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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 15 min 2 sec ago

Village Crime Victims Need Intervention, Senators Told

Wed, 2015-06-10 16:39

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee today heard pleas for better treatment of crime victims in Native communities. Gerad Godfrey, chairman of Alaska’s Violent Crime Compensation Board, cited a few of the state’s grim statistics.
“In Bethel (and) the surrounding villages, there’s, on average, one rape or child sexual abuse case reported every other day,” he said.
Godfrey says a victim in a village might be flown to a hospital, sometimes as far as Anchorage, for evidence collection, with no advocate. Worse, Godfrey says, often there’s no investigation and family members tell young victims to keep quiet.
“If they don’t feel that what happened to them is serious, and it was very bad, and somebody cares, our opportunity to restore them emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, probably passes,” he said. “But beyond that, they are also more likely to perpetuate that as they grow older.”
Godfrey spent part of his childhood in Bethel, when his father, Glenn Godfrey, was assigned to the State Trooper post there. He says he recalls 3rd and 4th grade friends casually discussing abuse and which kids had been victimized.

Godfrey’s testimony, and the stories told from other states, stunned Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat.
“Who could sit in this room and not be horrified?” she asked. “One of almost every three children between the ages of 11 and 13 tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, on Fort Peck. In what world aren’t we horrified? Your testimony, Mr. Godfrey — I’m horrified. I’m horrified by all of this.”
Heitkamp and Sen. Lisa Murkowski pushed a bill through the Senate last week to establish a national commission on Native children. It’s awaiting action in the House.
Godfrey says the single biggest help would be money for rural sexual assault response teams. As he sees it, they’d fly to a community right after a report, to both help the victim and gather evidence. He also advocates for abuse-prevention education in schools, an idea the Alaska Legislature is wrestling with.
Murkowski says leaving that decision to each school district isn’t a good solution.
“In some of our small communities, where our school boards are making these decisions, it may be that some of our school board members are part of our problem, and they don’t want to see these things – prevention education – included in the schools,” Murkowski said.
She says the rate of violence in Indian Country and in Native villages  is not a new problem, and she’s seen hearings like this one every few years.

“We just say these statistics over and over and over again,” Murkowski said, lamenting the lack of services to victims, and the lack of prosecutions.

Categories: Alaska News

Net Restrictions on the Yukon Aim to Preserve Kings

Wed, 2015-06-10 16:23

Summer chum and Chinook salmon have begun their runs along the Yukon River.

Wildlife managers and fishermen met via teleconference yesterday to discuss river conditions and the salmon’s progress upstream. Community members reported summer chum as far upriver as Huslia and Ruby, with Chinook salmon fast on their heels.

However, the much-coveted kings may not be a welcome sight to fishermen this year. Stephanie Schmidt is Fish and Game’s the summer season fishery manager along the Yukon. She says Chinook numbers continue to be low – mandating fishery closures once the salmon enter each upriver community.

“2015 is going to be another challenging year for us. We’re expecting a Chinook salmon run similar to last year. Which was an OK run last year. We met escapement goals. But only because of the very conservative management goals that had to be taken and all of the efforts that fishermen took to conserve Chinook salmon.”

Several fishermen voiced frustration at the closures – not because they’ll miss out on the long-restricted kings, but because gear restrictions (such as on nets larger than 4 inch-wide mesh) will hinder their ability to capture the more abundant chum.

Jack from Huslia explains that the arrival of Chinook salmon typically coincides with the peak summer chum run in his community.

“When you close it – that’s when the best fish go by for us. That’s when we lose our half-dried fish and our dried fish.”

Because Chinook salmon can be caught in gill nets just as easily as chum, all nets wider than 4 inches will be off-limits once the kings arrive. Schmidt says fishermen will still be allowed to use nets that are 4 inches or smaller for sheefish and smaller species throughout the salmon closure.

One fisherman, Martha from Ruby, says that is small consolation in communities where purchasing additional nets may be cost prohibitive.

“We have to eat along this river; everybody has to eat. They can’t live out of the store. I can’t afford to get another net that’s smaller.”

Schmidt thanked fisherman for their continued efforts to conserve king salmon – and says she knows it hasn’t come without sacrifice. She also shared some positive news from ADF&G researchers monitoring Chinook in Pilot Station.

“Those researchers have been reporting just phenomenal catches of juvenile Chinook salmon. More so than last year. And I just offer that as a little bit of hope, you know. Hopefully we are creating more baby Chinook salmon that grow up to be big Chinook salmon and come back.”

The meeting concluded with an atypical concern: Fishermen wanted to know what would happen to state-managed fisheries on the Yukon (and farther North) if lawmakers are unable to reach an agreement on the state budget before July 1st, instigating a partial government shutdown.

John Linderman is regional supervisor for the Arctic Yukon-Kuskokwim region of commercial fisheries. He believes it unlikely that the budget impasse will reach that stage in Juneau. However, he says wildlife managers have considered it – and there is enough money to keep fisheries functional until at least August of this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Man Likely Contracted Measles in Mongolia

Wed, 2015-06-10 15:56

A case of measles in Fairbanks is the first confirmed occurrence of the highly contagious viral infection in the state in 15 years. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says a man who flew from Mongolia to Fairbanks on May 31 to work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks tested positive for the virus. He was at the university and numerous other locations around the city, including several stores, before he knew he had measles. The man was contagious through June 7 in Fairbanks.

State of Alaska Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin suspects the man contracted measles in Mongolia, where there’s a large ongoing outbreak of the disease that causes a telltale rash, fever, runny nose, red eyes, and in rare cases can lead to deadly pneumonia or encephalitis.

“The big question is what should people in Fairbanks be doing.”

Dr. McLaughlin says that depends on a few things. He says people born before 1957 are likely immune to measles because they were exposed to the actual virus prior to widespread immunization. He says many born after that date were likely immunized as children, protection that lasts a lifetime, but otherwise…

“If you are un-vaccinated, under-vaccinated or you’re not sure, our recommendation is to go to your health care provider and make sure you get vaccinated.”

McLaughlin says measles spreads easily through the air, and respiratory secretions, even up to two hours after an infected person has been in a room.

“Measles is one of the most contagious pathogens known. About 90 percent of people who are exposed to measles, who have not been vaccinated, or have not had the infection in the past, will get infected.”

McLaughlin says symptoms typically take a week to 3 weeks to appear after exposure. He adds that the virus can spread from an infected person 4 days before the rash starts, and 4 days after it ends. McLaughlin urges watching for symptoms and calling a health care provider if you suspect you have measles.

“Then your health care provider will give you instructions about what to do. What he or she will likely say is I want you to come to the clinic, drive to the clinic, and we will send a nurse out to escort you into the clinic, and we’ll avoid the waiting room, because we don’t want other people to be exposed.”

The state reports that the man who traveled to Fairbanks with measles was on a flight from Seattle that stopped in Seattle, but not Anchorage. Federal officials are contacting people who may have been exposed on airlines outside of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska confirms first measles case in more than decade

Wed, 2015-06-10 10:43

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says the state’s first measles case in more than a decade has been confirmed in Fairbanks.

The department said Tuesday an adult who recently traveled to central Asia tested positive for the measles virus. The individual developed a rash several days after arriving in Fairbanks on May 31.

Alaska Section of Epidemiology Chief Dr. Joe McLaughlin says Fairbanks residents should make sure they are up-to-date with their measles vaccinations.

The patient might have been infectious while in several locations in Fairbanks from May 31 through June 7.

The patient was on a flight to Fairbanks that originated in Seattle and did not transit in Anchorage. Federal officials are contacting people who may have been exposed on airlines outside of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan man dies after accidental shooting

Wed, 2015-06-10 10:29

A 22-year-old Ketchikan man died Sunday night from what Alaska State Troopers say appears to be an accidental shooting.

According to troopers, Samson Mullenax was at a gravel pit off Brown Mountain Road with about a half-dozen people. Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the gravel pit is frequently used as a shooting range.

“It looks like somebody was handling one of the small-caliber handguns that they had and it was discharged,” she said. “And unfortunately, it did strike Mr. Mullenax.”

Peters said friends immediately took Mullenax to Ketchikan Medical Center.

“They tried to do a couple different life-saving measures on him, but it just wasn’t enough,” she said. “He was declared deceased when he was at the hospital.”

Next of kin have been notified. Peters said the investigation is ongoing, even though the shooting is most likely an accident.

“From the information that we have, it doesn’t appear to be anything sinister, however it is still something that we have to look into and make sure that we have all the information,” she said.

Peters said Mullenax and the person who was handling the gun that discharged will be screened for drugs and alcohol, although there’s no indication at this point that either was involved. She said that’s a standard procedure.

The body has been sent to the state Medical Examiner for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

Talkeetna River Dam Project could have preliminary license revoked

Wed, 2015-06-10 10:27

A required progress report on the proposed Talkeetna River Dam is overdue, according to the federal agency that licenses large energy projects.

On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission notified Glacial Energy, LLC that the first six-month progress report on the proposed project is past due. In its letter, FERC says that failure to file the required reports is grounds for cancellation of the permit, and that the cancellation of the Talkeetna dam project’s permit is “probable.”

The Talkeetna River dam proposal is separate from the much larger Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, which is also undergoing a licensing process with FERC.

Categories: Alaska News

Navy holds community forum in Kodiak

Wed, 2015-06-10 10:24

Navy representatives held a community forum in Kodiak yesterday to address concerns about its training in the Gulf of Alaska, which they say begins Monday. They say many people believe this month’s training will include bombs, sonar, and exercises that will disturb commercial fishing, but say much of that is misinformation.

Chief of Plans for Alaskan Command, Captain Raymond Hesser, says while Environmental Impact Study documents approve the use of various pieces of weaponry, the Navy won’t actually be testing all of it during Northern Edge 15. He says this year won’t stand apart from past trainings in that way.

“So, ten days of the air-sea integration, that does not include any bombs or missiles, and it typically doesn’t. Okay. So those airplanes will be flying out just to coordinate and get used to operating in a maritime environment with Navy ships. And that’s the training objective,” Hesser says.

Hesser says the Navy’s exercises will not disrupt commercial fishing.

“Mitigations are establishing operating areas where exercise planners know to avoid fishing activity and other activity that we know would be of particular concern for a Navy ship doing its multi-mission stuff,” says Hesser. “So, again, I’ll tell ya, I can’t tell you exactly where the operating boxes are, but I will tell you that they’re not on the shelf.”

Fisheries biologist, Andrea Balla-Holden, says they will use sonar and that it’ll have a minimal affect on fish. She presented a graphic that outlines the range of fish hearing.

“There is no overlap in the frequency of the sonar used by the navy with the salmon, with the halibut, cod, snappers, and a variety of other great species, I didn’t put it all up there. And that’s just to try to indicate and to show you and convey that they don’t actually hear all of the sonar,” says Balla-Holden.

The graphic does show that herring can hear the sonar, but Balla-Holden says most fish cannot. She also says the sonar will have no affect on fish physically, while explosives could. While there will be no missiles or bombs, she says the explosions from naval gunfire will take place from the surface to five feet below it and its impact depends on different elements.

“The effects, which can include injury if you are close to the source, would be only occurring if you are very close to the source, but it is not a guarantee, it is not an absolute because it depends on the other factors. Smaller fish can be more affected than larger fish,” says Balla-Holden.

She says the explosions weaken as they continue down below the surface. The speakers at the community forum emphasized the training won’t be nearly as damaging as imagined.

And Hesser says they could have acted earlier to prevent misinformation.

“We never actually had questions about the exercise in the past and so we’ve never actually gone out before the exercise and done the public engagements like we’re doing right now,” says Hesser. “I think it’s a product of kind of the campaign that went against the exercise recently and a product of not doing the exercise for four years.”

Hesser says they’re doing their best to clarify matters now. They spoke in Cordova before visiting Kodiak for a second public forum and Hesser says the Navy will carry out its exercises between June 15 and 26.

Categories: Alaska News

Kuskokwim community King harvest permit program underway

Wed, 2015-06-10 10:23

A small community king salmon permit system is underway. (Photo by Shane Iverson / KYUK)

A community permit system for a limited Kuskokwim king salmon harvest begins on Wednesday. 32 communities are eligible for the permit and so far 16 communities are signed up and a few still pending for the 7,000-fish king salmon permit fishery.

Neil Lalonde is the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge manager and in season manager.

“We’re upfront, we tell them we know this won’t meet your subsistence needs. However it does provide an early opportunity. Every village we talked to would like an early opportunity to to put some fish on the racks. It allows people to fish for a small amount of fish for traditional use and the nutritional ties that people have to fish,” said LaLonde.

Designated fishermen will go out this month to catch a specific number of king salmon to share with their community. The allocations are based on a 20-year harvest history.

Managers expect about 15,000 king salmon could be harvested this year: the 7,000 in the community permit system and 8,000 caught incidentally in other nets. Lalonde says it’s a conservative approach.

“This seven-thousand direct opportunity was built into knowing we potentially could have a worse run than last year, even with the numbers we anticipate, if we have a run similar to 2013 we will still meet the mid to upper end of the escapement range,” said LaLonde.

This years forecast is better than 2014’s but still below average. Managers will not reallocate the fish that are not caught. Several villages are outside of the refuge boundary but still plan to take part. LaLonde says the designated fisherman can travel to waters on the refuge.

“The other option is the villages above and below the refuge can partner with communities within the refuge boundary and they can designate fishers from other communities,” said LaLonde.

Of the seven thousand king salmon allocated, two thousand will go to to the largest community, Bethel. Greg Roczicka is Natural Resources Director for ONC, Bethel’s tribe, and is quickly organizing the Bethel plan. It includes 52 designated fishermen each fishing for three fish camps making up the approximately 150 Bethel area fish camps. He says the fish camps are at the core of traditional use here.

“Even more so, there is the intent of the substance law, title 8 of ANILCA and the state law. It’s to preserve the cultural integrity and patterns of use that are directly associate with the fish camp. The fish camp incorporates all of those values. That’s why it is what it is; it’s the passing down of knowledge, it’s family interaction, and it’s the an integral part of a subsistence way of life,” said Roczicka.

Each camp will get about 12 fish as each fisherman catches about 36 total. The Bethel permits will alternate on odd and even days to not target a specific part of the run. Roczicka says it’s not limited to tribal members. ONC is also distributing fish from the Bethel test fishery and maintaining a list of people. For those not associated with a fish camp, Roczicka says there will be a few fish available.

“We’re open to them calling us up and letting us know and we can bring them a couple of fish under this program as well. we have a list to that effect already, with the Bethel Test Fishery. We have about 200 names from last year and it’s expanded by about 100 more this year,” said Roczicka.

There will be additional officers on the river in the coming days are there are specific reporting requirements. Fishermen will be using 6-inch mesh gill nets instead of larger mesh nets to allow the larger female kings to go up river and spawn. Last year a much smaller permit system was in place. Four communities harvested just 82 fish.

Categories: Alaska News

New Restrictions on Marijuana Treat Second Hand Smoke Like Cigarettes

Wed, 2015-06-10 01:18

 

In Alaska’s largest city, marijuana is now subject to the same rules limiting second-hand smoke from cigarettes. The move is a setback for legalization advocates in Anchorage, and leaves many regulatory questions unanswered.

A 9-to-1 vote by the Assembly modified rules already on the books related to cigarette smoke, adding marijuana within pertinent lines of code. Anchorage already passed a measure banning public consumption, and the new vote extends restrictions to more buildings and businesses.

“I think this becomes a conundrum for people who are living in multi-unit apartment buildings,” said Assembly Member Paul Honeman, who believes the rule-change shores up common-sense courtesies. Single homes, or multi-unit buildings where no one is bothered by marijuana smoke are unlikely to be affected, Honeman added.

A person lighting up too close to an entry-way or a inside a hotel room where smoking is banned can now be written a $100 ticket. Since the February 24th change in marijuana’s legal status, Assembly members say they’ve gotten more complaints from constituents about smoke seeping through apartments, creating annoyances and serious problems for some tenants.

“(A) gentleman told me he had cancer, he was living on social security and disability, which was limiting his available options to rent. And then secondly, he was having some medical problems that were being worsened,” Honeman said. “Clearly if your smoke is getting from your apartment to a neighboring apartment, this ordinance may apply to that.”

The other major driver behind the measure is a tenant dispute involving an existing marijuana business.

Pot Luck Events, a marijuana-friendly events company exists in a bit of a legal gray zone as the state develops regulations for private clubs, and some have criticized the company for jumping the gun.

Much public testimony on the matter came from Pot Luck supporters, who say the space at 420 W. 3rd Avenue fills a need for a safe place to consume marijuana.

It is, however, located underneath a church, and right next door to Beacon Hill, a daycare center for foster children.

The frequent cannabis odor creates problems for many of the families served by Beacon, many of whom are coping with addiction, according to employee Cindy Adamson.

“They are trying to clean up their life and get it put back together,” Adamson said, explaining the smell of marijuana can act as a trigger, jeapordizing people’s treatment plans.

Adamson said the Pot Luck owners have been good neighbors, but the shared building is a bad fit for the different tenant groups involved.

It’s not clear if Pot Luck will have to close down shop because of the new measure. The second-hand smoke language bans smoking lighted tobacco or marijuana, but whether that applies to consumption methods like vaping or dabing–which don’t involve a flame–remains to be seen. The municipality expects smoking marijuana indoors to eventually be handled by a conditional use permit the state sets up down the line.

While the Anchorage measure is broad, it’s passage is understandable, according Bruce Schulte of the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation.

“The real take-away from tonight,” Schulte said after the vote,  “is folks really do need to sit back and wait until the state finishes the mandated regulatory process in November, and then create business models.”

The biggest losers, Schulte added, are the business owners who now have 90 days to update their no-smoking signs to include marijuana alongside cigarettes.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tue, 2015-06-09 17:36

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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Budget Negotiators Agree on Per-Pupil School Funding

Associated Press

House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to fully fund the per-student funding formula for the coming year, as work continues to  reach an overall budget deal.

Coal Lawsuit Results In Little Change

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Sierra Club is claiming a victory for environmentalists opposed to Seward coal shipments.

Coastal Communities Protest Naval Activity in the Gulf of Alaska

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Several coastal communities, including Kodiak, Cordova, and Homer, have held both land-based and fishing boat flotilla protests over the last few weeks to voice their concerns about planned Navy and joint military training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska.

Rep. Don Young Marries on 82nd Birthday

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Alaska Congressman Don Young tied the knot today, on his 82nd birthday. Young married 76-year-old Anne Walton, a flight nurse from Fairbanks, this afternoon.

NOAA Survey Ships Depart for Arctic

Francesca Fenzi, KNOM – Nome

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officially launched its Arctic survey season in Alaska yesterday. Two research ships – the Ranier and the Fairweather – will set out from Kodiak to chart the underwater and shoreline topography of the Arctic Ocean.

Wood Bison Get Acquainted With Their New Habitat

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

The first load of wood bison bulls has been successfully released into the wild in the Innoko River valley.

Deciphering the Journey of Bristol Bay Smolt

Molly Dischner, KDLG – Dillingham

Every year, millions of sockeye salmon return to Bristol Bay, headed for spawning grounds in area rivers. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has counting projects on several rivers throughout the region to give managers a sense of how many fish enter rivers to spawn, but less is known about what happens to outbound juvenile fish each spring. Research teams on three rivers that flow into Bristol Bay have been studying those baby fish, called smolt, for the past few years.

Budget Woes Hurt Small Spuds

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The legislative deadlock over next year’s state budget is no small potatoes.  In fact, the Alaska Plant Materials Center in Palmer may soon have to look for alternative funding sources to keep it’s seed potato program going.

Kinetic Energy, A Ball and An Unlikely Path to Art

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

An Eagle River man started with a pile of  junk, a roll of wire, and an obsession, and ten years later, ended up with art.

Odess: ‘Sitka Opened Her Arms To Me’

Vanessa Walker, KCAW – Sitka

Big-ticket philanthropy usually goes like this: Charitable organization makes a pitch; donor writes a check. There might be some reports to write, and maybe the donor is invited to a nice lunch. Or at least this is the way it’s supposed to work. Carol Odess , a major benefactor of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, is an outlier,

Categories: Alaska News

Wood Bison Get Acquainted With Their New Habitat

Tue, 2015-06-09 17:36

The first load of wood bison bulls has been successfully released into the wild in the Innoko River valley.

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Late last month, 12 bulls traveled by barge in special air-conditioned containers from Nenana to the unloading site, several miles upriver from the village of Shageluk, where a group of cows and calves has been roaming since April.

Wood Bison Restoration Project Manager Tom Seaton with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game picked a release site where a group of bison cows had been browsing only a few days before. Workers cleared an alleyway through the riverside brush for the bison to move through, and then the bulls were free to disembark.

What happened next, according to Seaton, was not at all similar to the first release of bison in April, when the cows and calves stampeded out of their holding pen.

“They made about a 90-degree turn and walked off the barge onto the bank, and up that alleyway. They did it real nice and slow, they’d stop and look back every now and then. And we got to the very last one offloading from the barge, and for whatever reason he decided that he really didn’t want to come out. So we opened all of the doors and tried to give him a little stimulus to come out and he just said no. So we all went away and made everything as quiet as we could, and in about 20 minutes he just eased out on his own and did the same thing – walked down the alleyway and into the meadow.”

Aerial surveillance shortly after the release showed that a small group of bulls immediately honed in on the scent of the cows, while another chose to swim across the Innoko River in the opposite direction from the cows. Since then, satellite tracking collars show that at least a few bulls have reunited with the cows and calves, and there is no evidence that any bulls have died in the transition to the wild.

Another group of 18 bulls is scheduled to make a similar journey by barge beginning next week.

A small group of wood bison remains in captivity at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, where the now-wild wood bison were raised.

Until this spring, wood bison had not roamed the wilds of Alaska for more than 100 years.

Categories: Alaska News

Deciphering the Journey of Bristol Bay Smolt

Tue, 2015-06-09 17:35

Sockeye. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game photo)

Every year, millions of sockeye salmon return to Bristol Bay, headed for spawning grounds in area rivers. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has counting projects on several rivers throughout the region to give managers a sense of how many fish enter rivers to spawn, but less is known about what happens to outbound juvenile fish each spring. Research teams on three rivers that flow into Bristol Bay have been studying those baby fish, called smolt, for the past few years.

The team is studying smolt on the Kvichak River, near the village of Igiugig and Lake Iliamana.

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Matt Nemeth, Dirk Middleton and Chris Sewright get sonar pods ready to deploy in the Kvichak River near Igiugig on May 29, 2015. The pods are part of a smolt abundance study on that river conducted by the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Credit Molly Dischner/KDLG

It’s a little past 1 a.m. in Igiugig, and I’m headed down the Kvichak to a fish trap set up to catch sockeye salmon smolt.

Researchers from the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute are working on a study of smolt abundance, and the trap is how they collect fish each night to take a fin for genetic samples, scales for aging, and record certain information about the smolt, including lengths and weights.

Smolt are juvenile salmon that have spent the first part of their life growing up in the freshwater.

This is one of three sites where BBSRI is studying smolt in Bristol Bay, in partnership with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The information collected here, and at similar projects on the Ugashik and Egegik rivers, provides a picture of the condition smolt are in as they swim downstream, leaving the lake where they’ve grown for the past year or two, headed for the ocean where they’ll spend the next phase of their lives.

Matt Nemeth is the project manager for BBSRI’s smolt program:

“Well, it’s important to study smolt because it gives us an opportunity to see how the fish are doing halfway through the lifecycle, instead of waiting until the very end when they come back as adults. And if we have smolt data paired with the adult data that come back, then we can start to learn a lot more about the fish.”

Eventually, when there’s a better understanding of how smolt features correlate with the number of salmon swimming back, information on smolt could be used to help with run forecasts.

But for tonight, we’re just fishing in the dark. Nemeth says the crew captures smolt at night to try for a representative sample of the fish migrating downstream.

“We capture the fish at night because that’s when we can get the most representative sample of the fish that are going by. Most of the fish, most of the smolts, emigrate at night. And we know from the sonar data, that when they migrate at night, they’re distributed unusually close to the surface, and that’s where our trap is, and so we can capture the largest portion of the run.”

Back on the river, there’s one last band of pink light ahead of us, and a bright moon behind us. That’s about as dark as it gets in Igiugig this time of year.

Dirk Middleton and Chris Sewright pull the trap away from shore and start fishing. Logan Reveil keeps the second boat ready in case it’s needed to help move the trap. Once the trap is secured near the middle of the river, we pull in to wait. It’s warm tonight, and the crew keeps reminding me that I’ve lucked out on the weather.

“It’s called an incline plane trap, ‘cause it’s got the inclime that comes up right, so we’re fishing further down in the front than in the back. It’s almost like sluicebox.”

The trap fishes about three feet deep, in a pretty fast section of river. Smolt typically run close to the surface at night, when predators aren’t out.

“It’s pretty incredible there are that many fish going down. Every once in a while, we’ll have a night, you just look out with your headlamp, and the whole river is just fish. You feel like you could walk right across the water.”

The crew samples fish almost every night for the month that the project operates, trying to capture 600 sockeye smolt in two hours each night. Tonight they’re done much sooner. It’s probably about an hour from the time we head down the river to the time we get back to the bunkhouse carrying six buckets with smolt in them.

The trap is just for collecting samples and data. The count itself comes from sonar pods at two sites on the Kvichak. Last weekend, a sonar pod at one site had to be replaced, a project that involved taking all eight off the bottom of the river, changing one out, testing the array, and putting them back.

But most days, the sonar do their job on their own. The crew downloads the data each day. It’s read in the summer, and Nemeth and his colleague Justin Priest write a report by the fall that includes the number of smolt estimated to have swum done the Kvichak during the study period.

The report also includes size, age and genetic information about those smolt based on the fish captured each night. The field crew collects samples from the smolt to provide that information.

Back at the bunkhouse, the sun is getting ready to rise, and the crew is getting ready to start sampling the smolt.

Chris takes scales, Logan measures the smolt and clips off a fin, Dirk records the data. They get into a rhythm.

And they keep each other on track, Dirk says.

“So you really end up, you do look out for one another. Like if there’s something missing in part of the cycle, it’s like, he’ll catch i., Chris will say no, I think we’re on this one because of the scales, and the same for me.”

Categories: Alaska News

Kinetic Energy, A Ball and An Unlikely Path to Art

Tue, 2015-06-09 17:33

An Eagle River man started with a pile of junk, a roll of wire, and an obsession, and ten years later, ended up with art.

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John Will and his sculpture, “One Man’s Trash…” Hillman/KSKA

Encased in Plexiglas and the remains of an old satellite dish, a set of multi-colored snooker balls are running an intricate obstacle course with no finish line.

“We can pick that yellow ball,” John Will says, pointing to one of the seven balls running through the maze. “It’s on it’s way up. I don’t know where it’s gonna go.”

The machines creator watches as the ball goes up the chain lift then drops on the track, triggering a switch. “Of course you see, the second ball that goes through goes on a different route because the switch switched. Oh, we lost the yellow ball.”

It’s easy to lose track as the balls bank the curves, plow through chimes, and spiral down funnels. They trigger flashing toys from the 1980s and jump through loopy-de-loops. Other than the wire tracks, everything is made from junk Will found around the house and garage.

“That’s a trash compactor. That’s a gear out of a rear end of a big truck. That’s an input shaft into an old transmission,” he says, pointing to various parts. He even included parts from an old meat slicer.

Will never foresaw art in his future. He runs a pilot car company and rejuvenates septic systems. But in 2003 he saw an audiokinetic sculpture by George Rhodes – it was a ball maze run with a motor, a chain, and gravity.

“My headed exploded right there. It just popped. I had to do it,” recalls Will.

A close of up John Will’s ball sculpture. Hillman/KSKA

“You know, I’d sit there and watch TV and my eyes would be looking at it, but my mind wasn’t. So I’d have to get up — I couldn’t sleep, it was freaky! I’d have to draw it on a piece of paper, and then it was out and it was gone and I could go to sleep. And then I wouldn’t lose it, you know?”

For ten years, Will tinkered and tested to see what worked. Dust would get on the tracks and everything would go crazy. The timing would be off.

“The same ball can go down the same track 500 times, and one time it will go flying across the room. What caused that?”

To figure it out, he set up a video camera on the machine to watch for abnormalities, then spent hours, days even, fixing the problems. He says the machine needs to run continuously for two or three weeks to see all of the combinations and possible issues.

But now, his masterwork is finally out of his garage and on display at the Sparc! gallery in downtown Anchorage. Will says he wants it to inspire people.

“The ultimate thing is if you can inspire someone, you know. Just crack the egg somewhere or put a spark in their head. And they can go on from there. God, that’s the biggest gift anybody can give anybody I think.”

It’s the gift artist George Rhodes unknowingly gave John Will, and the gift Will hopes to pass on to other Alaskans.

Categories: Alaska News

Odess: ‘Sitka opened her arms to me’

Tue, 2015-06-09 17:32

Carol Odess stands in front of Allen Memorial Hall. The theater inside of it will officially be known as the Odess Theater after the Sunday (6-7-15) dedication ceremony. (KCAW photo/ Vanessa Walker)

Big-ticket philanthropy usually goes like this: Charitable organization makes a pitch; donor writes a check. There might be some reports to write, and maybe the donor is invited to a nice lunch. Or at least this is the way it’s supposed to work. Carol Odess, a major benefactor of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, is an outlier.

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Allen Memorial Hall is a construction site. Sounds of wood sanders, table saws and hammers emanate from the building. But, over all of that noise is the passionate voice of Carol Odess with that unmistakable southern lilt.

Originally from a small town outside of Birmingham, Alabama, Odess now spends several months a year in Sitka, mostly working on this building. That’s how it’s been for the last several years.

“I came into campus on a Saturday when they do their volunteer days and Gerry Flemming, who used to own the paint store in town, was sweeping. He gave me a broom and said here, this is what you can do because I didn’t know what I was capable of doing. So the broom has become my job,” she said.

Allen Memorial Hall and the theater inside it were once condemned. Community members mobilized around the building and saved it from demolition in the 90s. It was stabilized, and listed in the National Historic Register. But it simply was not a functional building anymore, despite its rich history at the heart of campus.

Allen Auditorium prior to restoration. (KCAW photo)

Odess, who was just donating her sweeping skills one day, decided to take financial matters into her own hands. She made significant financial contributions that allowed the Sitka Fine Arts Camp to restore the 104-year-old building to mint condition.

“What kind of angel funder would you see sweeping everyday and cleaning up?” Roger Schmidt said, who is the Executive Director of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

“One year, Forrest was doing all this drywall work up high on scaffolding. Well, Carol is pushing the scaffolding down, around. She’s just spending 8 hours in there. Just so he doesn’t have to get up and down. She’s just pushing around the scaffold. So she’s really concerned about making her money, her husband’s money, the Odess family’s money go as far as it can go. So she’s just as much of a volunteer as any other volunteer we’ve had,” he said.

Since Odess spends so much of her time at Allen Hall, she’s become an expert in the construction process, donning a comfy sweatsuit everyday.

“Even though the light fixtures are modern when you really look at them, they seem to be perfect in this room of the old wood and the big high ceilings of wood. But they go well, don’t they? Isn’t that amazing?” she said.

Odess clearly has more of herself wrapped up in this building than money. There are fond memories. She first visited Sitka a dozen years ago–as a tourist. But that trip was a special one.

“I came here, in the beginning, with my husband. To go across to the other side to Baranof wilderness lodge to have one last good trip. He was sick, and we knew he wasn’t going to make it. So we came in June and he died in November of that year,” she said.

Odess’s husband was a doctor, and before he died, he asked that she donate some of the money he left behind toward causes that impact the greatest number of people. For her, Allen Hall was just that.

In the years after he died, Sitka became her second home. Acquaintances quickly became friends. Those friends became family.

“I don’t why it happened like this. But, Sitka opened her hands and her heart to me. I belong here,” she said.

Strictly speaking, the Odess Theater in Allen Hall bears the name of Carol’s husband. But every corner of this building bears the personal stamp of her time, energy, and enthusiasm — and we mean every corner.

“Is this not the most beautiful view you have ever seen in a lady’s restroom? So when I came, there was snow on the mountain there. So standing here and looking at the snow-capped mountain, looked like somebody had stood there with powdered sugar and shook it on top. It was like, oh god that’s so beautiful,” she said.

Carol Odess just has a way of finding beauty in the most unlikely places.

She will cut the ribbon on the theater that bears her name Sunday (6-7-15)  at 1PM on the Sheldon Jackson Campus.

Categories: Alaska News

Coal Lawsuit Results In Little Change

Tue, 2015-06-09 16:44

The Sierra Club is claiming a victory for environmentalists opposed to Seward coal shipments. According to Meg Matthews, a Sierra Club spokesperson, the United States Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by Aurora Energy Services and the Alaska Railroad regarding a lower court decision on a clean water permit.

Aurora and the railroad operate a coal loading facility in Seward for export purposes. The environmental group, Alaska Community Action On Toxics, has long complained that the coal export process is responsible for dumping coal and debris into Resurrection Bay.

Pam Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, says her organization and the Sierra Club brought legal action against the coal facility.

“This original action that we brought was really an attempt to stop the coal facility from dumping coal into Resurrection Bay and creating what we think is an environmental hazard but also a public health hazard, because the coal stockpiles there also emit large amounts of dust which are a public health threat. So we brought a case in an attempt to get them to put the proper controls in place that would prevent that from happening. ”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of the plaintiffs last September, deciding that Aurora’s storm water discharge permit does not permit dumping coal into the Bay.

“They’re required to go through a Clean Water Act permitting system that goes out for public review, which is what we were really trying to achieve in the first place. ”

But Aurora spokesperson Lorali Simon says the outcome of the lawsuit, and the US Supreme Court’s decision not to hear an appeal, changes little. She says the coal facility has been inspected by the federal EPA and the state DEC many times over the years, and both agencies understand that there is incidental spill off the conveyor belt.

“So where we are now is,the facility has been going through permitting process through the state department of environmental conservation to secure an individual permit. So it’s important to keep in mind that there is no difference in environmental impact. ”

Simon says the coal loading facility has been operating under a compliance order with the state of Alaska, during which time the facility has undergone upgrades while the permit process is going on.

“And we are going through the individual permit process, rather than having a multi-sector general use permit that we have been operating under, so there is really no difference in how the terminal operates.”

Aurora and the railroad filed an appeal to the US Supreme court, Simon says, because the Ninth Circuit decision conflicts with a decision by the Sixth Circuit court in a similar case.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Budget Woes Hurt Small Spuds

Tue, 2015-06-09 16:37

 

The legislative deadlock over next year’s state budget is no small potatoes. In fact, the Alaska Plant Materials Center in Palmer may soon have to look for alternative funding sources to keep it’s seed potato program going. Brianne Blackburn, a program manager at the Plant Materials Center, says it appears that the seed potato program is safe for this year, if the legislature finally decides on a budget:

“So we do have funding to keep that program running through this upcoming fiscal year starting July 1, but that funding is limited through just that fiscal year.”

Blackburn says a one time increment included in this year’s budget pays for one full time and one seasonal worker. She says the program could be in jeopardy beyond next year. But nothing is certain until the legislature decides on this year’s budget.

“Without a budget, everything is still up in the air, so we will be waiting for that final word.”

The Plant Materials Center grows first – year seed potatoes, which are sought by growers worldwide for commercial production, because they are certified disease free.

“Our seed potato program is the only place in Alaska where you can get certified seed potatoes in the state. And we participate nationally with the potato association of America and work with our partnerships all over the country, so, it’s an important program and one that we work hard to maintain. ”

Having to import seed potatoes into Alaska runs the risk of bringing in potato diseases.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Budget negotiators agree on per-pupil school funding

Tue, 2015-06-09 16:28

House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to fully fund the per-student funding formula for the coming year, as work continues to reach an overall budget deal.

The conference committee agreed to the provision today.

Other items before the committee, including whether to honor cost-of-living increases in negotiated union contracts, remain unresolved. Funding for the pay increases has been a sticking point in budget talks.

Democratic Representative Les Gara says he’s hopeful a resolution can be reached soon; the new fiscal year starts July 1.

Republican House Finance Committee co-chair Mark Neuman says a tremendous amount of work has been happening behind the scenes to try to find a compromise.

Categories: Alaska News

Coastal Communities Rally to Protest Naval Activity in the Gulf of Alaska

Tue, 2015-06-09 16:15

Protesters Against Military Training Exercises in Gulf of Alaska Gather on Homer Spit – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KBBI

Several coastal communities, including Kodiak, Cordova, and Homer, have held both land-based and fishing boat flotilla protests over the last few weeks to voice their concerns about planned Navy and joint military training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska.

Dozens of local residents ignored the strong winds, grey skies, and drizzle to gather around the mariners’ memorial on the Homer spit.

Mavis Muller is standing in a group of people holding signs reading “Not in our fish basket,” “Whales don’t have earplugs,” and “Navy WTF.”

“We’re passionate about this fight for the protection and defense of habitat and our fisheries and cultures and lives and livelihoods that depend on the water. This affects all of us, this issue,” says Muller.

Jess Tenhoff is struggling with a large paper sign against the wind that reads Nurture, Not Navy.

“Well, I think the Navy could nurture,” says Tenhoff. “Personally, I would like it if the Navy would take the lead in nurturing, which it seems like they should do, considering that they make their living off the ocean. They should be the ones most concerned and I’m hoping that they are and that we just need to make clear to them that this needs to be really, carefully thought through.”

She’s referring to a series of planned training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska by the Navy. Last fall, the comment period closed on a draft Environmental Impact Statement or EIS for the next phase of the training starting in 2016. In the EIS, the Navy outlined the type of activities that could potentially have an effect on marine life. They included underwater explosions, simulated weapons fire, high ship and aircraft traffic, and sonar.

That’s caused a lot of concern for Gulf residents like Tenhoff who depend on fish stocks and the ocean for their livelihood and recreation.

“We need to be careful, we need to take care, we need to be conscious about our decisions concerning the resources that are ours as Alaskans to protect. It’s kind of our responsibility to get out there and do it,” says Tenhoff.

The Navy’s operations are related to the joint training called Northern Edge that brings together other branches of the military. It began in the early 90s and has roots in projects like Jack Frost and Brim Frost dating to the 1970s.

U.S. Air Force Captain Anastasia Wasem is the public affairs director for Northern Edge.

“We’re aware of the protests and we’ve even scheduled several public meetings to help alleviate the concerns of people in those areas,” says Wasem.

She says representatives from Alaskan Command and other organizations are traveling to Cordova and Kodiak to meet with residents and that they are sensitive to concerns.

“And if the public has concerns about the exercises, we certainly want them to be able to voice those concerns and be able to contact us. My office is always more than happy to speak with anybody about Northern Edge,” says Wasem.

Several protestors say they appreciate the ability to offer comments but are concerned they aren’t having any effect.

Back near the shore, Mavis Muller is looking out at the boats, some of which are carrying enormous handmade signs.

Muller, who painted the signs, says she knows all too well that protests for environmental protection and conservation often span years and have results that are hard to quantify. The victories she’s seen have been few and far between.

“It could be sort of like, oh really, 30 years later, we’re still saying the same thing or it could be that we are galvanizing a commitment. This fight is not going away. We are not naïve enough to think this fight is going to go away. It is never ending. This is a reminder to us that we are still fighting and we will continue to fight,” says Muller.

But all they’re asking for right now, says Muller, is that the military seriously consider its trainings in the Gulf of Alaska and not purposefully take part in activities that could harm this sensitive ecosystem.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau SEARHC opens its doors to non-Natives seeking mental health services

Tue, 2015-06-09 13:05

Pyper Powell straightens a picture at SEARHC’s new behavioral health location. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

About 15 new patients are scheduled for behavioral health services at a tribal health consortium in Southeast Alaska. SEARHC recently its practice in Juneau to offer services to non-Native people.

It’s estimated that more than 4,700 people in Juneau suffer from a mental health condition. But if you’re seeking counseling from a private practice, you might have to wait.

“Services in our community are limited and access to them is limited. We just thought it was time to open our doors and make ourselves available to others,” says Pyper Powell, a behavioral health clinician at SEARHC.

She says she’s heard of patients being waitlisted up to a month or longer. So when the behavioral health division moved into a larger building in Juneau, it seemed like the perfect time to expand. Before, the service was only available to Alaska Natives and American Indians.

“And now we’re able to serve anybody that wants to walk through the door.”

That includes non-Natives with health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid coverage. She says they’re working on a sliding scale option for people without insurance. SEARHC is the tribal health care organization serving Alaska Natives in Southeast. It’s funded with federal dollars from the Indian Health Service and grants.

The organization has seen both Native and non-Native people in Sitka for decades.

“We know that it can work,” she says. “We know that it does work and that is a great support for the community.”

Powell hopes, with more people in Juneau, they will be able to expand group therapy.

“You have a chance to work out your problems in a safe confidential environment with people who maybe remind you of somebody and can give you great feedback rather than jumping in full bore,” she says.

Groups include mental health support and chemical dependency. Some offer art therapy or mindfulness exercises. There’s one for grief management that uses Tlingit storytelling and drumming.

SEARHC’s vice president, Leatha Merculieff, says it’s mutually beneficial to include non-Natives. She’s Aleut from St. Paul Island.

“From an Alaska Native perspective, any type of expansion, it’s great for us as Alaska Native people because it adds additional resources to our services. That’s how we expand,” she says.

SEARHC will also accept patients for one-on-one counseling, but another community behavioral health provider says there’s no need. They already provide similar services without a wait.

“I don’t think we fully realized that there is a perception that so many people didn’t have immediate access to behavioral health services,” says Pamela Watts, the executive director at the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health.

JAMHI provides counseling, among other services, and offers a sliding scale policy for its uninsured clients. Watts says SEARHC is “duplicating” what’s already available.

“When duplication occurs that can draw resources away or clientele away from organizations that are well established,” she says.

SEARHC’s revenue is 20 times larger than JAMHI’s. But something both providers agree on is the lack of psychiatric care in Juneau — particularly for kids. Pyper Powell says that’s one thing SEARHC’s new patients may not receive right away. Alaska Native children already have about a four month wait for that.

“One of the things that we need to make sure that we do is honor the beneficiaries, the Alaska Natives, who would like to receive service as priority when there is a waitlist,” she says.

Powell says there are no immediate plans to hire more staff. SEARHC will reassess in the next few months.

Categories: Alaska News

NTSB releases preliminary report on Talkeetna mid-air crash

Tue, 2015-06-09 13:03

The National Transportation Safety Board has released the preliminary report on a midair collision at the Talkeetna Airport on May 31.

The collision, which occurred around 5:20 pm on the 31st, involved a Cessna 172 piloted by Cole Hagge of Eagle River and a Cessna 185 piloted by Antonio Benavides of Anchorage.  The NTSB report describes Hagge as a student pilot who was alone in the smaller plane.  Four passengers on a flightseeing tour were aboard the Cessna 185 along with Benavides. The two planes collided as they were descending to land at the Talkeetna Airport.  Hagge suffered what the NTSB describes as “serious” injuries and was hospitalized.  No other serious injuries were reported.

According to the NTSB, a preliminary review of recorded radio traffic shows that both planes broadcast position reports while in the traffic pattern. The investigation is ongoing, and a full report will be released at a future date by the NTSB.  It is not uncommon for full reports to take a year or more to complete.

Categories: Alaska News

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