APRN Alaska News
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has asked the state’s Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai to resign.
Claire Richardson is special assistant to Mallott. She says they accepted Fenumiai’s resignation on Friday.
“There’s nothing personal in the request,” Richardson said. “The lieutenant governor would like to move in some new directions with the Division of Elections and it was felt that it was time for different leadership.”
Fenumiai is being replaced by Nome’s city manager, Josephine Bahnke. She’ll start in October.
In the meantime, election supervisor Lauri Wilson is acting director.
The Division of Elections is the only division under the lieutenant governor’s office.
Fenumiai has been director of elections since 2008, and has 10 years of prior experience in the division.
Unalaska got a visit from a former senator on Wednesday.
Former U.S. Senator Mark Begich came to town to do some public relations work for Grant Aviation.
Begich now runs a five-person P.R. and consulting firm called Northern Compass Group.
The airline hosted what it called a town hall meeting on how to improve its service in the Aleutians.
“You cannot determine the long-term plan of Grant Aviation without knowing what the communities need and want and then prioritizing what’s real and possible,” Begich said.
Begich and Grant Aviation president Bob Lowrance are traveling to all the communities Grant flies to, including eight hubs like Dutch Harbor and more than 50 villages.
“We’re going everywhere,” Begich said.
A possible side benefit of the tour for Begich is face time with lots of Alaskan voters.
In an interview with Politico in May, Begich said he absolutely misses his old job as senator, and he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a run against Senator Lisa Murkowski next year.
Begich told Politico, “you never say never in politics.”
Lowrance hired Begich’s firm to help Grant Aviation win back customers after a prolonged period of poor performance. Lowrance has called it a “two-year downward run.”
Grant Aviation took over rural Alaskan routes from PenAir in 2012. Lowrance said Grant didn’t have enough planes to handle the load. The result was canceled flights, canceled service, even lawsuits from airports over unpaid bills.
“PenAir was losing money, doing what we’re doing, and I don’t think anybody had sat down and thought how should it work.”
Lowrance said Grant’s safety hasn’t suffered, but many other aspects of the business have.
“Grant has always been safe. We have probably the best safety record in the state of Alaska for a carrier like ourselves. In terms of reliability, we haven’t done as good a job. We’ve had many flights canceled, many flights delayed.”
Bad weather will always delay some flights in rural Alaska. But Lowrance, president of Grant Aviation for a year and half, promised Unalaskans gathered at the Burma Road Chapel that a company overhaul will bring better service.
Grant has been investing in new planes and new software and hiring new people.
An April 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Transportationshows Grant Aviation holding contracts for $2.3 million in annual subsidies for flights out of Dutch Harbor and Dillingham under the federal Essential Air Service program. The program subsidizes airlines that fly to 163 rural communities nationwide that otherwise might not have any scheduled air service. Grant receives other subsidies from the U.S. Postal Service.
Despite the subsidies, Lowrance said Grant is not making any money, and he said passengers can’t afford any fare increases.
Lowrance said Grant plans to operate more efficiently, allowing fares to come down.
At least one idea from Unalaska residents at the meeting garnered a promise of change.
Ron Kell asked for a passenger bill of rights when the company doesn’t perform as promised in its new overhaul procedures.
“Are you going to post a customer bill of rights, like some of the other places have, so that if your station manager forgets to open the book, the customer can see it?” Kell asked.
“I haven’t thought of it that way. That’s a great idea,” Lowrance replied. “We will put that on the list and we will do that.”
But anyone hoping for cheaper service from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage shouldn’t hold their breath. Lowrance said the planes Grant Aviation operates just can’t compete on such long-haul trips.
The University of Alaska Southeast has announced Priscilla Schulte as this school year’s interim provost, while the search for a permanent provost is expected to begin in August.
The Juneau Empire reports that Schulte, who is director of the university’s Ketchikan campus, is expected to serve as interim provost until the beginning of summer 2016, when a permanent provost is to be named.
The university’s former provost, Rick Caulfield, became chancellor this year.
Schulte will live in Juneau as she fulfills her new role and will occasionally return to Ketchikan, where she will remain as director.
Schulte holds a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico. According to her UAS biography, some of her specializations include multicultural education, Alaska Native culture and sociocultural change.
Environmental activists in Portland are protesting the arrival of the Fennica, a vessel that Royal Dutch Shell PLC plans to use in its Arctic offshore drilling project after it’s repaired.
The damaged ship, a 380-foot icebreaker, arrived at a Swan Island dry dock about 3 a.m. Saturday. The icebreaker is a key part of Shell’s exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska’s northwest coast. It protects Shell’s fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil.
The Fennica was damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull.
About 75 “kayaktivists” and other protesters in boats were on the water Saturday afternoon, near where the Fennica is docked, holding a peaceful on-the-water rally against arctic offshore drilling, activist Mia Reback said. No arrests have been made.
Alaska State Troopers say a Chevak man has admitted to killing Roxanne Smart last summer. The announcement was made Saturday through an online dispatch that they had arrested 20-year-old Samuel Atchak, of Chevak.
Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers says investigators were waiting on lab results.
“After almost a year-long investigation we got some lab results back that had to be analyzed and after we got those results we were able to go back into the community of Chevak and do some follow-up interviews. Once we were done with the interviews we were able to make an arrest in the Roxanne Smart Homicide. I’m sure it’s been a very hard time for friends and family as they’ve waited through the course of it, but with these types of investigation we need to make sure that we’re doing everything the right way,” said Peters.
The arrest took place Friday just before 1 p.m. It followed an interview by investigators on Thursday. 19-year-old Smart was found dead outside the Chevak Health Clinic last August, with multiple stab wounds to her chest and neck.
Smart’s family and friends had been campaigning online since the time of her death to keep her case from getting cold.
During a follow-up investigation this past Thursday Troopers with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation interviewed Atchak in Chevak. According to charging documents Atchak said he placed Smart in a “choke hold” until she lost consciousness and he sexually assaulted her. But Atchak denied killing Smart at that time.
Troopers arrested Atchak Friday on charges of first-degree sexual assault and second-degree assault. During the arrest, the charging documents say, he admitted he stabbed Smart the night he sexually assaulted her. He now also faces a charge for first-degree murder.
Atchak was arraigned Saturday. He’s being held at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center in Bethel without bail. His arrest comes eleven months after Smart was found dead in Chevak on August 27th, 2014.
Jessica Ayuluk, who is a resident of Chevak and an administrator for the facebook page Justice For Roxanne Smart, said through an online message Saturday she was glad to hear about the arrest.
“I’m happy and relieved that the person who did this to her is finally caught and put away. I’m more happy that her family can get closure, now,” said Ayuluk.
Scientists have been receiving reports of dead and dying mammals, birds and small fish in the Aleutian Islands. They think the killer might be toxic algae proliferating in unusually warm ocean waters.
“All the signs are that we’re having a major harmful algal bloom event,” Bruce Wright with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association said.
Wright said it could be the algae that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning; the algae that generate domoic acid are another possible culprit.
Melissa Good with University of Alaska Fairbanks has been looking for the microscopic green suspects around Unalaska.
“They’re a suspected cause for some of the mass deaths we’ve been seeing–the 10 fin whales that were spotted dead off of Kodiak Island; I know Adak has seen a lot of dead birds, King Cove, I believe [birds in] False Pass have been washing up. We don’t know the cause of that yet either,” Good said. “In the past, we’ve seen incidences where sand lance, a little plankton-eating fish, was accumulating these high toxins from these algae in their system. The birds were eating sand lance, these small forage fish, and were dying. No one that I know of is sure what happened.”
This week, Good has been taking water samples around Unalaska and shipping them off to labs for full analysis. Even just looking in her microscope on the desk in her office on Thursday, she found large numbers of the domoic acid algae in one of her recent water samples.
She’s also sampled the stomach and flesh of a Steller’s sea lion that washed up dead recently on Unalaska’s Summer Bay, north of the town landfill.
“I didn’t see anything external that looked like a cause of death. Sometimes, there’s gunshot wounds, ship strikes. Those things can be very obvious,” she said after looking over the 10-foot carcass on Thursday.
She thinks toxic algae might have killed this sea lion. One that washed up dead last year near here had very high levels of PSP.
In addition to the stomach, scientists sometimes study fluids in the eye for algal toxins and the whiskers. But eagles had already gotten to the eyes, and someone, Good presumed an Alaska Native with permission to use part of the protected species for materials to decorate a traditional bentwood hat, had removed the whiskers.
Standing next to the fresh carcass, Good said people in the Aleutians should be wary of eating clams or mussels right now.
“We just don’t know if they’re going to be toxic or not,” she said. “You’re taking a lot of risks there.”
Unlike bivalves (such as mussels and clams), crabs don’t retain the toxins in their meat, but in their digestive tracts. Scientists warn people to remove the dark viscera from crab before cooking it.
Shellfish in King Cove and False Pass recently have tested for twice the level of toxins that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says is safe.
Potentially harmful algae are always present in seawater, but it’s only when they bloom into dense concentrations that they can cause much harm to the things that eat them.
One of the largest harmful algal blooms ever recorded has been taking place this year from California up through British Columbia. Officials in three states have closed beaches to razor clamming and other types of shellfish harvesting.
Researchers think the West Coast bloom, and recent events in Alaska, are related to unusually warm water temperatures.
“We are seeing large blooms throughout Alaska, of different species,” Good said. “When you get warmer water temperatures, they became more prolific, they bloom. You’re getting a high concentration of algae.”
Good says paralytic shellfish poisoning appears to be getting more common in the Aleutians due to increasing water temperatures.
She’s waiting for results on her samples for more conclusive answers. She and Bruce Wright both ask anyone noticing sick or dead predators in the Aleutians to report them. And if you see dead sand lance fish, put a half dozen in a zip-lock bag, freeze it and send it to them.
Matanuska River Claims A Home Plus 3 Other Structures
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Matanuska River has taken a toll on personal property in the Sutton area in recent days. A 16-by-20 foot home has fallen into the river, and three other outbuildings have toppled into the water, so far.
Mallott: US-Canada Commission Won’t Take Up BC Mines
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Alaska critics of British Columbia mines probably won’t get any help from a cross-boundary panel they’ve been lobbying to take on their concerns.
Despite Stiff Competition, Alaska Airlines Logs Record Profits
Tom Banse, Northwest News Network
The parent company of Alaska Airlines reported its highest quarterly profit in its history Thursday despite stiff competition.
Fairbanks Voters To Decide on 5% Pot Tax
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
City of Fairbanks voters will consider a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana. The city council has approved putting the proposed retail tax before voters in the October municipal election.
Bethel Appeals ABC Rejection of Liquor License Protest, Could Bring Decision To A Vote
Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel
The Bethel City Council is appealing the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s rejection of their protest of the Bethel Native Corporation’s package liquor store application. The council met in executive session Thursday evening for three and a half hours.
In Remote Alaska, High-Speed Internet Comes By Land – Not Satellite
Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena
A plan to bring land-based high speed internet to the western Interior is moving forward this summer.
Village of Wales Starts Polar Bear Patrol to Protect Community
Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome
Representatives from four agencies arrived in the community of Wales recently, equipped with 40 pizzas and a slideshow on polar bear deterrents.
49 Voices: Verna Haynes of Anchorage
Dave Waldron, APRN – Anchorage
Verna Haynes runs the Anchorage store Obsession Records with her husband Steve. The born-and-raised Alaska couple had almost 20,000 LPs at one point — that’s when they decided they should share their love of vinyl with everyone.
AK: An 80-Year Love Affair With Flowers Still Blossoms
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
Eighty years ago Verna Pratt was more comfortable with the violets and buttercups of rural Massachusetts than with people. But her early affection for flowers led her on an unexpected path to notoriety more than 3,000 miles away.
The Matanuska River has taken a toll on personal property in the Sutton area in recent days. One 16-by-20 foot home has fallen into the river, and three other outbuildings have also toppled into the water, so far. Matanuska Susitna Borouogh Assemblyman, Jim Sykes, who represents the area, says the problem is caused by water from the river seeking a new path, due to gravel piling up in its normal channel.
“I’m standing on the river where the house just recently washed away, looking downstream, and there is a pretty good ripping current going along right here near the shore. And what I see downstream is water washing into the trees, and creating it looks like an island, and just working its way inward.”
The affected area is about six miles north of Sutton, where the Glenn Highway runs close to the river’s northern bank. Sykes says the water level is not overly high, but glacial melt is adding to the river’s strength. The gravel piling up on the south side of the river has pushed the water to the north side, and that is threatening homes close to the north banks.
Casey Cook, the Borough’s Emergency Services manager, says six families are on alert that they may have to move quickly.
“So they need to have a plan, and they need to have all their important pictures and documents and those types of things that they don’t want to worry about loosing. So they can be made ready to go or waiting in the car so they can leave is the water gets higher or continues to erode down.”
Cook says there are no injuries from the erosion. He says the people who may be evacuating have made plans for places to stay, and the Borough does not have to open an emergency shelter.
Sykes says the braided Matanuska River has caused erosion of its banks in the past. He say the Borough does not have sufficient funds or the ability to do a prevention project that is likely to succeed.
A plan to bring land-based high speed internet to the western Interior is moving forward this summer. GCI’s TerraNet uses hilltop repeater sites to pass microwave signals along the ground, rather than sending the signals to satellites in space.
The system is already in operation in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, and around Bristol Bay. But GCI is eager to get TerraNet up and running in the western Interior because it’s the final phase in a process the company calls “closing the ring.”
GCI Spokesperson David Morris explains that, once all TerraNet sites are connected in a loop and linked up with GCI’s high speed fiber optic lines around Anchorage and Fairbanks, internet services gets faster and fixing problems becomes simpler.
“Because once you have the ring, you have effectively doubled the capacity on the Terra network. Right now, because it is single thread, we have to have satellite backup for it. The amount of capacity that you can put on a hybrid microwave / fiber system is just significantly more than what you will find on satellites. Once you get the ring, that creates the ability to switch traffic in either direction in the event that there is a break, so that the traffic remains in service.”
The TerraNet repeater sites are located about 50 miles apart down the Yukon River corridor, where GCI has to connect its existing system around Kotzebue to fiber optic lines near Nenana.
Six sites are planned for construction in the next phase of the TerraNet build-out, including the last crucial backbone sites between Galena and Buckland, which will close the TerraNet ring. In addition to the backbone sites, TerraNet has spur lines that would extend the network to outlying villages.
The seed money for TerraNet came through an 88 million dollar stimulus program grant and loan package. But Morris says that federal funding has come and gone and now the company is financing the project out of its own pockets.
“That was a one-and-done. That is what allowed the initial part of TerraNet to get distributed from Anchorage to the Bethel region. There has been a little bit of extra money from the federal government to extend it to Unalakleet, but everything beyond that is just at-risk capital – in other words, just money from the company. ”
Morris says that TerraNet has been so popular in western Alaska that GCI is already having to upgrade its equipment to handle the demand and improve service.
City of Fairbanks voters will consider a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana. The city council has approved putting the proposed retail tax before voters in the October municipal election. The tax is an effort to tap unknown revenue that legalized marijuana sales could provide.
Ordinance sponsor, Fairbanks City Council member David Pruhs told the panel that the tax follows on direct language from the statewide ballot initiative approved by Alaska voters last fall legalizing recreational marijuana.
“This is what the industry wanted. They wanted to be treated alcohol,” Pruhs says. “We’re treating them just like alcohol.”
The city of Fairbanks already has alcohol and tobacco taxes. Pruhs further advocated for the proposed marijuana sales tax as an alternative means for the city to raise money to help cover a dip in property tax revenue.
“What we have to do is make the decision: ‘Do we want to put this in its operating form for the voters and let them decide?'”
A version of the tax ordinance that would have allowed the rate to be set anywhere between 5 and 8 percent was turned back by the council after concerns were raised by council member Jerry Cleworth about compliance with the city charter.
“It specifically says that if we’re going to set a rate, then go to the voters. And that’s what we’re doing,” Cleworth says. “But if we’re going to raise that rate, we need to go to the voters again.”
Local cannabis advocate Frank Turney spoke out against the proposed marijuana sales tax, saying it will have a negative effect.
“Pushing people into the black market, so to speak,” Turney says.
Turney and twoother citizens who voiced opposition to the tax, also cited a $50-per-ounce state tax that will be levied on marijuana growers. No one from the marijuana industry testified. The state is still formulating regulations governing commercial marijuana, which becomes legal for licensed operators next year.
The parent company of Alaska Airlines reported its highest quarterly profit in its history Thursday … despite stiff competition in the Northwest skies.
Delta Air Lines continues to expand on Alaska’s home turf. Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden told Wall Street analysts his carrier is “doubling down” on service to hold its rival at bay.
“As we pause to take a look at how we’re doing mid-year and two and a half years into the biggest competitive incursion we’ve seen in a while, I am happy to share that we are thriving. Our operation is firing on all cylinders.”
Alaska Air executives said they’re maintaining market share at SeaTac Airport, which both Alaska and Delta now claim as a key hub.
Delta has begun flying to Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, which had only been served by Alaska Airlines.
The brisk growth by both carriers seems to be coming at the expense of other airlines serving the Northwest such as United and Southwest.
Delta executives said they’re bullish about the performance of their new Pacific gateway during their own earnings conference call a few days ago.
Alaska critics of British Columbia mines probably won’t get any help from a cross-boundary panel they’ve asked to take on their concerns.
The International Joint Commission addresses U.S.-Canada water conflicts. Critics say it should take up the possibility that mines near the border will pollute rivers key to Southeast Alaska fisheries.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott says he spoke with officials during a recent trip to Washington, D.C.
“It was clear in my meetings with the State Department and the Canadian counterpart that they view this as a relatively local issue. [They said] that certainly the federal governments have a role, but essentially it is Alaska-B.C.,” he says.
Mallott heads up a multi-agency task force considering the state’s response to transboundary mine concerns.
He traveled to British Columbia in May to meet with provincial officials, as well as tribal and business leaders. One was Mines Minister Bill Bennett, who committed to a Southeast Alaska trip.
Mallott says that will be Aug. 24-26. He plans to school Bennett in regional economic and environmental issues.
“And to impress on him even more firmly the requirement that these transboundary rivers never have issues of downstream pollution and other degradation resulting from development on the B.C. side of the border,” Mallott says.
The lieutenant governor and his transboundary mines task force will also host meetings of tribal, fisheries, tourism and other groups Aug. 5-6 in Juneau.
He says those attending will discuss their concerns and help develop policy.
“It is hopefully the beginning of a conversation and a set of relationships that will allow stakeholders to have a meaningful and timely voice,” he says.
Mallott will also visit Whitehorse, the Yukon Territory’s capital, for a series of meetings next week. He says he and Yukon officials will discuss fisheries, energy and related resource issues.
He’ll also stop in Teslin, a Tlingit community about 100 miles east of Whitehorse, for its annual cultural celebration, called Hà Kus Teyea.
In 1962, the Douglas Indian Village was set ablaze to make way for a new harbor. This month marks 53 years since the city displaced households of Tlingit T’aaku Kwáan families. Little to no restitution has ever been offered.
The Douglas Indian Village was a winter spot for the T’aaku Kwáan people. Water flowed underneath a row of about 20 structures on pilings. There was a saying, “this was where the sun rays touched first.”
The village had no running water or electricity. But to John Morris it was home.
“That was the trail I used to walk to go to school right here. But my house was right where that truck is right now,” he says.
Where we’re standing has been filled with gravel. The water no longer comes up to this point. It’s been turned into Savikko Park, a place where children play Little League and families grill out hamburgers.
Morris remembers seeing his childhood home here going up in smoke.
“We left everything as is in the house with the thought that if they saw that we hadn’t moved anything out that they would maybe prolong the burning. It didn’t stop them.”
Fishing nets, clothing, dishes–everything.
“There are no pictures of my childhood. It was all burned up in that house,” he says.
Morris is a carver, teacher and tribal leader. At 75 years-old, he’s also one of the last living members of the tribe to witness the burning of the village in 1962. He remembers, back then, racial tensions were high. He delivered newspapers as a kid.
“And I had a paper sack that had Juneau Empire on it. And as long as I had that paper sack I could go anywhere in Douglas. Once I took that sack off people would tell me, ‘Get down to your village.’”
In 1946, the Douglas Indian Association was looking for boat loans. At the time, boats were kept under the house. But that wasn’t deemed suitable. So the city and the Army Corps of Engineers were asked to build a harbor where the village stood–with the understanding the village would be rebuilt.
That plan didn’t go anywhere.
“But the plan for the harbor stayed on the books and in 1962, the City of Douglas destroyed the Indian village to build that,” says attorney Andy Huff. He put together a formal report in 2002 on what happened for the Montana Indian Law Resource Center.
Back in the ’60s, the City of Douglas found a loophole to condemn the Native village: Most of its occupants were gone to fish camps in summer.
“Even so, the city didn’t have jurisdiction over the houses in the first place. It was a federally protected enclave.”
Huff says when he was doing his research, two more red flags stood out. One was the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the agency that’s supposed to help, did nothing to intervene.
“They just flatly refused to get involved even though there was this plan to kind of destroy the village,” Huff says.
The other red flag was a possible conspiracy.
“I found that two members on the city of Douglas zoning commission, which was the entity in charge of destroying this village, were also members of the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the same time. ”
They were Charles Jones and A.W. Bartlett. Both men resigned from the zoning and planning committee citing conflict of interest. But the plans to burn the village were already underway. Huff says that’s an obvious breach of trust. When he put the report together 13 years ago, he thought it would affect change but no restitution has been offered. He thinks, even after all this time, there’s still a legal case.
“I don’t think the federal government can argue it doesn’t know exactly what happened and what the issues are in light of the report coming out and being released by the tribes,” he says. “Something should have happened by now.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs could not be reached for comment.
After the controlled burn in 1962, the village was never rebuilt. The Douglas Harbor and eventually the park were constructed in its place. Morris, who was on military leave at the time, says he went back to Fort Hood, Texas, changed.
“I went back with a bitterness. A bitterness that I’m not going to have anything to come back to. I don’t have a home. The people I grew up with, I got to see firsthand, how they treated us people, us Natives,” Morris says.
It took years for him to come back to the Juneau-Douglas area but he did. He says sometimes friends tell him he should file a lawsuit; he could be a millionaire.
“My response is that’s not what I’m after. I do want to see that corrected but it will never leave me. It will never leave me. It lays dormant and I don’t like to touch it unless I have to,” he says.
Morris says he forgives but he doesn’t forget. He would like to see restitution for the T’aaku Kwáan people.
Budget cuts are creating stress for communities trying to keep their citizens safe with fewer dollars for law enforcement. In a state with staggering statistics for violence and sexual assault, how can municipalities, cities, and villages keep the peace amid jail closures, fewer troopers and local police.
HOST: Lori Townsend
- James Cockrell, director, Alaska State Troopers
- Ethan Berkowitz, mayor, Municipality of Anchorage
- Captain Andrew Merrill, Alaska State Troopers
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send email to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
The Bethel City Council is appealing the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s rejection of their protest of the Bethel Native Corporation’s package liquor store application. The council met in executive session Thursday evening for three and a half hours.
The ABC board on July 1st called the city’s protest of the proposed Bethel Spirits license “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable”, sparking outrage from the council. The board is required to honor protest unless it meets those criteria. Mayor Rick Robb says he’s personally in favor of local sales.
“But I do not think the protest was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. I think the protest was valid, based on community standards, debate, process, public hearings, past votes, planning on future votes. All of those things were taken into consideration. The protest was very well thought out,” said Robb.
The board has not decided on the status of the license and plans a public hearing in Bethel after the October election in which citizens will again advise the council on whether they want to see a liquor license of some variety. And in that same election, it’s possible that voters could choose to go back to local option with a city-run store.
In the council’s Tuesday meeting, they could introduce a move to hold a binding vote in October on the possibility of opening city-run liquor store through local option. Councilman Chuck Herman is sponsoring the action and cited local control.
“Especially now with this uncertainty over what we can do as a community, I think that is what at this moment forced my hand. I don’t believe we have the power any more. It doesn’t seem like the ABC board is going to uphold our ability to control our own community. I think the only way we can get that power back is by going towards this local option with the ability to have a city-run liquor store,” said Herman.
Before it goes to voters, the measure must make it through council. The city did away with local option in 2009. Citizens in a 2010 advisory vote rejected several types of liquor licenses and the city successfully protested several licenses. Citizens again rejected going back into local option in May of that year.
For now, October is shaping up to be a busy month and the timing of the city’s appeal is uncertain. The board hasn’t formally issued their finding to the city, which they need before proceeding. Leif Albertson is Bethel’s Vice Mayor.
“The stage we’re at right now is we directed counsel to appeal the protest, and they’re going to put together what they feel is a good appeal. That’s going to involve legal research,” said Albertson.
Councilman Zach Fansler says he wants to get the conversation rolling in advance of the fall vote.
“The last thing we want is people to be making these decisions thinking they’re going to get something they’re not going to get out of it. I think there is a lot of half-truths, or 75 percent of the facts, but not the whole story and you think you might be able to do this or that. I think it’s incredibly important and I think it’s going to take up a lot of everyone’s time to make sure everyone is as informed as possible and knows exactly what they’re choosing when they’re voting,” said Fansler.
That vote is October 6th. Separately, 17 months after the city launched anexpensive third-party investigation into contracts, purchasing, and personnel issues, there’s still more to discuss. Michael Gatti, a former city attorney and the man who led the third-party 2014 city investigation was at the meeting. Mayor Robb gave a brief update following executive session.
“The council received an update from our legal team about the investigation, considered litigation and other options. We will continue to look at ways to improve operations of the city. The city will address some of these issues in upcoming public meetings,” said Robb.
Another executive session item concerned potential litigation regarding real estate taxes. The city’s next meeting is Tuesday night.
The research vessel Sikuliaq docked in Nome on July 21 and opened its doors to local visitors. While touring the ice-capable ship — owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks — visitors asked questions of the crew and learned about their upcoming missions.
The Sikuliaq will be working in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas through November on three different research assignments, according to the vessel’s master, Capt. Mike Hoshlyk. He explained the Sikuliaq’s water sampling system, which can measure the properties of water as deep as 10-thousand meters.
Just how deep is that?
“The height of Everest. Deeper than Everest,” said Hoshlyk. “You could go to the Marianas Trench.”
Peter Worcester is the chief scientist on one of the upcoming missions. He won’t be researching the world’s deepest trench, but he will use the Sikuliaq to gather data on ocean acoustics, which could shed light on the changing conditions of Arctic waters and sea ice.
“The basic idea is very simple,” said Worcester. “If you have a sound source here and a receiver here, and you measure very accurately how long the sound takes to travel that distance, that’s a very good measure of the average temperature.”
Faster sound means warmer waters — and valuable information on how ocean temperatures are changing. Several visitors were curious about climate change, including how the Sikuliaq itself may contribute. As one visitor said:“My question and concern would be, with the disruptions up there, is [the Sikuliaq] contributing to the climate change?”
Those “disruptions” referred to oil exploration and drilling — two things the Sikuliaq doesn’t do. While the research vessel can cut though roughly 3 feet of ice, Joan Braddock says it’s not an icebreaker. Braddock is the Dean of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at UAF and says the Sikuliaq only works in seasonal ice, which is less invasive.
“I think the impact — at least at this point – of research vessels is pretty minimal. But you’re right. As there are more and more ships, there’s going to need to be thoughtfulness,” said Braddock. “We’re certainly going to be a part of the discussion to make sure we’re doing things right with this ship — so that we’re answering questions that are important to Alaskans but not causing problems.”
The Sikuliaq shipped out today to tackle those questions. But the vessel will be back in Nome for the U.S. Arctic Research Commission meeting during late August.
Cakes, crafts and airfare are among the purchases paid for by the North Slope Borough that involved Mayor Charlotte Brower’s family.
The Alaska Dispatch News reports Brower told the assembly in a July 7 memo that she had no knowledge that her staff was making purchases from her family members that included $500 cakes and $25,000 in crafts.
One of the records obtained by the newspaper is a request for help in sending five of Bower’s grandkids to basketball camp in California. The bottom of the request had a note that said “7-11-14 Approved Charlotte Brower.”
The trip cost the borough a total of $8,400.
Assembly members voted last week to have an independent law firm investigate the North Slope Borough’s purchasing policies and the possibility of ethics violations.
Citing a state study that shows a sharp decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands, six conservation groups have asked state and federal officials to take steps to help preserve the remaining animals.
Specifically, the six organizations want the state to cancel the upcoming wolf trapping and hunting season on POW, the federal Office of Subsistence Management to cancel the subsistence wolf harvest, and the Forest Service to halt logging activity on the Big Thorne Timber Sale.
Gabriel Scott is the legal director with the Alaska office of Cascadia Wildlands. He said the population numbers for POW wolves has not been clearly known for a long time.
“There’s new data, just come out, with a reasonable population estimate. And it’s much, much lower than it ought to be,” he said. “So that’s the bottom line: The population appears to be crashing on the island, and we can’t afford to let that happen.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game last month released a report showing that the number of wolves in Game Management Unit 2 had dropped in a single year from 221 to 89. The numbers are estimates, based on a relatively small study area on Prince of Wales Island.
To get that estimate, the number of wolves in the study area is counted, and that number is expanded to the rest of the game management unit. The estimate of 89 wolves is the midpoint of a range. The population could be as low as 50, or as high as 159, according to Fish and Game.
Gabriel Scott said the only way to get those numbers up is to halt all hunting for the time being, and make sure adequate habitat is in place for the wolves and their main source of food, which is Sitka blacktail deer.
“One of the big pieces of this puzzle that often gets overlooked is the habitat component,” he said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road. The deer population is not high enough to support human hunters and wolves. And when that happens, the wolves are the ones who go.”
Habitat in this case means old-growth forest, which is why the groups want to stop logging on the Big Thorne Timber Sale.
Tongass National Forest Spokesman Kent Cummins confirms that the Forest Service has received the letter from the six conservation groups. He said officials will revisit the issue to see whether there is a need for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which is one of the requests in the letter.
“I think, with a sense of urgency, they’ll look at this information,” Cummins said. “If necessary, they’ll proceed with another supplement.”
He said the Forest Service takes its role as a steward of the land seriously. But, he said, it can be a delicate balancing act.
The Big Thorne Timber Sale is a critical project from an economic point of view, and it’s meant to help the timber industry stay afloat as it switches from old-growth to second-growth harvest.
“It gives a multi-year supply of timber there on Prince of Wales, and stability for jobs, and giving local businesses the opportunity to retool and seek new markets for the young growth trees,” Cummins said. “That’s the dilemma.”
He said logging is taking place now on the Big Thorne Timber Sale. Halting that activity immediately while the Forest Service looks into the wolf population report is unlikely without a court-ordered injunction.
And then there’s hunting and trapping.
Ryan Scott is Southeast Region Supervisor for Fish and Game. He said he hasn’t read the letter sent to the state asking for suspension of the coming wolf harvest on POW. However, he said that from the agency’s perspective, there isn’t a conservation concern about that wolf population.
“Even with the lower estimate, the number of animals there, and what we know about the animals there, suggests that they’re viable and they’re going to persist well into the future,” he said.
Ryan Scott said the state’s hunting and trapping season starts Dec. 1, which gives officials time to look into wolf numbers and options for the season. They’ve already reduced the maximum allowed harvest from 30 percent to 20 percent of the estimated population.
“Recognizing that we had such a decline in the estimates, I don’t think it’s very likely that we would open it to the maximum allowable harvest of 18 wolves,” he said. “Where that harvest quota would land, that’s undetermined at this point.”
Gabriel Scott of Cascadia said he doesn’t share the state’s confidence that POW wolves will be OK. He points to the fact that his organization is asking for a halt to the subsistence harvest as evidence of how serious they believe the situation has become.
“Asking to stop a subsistence hunt is a really extraordinary step for us to take,” he said. “It’s the absolute last thing that we would want to do.”
The subsistence harvest is set to start on Sept. 1. A call to the Federal Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage wasn’t returned.
The six organizations that submitted the letters are Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, the Boat Company, Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Greenpeace.
Climbers have collected new data from North America’s tallest mountain to more accurately determine the height of its highest point.
Officials say the new summit elevation measurement on Alaska’s Mount McKinley is expected to be announced in late August and will replace the current official elevation of 20,320 feet.
The U.S. Geological Survey is the lead agency working on the project, along with partners that include University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute. Officials say the data collected during a June climb is now being analyzed.
The survey taken on the mountain last month used GPS instruments. Officials say that method provides more defined elevations than technology that was used in 2013 to calculate a slightly lower elevation than the official measurement.
The Alaska Senate’s former chief spokeswoman is expected to serve at least two months in jail after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors.
The Alaska Dispatch News reports that District Attorney Clint Campion said Wednesday that the ex-spokeswoman, Caroyln Kuckertz, will plead guilty to an assault charge and to driving under the influence.
Kuckertz was charged in June after striking two women as she pulled out of the parking lot of the Legislature’s Anchorage office building. The most seriously injured woman was taken to the hospital and released.
Kuckertz didn’t respond to a call seeking comment.
She is expected to serve two months for the assault charge and 20 days for the DUI charge.
A change of plea hearing has been set for August.