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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 8 min 59 sec ago

Heroin Hits Home: A Bethel Woman’s Struggle to Get Clean

Tue, 2015-05-26 17:46

Black tar heroin is one form of the narcotic that’s reached rural Alaska. Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Public Safety.

Federal officials say in 2014 they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska than in 2013. The growing use of the drug is impacting urban and rural areas. This is the first in a series of three stories about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how the community is fighting it. It begins with one woman’s struggle to get clean in Bethel.

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Don’t be fooled by Tracy Faulkner’s 5’4” frame. The small brunette with thick hair and the nickname malaggai, which means “fur hat” in Yup’ik, is a former wrestling champion.

She competed against boys in high school, going all the way to state and national competition. But in her off time she hid a dark secret.

“When I wasn’t training I would go and use — steal my parents’ booze, you know, find weed. It eventually progressed to taking pills,” said Faulkner.

Tracy Faulkner. Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK

That started when she was 12. One semester into college drugs started taking a priority over schoolwork. She dropped out and returned to Bethel where she tried school again, but her drug use intervened. She started a food truck business, but couldn’t maintain that either. That’s when Faulkner’s need for escape escalated.

“I got addicted to Tramadol – started taking that, eventually it wasn’t doing the trick for me anymore – I wanted that same high which I first got in the beginning. Then went to Oxycontin, and then went to using heroin,” said Faulkner.

Faulkner smoked it. Others inject. She couldn’t hold a job and was stealing to support her habit. Each high, or ‘nifty’ as they’re called, cost $100 here.

There are no treatment programs specifically for heroin addiction in Bethel. Treatment centers in Anchorage have waiting lists. Rick Robb is Bethel’s Mayor and also runs residential facilities for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.  “It seems like a few years ago it would be non-existent to rare, but now we’re seeing full-blown heroin and we’re seeing it more and more. So the numbers are definitely increasing,” said Robb.

YKHC’s behavioral health division offers outpatient and inpatient treatment for those struggling to get off drugs and alcohol. But there are only 16 beds at the local center and they’re not equipped to handle heroin withdrawal. Sometimes, Robb says, people endure the painful process in the hospital emergency room or at home.

“People can come in if they have a problem, and we’re gonna do the best we can with the resources we have to get people the help they need. I think we have to. There’s some emphasis on us. We have to improve our programing specifically for heroin and we have to learn more about it,” said Robb.

Faulkner says she distinctly remembers the day this winter when she gazed out the window at a friend’s house and realized she wanted to make a change.

“I remember looking out on the river and just seeing everybody living life and I was stuck in this dark place,” said Faulkner.

But with no detox facility in Bethel, Faulkner realized it would have to be cold turkey. She reached out to an uncle for help. He cared for her as she went through withdrawal.

“You get sick to your bones, I mean you want to crawl out of your skin. You lay in bed all day. You have the shakes, the sweats, you know. You’re puking, out the other end, you know it’s bad to where I couldn’t get out of bed,” said Faulkner.

After detox at home, she was ready to check herself into the local treatment program run by YKHC. But it wasn’t an easy process. YKHC told her it could take weeks to get an assessment necessary to access treatment. Instead of waiting she got the assessment at a local primary care clinic and was able to check in to in-patient treatment through YKHC within a few days. Robb, with YKHC, says he knows they need to do a better job of getting patients quickly into treatment. Now Faulkner is done with her treatment program. She says she gains strength from her ancestors and from her young son, who she says deserves to grow up in a healthy environment.

“It’s our younger generation that’s going to be most affected by this. I mean, our heritage, our culture is gonna be lost. For me, looking at my own child, I don’t want him to grow up in this kind of community. I want him to grow up in the community that I was raised in. Where we showed love for each other, where we cared for each other, where we stood as one,” said Faulkner.

Faulkner says she knows she’s in a unique position to help unite people in the region around the issue, and now that she’s clean that will be her focus.

Officials seized nearly 10 times as much heroin in 2014 compared to 2013. Graphic by Ben Matheson / KYUK.

This is part 1 of a 3-part KYUK series. Click here for part 2 and part 3.

Categories: Alaska News

With Legislature At Impasse, One Alaskan Suggests A Kickstart

Tue, 2015-05-26 17:45

For weeks, the Alaska Legislature has been wrestling with how to cover its multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. Now one Juneau man has a modest proposal for them: Try crowdfunding? APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has this story.

For Geoff Kirsch, following the Alaska State Legislature has been like watching the last seasons of Lost. It’s confusing, and frustrating, but you just want to stick it out for the end — which, in this case, is the passage of the budget.

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“That’s like their one job, and they haven’t done that,” says Kirsch.

Since the Legislature ended their regular session, they’ve been stuck on their spending bill. They’ve been at an impasse over tapping the state’s rainy day account, which requires a three-quarter vote, and lawmakers have been retreading the same ground in their public meetings, in their talking points, and — by most accounts — their negotiations with each other.

So, Kirsch wondered if Alaskans could take action into their own hands. A few days ago, he launched a campaign to cover the deficit through the website GoFundMe, where people can contribute to causes they like.

“If it works for Veronica Mars and Reading Rainbow, then it certainly might work for Alaska,” says Kirsch.

At $3 billion, the goal is a little higher than most campaigns.

“It comes out to like, $4,000 per person that they would would have to contribute in order for the campaign to work,” says Kirsch.

It’s kind of like voluntary taxation. And given how popular the idea of taxation is in Alaska, it shouldn’t be too shocking that the campaign isn’t raking in cash. But it’s gone better than Kirsch has expected.

“So far, someone has contributed $50, and that wasn’t even me!”

Of course, the point is more to raise awareness of the political situation than to raise money.

Kirsch used to do work for Comedy Central, and still writes political satire. The description says the Legislature’s message to Alaskans has been “to go fund themselves,” and Kirsch encourages Alaskans to turn the budgetary shortfall into budgetary “shortfall-ade.” It’s obvious he had fun with the idea.

But as the husband to a state employee — whom, full disclosure, this reporter knows socially — Kirsch says the budget stalemate is serious. If an agreement is not reached by July 1, up to 15,000 state workers will be laid off.

“People are going to lose money, and people are going to lose health insurance,” says Kirsch. “There’s nothing funny about that.”

But then again, a lot of humor is rooted in tragedy anyway. So, Kirsch is going to take this fundraiser to its logical extreme.

“I really do think I am going to present a big, oversize novelty check to Gov. Walker, if he lets me do that,” says Kirsch. “I don’t know if I need to make an appointment, or if I can just show up with it.”

A spokesperson for the governor said he is “open to discussions on all forms of revenue,” but that they “need to check with their ethics attorneys about whether [they] could take the money.”

Categories: Alaska News

Nome Neighbors’ Lawsuit on Sled Dog Noise, Smell Dismissed

Tue, 2015-05-26 17:44

A lawsuit between Nome neighbors that centered on noise and odor from one household’s dog lot has been dismissed—and is no longer set to go before a jury this summer.

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Since 2012 neighbors Kevin Bopp and wife Lynn DeFilippo have been in a legal tussle with mushers Nils Hahn and wife and mushing partner Diana Haecker.

The neighbors claim the sound and odor of the mushers’ dog lot is a nuisance that makes living next door unbearable; the mushers counter that they’re simply running a dog kennel in rural Alaska. It’s all complicated by the fact that the homes in question are in an unincorporated subdivision six miles outside of town where the City of Nome’s rules don’t apply.

Escalating tensions led Hahn and Haecker to lead the charge on declaring Alaska a “Right to Mush” state last year. It’s all complicated by the fact that the homes in question are in an unincorporated subdivision six miles outside of town where the City of Nome’s rules don’t apply.

The conflict came to a head last month when Kotzebue Judge Paul Roteman ruled the mushers’ dog lot—both in terms of sound and odor—would be acceptable to a “reasonable person.” The case was then set to go before a jury in June—until all four parties agreed to dismiss the case, with prejudice, earlier this month.

“And the with prejudice means that no lawsuit regarding dog noise, or dog odors, or any of the other related complaints touched on in this lawsuit can be brought again in the future.”

That’s Bethel attorney Myron Angstman, who represented mushers Hahn and Haecker in the case. (The attorney for Bopp and Deflippo did not return messages asking for comment.) Angstman says another important part of the settlement is an option for mushers Hahn and Haecker to buy Bopp’s property at what he calls a “fair market” price.

Hahn says—after the judge ruled his dogs could stay put unless a jury decides otherwise—purchasing the land is a clear way forward.

“I think it’s the best option for both parties. You know, I can speak for myself, it’s certainly the best option for us, to buy the land and we offer Mr. Bopp above market value, so, I think that’s the way to go.”

For Bopp, settling simply came down to rising legal fees—fees he says would have ballooned through weeks of trial. Now he’s dropping the case without any changes to a situation he says made life “unbearable” at home.

“I made a decision because of the money, mainly. I don’t want to spend any more. And its really tiring going to court. Haha. Now this suit has beat me with money, so, I really can’t say much as come out in my favor.”

The “pending contract” for mushers Hahn and Haecker to buy Bopp’s property hinges on him relocating his house elsewhere. Bopp says that’s easier said than done in Nome’s tight housing market—but the settlement gives him a one-year window to complete the move.

Also part of the settlement: both parties agree to pay their own attorney fees—fees now running to thousands of dollars after years of court filings and legal maneuvering. Attorney Angstman says that’s no small concession—given that the losing side of a lawsuit can be ordered by the court to pay some or all of the other party’s attorney fees.

Categories: Alaska News

Smokejumpers Race to Divert Seventy Mile Fire From Community of Eagle

Tue, 2015-05-26 17:43

Warm, mostly dry weather continues across much of the eastern interior, and that has fire managers concerned about future growth of the Seventy Mile fire in the eastern interior. It’s so far burning in remote country, north of the Seventy Mile River and away from the community of Eagle. Alaska Fire Service spokesman Sam Harrel says a planned burn out operation would blacken an area of heavy timber along the river to protect values on the other side.

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“There are a couple of allotments and cabins in the area, but they are on the opposite side of the Seventy Mile Rivers from the fire.”

Harrel says smokejumpers on scene will take advantage of favorable conditions to burn out the area in case a future wind shift pushes the fire back toward the river and the Eagle area. He says another group of smokejumpers are protecting a homestead along the Yukon River at Trout Creek, near where another wildfire is burning.

“A lot of people will know this area along Trout Creek as the Sager Homestead. It’s a hospitality stop along the Yukon Quest Trail, and we have a group of smokejumpers in there with cabin protection on that but, that fire is still a good bit away from the cabin.”

The Trout and Seventy Mile fires are among four started by lightning in the Eagle area Sunday. Harrel says additional dry thunder storms in the region Monday are expected to yield more fires.

“There were over 500 lightning strikes around the state, a lot of them in that area, and the eastern Brooks Range, and so we’ll be patrolling to see if we can see any fires.”

The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reported Tuesday, that 167 wildfires in Alaska so far this year, had burned about 6,500 acres.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Muskrat Populations Are Rebounding

Tue, 2015-05-26 17:42

Muskrat. Photo: ADFG.

The muskrat population across much of Alaska appears to be on the rise.

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The fur-bearing rodent used to be very abundant  in the first half of the 20th century, and harvesting muskrats for their meat and fur was a critical part of springtime subsistence activities.  It was not uncommon for a family to harvest 1,000 or 2,000 muskrats in a season and use the furs to pay for food and supplies.

Then muskrat numbers plummeted.

Scientists aren’t sure why the muskrat population fell to such low levels.  But they do know that muskrats have returned to levels not seen in Alaska for at least 40 years.

Galena elder Paddy Nollner remembers a time when it seemed like there was a never-ending supply of muskrats, and muskrat furs were a valuable trade good.

Nollner places the beginning of the muskrat decline around Galena in the early 1950s.  Elsewhere, muskrats may have remained abundant until the early 1970s.

Then muskrat populations dropped sharply, and stayed relatively low until the past few years.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist and pilot Brad Scotton says that the muskrat decline happened all across North America at roughly the same time, and scientists are still debating why it happened.  No single explanation works continent-wide.  But in certain areas, habitat loss, environmental contamination, changes in water depth, increased predation and overabundance help explain the decline.

It is clear that muskrats are prolific breeders, and Scotton thinks that helps cast aside the theory that too much hunting and trapping caused the population collapse.

State Fish and Game biologist and pilot Tom Seaton has been studying muskrats for more than 20 years, mainly in the Tanana and upper Yukon drainages.  In those areas too, the muskrats were virtually extinct for a while.

But then Seaton and other biologists began to see an upswing in muskrat populations around 2004. From the vantage point of his airplane, Seaton has witnessed a steadily growing population every year since then.

Seaton says he’s excited to how the abundance of muskrats affects the ecosystems in which they live.  Muskrats are largely vegetarian, and are eaten by hawks, owls, mink, and otters.

Trappers might also welcome the return of the muskrat, as muskrat furs have bought in as much as $19 apiece in a fur auction earlier this year.  The average price was closer to $5 each, but demand was strong from both Chinese and Canadian buyers.  Muskrat fur goes into winter hats for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian military.

As for how long muskrat numbers will remain high…nobody knows.

Categories: Alaska News

Houston Ready To Turn Out The Lights

Tue, 2015-05-26 17:40

The city of Houston is facing such severe financial woes that all but three city employees have been furloughed. Houston mayor Virgie Thompson is working without pay, and volunteers are keeping the wheels of city government turning.

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Houston, on the Parks Highway in the Susitna Valley, has hit the financial wall. Houston mayor Virgie Thompson, blames the crisis on unpaid property taxes.

“There’s a little over $35, 000 delinquent, in other words, they haven’t paid it. So that’s $35, 000 right now that we don’t have that we projected to have.”

The city of two thousand residents is just beyond commuting distance to Anchorage, there are few local jobs, and state revenue sharing funds from this fiscal year are running out. Thompson says the city’s greatest source of revenue is property taxes, and that the much ballyhooed Alaska Railroad spur linking Houston and Port MacKenzie is not helping bring in any money.

“Not yet. You know, part of that is owned by the Borough, and you can’t tax the Borough. The other part is owned by the state, and you can’t tax the state. The basic infrastructure is there, but until the private sector comes in and does something with it, it’s not taxable.”

Thompson says she’s putting in the 80 hours a month required by city law, but is not turning in her time card to the finance clerk, so as to keep her 1500 – dollar a month salary in the coffers.

The finance clerk, along with the city’s fire chief and city clerk, are the only Houston city employees now drawing a paycheck.

The city is not legally allowed to borrow money. City sales taxes bring in some revenue during the tourism season, which has barely started, and next year’s state revenue sharing is still on the horizon. There is some money in the Matanuska Susitna Borough budget for Houston: $9500 for the fire department, and a 21 thousand dollar block grant to be used at the city’s discretion.

The Mat-Su Borough budget for next year has been approved, but is awaiting expected vetoes from Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss, which will be made known this week.

Thompson says the city is due three mils of Matanuska Susitna Borough property taxes. The Borough collects the taxes and sends out the delinquent notices, but it can be up to three years before any foreclosure action is taken on non-payers.

“I mean, we may be worse off than a lot of other cities, but, look at the state. It’s the domino affect, it goes down. Who knows, half of those people who are going to be laid off on the Slope actually live in the city of Houston and they can’t afford to pay their property taxes, so it affects us.”

Two positions, a full time public works director and one part time job are furloughed, one position will not be rehired, and all the firefighters have been furloughed from duty shifts, although they will be paid if called on to fight a fire.

Thompson says it’s normally June before money gets tight.  This year, she says, the financial squeeze started in April.  Thompson says the city will struggle to provide the services that property owners who did pay taxes deserve. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

7-Year-Old Girl Severely Injured in Dog Attack

Tue, 2015-05-26 16:33

A 7-year-old girl in Unalakleet was severely injured in a dog attack Sunday—and had to be medevaced to Anchorage for her injuries.

In an online dispatch Alaska State Troopers say the girl, who was not named, was petting a dog leashed dog in a dog lot near her home. Troopers say that that dog, in addition to a second loose dog that was not tied up, attacked her.

Troopers say an adult bystander—unrelated to the girl–intervened and stopped the attack. The child was brought to the community clinic for “severe injuries” to her face and neck before being medevaced to Anchorage for further treatment.

The mauling was reported to Troopers shortly after 11:00 Sunday night.

Trooper spokesperson Tim DeSpain says, as of Tuesday, no charges are anticipated against anyone involved in the incident. He adds that the dogs were not rabid and Troopers have no past reports “indicating the animals were violent.”

Troopers say the dogs, both huskies, were killed by their owner Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Business Fined Nearly $12K For Whale-Watching Violations

Tue, 2015-05-26 16:01

Humpback whale diving in Juneau. (Creative Commons photo by Tony Hisgett)

Tour company Juneau Whale Watch recently finished paying almost $12,000 in fines for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cited the business last fall for two violations that occurred in August 2013. Both incidents were reported to NOAA by members of the public and were verified with video and photo evidence.

The first violation took place around Horse and Colt Islands. In a news release, NOAA says a Juneau Whale Watch boat was seen chasing a pod of orcas, which caused the whales to change direction.

A week later, the company violated the “hundred-yard rule.” It’s unlawful to approach a humpback whale within 100 yards. During off-duty time, Juneau Whale Watch staff members were seen paddle boarding near humpback whales, including a mother and calf.

Juneau Whale Watch accepted responsibility and agreed to pay the fines soon after being notified of the violations. General Manager Serene Hutchinson says the company has made sure incidents like those haven’t happened since.

“This was an eye-opening experience. We have increased our trainings of our captains and we’ve gone over the regulations better and we have more experienced captains now.”

Hutchinson says the captain involved in both violations is no longer with the company.

NOAA enforcement officer Robert Marvelle says, so far this season, the agency hasn’t received any complaints about potential violations on the water.

Besides following to the 100-yard rule for humpback whales, Marvelle says boaters shouldn’t alter the behavior of marine mammals by getting too close.

“Give the animals space to do what they naturally need to do — for eating, just transiting the area, playing, all that.”

When the cruise ship season is in full swing, Marvelle says up to 60 boats can be in North Pass watching whales. They include charter fishing boats, whale watching boats and sport boats.

Categories: Alaska News

Cleanup continues for Cook Inlet diesel spill

Tue, 2015-05-26 12:47

Clean up and assessment work continues following a diesel spill in southern Cook Inlet over the weekend. The vessel in question is currently tied up in Seldovia, on the southern Kenai Peninsula.

The 116-foot landing craft, Thor’s Hammer, was traveling from Seward to Bristol Bay when it encountered rough seas between Gore Point and Nuka Island, which is in Kachemak Bay State Park. Winds were reported in that area at 25 knots with seas to six feet Friday night.

Steven Russell is an environmental program manager with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. He says the vessel itself wasn’t damaged, but its cargo was.

“They had a 9,000 gallon tank trailer onboard the vessel and it moved,” Russell said. “It didn’t necessarily break loose, but it shifted and punctured the tank trailer in two places.”

He says crews attempted to make temporary repairs at sea. They then headed for the calmer waters near Flat Island and were met by response teams including the Coast Guard and DEC Saturday morning.

Russell says the crew considered taking the vessel to Port Graham Saturday evening for repairs, but due to limited facilities and logistics, they decided to go its larger neighbor, Seldovia, on Sunday instead.

“The vessel transited from the Gore Point, Nuka Island area to lower Cook Inlet and conducted additional repairs,” Russell said. “It’s estimated that in that transit, they lost approximately 6000 gallons of Number 1 diesel fuel.”

Russell says the nature of diesel fuel in that environment is that it would break apart and dissipate quickly, with no obvious remnants after about an hour.

He says the leaks on the tanker were secured Saturday and it is not producing a visible sheen from the deck.

Once in Seldovia, Thor’s Hammer was boomed off. On Monday afternoon, about 3000 gallons of diesel was offloaded from the damaged tanker.

The vessel is still tied up at the Seldovia City Dock where it’s being evaluated and decontaminated. It’s under the supervision of the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska Chedux, a private contractor specializing in spill response and cleanup.

“That operation will continue until the Coast Guard and others are sure that the vessel is no longer a potential environmental threat,” Russell said. “We have seen no leakage from the vessel, no sheening from the vessel since it arrived in the southern Cook Inlet.”

Russell says the Department of Interior, National Marine Fisheries Service, and National Wildlife Service evaluated potential harm to wildlife in the area and found none.

“We had certain concerns about bird areas and seal and sea lions,” Russell said. Currently, we have had no indication that any wildlife has been affected by this.”

He says there are still a few unknowns like did the fuel gush out all at once in a single area after it was first damaged or did it seep out over the miles the vessel traveled to safe harbor.

The incident team is waiting for automated vessel tracking information to more closely pinpoint its route.

Russell says the Coast Guard, which is leading the operation, should release more information over the next few days.

No injuries, or damage to the vessel, have been reported.

Categories: Alaska News

Man dies in south Anchorage shooting

Tue, 2015-05-26 09:13

Anchorage police are investigating a south Anchorage shooting Monday night that left a man dead.

Anchorage television station KTUU reports police took a call on shots fired at 11:25 p.m. and responded to a home on Pokey Circle near Lake Otis Parkway and 84th Avenue.

Police found a man dead and witnesses at the home.

Police say the dead man’s next of kin has been notified but they have not released his name.

Police say they’re not looking for the shooter and that all people involved were taken to the police station.

Neighbor Kellie Robinson says she heard as many as six gunshots.

Categories: Alaska News

Dalton Highway Repairs Should Be Underway Soon

Mon, 2015-05-25 16:58

Alaska transportation officials say flood waters have receded enough for repairs to begin on the Dalton Highway.

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The Alaska Department of Transportation said Sunday the repairs will re-establish a lifeline to Prudhoe Bay and the North Slope.

The ongoing flooding prompted Gov. Bill Walker to issue a second disaster declaration late last week.

Culverts are being installed on the north end of the highway to allow flood waters to flow back into the main channel of the Sag River. On the south end, crews will continue to excavate, haul and stockpile materials necessary for rebuilding miles of washed out highway.

The highway remains closed from Mile 335 to Mile 413. There’s no estimate on when the road will re-open.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, May 25, 2015

Mon, 2015-05-25 16:47

As Negotiations Continue, Little Public Action From Legislature; Repair Work To Begin On Dalton Highway; Body Found in Bethel Park Identified; Alaska Native Medical Center Starts Construction Of Patient Housing; Tyonek Tribe Grateful For Land Donation; Eielson Air Force Base Investigates Ground Water Contamination; Scientist Maps Spill Potential For Seabirds; Klukwan Seniors Graduate In Class Of Two.

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Categories: Alaska News

IGAP coordinators train on data collection in Dillingham

Mon, 2015-05-25 10:08

Sue Mauger, Science Director at Cook Inlet Keepers, trains IGAP Coordinators on how to check water temperature on Nielsen Creek near Dillingham.
Credit Matt Martin/KDLG

Residents of Togiak, Illiumna, Port Heiden, among others, came to Dillingham for scientific training. It’s part of the Indian Environmental General Assistance Program or IGAP. The researchers are looking to set a baseline data set of water quality and temperature in the region.

At Nielsen creek a few miles south of Aleknagik Lake,  Aisha Upton fiddled with a fickle PH meter. After the meter shut off on her she had to turn it back on and start the test all over again. She hunched over and put the meter back in the water and counted to 20 to get an accurate reading.

“18…19…20,” counted Upton. “7.19. And the water temperature is 5.1.”

Upton flew over from Togiak for this training. This will be her first year as an IGAP coordinator. She sees it as a way to help protect the natural resources of her village and gain experience in field research. She’s also working towards becoming a marine biologist.

“I am hoping with this job I’ll have a lot more time to focus on doing a lot of environmental stuff as well as class,” said Upton.

The EPA requires that all IGAP coordinators attend an annual training, which was headed up this week by Sue Mauger, a Science Director with Cook Inlet Keepers.

“And I think it is good for both the meters and for them to brush off the winter cob webs,” said Mauger. “And get the meters running more smoothly and getting their heads back in the game for collecting samples.”

The IGAP coordinators record water quality, and new this year, they’ll also measure the water temperature.

“So of the work we are doing the water temperature, we are targeting salmon streams because we are trying to see whether we have temperatures that are any stress to salmon,” added Mauger.

Mauger is one of two full-time researchers who works with these community scientists. Dan Bogan is the other. He’s been a part of this annual training for a decade.

“I guess what motives a lot of the people that are here are the threats on the horizon in some of the villages; mining threats, development coming in and potentially changing water quality,” stated Bogan.

Bogan says the work of these environmental coordinators sets up a baseline that researchers like himself can use to see what, if any, changes happen to these water systems in the future. And that data would be hard to come by without them.

“We have 40% of the nation’s surface water in this state and know less than about 1% of it,” said Bogan. “In just about every one of these villages they are the only people out there collecting this information.”

Aisha Upton is quick to figure out the recording equipment. After finishing up the PH test, she records the amount of oxygen in the creek. She says she’s ready to put these new skills to work when she gets home.

“Get everybody informed about how important it is to save our environment and especially preserve it for many years to come, for the next generation,” said Upton.

Categories: Alaska News

“Summer of Blubber” now live from Round Island

Mon, 2015-05-25 10:06

Walrus fans everywhere can now watch the thousands of walruses sunning on Round Island live via a new set of walrus cams.

This live stream is sponsored by Explore.org, an organization that has installed these wildlife cams all over the world.

Our first cam in Alaska was in Katmai with Ranger Roy with the brown bears and salmon,” said Charles Annenberg Weingarden, the founder of Explore.org and the vice president of the Annenberg Foundation.

The idea for the cams, he says, “was to allow people to get up close and personal with nature, to allow people to reconnect, to fall in love with the world again.”

Weingarden says he’s always had an interest in marine life, but walruses especially captured his attention.

“You know they’re vocal… they sing they speak… they look lazy but they’re great singers, which I relate to… I love the way they move their heads. The tusk is amazing. They’re swimming tanks! They’re two to four thousand pounds!”

Weingarten says he was especially excited to bring cameras to a place as hard to reach as Round Island.

“Not only is it remote, it’s very weather prohibitive It’s very difficult to fly there, it’s not an easy journey,” said Weingarten. So to be able to connect the world to such a sacred place is amazing…”

The cameras live-stream from two different beaches on Round Island, where thousands of male walruses “haul out” to rest in the spring and summer. Weingarten says that’s a party everyone is going to want to check out:

“Now I’ve almost made it comical, because now that I’m watching them on the live cams, I’ve dubbed this summer – this Memorial Day weekend – the Summer of Blubber’ to just enjoy and celebrate… but I just think with the walruses, it’s such a magical place.”

The Annenberg Foundation also provided funding to keep Round Island staffed after last year’s budget cuts threatened to close the island to visitors.

Check out the beach party live on Explore.org.

Categories: Alaska News

APICDA-owned Fish Company Opens Processor in Washington State

Mon, 2015-05-25 10:03

A new fish processor opened its doors in Kent, Washington this spring.  It is operated by the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association. Revenue from the processor is expected to help fuel economies in remote communities along the Aleutian chain.

In 2013, APICDA acquired Cannon Fish Company.  The Association already has two primary fish processing plants in False Pass and Atka where fish are gutted and heads are removed, but there is no secondary processor that can filet and portion fish for restaurants, cruise ships and other businesses. Larry Cotter is APICDA’s CEO.

“The fact of the matter is there is no transportation link between western Alaska and Anchorage or Southeast Alaska everything has to be shipped to Seattle,” said Cotter.

That’s why APICDA chose to open a processor in Kent – 20 miles from Seattle.  For years Cannon has contracted other companies for custom processing.  Cotter said the new processor translates to both a cost savings and additional profits.

“The waste that we produce, we get paid to sell that waste to somebody who converts it into meal and fertilizer.  When we buy boxes of fish that come in Styrofoam, we get to sell the Styrofoam as well,” he said.

The new processor has the potential to employ 200 people.  Cotter said APICDA is not recruiting in Alaska for positions in Kent.

APICDA is one of six groups in Western Alaska that are part of the Community Development Quota, or CDQ, program tasked with developing stable economies in villages like False Pass, St. George and Atka – communities Cotter says are in need of heavy investment.

“We have a plant in Atka,” he explained. “That plans operates about five months a year right now.  We need to move that plant into year-round production mode as well, which will probably cost another $17 million.  We desperately need a harbor in St. George and we’re already committed toward putting $10 million towards that harbor,” said Cotter.

But he said that kind of money just isn’t available from APICDA’s Western Alaska-based businesses or through royalties.

“We have to be also invested in outside profitable companies in order to generate the revenues we need to develop in our communities,” he said.

Cotter said fish headed for the Kent processor is caught by fishing families based in the Aleutians.  He added Cannon Fish Company revenues increased by 20 percent in the last year.  He expects the uptick to continue on an annual basis in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Eielson Air Force Base Investigates Potential Ground Water Contamination

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:59

Ground water contamination at Eielson Air Force Base may have spread off the facility. The Air Force has contacted private property owners in the nearby Moose Creek area offering to test well water for presence of a chemical presumed to be from firefighting foam formerly used at the base.

Eric Breitenberger, a manager with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Contaminated sites program, says there’s already known to be extensive pollution at Eielson.

“There’s a fairly large groundwater plume of perflourinated compounds, and we know that it extends to the northern boundary of the base. We don’t know yet if it extends beyond the base boundary.”

Breitenberger says the Air Force previously abandoned some older base wells that tested in excess of an Environmental Protection Agency provisional health advisory level for  perflourinated compounds.

“The one in particular is called ‘P-FOSS’, perflouro octane sulfonate, and its an emerging contaminate, and what we mean by an emerging contaminate is that we have very limited data on toxicity, and particularly with regards to human health effects.  Most of the health effects we know about are based on animal studies.”

The studies show blood, liver and kidney effects. Breitenberger says firefighting suppression foams containing “P-FOSS” were used from 1970 to 2 thousand. He says perflourinated compounds are known to readily spread.

“These perflourinated compounds are very resistant to degradation. They last a long time in the groundwater, so te groundwater plumes can be very extensive.”

Breitenberger adds that perflourinated compounds are in a range of industrial and commercial products and have also been detected in ground water at other interior sites, including the Flint Hills North Pole Refinery, but not in excess of the advisory level. The DEC is over seeing the water testing of Moose Creek wells. Eielson is federal Superfund Site, regulated by the DEC and EPA. Eielson had no one available to comment Friday.

Categories: Alaska News

Heroin Hits Home: One Woman’s Struggle to Get Clean in Bethel

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:51

Federal officials say in 2014 they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska than in 2013. The growing use of the drug is impacting urban and rural areas. This is the first in a series of three stories about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how the community is fighting it. It begins with one woman’s struggle to get clean in Bethel.

Don’t be fooled by Tracy Faulkner’s 5’4” frame. The small brunette with thick hair and the nickname malaggai, which means “fur hat” in Yup’ik, is a former wrestling champion.

Black tar heroin is one form of the narcotic that’s reached rural Alaska. Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Public Safety.

She competed against boys in high school, going all the way to state and national competition. But in her off time she hid a dark secret.

“When I wasn’t training I would go and use — steal my parents’ booze, you know, find weed. It eventually progressed to taking pills,” said Faulkner.

That started when she was 12. One semester into college drugs started taking a priority over schoolwork. She dropped out and returned to Bethel where she tried school again, but her drug use intervened. She started a food truck business, but couldn’t maintain that either. That’s when Faulkner’s need for escape escalated.

“I got addicted to Tramadol – started taking that, eventually it wasn’t doing the trick for me anymore – I wanted that same high which I first got in the beginning. Then went to Oxycontin, and then went to using heroin,” said Faulkner.

Faulkner smoked it. Others inject. She couldn’t hold a job and was stealing to support her habit. Each high, or ‘nifty’ as they’re called, cost $100 here.

Tracy Faulkner. Photo by Dean Swope/KYUK

There are no treatment programs specifically for heroin addiction in Bethel. Treatment centers in Anchorage have waiting lists. Rick Robb is Bethel’s Mayor and also runs residential facilities for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.  “It seems like a few years ago it would be non-existent to rare, but now we’re seeing full-blown heroin and we’re seeing it more and more. So the numbers are definitely increasing,” said Robb.

YKHC’s behavioral health division offers outpatient and inpatient treatment for those struggling to get off drugs and alcohol. But there are only 16 beds at the local center and they’re not equipped to handle heroin withdrawal. Sometimes, Robb says, people endure the painful process in the hospital emergency room or at home.

“People can come in if they have a problem, and we’re gonna do the best we can with the resources we have to get people the help they need. I think we have to. There’s some emphasis on us. We have to improve our programing specifically for heroin and we have to learn more about it,” said Robb.

Faulkner says she distinctly remembers the day this winter when she gazed out the window at a friend’s house and realized she wanted to make a change.

Rick Robb, YKHC Residential Facilities Director. Photo Courtesy of Dean Swope/KYUK

“I remember looking out on the river and just seeing everybody living life and I was stuck in this dark place,” said Faulkner.

But with no detox facility in Bethel, Faulkner realized it would have to be cold turkey. She reached out to an uncle for help. He cared for her as she went through withdrawal.

“You get sick to your bones, I mean you want to crawl out of your skin. You lay in bed all day. You have the shakes, the sweats, you know. You’re puking, out the other end, you know it’s bad to where I couldn’t get out of bed,” said Faulkner.

After detox at home, she was ready to check herself into the local treatment program run by YKHC. But it wasn’t an easy process. YKHC told her it could take weeks to get an assessment necessary to access treatment. Instead of waiting she got the assessment at a local primary care clinic and was able to check in to in-patient treatment through YKHC within a few days. Robb, with YKHC, says he knows they need to do a better job of getting patients quickly into treatment. Now Faulkner is done with her treatment program. She says she gains strength from her ancestors and from her young son, who she says deserves to grow up in a healthy environment.

Rick Robb, YKHC Residential Facilities Director. Photo Courtesy of Dean Swope/KYUK

“It’s our younger generation that’s going to be most affected by this. I mean, our heritage, our culture is gonna be lost. For me, looking at my own child, I don’t want him to grow up in this kind of community. I want him to grow up in the community that I was raised in. Where we showed love for each other, where we cared for each other, where we stood as one,” said Faulkner.

Faulkner says she knows she’s in a unique position to help unite people in the region around the issue, and now that she’s clean that will be her focus.

Categories: Alaska News

Police Investigate Body Found in Bethel Park

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:41

Alaska State Troopers and Bethel Police are investigating after a body was found in a Bethel park. A press release from the Bethel Police Department Sunday said, in the early morning hours, around 4 a.m., witnesses reported a dead body near Pinky’s Park Boardwalk. Police responded and found the remains of a female in nearby bushes.

Investigators from the Alaska State Troopers Alaska Bureau of Investigation were dispatched to the scene from Anchorage and are working with the BPD Investigations Unit.

Currently the female has not been identified and the details of the case are not being released. But police are urging anyone with information regarding the case to call Bethel Police and speak with Investigative Sergeant Amy Davis.

Categories: Alaska News

Sleetmute Man Arrested on Sexual Abuse Warrant

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:40

Alaska State Troopers arrested a Sleetmute man Friday on a warrant for sexual abuse of a minor. Aniak-based Troopers arrested Sakar N. Zaukar of Sleetmute at his Housing Road residence around 3 p.m.

The 44-year-old was placed under arrest on an outstanding warrant for Sexual Abuse of a Minor in the Second Degree, Sexual Assault in the Second Degree, and Sexual Assault in the Third Degree.

Zaukar was remanded to the YKCC in lieu of $25,000 bail and court approved third party custodian.

Categories: Alaska News

Researcher Leaves Homer for Studies in the Arctic

Mon, 2015-05-25 09:38

Sixteen researchers from the United States, Canada, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden will participate in the Fulbright Arctic Initiative. The group will meet in three countries for three different seminars. Each person will join a team to research developments in one of four specific areas: health, water, energy, and infrastructure. Individuals will also make international trips for their specific areas of study.

“We work in cross disciplines to find the common ground of different issues. For example, our climate up here is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world. How does that affect communities relative to family, wellness, health and sustainability,” says Dr. Linda Chamberlain.

Dr. Linda Chamberlain’s work falls under health and she will contribute to the initiative by sharing her 20 plus years’ experience studying ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experiences. Simply put, she says ACEs are examples of childhood trauma.

“The original research on ACEs looked at all forms of child maltreatment so sexual, physical, and emotional. It also looked at neglect,” says Chamberlain.

She adds ACEs also stem from household dysfunction caused by substance abuse, domestic violence, divorce, and a litany of other issues. The other side of her work is building community resiliency.

“What can we do to keep those tough times during childhood from affecting brain development, a child’s school performance, and the long term health effects that we know can happen with this,” says Chamberlain.

But, how does the other researchers’ work impact ACEs in the Arctic and vice versa? Chamberlain explains it like this. Problems in households that negatively impact children can be triggered or worsened by outside stressors. Take climate change for example.

“That is affecting subsistence living. It affects the fish. It affects the fishing lifestyles [and] families’ economic welfare. Then you have another layer of pressure on a family or community that may already be struggling with these issues,” says Chamberlain.

And Chamberlain will in turn be a voice that pushes to understand what effect ACEs can have on the issues her fellow researchers are studying. Chamberlain expects the opportunity to learn from her Fulbright colleagues will be priceless.

“Communities like Homer are working to become trauma informed. I think we’ve learned a lot from communities elsewhere who are doing a lot of work around that and now we have an opportunity to learn from communities who live like we do in the circumpolar world,” says Chamberlain.

The researchers met for the first time this week for a program orientation in Iqaluit in the Canadian Territory of Nunavut. Through the next year they will conduct their research at home as well as travel to institutions located in the home countries of the initiative’s participants.

Chamberlain will visit Finland in June to give a presentation on ACEs and from there she’ll travel to a research center in Nova Scotia that studies community resilience.

“Then I’ll be back home laying out what my research plan will be. I’ll be spending the spring in Finland doing my research, but I’ll also be returning there in February,” says Chamberlain.

Once all the teams’ research is complete and the results are analyzed the initiative will culminate in a final meeting next year in Washington D.C. Chamberlain plans to share the end result of her research online.

Categories: Alaska News

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