APRN Alaska News
The Alaska Marine Highway System is closing bars on state ferries, a move that state Department of Transportation officials say will save about $750,000 a year.
According to a DOT, the ferry bars lose money every year, and closing them will help limit other potential reductions in service. Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the biggest savings will be in salaries, but no current employees will lose their jobs.
“Crewmembers that work in the bars currently, they’ll be put in other positions. Then those positions wouldn’t be hired for the summer and then through the next winter,” he said.
Six state ferries have bar service: The Kennicott, the Matanuska, the Columbia, the Tustumena, the Malaspina and the Taku. The bar-closure dates will vary, depending on when they’re scheduled for their spring overhaul.
Woodrow said bar lounges will be offered as additional general lounge areas. The bars themselves will be closed off, but not removed, in case the state decides to offer that service again in the future.
Even though the bars will be closed, passengers 21 and older will be able to purchase beer and wine in the cafeteria areas during scheduled meal service times.
Woodrow said how that will work has not yet been determined.
“That’s something the department is going to be working on as these ships enter into their overhaul status, they’ll be working on the ship and finding a safe place, but also a convenient place to be able to store the beer and wine so that when passengers are purchasing their meal, they also can purchase a beer or wine to go along with their meal,” he said.
Woodrow said the first ship due for an overhaul is the Kennicott in March. The last one is the Taku, which is scheduled for June.
President Obama is withdrawing 9.8 million acres of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas from future oil and gas lease sales. Today’s announcement comes in conjunction with the Department of Interior’s draft five-year offshore plan. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has already described it as a gut punch to Alaska’s economy. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell says the withdrawals are limited to small areas of the Beaufort, a 25-mile buffer along the Chukchi Coast and the area around the Hanna Shoal, northwest of Barrow. Except for the Hanna Shoal, Jewell says the proposed withdrawals are already off limits in the current five-year plan.
“They already were deferred from oil and gas leasing. And I don’t think anybody who looks at those maps would say that that is an unreasonable amount,” she said in a call with reporters.
Alaska Congressman Don Young says the draft puts “massive portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi off limits” to leasing. Young says President Obama is treating Alaska like an “eco-theme park” to please his allies.
The off-shore plan is drawing daggers from environmentalists, too. Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups claim the plan will aggravate climate change and creates the risk of an oil spill in a region with no infrastructure to support a cleanup.
Hanna Shoal is home to a diverse range of fish species and marine mammals. That withdrawal is about 1.6 million acres, or some 300 lease blocks. Ten of those blocks there are currently leased, three to Shell, according to a spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The president’s order, though, says the rights of those leaseholders are unchanged. Jewell says the withdrawal has no affect on Shell, the only operator close to exploratory drilling in the Chukchi.
“There’s nothing that we’re announcing today that impacts Shell’s plans. They have valid existing leases. We’ve been working very, very closely with them to support the activities that they want to do up there but to make sure that there done in a safe an environmentally safe way,” she said.
In a statement, Shell spokesperson Megan Baldino says the company is focused on exploring its existing leases in the Chukchi. But the company hasn’t announced whether it will restart its Arctic exploration program this summer. Shell has spent more than $6 billion so far and has asked the government to extend its leases. The earliest are set to expire in 2017.
On Sunday, the Obama administration angered Alaska officials by announcing it will seek wilderness status for the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, which would preclude development. Sen. Murkowski this week called Obama and Secretary Jewell indifferent to the people of Alaska.
Jewell says she respects the senator’s passion.
“On the personal side: I worked on the (Trans-Alaska) Pipeline when I was a college student,’ Jewell said. “I have visited Alaska dozens of times. I love the state.”
Jewell is planning a trip to Kotzebue next month, to go on an Alaska Federation of Natives retrear. She says she looks forward to demonstrating her belief in balanced resource development and in listening to all sides.
“I’m committed to doing that. And I look forward to coming to the state,” she said. “And I hope I am welcomed.”
News Director Lauren Rosenthal of member station KUCB contributed to this story.
Invoices, Invitations, Litigation, and Even Secession: Walker Says All Responses Possible To Arctic Drilling Decision
Alaska lawmakers have described President Barack Obama’s new protections for the Arctic as an act of war against the state. Now the governor wants to shoot some volleys of his own.
The decision to block drilling in a good chunk of the Arctic angered Gov. Bill Walker so much that he did not even rule out secession when asked about it at a press conference.
“We’ll consider all options,” said Walker. “I don’t think that’s one we’ll give a lot of credence to. But I won’t say that we won’t. I don’t know that that gets us what we want. Interesting thought, though.”
Walker, an independent, does intend to send a $2 billion invoice to the White House, charging for the loss of revenue potential to the state.
“They owe us,” Walker said. “They owe us as far as I’m concerned.”
Walker acknowledged that the federal government is unlikely to pay the bill, but wants to make a statement about Alaska’s resource economy.
The governor is also considering more traditional responses, like inviting the president and secretary of the Interior for a tour of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And if that does not work, he says a lawsuit is possible.
Obama announced the decision to designate 12 million acres of ANWR as wilderness on Sunday, and offered a plan to ban drilling in parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas on Tuesday. While Shell holds offshore leases in the Arctic, no oil production is currently underway in the affected areas. The proposals have no immediate effect, but critics worry the plan could lock up billions of barrels of oil for the foreseeable future.
In his first Senate speech, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan today spoke in support of the Keystone Pipeline. He likened it to the tie vote in the Senate over the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973.
“Then, like now, opponents howled. They said TAPS would be an environmental disaster. They said bird and caribou populations would be decimated. But none of that happened,” he said.
Sullivan is the first member of Congress from Alaska to discuss that pivotal moment in state history who did not live through it, or not as an Alaskan anyway. His sweeping address went on to discuss the American dream, and what he describes as the Obama Administration’s threat to it. Sullivan says the dream is still alive in Alaska.
“In Alaska, the very air you breathe is bathed in promise,” Sullivan said. “The people still speak the language of bold ideas, and rugged adventure.”
He made a pitch for more access to federal land, for ending bureaucratic delay, and for curbing the growth of regulation.
“According to the President’s own Small Business Administration, federal regulations impose an annual burden on our economy of close to $2 trillion dollars,” Sullivan said. “That’s roughly $15,000 dollars per year, per American family.”
Other Congress members have cited that per-family figure, too. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker this month awarded the claim two Pinocchios, saying it’s misleading because it leaves out the savings. The Post cited the example of fuel-efficiency standards: They raise the cost of a car but save gas money over time.
Sullivan, in his speech to the Senate, also argued for his amendment to disarm the EPA.
“In a classic case of federal government power creep, 200 armed EPA, close to 200, armed EPA agents, are roaming our country,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois soon came to the floor and argued against arming the EPA, making it Sullivan’s first official Senate clash.
“Sen. Sullivan wants them to enforce the laws but he doesn’t want them to carry a firearm. That to me is ridiculous. In fact, it’s dangerous,” Durbin said, citing instances where he says EPA agents had to confront armed suspects.
But Republican colleagues, from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, publicly congratulated Sullivan after the speech. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, according to a statement issued by Sullivan’s office, particularly liked the emphasis on “Alaska-sized dreams.”
Delta Air Lines will fly year-round between Juneau and Seattle starting in May. This is a change from just offering flights during the summer, and could signal more Delta service coming to the state in the future.
Delta Air Lines Vice President of Seattle Mike Medeiros says the response to its one daily flightbetween Juneau and Seattle was good last summer. So good, Delta decided a couple weeks ago to extend it all year.
“It’s, quite frankly, a place that needs some competition so we’re ready to step in and be able to provide that,” Medeiros says.
Delta will fly a Boeing 737 during the summer months, which can seat up to 160 people. In September, it will contract with SkyWest, which flies a Bombardier CRJ-900. Medeiros says the 76-seat plane better meets demand during the rest of the year.
He says extending service beyond the summer is not a decision Delta made lightly.
“When we’re making a commitment to a market, it’s very difficult to pull out. It’s difficult on the company and difficult for us to do that,” he says.
Delta will also extend seasonal service between Fairbanks and Seattle to be year-round, and add summer flights from Seattle to Ketchikan and Sitka. Medeiros says the new Southeast Alaska services will be evaluated at the end of summer.
“We’ll see how Alaskan residents have responded to us. If they respond like they did in Fairbanks and Juneau to the competition, then I think it over time could find its way to a year-round pattern as well, but hard to predict that,” Medeiros says.
Adding additional service to the state of Alaska is part of Delta’s expansion in Seattle to connect passengers to international destinations or other hubs within the U.S. Delta has around 95 daily flights from Seattle, almost triple what it had last year. It hopes to grow to around 150 departures in another two years.
Alaska Airlines spokesman Tim Thompson says the company isn’t nervous about Delta’s year-round service in Alaska. He says over the years other airlines have come in and out of the state.
“There’s always going to be competition in business. And we have to continue to make our business perform just like it has over the past number of years with an on-time record, a product that people want to fly on, especially Alaskans,” Thompson says.
He says Alaska saw little change in passenger numbers from previous summers when Delta wasn’t flying from Juneau to Seattle.
“For the most part, we still had a lot of Alaskans flying on Alaska Airlines being able to go in-state and out of state as well,” Thompson says.
And he doesn’t think Delta’s year-round service will change that.
“I think we have a pretty solid reputation, and we have a pretty good loyalty base here in the state of Alaska,” Thompson says.
Travel analyst Scott McMurren is one of those loyalists, and as a member of its mileage program, likes to rack up Alaska Airlines miles.
“But there’s always part of the market that doesn’t care about that or they care up to a certain point, especially if I’m traveling with my family or if buying a ticket for an employee. Delta is going be able to capture some of that market by dropping the price,” McMurren says.
Right now, fares between the capital city and Seattle after Labor Day are priced higher than they are in the summer. But, McMurren says, fear not.
“To have the competitive force year-round, fares will go down,” McMurren says.
He anticipates roundtrip fares between Juneau and Seattle in the winter to be comparable to those in the summer and drop to as low as $250.
Early Tuesday morning Anchorage police responded to a fatal shooting at an apartment complex at East 41st Court. Two people were shot, a man and a woman. The man was dead on the scene. No arrests yet.
This follows a midtown fatal shooting Sunday in which a 14-year-old is charged with shooting 18-year-old Gustav Steinhilpert the Third in a vehicle in a parking lot. Police call this one a drug deal gone bad.
The Anchorage School District’s proposed $770 million budget for next year includes 24 new teaching positions and only cuts four administrative positions.
Superintendent Ed Graff presented the proposed 2015-2016 budget to the school board on Monday. He says the administration is focused on putting money toward improving student engagement and maintaining small class sizes, and the decision to hire more teachers was in response to community input.
“We took a lot of time working with staff, talking to the community, principals, about what their values were and what they need to make that happen,” he told reporters during a press briefing. “And it came out repeatedly that class size and maintaining stability in our schools was a priority.”
Graff says overall enrollment is expected to drop by about 200 students, though elementary school enrollment will increase slightly. But, he says the district will need to hire more teachers for all levels in order to maintain small class sizes for the lower grades and to prevent secondary school teachers from being relocated to other schools.
Graff says the budget numbers are based on the expected revenue promised in last year’s education funding bill HB 278. The bill includes both an increase in Base Student Allocation and special one-time funds that are currently being used for programs like literacy coaching and preschool.
The budget does not account for the governor’s proposed cuts to education funding. That could reduce the district’s revenue by up to $12 million in state and local funds.
Some of the district’s savings will come from cutting four administrative positions and plans to spend less on fuel and on broadband costs. The district will also redirect $17 million of this year’s unexpected fund balance to next year’s budget. It will close most of the originally expected budget gap.
Andy Holleman with the Anchorage Education Association says the proposal to hire more classroom teachers will help everyone and increase morale.
“What they’re doing is hitting some of the really large classes and bringing them down. That helps everything go further. And, yeah, we think a highly-qualified teacher in a reasonably-sized classroom is the best use of money.”
But Holleman says he doesn’t think the district will necessarily be able to hire those new teachers or retain the current ones.
“Things are kind of tough right now. We’ve had a lot of programs go away, TAs go away. Middle school elective teachers have lost team planning time and in a lot of cases they’ve picked up a lot students that they see every day. So in the upshot from that is, it’s still difficult and kind of grim. But finding out that it’s not going to get appreciably worse is always better.”
He says he thinks many teachers will leave Anchorage for the Lower 48.
The proposed budget also includes money for technology and curriculum upgrades.
The School Board will take public testimony and discuss the budget on Monday Feb. 2. They’ll continue the conversation and vote on the final version on Thursday, Feb 19. It will then go to the Anchorage Assembly for approval.
Anchorage sixth graders are not moving schools. The Anchorage School Board voted on Monday to keep the school structure the same. Currently, some sixth graders are housed in elementary schools while others are in middle schools. The district had considered making sixth grade placement consistent for all students. But, after surveying the community and analyzing the costs of changing the structure, the administration decided it’s best to keep the schools as they are. All but one school board member voted in favor of maintaining the status quo.
Gov. Bill Walker has named four new members to the University of Alaska Board of Regents, changing its geographic composition.
Of the four members removed, three hailed from Anchorage. Only one replacement comes from the city. Sheri Buretta chairs the Chugach Alaska board of directors, and serves on the board of the Alaska Federation of Natives. Andy Teuber of Kodiak chairs the Alaska Native Health Tribal Health Consortium, and he replaces another Kodiak member. Lisa Parker was appointed from Soldotna, and she handles government affairs for the Apache Corporation. Fairbanks gains a member with John Davies, a former state legislator who now works for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center.
With four members, Fairbanks now has the most representation on the 11-person board. A spokesperson for the governor says the governor desired “more regional representation.”
The federal government has turned down a request to create a vast marine reserve around the Aleutian Islands.
On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the Aleutians won’t advance in the process to become a national marine sanctuary — mostly due to a lack of local support.
Adak, King Cove, Akutan, and the Aleutians East Borough all came out against the nomination. Environmentalists and research groups had been seeking permanent limits on oil and gas leasing and commercial fishing in federal waters around the Chain.
At more than 730,000 square miles, it would have been the largest marine sanctuary in the country.
In a letter, a NOAA representative suggested that a smaller swath of the Bering Sea could be eligible — areas that ”encompass the specific resources you believe to be of the highest value.” But the agency would still need to see proof that other interest groups are on board.
There are 13 national marine sanctuaries around the United States — each with its own local management panel. Those groups can advise NOAA on new regulations for commercial inside the reserve.
A new fishery approved by the Federal Subsistence Board last week will allow the use of set gillnets on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers.
The Ninilchik Tribal Council submitted the proposals, which will allow the subsistence community there to use one 60-foot long set gill net for sockeye on the Kenai River between June 15th and August 15th.
Up to 4,000 sockeye could be harvested with the subsistence permit, in addition to as many as 1,000 king salmon. That was the main point of contention on the Board’s 4-3 vote. And it complicates an already tough-to-manage fishery, says Alaska Department of Fish and Game Management Biologist Robert Begich.
“With more harvest, because of a new user group, if the fishery does grow or they are effective at harvesting, that harvest needs to be accounted for in the daily management of the fishery because we do get daily sport harvest estimates,” he said. “So we would hope that this harvest would be added to a program to the managing federal staff so that we could get it daily as well.”
The federal staff in charge is at the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, and they would have to approve any permit applications and operation plans for the fishery. Subsistence users are already allowed the use of rod and reel, dipnets and fish wheels. Subsistence communities in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass will also be allowed to apply for permits.
Having healthy and plentiful returns of salmon each season is an important issue to subsistence, sport and commercial fishermen alike. But, relatively little is known about what happens to the fish once they leave their spawning grounds and head out to sea. A group of scientists have started investigating a piece of the puzzle in a survey of juvenile Bristol Bay sockeye salmon.
Bristol Bay sockeye can account for nearly 60 percent of the world’s harvest each year. But, the fish’s returns vary greatly from year to year.
Scientists believe a large portion of salmon mortality occurs in their first year at sea. And they think size can play a vital role in fish survival.
“So it’s important for them to be large and have extra lipid reserves before they go into the winter in order to survive,” Ellen Yasumiishi, a research fisheries biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said.
A larger fat reserve means more energy for the salmon in winter, when food is more scarce.
During the study, Yasumiishi and her team found that – no surprise – the smaller fish are typically at a disadvantage.
“They swim slower and they have to compete for food with other fish, so they might not be getting as much food as they need to as the other fish,” she said. “And they might also be a prey item for larger species that feed on the smaller prey.”
The study indicates salmon over 180 millimeters long – or about 7 inches – have the highest survival rates.
Yasumiishi’s team also discovered a difference in diets between warm and cold years. She says in warmer years, juvenile salmon fed primarily on pollock.
“Those are a lower-energy rich prey, and whereas in cold years they are feeding on euphasiids, which are crustaceans,” Yasumiishi said. ”So it would be like the difference between me eating McDonald’s fish sticks for dinner and king crab.”
“So that crab, that crustacean provides that extra lipid concentration that they need.”
Yasumiishi says the difference in diet is likely a function of which types of prey are most abundant at the time.
Even though the quality of prey differs depending on the ocean temperature, she says there are a number of other factors in play affecting salmon returns — which vary greatly, regardless of whether it’s a cold or warm year.
Close to 54 million sockeye are projected to run in Bristol Bay in 2015 – which is the largest forecast in 20 years.
A recent study about Alaska non-profits confirms what many in the field know: that federal grant money has been drying up over the past couple of years. On the other hand, it shows that non-profits are developing new revenue streams, and counting on personal giving, particularly in rural areas.
Andrew Cutting is Director of Non-profit Research and Partnerships at the Anchorage-based Foraker Group, which offers training and assistance to Alaska non-profits. He says their study shows that Alaskan are generous.
“Alaskans are very giving. I mean some of these statistics just point to the dollar amount but we know they’re giving in many ways. But this really gives us hard numbers about how Alaskans are giving in their communities and we see that in rural communities they’re giving at a much higher percentage than in urban areas,” said Cutting.
In 2010 Alaska non-profits received 3.3 billion dollars from the federal government. By 2013, that number had been cut by more than half to 1.5 billion, and it’s expected to continue to decline in the current economic climate.
The study shows that nonprofits are counting on earned revenue, which has grown substantially, and personal contributions to make up for the gap. Southwest Alaska residents stand out in their giving.
The Lower Kuskokwim’s giving ratio, based on itemized tax returns, is 3.5 percent compared to 2.7 percent in Anchorage. That’s above the national average of 3 percent.
“Bethel tends to be one of the outstanding ones. We always see blips in communities over time … but Bethel tends to be higher than average and higher than the state year after year, after year,” said Cutting.
Overall, the study says Alaska non-profits are adapting by finding new sources of earned revenue, such as selling goods and services, as federal and state grants are reduced. Cutting says non-profits will have to be nimble, adjusting their funding strategies and diversifying their funding sources over the next few years. He adds that the shift to local giving creates a new narrative for rural Alaska.
“The old story of the villages outside of the main hubs taking, taking, taking isn’t totally true in a lot of ways. Village communities are really taking care of themselves by donating at very high percentages,” said cutting.
Alaska has a lot of non-profits, about 5,700, which are providing a substantial number of jobs. Health and social services dominate the non-profit sector in the state and nationally. The national norm for non-profit employment is 10.6 percent. In Alaska it’s 12 percent. In rural Alaskan communities that percentage tends to be even higher – for example in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta where the non-profit sector accounts for half of the workforce, including many through the region’s largest employer, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation.
Here is a link to the study.
More than 200 business leaders, researchers and policy-makers gather in Juneau this week for the 2015 Innovation Summit.
The two-day event is a time to listen, discuss and brainstorm about Southeast Alaska’s economic future.
Brian Holst, the executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council and the summit’s organizer, says speakers and participants will focus on new ways of doing business.
“These are entrepreneurs and university people and people involved in the business world or supporting business that have experienced innovation in their professional work,” Holst said.
The Innovation Summit runs Wednesday and Thursday at Juneau’s Centennial Hall. There is a registration fee.
A Ketchikan man has been missing for nearly a month, with no evidence that he left the island.
Roy Banhart was last seen on Dec. 29. He had called for a taxi to take him downtown, and spent some time at the 49er Bar on Water Street. He left the bar, and was going to take a taxi home, apparently. But, witnesses told his family that Roy was intoxicated and belligerent, so the cab driver made him get back out.
That’s the last reported sighting of 38-year-old Roy Banhart. And his family is anxious.
“He’s on the quiet side. He’s been known to disappear as far as contact for a short period of time, but nothing like this,” said Banhart’s first cousin, Irene Anderson. She lives in Seattle but is heading up the search efforts for the family.
Anderson said that in early January, they reported her cousin missing to Ketchikan’s police department.
“(Police) have searched Alaska Airlines records, and Alaska Marine Highway records, and I’ve been in contact with local air taxis and InterIsland Ferry,” she said. “There’s no indication that he left town.”
Ketchikan is on an island, and there’s no way off except by boat or plane. The remaining explanations for what might have happened to Banhart are not good.
“I’m hearing that the last time he was seen by two different friends on two different occasions, he was not in a good frame of mind, and was intoxicated,” Anderson said. “So, the concern is that he’s in the water.”
Anderson said it’s possible that her cousin may have committed suicide, but it’s also possible that he was murdered. She said she received information from someone who wants to remain anonymous.
“A party overheard a man down at Thomas Basin Dec. 29, referring to Roy. The conversation with another party indicated that this person was involved in some kind of harm to Roy, and indicated that there were gunshots fired,” she said.
Police, though, say there’s no evidence of foul play. Deputy Chief Josh Dossett offered a third possibility: that Banhart slipped and fell into the water. It’s happened before to other people.
“We’ve had plenty of cases where someone who is intoxicated has fallen in the water and drowned,” Dossett said. “At this point, we don’t have anything to indicate, other than he was in the proximity of Kennedy (Street near the 49er), to indicate that. We’re just following up on any leads that we get.”
Dossett said the case remains open, and one officer is assigned to it. Other officers have helped when tips have come in, and police have searched in numerous locations around town without any luck.
If Banhart did end up in the water, his body may or may not have resurfaced by now. Dossett said it depends on various factors.
“It depends on the current, it depends how deep it is. The water temperature has a lot of effect on the body,” he said. “We’ve had cases where people have not resurfaced for a few months.”
There are some local residents organizing searches for Banhart separate from the police investigation, and Anderson hopes others might be willing to join in.
“If people would look at like, what if this was my brother, my cousin, my best friends, my coworker,” she said. “We need that kind of coverage to help find him.”
Anderson said that, in addition to the waterfront, groups are looking around trails, especially Deer Mountain, one of her cousin’s favorite places to hike.
Anyone with information about Banhart is asked to contact the Ketchikan Police Department. For updates on search efforts, you can go to the Facebook page called Please Help Find Roy Banhart.
Yukon Quest mushers dropped off all the food and gear they’ll need for the 1000-mile sled dog race in both Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon over the weekend. Race Manager Alex Olesen says the race becomes more of a reality once all that gear has been delivered.
“I mean we’re not ready, we’re never all the way be ready,” he said. “There’s always going to be things that come, there’s things that will break, there’s things that will change, but now it’s on!” said Olesen.
On Saturday, at least 15 volunteers heft bags filled with everything from wool socks to chunks of frozen fish and meat from the back of a pick up truck.
Long before these polypropylene bags were dropped off in Fairbanks, mushers like Cody Strathe had them laid out and labeled waiting to be filled in the driveway at Squid Acres Kennel – home of the sled dogs both he and wife Paige Drobny train for mid-distance and long-distance races like the Yukon Quest.
“I think last year, I had probably 40 total bags for the Yukon Quest,” he said. “Right now, I’ve made a spread sheet that tells how many snacks and how many meals I need at each checkpoint.”
A week ago, Strathe stood over a wooden table in front of his house, with a knife in his hand. A strong, musty stench hung in the air.
“Ok, well, I’ve got a couple beaver carcasses laid out her eon the table and I am cutting the meat off,” said Strathe. “The meat is one of the dogs’ favorite snacks on the race. For some reason this stinky gross beaver met is just absolutely one of their favorites.”
A few feet away, there’s a different kind of smell. Friend Matt Cameron mans a giant saw to slice up a long, frozen block of something green and lumpy. It’s frozen tripe, or cow stomach.
“Yeah, it smells pretty bad, butt he dogs love it!” Cameron laughed.
The tripe, the beaver meat and all kinds of other dog food are packed into the drop bags. But these bags aren’t just filled with food.
There’s also a flurry of activity inside Cody Strathe’s house.
Fellow musher and friend Mandy Nauman sits on the living room flood amid a heap of handwarmers.
“Any help is much needed and I’m here to help,” she said.
She drove a team in the Yukon Quest last year, so she’s familiar with the scenario playing out today.
“At some point during the race, the musher is going to appreciate all the work that all their friends put in,” said Nauman.
Over at the kitchen counter, a pot of caribou stew bubbles as long-time friend Matt Austin scoops teaspoons of red powder into small plastic bags. After he’s done with that, he’ll organize other dog food supplements, additives, oils and ointments for sled dogs. It’s a tedious job, but that’s what he’s here for.
“It’s just fun to be a part of the whole scene and help good people out,” said Austin. “It’s awesome to be able to give a hand and hang out friends and drink some beer and have some food and just be social.”
Not every musher throws a drop-bag party like this to prepare meals, sort dog booties and double check packing lists.
Rookie Kristin Knight-Pace of Healy says she and husband Andrew were huddled in their one room cabin with all her gear spread out the night before she was set to deliver her bags to race personnel.
“This is the biggest relief ever. This is like the hardest hurdle,” she laughed.
She says keeping track off all her gear and everything for her dog team is an enormous challenge.
“This is my first 1000 mile race, so it’s the fist time I’ve ever had to pack for this long of a trip,” said Knight-Pace.
“I’ve been thinking about it like all those people that through-hike the PCT. They mail all their stuff to themselves ahead of time at all these post offices along the trail and that’s how I feel this is,” she said. “It’s a relief to know that it’s juts going off into the world and what’s done is done.”
Over the next two weeks, drop bags will be shipped to checkpoints along the 1000 mile trail. They’ll be ready and waiting for mushers after they leave the start line of the 32nd annual Yukon Quest February 7th.
Alaska’s governor and congressional delegation are furious over President Obama’s announcement this weekend that he’s seeking wilderness status for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That would put the area off-limits to oil and gas development. Permanent wilderness designation would require congressional approval, and this Republican-led Congress is unlikely to grant it. But that’s just the start of what Obama has in store for the state in the coming days.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, flanked by Congressman Don Young and Sen. Dan Sullivan, faced national reporters at the U.S. Capitol, projecting ferocity.
“We have said as a delegation that we will not stand it. We will not tolerate (it), and we will do everything that we can to push back against an administration that has taken a look at Alaska and said ‘it’s a nice little snow globe up there and we’re going to keep it that way,’” she said.
Murkowski says wilderness status for ANWR is just one of three gut punches the Interior Department plans deliver this week to Alaska’s economy. She says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s chief of staff, Tommy Beaudreau, told her about them Friday. Punch two will be withdrawals from the Arctic off-shore leasing program. That five-year draft plan is expected as soon as tomorrow. Punch 3, Murkowski says, will be to the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, where ConocoPhillips needs a road to develop its Greater Moose’s Tooth project. Murkowski says the government intends to impose conditions that will add $40 million to the cost.
“If it’s not off-limits, (the administration is) going to make it so hard and so expensive that no operator is going to want to do it,” Murkowski said. “Is this how you treat a state?”
Murkowski says she intends to try to block the actions legislatively and through the budget — a meaningful statement since she chairs the subcommittee charged with writing the Interior Department’s spending bill. She’s written a “sense of Congress” statement on the Arctic, as an amendment to the Keystone pipeline bill. She mentioned a possible lawsuit. She also says the congressional delegation will work to educate the rest of the country on how much care Alaska’s industry takes to avoid harming the land or animals.
Rep. Young told reporters the industry does no harm to Arctic wildlife.
“I mean that’s the nonsense. The guy in New York, Miami, Philadelphia San Francisco. ‘Oh, we’ve got to save the poor little animals,’” Young said in falsetto, hands aflutter. “It doesn’t affect them! Never has. It’s all a myth, easily sold to the less knowledgeable people.”
Once the administration formally requests wilderness status, it intends to manage those parts of ANWR as wilderness. Environmentalists who support the plan say it won’t make a big difference on the ground, because industry isn’t allowed there now anyway. The government says in its plan it intends to keep subsistence access the same. Murkowski says she believes Obama’s wilderness request is just a prelude.
“Lisa’s theory: I think that they are advancing this in an effort to get environmental support, to raise money for the cause,” she said.
As she sees it, Obama is trying to drum up support from his base so that he can then declare ANWR a national monument, an executive action to lock up the area. Murkowski says that would violate the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which says Congressional approval is required to reclassify large tracts of land.
“But if he’s got public support on his side, he doesn’t care if he’s ignored the law (ANILCA),” she said. So I think he’s teeing himself up for future action.”
While Obama’s move has Alaska officials fuming, environmentalists are thanking him. Cindy Shogan of the Alaska Wilderness League says it’ll still be tough to get a wilderness bill through Congress but she says Obama’s commitment to the issue helps.
Two Sand Point men are facing federal charges after allegedly breaking into the town’s post office in late December.
Sheldon Shuravloff, 21, and Keith Lee Wilson, Jr., 18, were indicted Thursday on charges of burglary with intent to commit larceny, and conspiracy to commit burglary.
An unnamed 17-year-old is also facing juvenile charges in connection with the alleged break-in. The state is handling that part of the case.
Sand Point Police Chief John Lucking wouldn’t say what was damaged in the incident, which happened on Dec. 28. The post office’s outer door was unlocked at the time, Lucking says, to allow after-hours access to mailboxes.
“We responded to the report of a burglary there… and found damage and secured the scene, and cooperated with the federal authorities who came in to conduct their own investigation, which we supported,” Lucking says.
He says all three defendants are lifelong residents of Sand Point, which is home to about a thousand people. Though the case has been turned over to federal investigators, Lucking says locals are still paying close attention.
“The community is adamant — they’re expecting accountability here. And I think everybody feels like it was a personal violation,” Lucking says. “It’s everyone’s post office, and people were locked out of their mail for a week, and processes have changed and doors have become locked now. And it shouldn’t have to be that way in Sand Point, Alaska.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Courter says that’s a consideration as the case moves forward.
“It’s pretty well known that in our small communities, the post office is a center of community life,” Courter says. “It’s important for every member of the community, not just the people involved in a particular break-in or incident.”
Shuravloff and Wilson could face up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine for each charge. Courter says the value of the damage done to the post office could affect any possible sentence.
President Obama is proposing the largest ever wilderness designation in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would forever put the coastal plain off-limits to oil and gas development.
The White House announced the plan with a YouTube video showing Arctic footage with the president explaining the area’s importance to polar bear, caribou and migrating birds.
“But it’s very fragile,” Obama said. “That’s why I’m very proud my department of Interior has put forward a comprehensive plan to make sure we’re protecting the refuge and that we’re designating new areas, including coastal plains for preservation.”
Alaska’s top elected officials were united in their displeasure with the weekend announcement. ANWR’s coastal plain is coveted by the state and oil industry for its vast resource development potential. Gov. Bill Walker and the state’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement describing the president’s move as a war on Alaska’s future. Walker says it undermines the promises of the statehood compact.
“The plan was we had to live off of our resources and then over time, they’ve taken away a 100 million acres at a time, it doesn’t take long before we’re down to trying to make a living off a small piece of ground,” Walker said. “I’m sorry if I sound frustrated today, but I am. I’m very frustrated. I mean, it’s not a shot across the bow, it’s a little more serious than that.”
Permanent wilderness designation for the coastal plain would require an act of Congress. The environmental lobby has been pressing for that for decades, without success. The likelihood of such a bill passing in this Republican-led Congress is virtually nil. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski isn’t taking the announcement lightly. In a written statement, she says her days of trying to work with the administration are over and she intends to hit back with everything she can. Murkowski chairs the Senate committee that oversees the Interior Department. She also chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that writes its budget.
This week, we’re heading to Lower Kalskag – a community of about 250 people on the Kuskokwim River. Janet Evan is the city clerk in Lower Kalskag.