APRN Alaska News
Golden Valley Electric Association plans to start up a long-idled Healy area coal fired power plant next week. The facility is being put back on line after nearly 20 years of failings and dispute.
The power plant is one of two Golden Valley Electric Association has in Healy to burn coal from the next door Usibelli Mine. GVEA vice president of transmission and distribution Mike Wright says Healy 2, formerly known as the Healy Clean Coal Plant, is scheduled to fire up May 27.
Wright says Healy 2’s power output will displace higher price natural gas and oil fired electricity generation sources, but it’s not expected to significantly affect customer bills.
Wright stresses that coal is a long-term, price-stable fuel. GVEA purchased the Healy 2 plant from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in 2013 for $44 million. The deal followed a drawn out legal battle that began when the $300 million, largely state and federally funded experimental plant failed to meet the utility’s standards in the late 1990s. Bringing the mothballed facility on line entails major upgrades, including Environmental Protection Agency required emissions system improvements at both of the utility’s Healy coal fired plants, changes Wright says add to the overall project cost
Wright says one looming coal fired power issue is new federal carbon dioxide emissions standards that could cap output of the greenhouse gas. He says that could require shutdown of GVEA’s older Healy 1 plant.
Since the start of the year there have been several major changes in leadership at the Alaska National Guard. Laurie Hummel is now Adjudant General, and Col. Joe Streff is heading the more embattled half of the organization, the Army National Guard. Streff has been in the guard since 1987.
Streff sits down with reporter Zachariah Hughes to outline his plans for the guard’s changing mission in the wake of difficult revelations about misconduct.
Legislature Adjourns Special Session, Only to Call A New One
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
The Alaska State Legislature gaveled out of special session this morning, without voting on any of the items on the governor’s agenda. Then, almost immediately, lawmakers called themselves back — but on their own terms.
Utility to Revive Long-Idled Coal Plant In Healy
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Golden Valley Electric Association plans to start up a long idled Healy area coal fired power plant next week.
Hyder Border to Reopen for 24-Hour Access
Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan
The border between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia, soon will be open 24-hours a day.
Sen. Sullivan: Prepare for A Long War
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is one of five freshmen on the Senate Armed Services committee, and he’s carving out a place for himself among the national security hawks.
Alaska National Guard Welcomes New Leadership
Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
Since the start of the year there have been several major changes in leadership at the Alaska National Guard. Laurie Hummel is now Adjudant General and Colonel Joe Streff is heading the more embattled half of the organization, the Army National Guard.
Wood Bison Bulls to Join Reintroduced Herd
Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena
A Nenana-based barge line will soon be hauling some unusual cargo. Twenty-eight wood bison bulls are scheduled to travel on Inland Barge from Nenana to the Innoko River near Shageluk, beginning sometime during the next week.
Data: Positive Skill Building Improves Youth Behavior
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
A new study shows kids in Anchorage are better behaved than they were 20 years ago. A comparison of data from 1995 and 2013 shows teenagers are participating in fewer risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and unprotected sex. And for many measures, they’re doing better than the national average.
‘Baby Raven Reads’ Program Nurtures A New Generation of Tlingit Speakers
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Sealaska Heritage Institute is helping to foster the next generation of Tlingit speakers in Juneau. It recently launched a free early childhood program.
Newly compiled data show kids in Anchorage are better behaved than they were 20 years ago. A comparison of data from 1995 and 2013 shows teenagers are participating in fewer risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and unprotected sex. And for many measures, they’re doing better than the national average.
Twenty years ago, behavioral health research started to show that if you want teenagers to behave, stop nagging them. Michael Kerosky with the Anchorage Youth Development Coalition says there’s an easier way.
“If we could just help kids build on their strengths, increase their social emotional skills, give them more caring adults, give them more opportunities to contribute, meaningful opportunities, feeling support, having caring teachers. A whole bunch of things,” Kerosky lists.
“If we did all of that, then all of the negative behaviors go down. We don’t have to talk about alcohol, we don’t have to talk about suicide, we don’t have to talk about depression. All we have to do is build on these strengths.”
So a group of youth-focused organizations in Anchorage did just that. And new data shows it might be working. Teens in Anchorage used to rank higher than the national average for considering suicide, experiencing sexual violence, smoking pot, and feeling unsafe at school. Now, they rank lower or equal for most risk factors.
The data is based mostly on the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is self-reported. But Kerosky says that doesn’t make it invalid.
The CDC has “gone to great lengths to make sure the survey is reliable and valid. They have all kinds of checks and balances built in so if the kids mark random questions the computer can pick that up and throw them out.”
Kerosky says it’s not only supportive families, teachers, schools, and youth agencies that can help strengthen kids’ resilience.
“All of us have a role. Even if you don’t have kids, you certainly see kids in the neighborhood. You don’t have to go overboard but just waving. I use the example of a bagger in the grocery store. Just look at their name tags and say, ‘Hi Sam!’ or ‘Hi Joni!’ Every kid loves to hear that.”
You can see all the stats here.
The Municipality’s parks department is closing the trail in two segments. The first – from the New Seward Highway to Nichols Road near Goose Lake – will close from May 26 until then end of July. The stretch from Arctic Boulevard to the highway will close from July 22 to early October.
Park Planner Maeve Nevins says the $2.3 million upgrade to the 20-year-old trail includes new techniques that will prevent things like flooding in the wetlands areas.
“We had to take some different technical measures from what we did in the past where we’re actually doing a full dig out and rebuilding the trail on something called ‘ballast stone,'” she explains. “And that’s a thick stone. It’s the stone that they use in railroad beds. It has a load bearing capacity. So by using that stone first, we lay that down and then we put our leveling course and then we put the asphalt, that allows the water to flow through the trail in that corridor.”
They’re also insulating the culverts with blue foam board to prevent perilous bumps from frost heaving.
Nevins says trail detours will be well marked and include sidewalks and smaller trails. Volunteers will guide users along the detour routes on Tuesday and Wednesday during commute times. Small sections of the trail will re-open as they are completed and will be marked.
You can find out more here.
Families and young children mill around tables in the lobby of the Walter Soboleff Building. There’s a station for coloring, one for science. Margaret Katzeek and her 2-year-old niece Elayna are at the snack table.
“Do you want some water?” Katzeek asks Elayna. “Do you remember what it’s called? Heen. Let’s say heen.”
This is their second Baby Raven Reads family night. The free early childhood program run by Sealaska Heritage Institute builds on the strengths of Alaska Native culture in teaching early literacy. Katzeek says they’re a fun way to learn the Tlingit language, for her niece and herself.
“They say the best way to learn something and get to know something is trying to teach it,” she says, “so I definitely work on the words that I do know, I work with her on it lot.”
But Katzeek says Elayna picks up songs better and, lucky for her, there are several that evening with language learner and teacher Mary Folletti.
Inside the clan house, about 30 children, infants to 5-year-olds, start off sitting on small rugs or on the laps of family members. Moments later, many of them are on their feet, singing, laughing and dancing along. About 40 adults sitting on the periphery watch their children, smiling. Some join in the singing.
Folletti leads the group in Tlingit songs to the tunes of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “The Hokey Pokey.” She helped translate these songs several years ago.
“Those songs are great because the kids are already familiar with them and they are the same idea. We do things different, like, ‘Dance like a Tlingit,’ but it is like, ‘Turn yourself around,’ so it’s got a lot of the same ideas,” she says.
Folletti says exposing children to the sounds of the Tlingit language is important for development.
“I know people who learn the Tlingit language when they were older and because they had never tried to make those sounds before, they’d never heard those sounds before, they physically could not make the sounds, so I think it’s important for them to hear it,” Folletti says.
Early education specialist Karen Larson is working with Sealaska Heritage Institute. She says the Baby Raven Reads program emulates other successful early learning practices. It gives out a free children’s book at each session, like the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. It brings families together, like events organized by the Association for the Education of Young Children. And it’s all done in ways relevant to Alaska Native families.
“People are really craving cultural experiences for their children and language exposure. And then people bring their own culture to it and it grows from there,” Larson says.
Parent Pamela Craig is one of those people. She’s with her 2-year-old son.
“This is exactly the kind of thing that I think he needs, to be able to meet up with his Native peers from an early age and be able to work with them and have people to talk to, especially learning language,” Craig says.
The Baby Raven Reads events are good for her as well.
“Just looking around, I have family here, my relatives and other people I’ve met through the years going to different Native events, and so it’s a good opportunity for me,” Craig says.
That’s part of the early childhood program – creating community.
Jackie Kookesh is the education director for Sealaska Heritage Institute. She hopes people like Mary Folletti will be an inspiration to parents and relatives.
“To sing along with Mary and their children and try to pronounce the Tlingit words that are in the song, that takes a lot of courage,” Kookesh says. “And so if that’s an outcome we come away with, I say that’s phenomenal, creating those safe places for the language to be in the air and to be heard and for everybody to do it together.”
Kookesh hopes the program will make more parents comfortable singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in Tlingit with their children.
The Matanuska Susitna Borough’s mil rate will stay below ten in the coming fiscal year, despite warnings from Borough administration officials that the current level of service cannot be maintained without raising taxes. On Wednesday, the Borough Assembly approved the FY 2016 budget, but Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss says he’s sharpening his red pen.
Mat Su residents will see some added perks in next year’s budget. At Wednesday night’s special Assembly meeting, the panel approved funding to pay for a full time Solid Waste position to work with Valley Community Recycling Solutions on community cleanup, passed a motion that will allow Alaska Scholastic Clay Target Program 150 thousand dollars to purchase land for a shooting range, and agreed to pay 540 thousand dollars for chassis remounts on four ambulances. All of that within a 9 point 984 areawide mil rate, and a point 517 non area wide rate.
The Assembly also included in the budget: an amendment allowing the Mat Su School District to carry over it’s 2015 fund balance to next year.
But some Borough fees will go up, specifically usage rates at the Brett Memorial Ice Arena, and disposal fees for construction and demolition debris and landfill waste disposal at the Central Landfill.
In all, the budget was amended 21 times since Borough manager released his 400 point 7 million dollar spending package on April 30.
The final budget figure will be adjusted after all the amendments are added up, according to Borough Finance Director Tammy Clayton.
But Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss promised vetoes to come:
“There will be a veto document this year, I think, looking ahead, there’s a couple of trends that are bothersome to me. So, hopefully, it will be an educational exercise.”
According to Borough mandate, the mayor has until the next regular Assembly meeting on May 27 to strike or reduce the budget. A 2/3 Assembly vote withing 21 calendar days is needed to override a mayor’s veto.
A Kodiak man will spend at least four years in prison for killing another man in a hit-and-run that occurred on Pillar Mountain Road in 2008.
According to Kodiak court documents, 27-year-old Bradford Blondin has pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in the death of 43-year-old Justin McGriff in April 2008.
Blondin agreed Tuesday to the plea deal in exchange for a 10-year sentence with six years suspended. If the judge agrees to the deal at the sentencing hearing in August, two other charges stemming from the hit-and-run will be dropped. Blondin will then serve 10 years probation.
McGriff, a dishwasher at a local restaurant, was living in a tent on Pillar Mountain, on the edge of downtown Kodiak, at the time of his death. He was last seen by a taxi driver who dropped him off on Pillar Mountain Road in the early morning hours. McGriff’s body was found by neighbors around 6:30 that same morning.
The state medical examiner said at the time that McGriff likely would have survived the impact if he had received prompt medical treatment. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.
Police seized Blondin’s truck shortly after the incident, but it took over four years for authorities to charge him, partially due to the long-standing back up at the state crime lab. Blondin was indicted in November 2012.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for August 27th, where the judge can accept or reject the plea deal between Blondin and the state.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is one of five freshmen on the Senate Armed Services committee, and he’s carving out a place for himself among the national security hawks. Today the committee heard from two architects of the 2007 surge in Iraq. Retired General Jack Keane calls President Obama’s war strategy “fundamentally flawed” and says it can’t defeat Islamic State. Frederick Kagan, a former advisor to General Petraeus, says the U.S. should now send up to 20,000 troops to Iraq. Sen. Sullivan had a chance to ask questions near the end of the hearing. Sullian says the president should prepare Americans for prolonged war.
“I think sometimes we look at what’s going on with ISIS and other issues in the Middle East and think we’re going to have this done in a couple months, 18 months, 20 months, maybe a couple of years,” he said.
Sullivan says Obama should tell Americans this war will last much longer and win their support for ongoing U.S. combat in the Middle East. The senator looked to the witnesses for back-up.
“Do you think that there’s an importance to have the leadership, both in terms of Congress, but particularly the executive branch, talk more broadly and, again, level with the American people about, ‘Look, this might be a generational conflict. This might be akin to the Cold War’?”
Kagan, now at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, agreed.
“We do need to understand that this is a war. These are battlefronts on a common war that is going to last for a long time, and we don’t get to end it. Unless we win,” he said. “We may not be interested in war, but war is interested in us.”
None of the witnesses at the Senate Armed Services Hearing defended the current military strategy. Committee Chairman John McCain of Arizona said the Defense secretary and the chairman of the joint chiefs will testify at a hearing in June.
The border between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia, soon will be open 24-hours a day.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office announced today that after many discussions with her office, the Canadian government has agreed to work with U.S. officials to open the gate — and keep it open, all the time.
“This is an imminent change. This is not something that’s going to happen overnight, we don’t have a timetable,” Murkowski spokesman, Matthew Felling, said. “But the good news is that the political obstacles to removing the lock-box and key approach have been removed, and a resolution has been reached.”
The border has historically been open 24-hours a day, but starting this spring, Canadian officials decided to cut costs by closing the border between midnight and 8 a.m.
The approximately 100 residents of Hyder, who depend on Stewart for medical care, were concerned about access to emergency services. The Canadian government responded with a proposal that emergency providers could have a key to open the gate when needed.
There also was concern about how the closure would affect tourism for both communities. Many visitors stay in Stewart and then cross the border early in the morning to visit the popular bear-viewing facility in Hyder.
Felling said that with the new agreement in place, people on the Canadian side of the border will be able to cross between midnight and 8 a.m. without stopping or checking in.
“For Americans or tourists on the American side of the border going to travel into Canada, there will be some sort of electronic box, a display, a camera, where they report their – it might be a license, it might be a passport – they will have to report in and announce that they’re entering the country,” he said.
Felling said there likely will be a faster process available for people needing emergency medical care. He said officials are still figuring out the details on how the system will work, so a precise timeline is not yet known.
The overnight border closure went into effect April 1.
The ACLU of Alaska is saying last month’s city proposal to prevent three-time users of Anchorage’s emergency sobering center from buying alcohol is illegal under state law. The group maintains that it would violate privacy by sharing confidential records with liquor stores.
The Alaska Dispatch News reports the ACLU sent a letter to Anchorage Assembly members Wednesday, saying that barring people who were admitted to the Anchorage Safety Center could make the city less safe, because people won’t be willing to go the safety center at all.
Backers of the proposal say it would push more people to get sober.
The ACLU says the ban would be illegal under Title 47, a law that essentially directs the state to treat public alcoholism as a disease and not a crime.
The Alaska state Ferry Tustumena spent at least five extra days off the water and missed its first scheduled sailing earlier this month, and it is headed for Unalaska this weekend. But it’s still unclear what a possible state government shutdown could mean if the legislature fails to fund a budget by the start of the next fiscal year.
Jeremy Woodrow is a spokesman with the Alaska Department of Transportation. He says repairs were made to a water main line essential in the event of a fire on the Tustumena. He said pieces of steel in the car deck on the 51-year old ship were also replaced.
“Those are just items that come along with the age of the vessel,” said Woodrow. “That actually emphasizes why we’re working on designing a replacement for the ferry and we’ll actually be working on replacing the Tustumena in the near future.”
Woodrow said a final design for a replacement ship should be completed by the end of December.
But whether a new ferry becomes a reality is in question. In February, the legislature proposed a 10 percent reduction in funding to the ferry system.
In response, earlier this month, Governor Bill Walker transferred $5.5 million dollars from this year’s fuel fund to next year’s operating budget for the ferry system. That money was included in a spending plan lawmakers already passed.
But as legislators continue to spar of the state’s budget, Woodrow says it’s unclear what might happen to the ferry system if Alaska’s state government shuts down.
“It’s too early to say whether the ferry system will or will not be impacted,” he said. “It’s a process that’s unprecedented and therefore we’re going through new territory in terms of what can and can’t be done.”
Woodrow says the Department of Transportation is working with the Governor’s administration to identify ‘essential services.’
Alaska communities could better adjust to climate change if hunting and fishing rules become more flexible.
Craig Fleener, Gov. Bill Walker’s special assistant on Arctic policy, says northern Native peoples had the ability to adapt before western-style government took over.
“A thousand years ago, if the caribou didn’t come, you killed a moose. If the caribou that should have come to your community three weeks ago, two weeks ago, one week ago, today, weren’t there, well, you harvested them next week,” he says.
Fleener says more regulations defining seasons and bag limits need to be adaptable.
“We don’t do it enough. It’s very tough, especially with the rigid management structures that we have. But I think that’s something we really have to focus on. And I think at some point in time, we all have to come together and talk about how we’re going to continue to adapt to the changes that are around us,” he says.
Fleener made his comments to the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, which is holding its annual convention in Juneau this week.
Fleener is Gwich’in Athabascan from Fort Yukon. He’s a former deputy commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game. He also was Walker’s running mate before his independent campaign merged with Democrat Byron Mallott’s.
Fleener urged tribal and other representatives at the convention to educate themselves about Arctic issues.
The United States this year took over chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an eight-nation coalition. Fleener says that’s good. But decisions about the region should be made by the people who live there.
“We need to have a voice. Alaska really has not had a voice on the international front when it comes to decision-making at the Arctic Council,” he says.
The council does include representatives of northern indigenous groups. Fleener, for example, has chaired a council of Gwich’ins from Alaska and Canada.
A new company looking to drill for oil on the southern Kenai Peninsula could begin operations as soon as this summer.
Fort Worth, Texas-based BlueCrest Energy made the announcement in January, and had more detailed plans about its operations this week for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. Larry Burgess, the health, safety and environmental manager for BlueCrest says initial production will be trucked more than 40 miles from the site in Anchor Point to Nikiski for refining and shipping.
“We know that transporting oil via truck is the most dangerous and risky way to transport crude oil. So, in the early days, the first year or two, we will be using trucks. There might be one or two or three a day. But if we were to transport all of our oil during full production, which is estimated at over 17,000 barrels a day, that would be a truck about every 45 minutes and I think that might have an impact on the highway.”
Burgess says early plans to drill water wells near the site have been scrapped after Anchor Point residents balked at the idea of losing 10,000 gallons of water per day out of their aquifer.
“So, after some discussion, we decided to not drill any water wells. We will haul water from Anchor Point or Homer, and will not have any impact on that aquifer.”
The site will eventually have 20 onshore wells. Burgess says some 300 workers will be needed during construction, with 50 positions needed over the span of the 20 to 30 year project. A series of public meetings is scheduled for June 9th, 10th and 11th in Anchor Point, Homer and Ninilchik.
The Senate Education Committee has advanced a rewrite of legislation that would leave as optional sexual assault prevention and awareness programs in Alaska public schools.
The version of the bill that passed the House last month would have made such programs, and those related to dating violence, mandatory. Critics saw this as an unfunded mandate, and the Senate committee rewrite made the programs optional.
The rewrite also incorporated elements from other school-related bills, raising questions about whether doing so went outside the scope of work for the special session called by Gov. Bill Walker. A legal memo from a legislative attorney, requested by the committee chair, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, said there could be a constitutional issue with the committee’s approach, depending on how a court viewed it.
Look out Alaska Airlines. Delta announced last fall it would begin operating non-stop flights from Seattle to Sitka for the summer season. And at 7:25 last Friday (05-15-15), KCAW’s Emily Kwong was on the runway.
We’ve all been there. Sitting in the parking lot. Radio humming. Waiting to pick up someone from the airport. Any minute now. The air is perfectly still and then, the runway lights turn.
Calloway underwent special training by Delta to fly in Alaska, which is notorious for variable weather and small airports with advisory services instead of control towers. But that’s not the thing that worried Calloway the most.
“Fuel was a big issue,” he said. “If we weren’t able to land here, of course we’d have to have a lot more fuel than we’d normally have to have for an alternate – where we’re landing in the Lower 48 [in] a city that’s usually within 100 miles of the airport – instead of having to plan for something further away.”
Jim McNickel flew in that day from Burlington, Vermont, to visit his daughter. He vouched for the smooth flight and when shopping for tickets, found a cheaper deal with Delta than with Alaska Airlines.
“The price was in the range of 500 and something vs. 800. 900. A thousand dollars,” said McNickel.
McNickel was also pleased by the flight’s efficiency, saying he and his wife left at 12:30pm EST and arrived in Sitka at 7:30 p.m. AKST time.
This in part because Delta goes directly to Sitka, while the Alaska Airlines flight usually bobs, making a stop in Juneau or Ketchikan that eats up an extra hour.
As for the cost difference between the two airlines? It’s notable, but not enormous. About $80 to $100 for Seattle to Sitka flights in early June. These differences diminished in July and August.
But for one traveler, the greater appeal was his airline membership.
“I have status with Delta from all my past travels, said Mark McConnell, who has traveled extensively in South America. This is his first time in Sitka.
The Delta flight last Friday landed 2 minutes ahead of schedule and maneuvered the landing with ease, a feat when you consider that the runway at Sitka’s Rocky Guttierez Airport is trimmed with rocks and sticks out into the water like a tongue depressor.
Ryan Calloway, the pilot, is in Sitka for the first time. “We were so excited to pop up out of the clouds and see what a beautiful place this is,” said Calloway. “Hopefully get to come back again and again. It was great.”
He and his fellow passengers were greeted by Delta crew and an enormous sheet cake, covered in whipped cream. It took McConnell by surprise. “I mean…it was another flight. (Laughs) It seems like it’s a big deal, which is funny, to me.”
For Delta, it’s a big deal.
With Seattle as its Pacific international outpost, Delta hasn’t been shy about expanding west. Last summer, Delta service in Seattle reached 25 destinations, including Juneau. This summer, it will hit 35.
But Alaska Airlines remains very much the king of the state, with operations in 20 Alaskan cities along. In April, they reported record net income in the first quarter and have continued with strong ticket sales and earnings, despite the increased completion.
On Friday (05-15-15), Delta also began operating one daily flight from Seattle to Ketchikan. The season will end on September 7th.
Investigators say the deaths of four people in an Anchorage residence last week is likely a murder-suicide.
According to Anchorage police, all indications show 24-year-old Curtis Young III shot and killed his girlfriend, Desiree Gonzalez, age 27, and their two children – 4-year-old Zaiden Young, and 17-month-old Zarielle Young – before taking his own life.
Police say the investigation is still ongoing.
A young woman who traveled to the remote Bering Strait island community of Little Diomede to speak at the school’s graduation was found dead at the community school Tuesday morning. Investigators say foul play is not suspected, but the woman was experiencing unknown medical issues just days before her death.
Alaska State Troopers say 33-year-old Nome resident Evita Samuels was found unresponsive in the Diomede school library early Tuesday morning by a school employee. Troopers and the Diomede village public safety officer were first alerted around 10:30 a.m.
Bering Strait School District Superintendent Dr. Bobby Bolen said Samuels was invited by the Diomede school’s senior class to speak at their May 8 graduation. She arrived at the Bering Sea island community on May 4. She was supposed to leave the island May 11. Samuels was staying at the school and sleeping in the library while she waited for the weather to clear and a helicopter to land.
“And unfortunately while waiting for choppers to come back out and take her back home,” Bolen said by phone Wednesday morning, “she was unable to be awoken [Tuesday] morning and passed away.”
The only flights on or off the island—a helicopter service provided by Portland-based Erickson Aviation—has beenhampered by technical and weather delays since the May 7, and in early 2015, was down for several weeks. Repairs to Erickson’s helicopter were completed last week but consistently poor weather kept the mail and Essential Air Service flights from landing.
Trooper Sergeant Charles Cross of the Nome post said Wednesday that foul play is not suspected but that Samuels “experienced health-related issues” prior to her death.
“While she was there, she experienced unknown medical issues, and made those medical issues know to her friends on the island,” Cross said Wednesday. “The next morning, after complaining, she was found in the library unresponsive and [it was] later confirmed by the [Diomede community] health aide that she had died.”
Sergeant Cross said “it’s not clear” if Samuel’s health issues existed prior to her arrival on Diomede.
Troopers chartered the Erickson helicopter around midday Tuesday, but had to return to Nome due to poor weather. They flew again yesterday afternoon and were able to land on Diomede and retrieve Samuel’s remains.
Troopers said Samuels’ family, who at one time lived in Nome and worked throughout the region, have been notified.
Her remains have been sent to the state medical examiner for an autopsy. Troopers say the death investigation is ongoing.
And, they’re off! This season’s first batch of salmon fry will soon be entering the open ocean with lots of food and plenty of predators. Some will be back in a few years to spawn. Others will be back as soon as next year after they swim a giant counterclockwise circle of the North Pacific.
But fisheries biologists wonder about one salmon run that just left a Juneau stream earlier than ever before. And they’re curious about how a new, large mass of warm ocean water will affect those young salmon as they grow.
“It’s good to separate them because the little fish don’t like being in with the big fish.”
John Joyce just counted one more pink salmon passing through the weir at Auke Creek, located north of downtown Juneau. The tiny, inch-long fry is a straggler. Most of his 14,000 siblings are already hanging out in Auke Bay before heading out into the open ocean.
“There’s physical characteristics on the shape of their fins and the shape of their eyes, and their coloration. You have the ability to tell them apart. But it does take some time to get your eye educated because we do rely on that to separate out the species.”
Joyce, a fisheries research biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says – based on data collected over the last 35 years — Auke Creek’s out migration of pink fry is one of the lowest on record and two weeks ahead of schedule. Joyce suspects that recent mild winters prompted by climate change are behind the subtle, yet steady trend of earlier pink migrations.
But he’s not so sure about another relatively new phenomenon…
“But you’re not willing to say that The Blob was cause of it?” “No, no, nah… <mock fear> It’s The Blob! It’s The Blob!”
That’s the name coined by Washington state climatologist Nicholas Bond for a huge, evolving, moving mass of warm ocean water in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. He says they’re not quick sure how it will affect Alaska salmon.
“We do know that in 2014, because of that warm water, that the base of the food web production of phytoplankton that supports the whole food web was reduced because that warm water served to isolate the near surface waters from the more-nutrient rich water below. ”
Bond says The Blob is bad news for Lower 48 salmon since the warmer water attracts less nutritious prey species.
Over the last two winters, The Blob has moved and stretched out along the coast of Western U-S from California to the Gulf of Alaska. That’s right in the counterclockwise path of pink salmon coming home this year. How will they be affected? For the answer, Joyce refers to a prognosticating colleague at NOAA’s Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute.
Research fisheries biologist Joe Orsi says they’re cautiously optimistic about a strong run of about 55 million fish this year. Those pinks will be the children of 2013’s big return. But they’ll be running through The Blob as they approach the Oregon shore and start heading north.
“The implications of climate change on fish species is important, for them all. Salmon will be first ones reporting back to us if there’s a problem out there. We’ll know this year if the warm blob of 2014 caused something to terrible to happen to the pink salmon because they’re just basically not going to return in high numbers this year.”
Pink salmon or humpies usually don’t get a lot of love. They’re physically smaller than the other four salmon species. But they’re still a major part of the Southeast Alaska commercial salmon industry, worth 124-million dollars during 2013’s blockbuster season. They’re also important ecologically, with the fry serving as food for their larger Chinook and Coho cousins. Bears, eagles, and marine mammals – including whales – will go for the adult humpies.
Orsi also wonders about those Auke Creek pink fry heading out early this spring. He uses the term…
…to describe how the out-of-sync fry may wander around and wait for their zooplankton breakfast to show up.
“If they can’t grow, they spend more time in the near shore, the littoral zone near the beach when they’re small. They’re more vulnerable to predators, both avian and fish predators. They need to grow to a certain size before they actually start moving off shore and migrate out into open waters.”
And how will The Blob affect those out migrating, still developing pinks? Orsi says salmon will grow faster in slightly warmer water, but they’ll also need more food. And the warmer water could attract other unusual species and potential predators like blue shark and thresher shark, and Humboldt squid.
Back at the Auke Creek weir, John Joyce says they won’t be getting any quick and easy answers about the effects of The Blob. They’ll also have to consider other ecosystem factors.
“It’s all very interesting how these populations can optimize their productivity over time, be successful, and continue to deal with changing environmental conditions. They have the ability to adapt and to change their behavior. At what point is it too much or too little?”
There may be a few clues with the first pink returns from the 2013 brood year. That’s coming up in August.
People traveling on the Chester Creek Trail in midtown Anchorage this week might notice a group wandering about in Kelly green vests and sashes adorned with a distinctive merit badge. They aren’t overgrown Girl Scouts; they’re artists who are “Seeking the Source” of the trail and it’s role in the community.
“Well, um I don’t have an opening line, but I have this odd vest with a weird patch.”
Anchorage photographer Michael Conti strolls down the Chester Creek Trail clutching his camera and smiling beneath his wide-brimmed hat. He’s looking for people to photograph and trying to figure out how to explain to them why he’s doing it…
“I would say, ‘well, we’re trying to make art about this trail. On the trail and with the users of the trail and in the landscape of the trail.’ What else would I say to a person? I don’t know. Um, I’d probably leave it there. Because the more I talk the more confused I get about this project.”
Conti is one of eight artists participating in a nebulous thing called “Seeking the Source.” The group also includes artists who are sketching the plants that grow in the area, writers who are looking for intimate spaces, even a stilt walker who is recording stories from passersby about the trail. They’re meeting with groups and walking the trail for a week to interact with random individuals.
Jimmy Riordan is the mastermind behind it. He says he wants people to engage in the space in a new way, notice things they might ignore when traveling on a trail they’ve visited a hundred times before.
“The arts are a place where it’s okay to have conversations about things that maybe wouldn’t come up in other forms or other situations.”
He says the group is leading an expedition to discover the stories, sounds, and experiences of what the trail is today. So before they set off, they consulted a map. Or rather, a room full of maps and historical documents at the city’s Parks & Rec department.
“Let’s guess the decade based on the colors. 1980s? 70s…”
The muni started buying land for the greenbelt in 1965, well before it was a popular thing to do. The current trail runs about 4 miles and started as a footpath. The city owns more land along the creek but hasn’t been able to develop it yet.
“Dear Mr. Pitchford, it has come to our attention that a garden plot at your residence is not properly located on your property but is encroaching on the Chester Creek Greenbelt Park property….”
That’s artist Ayden LeRoux reading a letter from 1982.
Manila folders stuffed with documents show everything from property lines and drainage ditches to outdated, underfunded project proposals. Some plans for the area say the creek cannot be rehabilitated. Others highlight it’s potential.
Riordan walks through the tunnel that runs under Minnesota Drive. He says opinions and experiences on the trail still vary from person to person. Planning this project changed his relationship with the space.
“Maybe it’s a different sort of intimacy or a different sort of knowledge. I agree. I used to commute on the trail, and I definitely knew, when you think about things like bumps or different neighborhoods. But I didn’t know the different turns of the creek. And I don’t think I noticed exactly where one type of landscape shifted to the next.”
He says those are the personal experiences he and his team are collecting for their website.
Photographer Conti is already hard at work on his map of Westchester Lagoon, sketched with child-like symbols inside a 30-year-old book of hexagonal graphing paper leftover from his teenaged role-playing days. It includes the usual landmarks and some less typical stuff.
“Well there’s a red fox that lives over here and I’ve seen him or her many, many times over the years. mostly in winter. And there’s salmon over here and cranes over here and a tug boat pulling a barge and a broken bridge.”
Conti’s starting to get the idea of what they’re trying to do. He’s thinking about what the trail he’s walked on for more than decade really means to him.