaska shareholders are challenging four incumbents for the regional Native corporation’s board of directors. That’s the largest number of independent candidates in five years, although some earlier ballots came close.
Proxy statements, which include ballots, were sent to Sealaska shareholders May 10th. Voting runs through June 20th, just before the corporation’s annual meeting, which is June 22th, in Hoonah.
They can be mailed, faxed or dropped off in person. Ballots can also be cast at the annual meeting.
Corporate Secretary Nicole Hallingstad said online voting has become increasingly popular.
“The first year of online voting, about 11 percent of our shareholders voted online. The second year that rose just a little bit to 13 percent,” she said. “We’re early in the proxy process, so it’s impossible at this point to say where that final percentage will fall. But higher levels than that have already come in through online voting for this year’s proxy season.”
This year’s online voting is done through a new shareholder-information system called “My Sealaska.” The secure site also includes stock information and dividend payment history.
No resolutions are on this year’s ballot. Prior years’ measures addressed term limits, discretionary voting and stock for shareholder descendants. (Hear a report on last year’s issues.)
Tribal members can vote a specific number of shares for up to four candidates they support. Or they can vote “discretionary,” turning their ballots over to the board, which supports its own members.
Most of this year’s 14 board candidates are in their 50s, 60s or 70s. But three are between 30 and 40.
Hallingstad, also vice president of communications, says that includes Ralph Wolfe. He was last year’s appointed youth representative on the Sealaska board.
“This year’s slate does include some of our younger shareholders and it’s great to see that successive generations of shareholders for Sealaska are seeing this as a mechanism to serve the Native community,” Hallingstad said.
Sealaska added several thousand younger shareholder descendants after a 2007 vote.
The regional Native corporation is headquartered in Juneau and has more than 21,000 shareholders. Most are of Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian descent. Close to half live in Southeast.
This year’s independent candidates are:
• Mick Beasley, Myrna Gardner and Ernestine Hayes of Juneau.
• Frank Jack III of Angoon.
• Angela Michaud of Anchorage.
• Ralph Wolfe of Yakutat.
• Will Micklin of Alpine, California.
• Edward Sarabia Jr. of South Glastonbury, Connecticut.
• Richard “Jack” Strong of Bonney Lake, Washington.
• And Bonnie Jo Borchick of Tucson, Arizona.
This year’s board incumbents are:
• Patrick Anderson of Anchorage
• Jodi Mitchell of Juneau.
• Jackie Johnson Pata of Fairfax, Virginia.
• And Richard Rinehart Jr. of Bellevue, Washington.
Board members serve three-year terms.
Governor Sean Parnell left Southeast Alaska project funding intact when he signed the capital budget Tuesday.
But he blocked the transfer of money from one older project to another.
The Legislature’s capital budget called for taking $5 million out of $17 million set aside for a cruise-ship dock in Hoonah. Lawmakers transferred that money to a planned aquatic center in Sitka.
During an Anchorage press conference, Parnell said it was a bad idea.
“That dock is still needed. The growth in passenger traffic, travel-industry traffic, is creating jobs in Hoonah, right down to our high-school age level. That money needs to stay there so they can continue to build their economy there,” he said.
He said it’s unfair to let one town, quote, “rob” another of its capital-project funding.
Sitka’s aquatic center, which has other funding, will be part of the state-run Mount Edgecumbe boarding high school.
Money for Hoonah’s dock was in the 2011 capital budget. And Hoonah’s municipal government and the local Icy Strait Point tourist attraction have clashed over its location.
Parnell’s Budget Director Karen Rehfeld said the project is still on track.
“The mayor and others have been in touch with us to let us know that they are doing some of the geotechnical work now and that it is moving forward,” she said. “And clearly if the $5 million had been reapporiated from the project for another community’s project, they simply would not be able to move forward with it.
The governor did allow $2 million from the dock project to be transferred to the Hoonah Health Center. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium facility needs matching funds to begin construction of a new building.
Rehfeld said Hoonah leaders told her office they supported that change. And since it was in the same community, the governor kept it in the budget.
Sitka Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kriess-Tomkins said he was not involved in the reappropriation effort. Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman could not be reached for immediate comment. Both also represent Hoonah.
Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously to postpone indefinitely an ordinance that would have changed the way that public hearings are conducted.
The Assembly has made a habit of moving public testimony to the end of meetings. So it wasn’t a surprise that they did so with an ordinance meant overhaul the public hearing system. Richard Evans of Spenard protested and was allowed to testify earlier because he said he had to return to work. He said the ordinance was bad.
“This is retroactive justice. A gentleman in the audience told me about this earlier. Trying to justify the decisions made on AO37. What I see is an attempt by certain members of this assembly to silence descent. People who are dissenting against what appears to be a personal attack against the people of this city. When I heard about this I jetted over here just as fast as I could because this is very important to me,” Evans said.
Assembly Chair Ernie Hall crafted the ordinance with help from the ACLU of Alaska. It was a response to crowded public hearings on AO37, a law limiting unions, which was passed in March after weeks of packed public hearings that the body voted to closed before everyone had a chance to testify. The new ordinance would have required people to sign up on the first evening of a public hearing in order to testify, even if the hearing was continued. New Assembly member, Amy Demboski, said she thought the ordinance would create more order in a haphazard process. But Sheila Selkregg, a University professor and former Anchorage Assembly member, said the new ordinance was too limiting because it would not allow people to respond to laws as they are being crafted.
“I waited on AO37 because I wanted to know what the S version was. I didn’t want to speak at the beginning to something that really wasn’t full of content,” Selkregg said.
Some said requiring people to sign up on the first night of testimony would limit those with night work, family and community obligations from participating in city politics. Deborah Kelly, who wore a sweatshirt with a union logo on the back, said she works for the city, along with many who do 24 hour shift work and who might be kept from testifying if the ordinance passed.
“They’re not always able to come to Assembly meetings and I really think that they should have the opportunity too, to make their thoughts known. I mean, a person caring for an ailing family member — should they not have the same rights as other citizens. I realize that it’s a messy process sometimes but democracy’s supposed to be messy. I mean, it’s supposed to be messy, but it’s supposed to be fair. And I mean, it’s gotta look fair,” Kelly said.
After hearing from the public, the Assembly voted unanimously to postpone the issue indefinitely. Assembly Chair Hall said he was disappointed because the Assembly had not developed a protocol that addressed the issue of how to conduct public hearings involving large numbers of people … an issue that he said was sure to eventually come up again.
Music blared over loud speakers set up on the curb in Downtown Anchorage on Tuesday
”Ready for one more?” “Yeah!” ” Hey hey, ho ho, this giveaway has got to go ” “Hey hey, ho ho, this giveaway has got to go!”
Outside Anchorage’s Denaina Center, Senator Hollis French warmed up a small crowd protesting oil tax breaks for Alaska producers.
Former Alaska Senator Vic Fisher was one of them
“Citizens of Alaska have gotten together. We’re getting signatures signed, we’re getting people to understand that we have got to get rid of the giveaway and we are working on getting a referendum so that people of Alaska can vote and vote for Alaska’s benefit, not for the three big producer’s benefit. “
Jamie Duhamel [du HAM el] was a Democratic candidate for House District 6 during last year’s state election
“We’re gathering signatures now until July 15 to get the repeal on the ballot, and then we will be working really hard over the next year to get enough Alaskans to vote for it in 2014.”
About twenty people waved signs and chanted outside, while inside Governor Parnell prepared to sign HB 21, oil tax legislation passed during the waning days of this year’s legislative session.
An audience that filled to capacity Anchorage’s Denaina Center’s main ballroom stood cheering as Governor Sean Parnell signed his name to SB 21.
“Senate bill 21, the More Alaska Production Act, is now the law of Alaksa….. More Alaskan opportunity,” the governor said to cheers from the audience.
Parnell dubbed the bill The More Alaska Production Act, telling the audience that it is his intent that Alaskans who are now 35 or under will benefit from more oil production, now that state law allows producers tax benefits aimed at enticing more investment in Alaska. He asked the thirtyfives or younger to stand and addressed them directly
“I think about the Alaska Constitutional provision that says that Alaska’s resources are for the people’s benefit. That’s not just prior generations, that’s not just my generation, that’s your generation and generations to come. But neither I nor anybody else sitting down believes that we should be satisfied with forty years lighter production from Prudhoe Bay. We think that there is at least another forty years for you to benefit from even when we are gone. This is your chance to claim Alaska’s promise. “
The governor says the bill spurs production by eliminating the changing monthly tax rate calculations under the old tax regime. Alaska’s oil tax system will from now on be built around a 35 percent base rate, with tax incentives tied directly to new oil production. The governor was generous in his praise of the legislature, calling this year’s session the most productive one in decades.
“Lawmakers deliberated and debated, offered improvements and ideas. And then, they acted in good faith and for our future. So I thank the members of the 28 Alaska legislature.”
Parnell alluded to three things the legislature accomplished.: getting the state’s fiscal house in order, approving oil tax reform and creating a corporate structure empowered to carry the state’s interest in a natural gas pipeline with the goal of getting Alaska gas to Alaskans first.
The other energy bill Parnell signed into law Tuesday is HB 4, which creates the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, an independent state corporation that will represent the state’s interest in an all -Alaska gasline with off takes for local communities.
The governor also outlined his fiscal plan for the next five years which includes cuts in state spending that reflects the possibility that the price of Alaska oil can drop.
“Spending that is more the one billion dollars less than the current fiscal year. Legislators stepped up to the budget reductions with me, and we are on a more sustainable path than just a few months ago. Five years from now, we will have saved more than five billion dollars of the people’s money traversing this new, lower level band of spending.”
Parnell also signed Tuesday two additional bills dealing with permitting. HB 129 streamlines the state’s permitting process, and SB27 sets in motion a process that would allow the state to assume primacy over and manage federal wetlands permitting.
Gov. Sean Parnell approved the state’s budget today, and he was light with his veto pen — he hardly used any red ink at all. Every veto made to the operating budget had to do with fixing calculation errors, and not a single dollar was trimmed from the capital budget. Only $2.5 million was vetoed from a $13.2 billion budget.
At the bill signing, Parnell said that he didn’t need cut the legislature’s spending because lawmakers stayed within the limits he set out.
“Now given that legislators met my target of dropping spending by over a billion dollars, you will see only modest reductions in the budget,” said Parnell.
Vetoes can be used as a political weapon of sorts when a governor doesn’t like what a legislature is doing or how it’s spending the state’s money. When Parnell started his term in office, he cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget.
Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and he says he wasn’t expecting to see the capital budget make it through the governor’s office totally intact.
“I’m a little surprised because sometimes there are items that get by us that we didn’t realize were unconstitutional for one reason or another, and apparently, there wasn’t any items like that. So yeah, I think this is very unusual not to have at least something vetoed.”
Meyer adds that he wasn’t planning for any huge vetoes, though. That’s because the governor and the Republican majority in the legislature were pretty aligned in their priorities this year.
Democrats in the minority didn’t share that same agenda. Les Gara serves on the House Finance Committee, and he says there probably would have been a clash if his party had been in charge. He says Democrats are still disappointed that their push to get an increase to the education funding formula didn’t go anywhere.
“You know, if we had succeeded in getting enough funding in to reverse the fourth year of cuts in a row on education staff across the state — classroom funding across the state — the governor might have vetoed that. But his party joined him in not allowing any classroom funding increase.”
Instead of increasing the funding formula, the legislature approved $21 million for school security grants. The state will be spending $1.25 billion for K-12 education next year, which is a slight increase over last year.
The operating budget also includes $40 million for the Power Cost Equalization program and $5 million for new state troopers and village public safety officers. The overall operating budget went up by just 1 percent this year.
The capital budget was significantly smaller. Last year’s was about $3 billion, while this year’s was $2 billion. A good chunk of the money in it is going toward energy projects, like the Susitna-Watana hydroproject and the natural gas trucking plan for the Interior.
In total, the state will be $1 billion over last year’s $12 billion budget, even though the operating budget saw little growth and the capital budget shrunk. Most of that increase comes from federal spending and from parts of the budget the legislature can’t control. Spending from the state’s unrestricted general fund went down by a billion dollars, which was part of Parnell’s goal to stop the growth of the budget over the next five years.
The Senate Energy Committee is holding a series of so-called “forums on natural gas.” To the uninitiated, they sure look like typical Congressional hearings. For insiders, they look like Congressional hearings without the usual five minute speaking limits.
Tuesday’s round table focused on the pros and cons of exporting LNG. Senator Lisa Murkowski said Alaska missed the window on selling LNG to American markets, and the window is closing on Asian ones as well.
“Some 63 different projects around the globe are up for consideration” she said. “In Alaska we like to think our gas, our oil is better than everyone else’s. But at the end of the day, we’re in a world market.”
Not all 63 projects up for consideration will snag the billions of dollars in financing – or pass government muster – to become liquefaction facilities and export terminals.
On Friday, the federal government granted conditional approval to a facility in Texas to export LNG to non-free-trade countries. That includes Asian powerhouse Japan – a would-be buyer of Alaska’s piped LNG.
In Washington Tuesday, industry executives, perhaps to pressure federal regulators sitting across the table, said they need the okay to export while conditions are ripe.
“Customers need reliability of supply,” said Sempra Energy executive Octávio Simões. He said foreign companies try to lock in as much LNG for a period of several years.
“If they feel that the U.S. government is not going to supply reliably, they will sign at a higher price, from Australia or Russia or somebody else, that is willing to give the assurance that the supply is there,” he said.
Sempra operates an LNG import terminal in Louisiana that it hopes to convert to an export facility. It’s waiting for approval.
Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for the Alaska North Slope natural gas pipeline, said Alaska is now competing with British Columbia, Eastern Africa and pending projects in the Lower 48.
“There’s a crowd trying to get through this window. The question is how much Alaska wants to work to see if they can get this through this window, or the next opening,” he said in a Tuesday phone interview.
Persily said this window is for the chance to sell gas to foreign companies in the 2020′s, but there will certainly be more windows in the future.
“The sheet of ice is acting like dam,” says Plumb, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. ”And it’s causing the Yukon River to flood over its banks and flood a large portion of the area upriver from the ice jam so reports are that the water has spread out over several miles on either side of the Yukon river out into the forest and into the flats.”
Plumb says high water along the river has already caused minor flooding in Fort Yukon. He says likely, flooding will get worse after the ice jam breaks.
“One other concern that we have too is that downriver from Fort Yukon, the ice is still in place and hasn’t moved out yet,” he explains. “And so after this jam releases, and ice and water start moving down river again, it could jam below Fort Yukon and if that happens, Fort Yukon could see major flooding if water starts to back up behind an ice jam that may form downriver.”
Plumb says it’s only a matter of time before the ice jam gives way.
Other villages in the middle Yukon River region are bracing for high water and breakup-related flooding as the weather starts to warm in interior Alaska.
The hearings about the grounding of the drilling rig Kulluk continued today in Anchorage. In the morning, the investigators heard from the contractor who towed the rig up last summer without incident. In the afternoon, Shell emergency response executive Norman “buddy” Custard returned for more questioning.
The Kuskokwim fishermen trials continued today at the Bethel Court House. More fishermen were found guilty for illegal fishing last summer during King salmon closures. The fishermen’s defense attorney continued to ask the court to dismiss the cases and the judge continued to find the fishermen guilty. The fishermen took turns on the stand, some breaking down when they talked about what subsistence meant to them.
James Albrite was one of them. The 33-year-old choked up when he spoke of growing up in a subsistence lifestyle.
“We used to go to fish camp every summer. . .right after school,” Albrite said through tears. “As long as I can remember, I can remember subsistence fishing. That’s our life, our way of eating. Our way of putting away food.”
Albrite’s father is a Moravian minister but he says their Yup’ik beliefs and Christianity go together. Like other fishermen, Albrite spoke about Ellam Yua, the Yup’ik word for the creator or spirit of the universe. Ellam Yua is in all animals which give themselves to hunters and fishermen. It is up to Ellam Yua if a hunter catches the fish or not and if the hunters don’t take what they are given, the creator is not pleased.
Albrite testified that his family usually puts up around 100 King salmon but last summer they only got half that. He told the court it is his God given right to fish for his family.
“It’s our tradition, it’s the way we live,” Albrite said. “It’s not every day we can wake up in the morning and say, ‘Honey, should we go to the supermarket and go buy a salmon, can we go buy a steak?’ It’s not easy for us. We have to wake up and look in our freezer to see what we can eat.”
Another fishermen to take the stand was David Phillip of Tuluksak. The 48-year-old admitted to fishing during a closure last summer, when he was questioned about it.
“If I got the means to do it, I will do it,” Phillip said.
“Even if you are breaking the law?” asked his lawyer, James Davis Jr.
“Well, if it comes down to feeding my family, yes,” Phillip answered.
When asked what subsistence meant to him, Phillip talked about his spiritual connection to the land and the animals. Like Albrite, Phillip’s family didn’t put up enough Kings last year and he said it made him feel bad.
“Spiritually, it brought me down,” Phillip said. “It’s like um. . .it did not fulfill me.”
Phillip and Albrite, like most other fishermen, were found to be sincere in their beliefs that they are spiritually connected to the fish.
Judge Bruce Ward repeated, “the court’s going to find, based on his testimony that he sincerely believes in this religion, however, the court finds that there is a compelling state interest in monitoring the amount of harvest allowed.”
There were a lot “howevers” in the sentencing process. Most fishermen were sentenced to $500 dollars with half of it suspended. Their nets were returned but the fish seized was forfeited to the state. They were also put on probation for one year.
The defense plans to appeal the fishermen cases to the Alaska Supreme Court.
Pavlof volcano continues to ground flights in Southwest Alaska. Pen Air put 6 flights on hold Tuesday due to an ash and steam cloud extending up to 20,000 feet.
Flights to Dillingham and King Salmon resumed this morning. Flights to Sand Point, Cold Bay, and Unalaska are still on hold.
Grant Aviation has not sent aircraft across the bay towards Togiak due to the ash cloud. No flights went to Port Heiden, Chignik, Nelson Lagoon, or Port Moller Tuesday.
No Alaska Airlines flights have been cancelled.
Tuesday, Mark Dial, an executive of Offshore Rig Movers International, will testify on what happened as the rig broke loose while under tow from Dutch Harbor.
On Monday, Coast Guard Commander Josh McTaggart questioned Norman Custard, the Shell emergency response executive who took charge and ordered the evacuation of the 18 crew members on the circular 266-foot platform.
Custard described days of attempts to regain control as the weather improved and then worsened again. Eventually, one tug, the “Alert,” was left connected to the rig, and it was not succeeding in diverting it enough to make it to safe harbor. Custard said they were reaching a decision “trigger point,” and he simply had to give the order to let the Kulluk go aground.
“That just further told me that we’re walking a very precarious line, as far as, we have a tug vessel that is pushing as hard as they can, and a propulsion plant to no avail, the Kulluk is dragging it in towards the beach,” Custard said. “We were now well within seven miles, getting closer to the three-mile range.”
“My concern was, like I said, it came down to the safety of those members that were on the eh on the Alert”
Some of Custard’s toughest questioning came from Susan Dwarnick, Offshore Safety head of the former MMS – the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. She wanted to know about the towing plan.
Custard, a seasoned former Coast Guard commander, had already testified that he had closely examined and signed off on the plan, but Dwarnick wanted to know if the rescue component of that plan really had taken into account the unusual size and shape of the rig being towed.
Dwarnick: At what point during the incident did you become aware, or, you know, the light bulb came on, that evacuation from the Kulluk, primarily due to the relatively unique shape of the Kulluk, was going to be…higher complexity? Than average? When did it dawn on you?
Custard: It became clear after eh, when the tow, when we first first lost eh the connection with the Kulluk, we started to work on, review the evacuation plan. Because there were still standard evacuation plans on the Kulluk. But as far as the complexities, as far as the motion and how serious this is going to be, it wasn’t until the following day, when the Kulluk lost its propulsion plant and it was getting set, and the plant was starting to get a little lively, as we are having discussion. Okay, can we lower the boats, what are the risks of lowering the lifeboats, doing an aviation evacuation, things like that. So that’s when it really, I became keenly aware of exactly how difficult this was going to be.”
But Custard also pointed out that the rig had been repeatedly towed with no problems. And that towing can always be a delicate process.
“I’d have to every tow is unique in and of itself on the hull design, based on my experience,” Custard said. “Is it gonna be a difficult tow?”
“I’m gonna say it’s, it’s gonna have its own challenges in and of itself, like all tows are gonna have their own unique challenges in and of themselves.”
Custard was questioned for four hours, and he’s still not finished.
Pavlof Volcano isn’t showing signs of slowing down. It erupted all through the weekend, though not at levels that disturb international air traffic. But as KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal reports, the volcano’s done enough to stop regional air service to Western Alaska.
Bryan Carricaburu oversees operations at PenAir. He says on Monday morning, the airline grounded flights to:
Carricaburu: “Dutch, King Salmon, Dillingham, and the Pribilofs.”
There’s also Sand Point, which hasn’t had air service since Thursday. Overall, PenAir has completely shut down its Alaska operations. A representative for Grant Aviation says cancellations are also possible for their service to King Salmon.
The problem is that the volcano’s ash cloud is being blown into the flight path between Anchorage and southwest Alaska. It’s not a threat to navigation, but as Carricaburu from PenAir says:
Carricaburu: “Well, it’s very damaging to the engines if you ingest ash.”
Planes won’t fly again until the low-pressure system over the region lifts, and the ash dissipates.
Down on the ground, the Aleutian fishing town of Sand Point has been getting the brunt of the ash fall for the past few days.
The wind shifted Sunday, giving Sand Point a break. But according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, Pavlof hasn’t let up at all — it’s still shooting large jets of ash and steam.
So the only difference is that now, the more northern villages of Nelson Lagoon and Port Moller are in the line of fire instead.
Merle Brandell lives in Nelson Lagoon. He says ash is falling there, mixed in with rain.
Brandell: “I see it in the bottom of the window sill outside there, it’s black. It’s a black ash. And it’s real sticky.”
Brandell says most people in Nelson Lagoon are trying to stay inside to avoid contact. They’ve stocked up on food and fuel, along with water.
That last part has been a bit tricky. Brandell operates the village’s water treatment plant, and he says he’s stopped pumping fresh water into the storage tanks since the eruption started to protect the supply.
For now, Nelson Lagoon is getting by on its reserves.
Brandell: ”Hopefully, you know, within a week or two weeks or a month or whatever, we can top the tanks back off comfortably without putting any ash in our holding tanks.”
If they’re careful, Brandell says Nelson Lagoon should have enough water to last through another two months of volcanic eruptions. By that time, though, he says he hopes life will have gotten back to normal.
Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard began a week-long probe of the grounding of the drilling rig Kulluk last New Year’s Day on an island south of Kodiak. The rig was being towed to Seattle when it broke loose in bad weather and ended up going aground. APRN’s Steve Heimel was at the hearing today at the Anchorage Assembly chambers.
Residents of Circle are cleaning up after an ice jam on the Yukon River caused extensive flooded in the community on Sunday.
Circle First Chief Jessica Boyle says the ice started breaking up around 3 a.m. Sunday, jammed downstream and sent water over a 25 foot seawall along the Yukon River.
“Came over the seawall, came up onto the roads,” Boyle said. “It just totally engulfed the whole downtown area of Circle.”
Boyle says about 15 homes were flooded, some getting as much as 3 feet of water.
“Most of the houses in the downtown area did get water in it and then a couple came off the foundations and floated into the woods behind where their house originally was,” she said.
Boyle says a community hall on higher ground, is providing housing for some while others have taken refuge with friends whose homes were not flooded. She says the community of about 80 people is a mess.
“There’s ice chunks on the roads, it’s pretty muddy, pretty messy, there’s a strong smell of diesel and gas in the downtown area,” Boyle said. “Our church got flooded, our clinic got flooded. It looks pretty rough.”
Circle’s electric generator is working and Boyle says the community has a 5,000 gallon holding tank that’s providing fresh water, but there’s concern the city well may be contaminated. She says community leaders are communicating with agencies, including the Tanana Chiefs Conference, the Red Cross for recovery assistance.
A flood warning has also been issued downstream on at Fort Yukon.
National Weather service hydrologist Ed Plumb says aerial surveillance indicates the village will likely experience high water.
“We’re expecting the break up front to push past Fort Yukon sometime later today and with all this water coming down the river,” Plumb said. “Low lying areas of Fort Yukon will likely see water go over the bank.”
Plumb says the big concern is that strong ice below Ft. Yukon will result in a jam.