In 1995, Governor Tony Knowles set a goal to put the honey bucket in the museum within a decade. That exhibit is one step closer to reality in Kwethluk, a community of 700 located 15 miles upriver of Bethel. Residents are starting receive water and sewer service in their homes.
After years of digging water lines, installing showers, water heaters, and toilettes, Kwethluk’s first house was connected earlier this month and about 18 homes are now online.
Frances Harley Uttereryuk had water service turned a couple weeks ago. He has a newly installed kitchen sink, tub, shower, and toilet.
“It really helps the house now,” said Uttereryuk. “You don’t need to pack water, don’t need to throw out your honey bucket into the sewer now. The house is a lot cleaner now.”
Convenience and comfort certainly matter, but there are proven health benefits to installing full water and sewer. Residents of unserved communities experience higher rate of skin infections and respiratory diseases.
Cindy Hautala of Kwethluk has seen the health impacts.
“I think that a lot of the, like the strep throat, the scabies or lice or whatever you had, I think that if a lot of people had running water, we wouldn’t have so many problems healthwise for everyone,” said Hautula.
The community has known that for a long time and the city has been pushing for water service since the late 90s. The 41 million dollar project is funded by several state and federal agencies. Max Angellan serves as vice mayor of Kwethluk. He says the city has had time to prepare to run and take care of the system, estimated at half million dollars per year.
“[We're] having certain people trained,” said Angellan. “We’re aware of the administration and eventual responsibility for maintaining and operating the system once its completed.”
And it will be some time before the system is done. The first residents to receive water service live on the east side of town, but the west side still needs water and sewer lines plus the installation of showers and toilets. According to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Homes on the western half will not get service until at least 2015.
Merna Spein is expecting water service soon.
“It’s amazing cause you see it with your own eyes and have a flushing toilet and you have water running, it’s pretty coo. I never thought that it would be able to happen here,” said Spein.
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, there are about 40 communities without village-wide water and sewer, that’s 6 thousand homes without flush toilets or running water. The state estimates that it would cost nearly 700 million dollars to fund the remaining projects.
That said, council member Boris Epchoock is starting to take a historical perspective.
“Maybe I should open a museum, detailing the honey bucket, detail how prevalent it was in the period before the water and sewer system was constructed,” said Epchook.
But before anyone can break ground on the museum, crews must first dig and lay pipes for the hundreds of Kwethluk residents who still haul water and use the honeybucket.
Soon after Alaska became a state, nearly 50 years ago, Exxon Mobil began buying leases at Pt. Thomson on the eastern side of the North Slope. Now, after a seven year legal battle with the state, they are starting to develop the area.
Exxon Mobil started leasing state land at Pt. Thomson in 1965. By the late 70s, they knew the area had significant amounts of oil and gas, but they never produced any of it because it didn’t make sense economically. The reservoir is more challenging to tap because it’s under such high pressure.
The companies went back and forth with the state for decades coming to different agreements over when the area would be developed. Finally, in 2005, the state had had enough. They started legal proceedings to take the leases away and seven years later, “the settlement with Exxon and others was announced last spring,” said Joe Balash, the acting commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources.
In the March 2012 agreement, Exxon committed to developing Pt. Thompson. “And there were a few skeptics who thought we somehow got snookered and that nothing was ever going to happen,” Balash continued. “Well, the progress that’s been made in the past 15 months is something that we’re quite proud of here at DNR.”
The progress includes a massive gravel pad built on top of the spongy tundra, right next to the coast of the Arctic Ocean. The two small wells that were drilled in 2010 are now dwarfed by expanses of buildings for living and working and giant fuel tanks to run the operation. A new road runs inland for six miles to the airstrip. They built it further from the coast so they wouldn’t have as many problems with fog.
Christina Nordstrom, Exxon’s technical manager for the project, said since the summer of 2012, Exxon has employed 1,200 people to build the new infrastructure.
“Our camp went fully operational kind of early August time frame. They started serving meals, moved people in. There’s a gym, which you really need if you go there because the food is good.”
The 500 workers who will live at the camp this winter will start installing the 22-mile long pipeline that will carry a hydrocarbon fluid called “condensate” to the Badami oil field. Condensate isn’t oil. It’s used for making things like jet fuel and plastics. From Badami, the fluid will go to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
According to the settlement with the state, Exxon has to start producing something by the winter’s end of 2016, or they will lose rights to drill on some of the land.
Nordstrom said initial production will be 10,000 barrels of condensate per day. “But this pipeline is sized to take up to 70,000 barrels per day, so has been pre-designed for possible expansion.”
The production wells will be on a western pad about five miles from the main camp. The company is required to drill there as part of the settlement. They’ll use directional drilling to access most of the resource, which is actually offshore.
At the main camp, a plant will separate the liquid condensate from the natural gas that makes up the vast majority of the reservoir. “The gas itself will come out of the separator,” explained Nordstrom. Then “it goes through a compression system that will inject it back into two wells, back into the reservoir to be preserved for future development.”
That “future development” will have to wait until a natural gas pipeline is built. At this point, there’s no way to transport the gas off the North Slope.
In order to justify the proposed $40 – $60 billion pipeline, Federal gas pipeline coordinator Larry Persily said they need the 8 trillion cubic feet of gas from Point Thomson.
“It’s encouraging to see they are going ahead spending billions on Point Thomson because to me that’s an indication that they see a gasline in the future,” he said.
Exxon and its partners have until 2019 to come up with a plan for the gas. If it’s not sent down a pipeline, it could be used to increase reservoir pressure in Prudhoe Bay and help producers pump more oil.
Exxon declined to comment on any future plans for major gas sales.
So despite the promises, DNR’s Balash said he still has some reservations. “So far, they’re making progress, but until they actually start moving some hydrocarbons from Pt. Thomson over to TAPS, we’re going to withhold some judgment.”
ExxonMobil is running operations at Point Thomson, but they only own 62 percent of the oil and gas. BP owns 32 percent and ConocoPhillips has 5.
Five crewmen from a burning fishing vessel in the western Aleutian Chain are safe after being rescued by a nearby good Samaritan.
The crew of the 59-foot Kodiak-based longliner Western Venture were safely picked up by the Aleutian Beauty, after their vessel caught fire Sunday morning. The Coast Guard in Juneau reported receiving emergency locator beacon signals around 9 a.m. — first from a crewman’s survival suit, and then from the Western Venture itself.
Two Jayhawk rescue helicopters — one from Cold Bay and another from Kodiak — were launched, as well as a pair of C130 Hercules aircraft. The cutter Waessche, on patrol in the Bering Sea, was also diverted toward the location of the Western Venture, about 70 miles west of Adak.
The 98-foot Seattle-based longliner Aleutian Beauty had responded to the Coast Guard’s radio call for assistance, and reached the Western Venture first, taking all five crewmen aboard safely. The men will be transferred to Adak.
Meanwhile, the Western Venture is reportedly still afloat and adrift, emitting smoke from the fire onboard. It has a 4,300-gallon fuel capacity. The Coast Guard is broadcasting a warning to vessels transiting the area alerting them of the hazard to navigation.
An investigation will determine if the Western Venture can be salvaged and what caused the fire.
A small plane crashed Thursday night at Fairbanks International Airport, killing one and injuring two others.
Airport Police and Fire Department Deputy Chief Dan Grimes says the Cessna 150 went down on take-off around 5:30 p.m.
“Our units responded to the scene, located the aircraft and with the assistance of University Fire department and City of Fairbanks fire department, were able to remove three persons from the aircraft and transported all three to Fairbanks Memorial hospital,” Grimes said.
Grimes said one of the three was declared dead at the hospital.
No names have been released.
Grimes said there were no obvious weather factors that could have caused the accident, and the crash scene is being investigated in cooperation with the National Transportation Safety Board.
“Our units stayed on scene as well with the aircraft through the night and are still on scene this morning,” Grimes said. “NTSB will pick up their investigation again this morning and continue it until they have all the information they need at which point we’ll remove the aircraft.”
The plane hit a security fence at the end of the runway, and NTSB’s Clint Johnson said the goal was to complete the on-site investigation on Friday so the fence could be repaired.
The 78-foot fishing vessel Lone Star, which had been operating as a salmon tender in the Igushik River before it sank on June 30, is finally on its way out of Bristol Bay.
It’s been under tow since Wednesday, and is expected in Dutch Harbor on Saturday.
Salvage experts have been wrestling with the Lone Star for the last three months, first trying to prevent fuel from leaking into the river, and next turning to the recovery.
The vessel continued inching its way into the mud of the Igushik riverbed, until it was no longer visible, even at low tide. The Lone Star refused to budge during the first attempt to hoist it out in August, but an attempt on Sept. 30 was successful.
The Double Eagle began towing the Lone Star out of the river at about 3 p.m. Wednesday, with a second recovery vessel following behind as a precaution, says Shawn Eggert, a spokesman for the Coast Guard unit monitoring the recovery.
“They met up with the Western Viking about two hours later – that’s the vessel that’s going to be escorting them, just in case there is any kind of mechanical issues or any other need for help out there,” Eggert said. “But, yeah, so far everything seems to be going well.”
There’s no word yet on the future plans for the Lone Star.
The owner’s insurance company is expected to cover the costs for the three and a half months of salvage and recovery, as well as make good with the Igushik set net fishermen whose season was lost after an oily sheen emanating from the Lone Star prompted Department of Fish and Game to close their fishery.
Alaska’s king crab fishing furlough is over.
Most of the fleet received their quota permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service by the end of the day Thursday. NMFS employees had been furloughed during the government shutdown. They sped through the permits when they got back to work yesterday morning.
A few vessels still need approval for their hired skippers. And other boats are waiting for crew members to fly back up north, after they got fed up with the delay and went home.
But for the most part, the fleet is free to leave port and start fishing.
Jake Jacobsen runs the Inter-cooperative Exchange, a coop of about 80 boats. He says he expects that fishermen will be able to catch enough crab in the next three weeks to meet the Japanese New Year’s rush. Missing that deadline was a big concern.
When the king crab season actually started on October 15, only six vessels were cleared to fish. Those boats were fishing for community development quota, handed out by the state.
Now that all the boats have their quota, the only hurdle Jacobsen expects they’ll face is Mother Nature.
“Ice is not an issue this time of year,” Jacobsen says. “But it wouldn’t be king crab fishing without some weather.”
Right now, the remnants of a powerful typhoon are sweeping through the Aleutians. A wind warning is in effect through Saturday.
Jacobsen says the plan for this weekend — and the rest of the fishing season — is simple.
“Catch a lot of crab, be safe, and get back to the dock,” Jacobsen says.
The king crab fishery is open until January 15.
This week social service providers held a town hall at Beans Cafe to discuss winter safety with Anchorage’s homeless community.
Keeping warm and safe outdoors is more important this winter than ever because the city’s homeless shelter is going back to a rule that kicks people out if they’re not making progress toward finding permanent housing.
Cyrus Farquhar is just the type of person that Brother Francis Shelter wants to see in permanent housing. But that’s unlikely.
“I’m one of those people that likes outside better,” he said.
But when it’s too cold, Farquar stays at the shelter. He’s one of a couple of hundred chronically homeless in people in Anchorage.
The 30-day-in-30-day-out rule forces residents who are not working with a case-worker to find housing or leave the shelter for 30 days before they can come in again.
That could be a dangerous prospect when temperatures drop. Farquhar, who has been homeless for many years, said he worries that more people will die outside now that the rule is back in place.
“If they keep on doing that we’re going to have more people frozen like they did one year – seven, eight, nine [in] one year. There’s gonna be more. And there’s a lotta new people who’s still new and doesn’t know how to survive during winter,” Farquhar said.
Susan Bomalaski is the Executive Director of Catholic Social Services, which runs Brother Francis Shelter. She says the shelter started in 1983 as a response to several outdoor deaths, but she says going back to the 30-day-in-30-day-out policy is necessary to motivate people who were using the Brother Francis as a permanent residence instead of an emergency shelter.
The shelter started getting overcrowded and fights broke out, Bomalaski says, after the municipality raised the temperature at which shelters had to open their doors to 45 degrees. That was early 2012.
“The unintended consequence is people were staying here when it hit 45, which was September to when it went above 45 which was late May and really staying here for those nine months and not making positive steps,” Bomalaski said. “It also resulted in difficulties for our staff. Our numbers were very high. We were letting people in that had behavioral difficulties.”
The result was an increase in calls to the Anchorage Police Department.
Records show that there were more than 1,300 calls for service to APD from the shelter in 2012.
Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.
In 2003, comparatively, there were just 35 calls. Most of the calls in 2012 were for disturbances, medical assistance and drunk problems.
Bomalaski says it’s hard to turn people away, but she hopes a new 24-hour pick-up service from the Anchorage Safety Center will help keep people from dying outside this winter.
Mark Lessard with the Municipal Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the Anchorage Safety Center service says the center is getting two new vans.
“We’re going to be going to five eight-hour shifts. The first shift will close the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. gap in services gap we currently have where there’s no van running during that time. And the second van will go on top of the shifts that run from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the morning to be able to respond to calls for assistance under Alaska statute Title 47 which is you know someone that’s incapacitated in a public place,” Lessard said.
In September, the Anchorage Assembly approved just over $189,000 to fund the two additional vans.
In June, the ASC began dispatching through the Anchorage Fire Department, which resulted in increased demand, says Lessard. They pick people up from the Beans Cafe and Brother Francis Shelter several times a day, he says, and deliver them to a the safety center where they can sober up.
Farquhar says he’s trying to get into the city’s new 46-unit housing first apartment complex for homeless alcoholics.
“I’m trying to get in Karluk Manor, just gotta wait until there’s an opening. A lady came down. We talked and I filled out my paperwork. Most of my friends are up there, at least there off the street,” he said.
But the program is full for now, so with winter on the way, Farquhar says he plans to bounce between his camp and Brother Francis Shelter.
The Anchorage Police and Fire Departments do not keep track of outdoor deaths in Anchorage, nor does Municipal Health Department or the Mayor’s office.
Lessard says the Anchorage Safety Center hopes to begin running the new van shifts later this month.
Enroll Alaska has successfully signed up seven people this week for health insurance on the state’s new Affordable Care Act Marketplace, but nearly three weeks into the launch of the marketplace, the company expected to have many more people enrolled.
Tyann Boling, the COO of Enroll Alaska, says despite a few successes, the Marketplace is far from working perfectly.
“I would say it’s kind of two steps forward, one step back,” Boling said. ”Some things are functioning a little bit better and then there are glitches in other areas.”
“It overall is very challenging. It’s definitely not functioning at the level we need it to function.”
Boling says it takes up to three hours to successfully enroll an individual in a health insurance plan. But patience doesn’t always pay off.
“You know we’re trying to enroll much more people than we’re actually able to enroll,” she said. “But the problem is, sometimes it works and the majority of the time it doesn’t”
Boling says she’s disappointed the Marketplace is working so poorly, but confident it will eventually be running smoothly. Democratic Senator Mark Begich agrees.
“You know, they’ll work out the glitches,” Begich said. “It is technology and they’ll figure it out and at the end of the day, Alaskans will have 34 insurance programs to choose from.”
Begichs says the state based marketplaces are working much better than the ones the federal government is running. He says Alaska could have avoided many of the problems with the marketplace if the state had agreed to build its own.
After a four year wait, the Department of Natural Resources will finally make a decision on applications having to do with the proposed Chuitna mine. A superior court decision handed down this week compels the Department to make its decision within 30 days.
Come November, gone will be the days of the three free totes filled with goodies from Anchorage.
PenAir, which for most of the year serves as the only commercial airline between Anchorage and several rural hubs in southwest Alaska, has announced new fees on baggage.
The airline says the first bag will still be checked free, but the second bag will now cost $25. Bags 3-5 will cost $50 each to check, and the fees go up from there.
Pen Air is also raising the ticket change and cancelation fee to $100.
The changes go into effect for tickets purchased on or after Oct. 30.
Employment is up, wages are up, and the private sector is growing. That’s according to the Juneau Economic Development Council’s latest economic indicators report, which paints a positive financial picture for the Capital City and the rest of Southeast Alaska.
Eva Bornstein, JEDC’s lead researcher on the report, peppered her presentation to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday with a series of pop quiz-style questions.
“Mining jobs pay the highest average wages in Juneau, which sector has the second highest average wages?” she asked.
The answer: The federal government.
While the Capital City’s economy continues to be heavily dependent on government jobs, Bornstein says the private sector is slowly taking on a bigger role. Last year, employment in Juneau was up 1.5 percent from 2011 with a total of more than 18,000 jobs. That’s despite local and federal government cuts, and essentially flat state employment.
“The private sector did a great job in jobs growth and has done so for three consecutive years,” Bornstein said. “We’ve been on an upswing. In 2012, three percent gain in jobs.”
Mining topped the list for job growth in all sectors, adding 171 jobs last year. Overall, the retail, health care, and tourism sectors are the top three private employers in Juneau.
Most areas of the economy saw wages grow in 2012, but once again mining led the way.
“Six-point-six percent increase in average wages in the past year. Professional and business services were second, also above six percent in gains,” she said. “Local government, state government were also above five percent.”
The median household income in the Capital City from 2009 to 2011 was more than $77,500. That’s about $10,000 higher than the rest of the state, and $26,000 higher than the median household income nationally.
Bornstein says that helps make up for the cost of living in Juneau, which is 30 percent higher than the national average.
“The highest costs are in our housing, our utilities and our health care,” she said.
Juneau’s population hit another all-time high last year, growing by more than 400 people to 32,832. And for the second year in a row, the city’s population got slightly younger. The median age of residents declined from 38 years old in 2011 to 37.8 in 2012.
Bornstein says most of the population growth has come from people moving to Juneau, which has strained the city’s already tight housing market. But relief may be coming soon. She says there were 71 new housing units permitted in 2012, and so far this year there have been more than 120.
“New housing units permitted, 2012 looked good, it was up,” Bornstein said. “But 2013 is looking spectacular.”
JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst says the annual economic indicators report fulfills the agency’s mission to help local business and government leaders make better, more informed decisions. He called the economic trends in the last year “very, very positive.”
“Employment is up in our region, all wages are up, our private sector is growing faster than our public sector, which in general is positive for our community,” Holst said. “The population is at an all-time high both in Juneau and in the region, and generally our industries are stable.”
The Chamber of Commerce crowd largely agreed with Holst.
Maryann Ray owns Pearson’s Pond, a luxury, boutique hotel in the Mendenhall Valley. She says business is back to where it was before bottoming out during the recession, and she only expects it to get better.
“This year we had the best July we’ve had since I purchased the inn, and people are starting to spend more on excursions,” Ray said. “I think the tourism industry is a trailing indicator of what’s going on. So, if we see things have gotten better this year overall, I think we’ll see tourism certainly improve next year as well.”
The economic indicators report is JEDC’s major annual publication. The entire report as well as past years’ economic indicators can be found at www.jedc.org.
This week we’re headed to Nanwalek, a small Russian orthodox community across Kachemak Bay from Homer. On maps, it’s often called English Bay. Nancy Yeaton works for the Nanwalek IRA Council.
The numbers of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking in Alaska continue to be some of the highest in the nation. Family violence impacts the emotional growth of children and affects entire communities. What can be done to reduce the harm?
HOST: Lori Townsend, Alaska Public Radio Network
- Sergeant Kathy Lacey, Anchorage Police Department
- Melissa Emmal, AWAIC
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail 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, October 22, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
For one month each fall, Interior residents wade into the crystal clear waters of the Chatanika River to catch whitefish.
They spawn in the fall, unlike other fish in Alaska.
The state limits both the number of permits and the harvest. This isn’t your typical fishery. Instead of rods and reels, or nets, fishermen use spears.
Whitefish are one of Alaska’s most common species.
“Oh! There’s one right in front of me. Come on Emily Schwing, get this one,” I said, as one came into view. “Oh! I missed him.”
I’m getting a lesson in spear fishing and so far, things aren’t going so well. Lifelong Fairbanksan Cory Kuryla gives me some pointers.
“You’re going to want to hold your spear under the water and you want to move as slowly as you can towards them and then give it a little pop,” Kuryla said.
We stand waist deep in the Chatanika River holding eight foot long spears. Kuryla has been catching whitefish this way all his life.
“I’ve had a lot of good times here, a lot of good times on this river,” he said.
He remembers when people would line their boats up along the riverbank to pull whitefish from the crystal clear waters.
Area Management Biologist Audra Brase says, in the 1980’s, the fishery was huge.
“It was unrestricted; they could just get as many fish as they wanted,” Brase said. “Then a cap was put on it – a 15 fish per day limit.”
“People were still harvesting I mean thousands and thousands of whitefish were pulled out. I wasn’t here at the time, but I understand people would take bushel baskets full of ‘em.”
But overfishing led to a population decline and the fishery closed in 1992. It reopened in 2007, and now it’s much more restricted, with a limited number of permits and a limited harvest. On top of that, Brase says whitefish are hard to catch.
“If you try to catch a fish on hook and line, it’s difficult. So doing a spear fishery is the only way to get them if you want to harvest whitefish to eat,” Brase said. “Another interesting thing about these whitefish is that they’re really old.”
They can live up to 15 years, and unlike other species, they spawn again and again every fall, but only at night. The darkness mixed with the brisk autumn temperatures may deter some fishermen, but not Cory Kuryla. His tried and true methods solve both problems.
He lights a Coleman lantern. It sits in a wooden box that’s open in front. The whole thing hangs from my neck. As we wade, waist deep into the cold river, the lanterns hiss.
Wearing this contraption comes with a warning from Kuryla and his best friend Dave Ensley.
Kuryla: “You’ve got to remember, do not get water on that glass. It can explode, because it’s so hot.”
Ensley: “You get excited and you’ll want to lunge full way forward and you’ll dip the lantern in the water trying to get that fish.”
Kuryla: “Don’t do that.”
The yellow light from the flame will help us see the fish. We can’t use LED headlamps because that white light doesn’t shine though the water the same way, but, there’s still one other challenge.
Schwing: “You have to train your eyes to look for them.”
Kuryla: “Oh you sure do. There’s one!”
Kuryla has years of experience, so the water doesn’t throw his depth perception off like mine. But finally…
Schwing: “Yes! I got him.”
Kuryla: “Ok, pick him up. Sweet!”
We pluck the silvery fish from my spear and drop in a burlap bag that hangs from my shoulder. After nearly two hours, we’re cold enough to call it a night. Kuryla says there’s only one more thing I need to know.
“We make rookies take a bit out of the first fish they catch!” Kuryla said.
Lucky for me, my one fish floated out of my burlap bag somewhere along the river.
Almost four months after it sank near Dillingham, the fishing tender Lone Star has been lifted off the bottom and is on its way to Unalaska.
Since June, Magone Marine’s made several attempts to get the vessel out of the Igushik River. Heavy mud, extreme tides, and regulatory limits all tripped up the salvage company.
Partway through the rescue operation, Dan Magone sold his Unalaska-based business to Resolve Marine Group of Florida. It was the newly-formed Resolve-Magone Marine Group that finished off the salvage this week, using a new rescue tug and other assets sent up from the Lower 48.
The Lone Star is currently being towed to Unalaska. Once it gets here, the Coast Guard says the tender’s owner will decide whether to fix it up or scrap it.
The seismic activity at the Veniaminof Volcano on the Alaska Peninsula has decreased over the past week resulting in lowering the volcano alert level.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory confirms that satellite observations show no evidence of eruptive activity.
The Volcano Alert Level has been downgraded from Watch to Advisory. AVO notes that it’s possible this is only a temporary pause of activity in the eruption that began in June, and that more vigorous activity could resume.
The Veniaminof Volcano is located on the Alaska Peninsula and it’s one of the largest and most active volcanoes in Alaska.
Activists fighting a proposed coal mine on the west side of Cook Inlet have won a victory in court.
Earlier this week, a state Superior Court judge ruled that the state was in error when it failed to process the Chuitna Citizens Coalition application for water rights to a tributary of the Chuitna River.
The Coalition filed an application for in-stream flow reservations in 2009, in order to protect the salmon stream, which it said was threatened by the coal mine, but the state Department of Natural Resources failed to process the application, and the Coalition sued.
Judge Mark Rindner ruled on Monday that the state’s refusal to process the application amounts to an unreasonable delay, while it violated Alaskan’s constitutional right to due process.
With the control of Congress in balance, the Alaska Senate race is expected to be one of the more high profile races in the country.
The Republican National Committee has gotten involved, and veterans of the Romney and McCain presidential campaigns are already working to unseat Democrat Mark Begich, but what about the House race?
The odds may be long, but two Democrats are already competing for the chance to take on Don Young.
Don Young has held the title of “Congressman for All Alaska” for 40 years. There’s a reason he’s earned the nickname “Teflon Don” – gaffes, changing political tides, federal investigations: Nothing sticks.
In the past two decades, Ethan Berkowitz is the candidate who has come closest to beating him in the general election. He had the support of the national Democratic Party back in 2008, and Berkowitz still lost by 5 points.
“Well, he’s the uncle who’ll say the outrageous things, and you’re like, ‘There goes Uncle Don again.’ But it’s Uncle Don.”
The past two elections, Young won by more than 30 points, and both of his opponents filed for office pretty late in the game, but this go round there’s not one but two Democrats who have already filed and are starting to fundraise on the normal election calendar. Forrest Dunbar is one of them.
”There’s been a couple of cycles where the Democrats were perceived as putting up sacrificial lambs, but when you want to run a serious campaign today, especially a statewide campaign in a place like Alaska, you have to start early,” Dunbar said.
Dunbar is 29-years-old and this is his first time running for office. He split his childhood between Eagle and Cordova, and he came back to Alaska after spending some time in the Peace Corps, in law school, and on Capitol Hill. Part of the reason he’s running now is because of frustration with a highly polarized Congress.
Dunbar says he knows it’s an uphill battle. He’s only raised about $20,000 so far. Young has more than half a million dollars in his campaign account, and he represents the dominant party in the state, but Dunbar thinks that with all the attention on the Senate race, there might be space to experiment with his campaign strategy and make inroads that way.
“Some of the more traditional forms of media, which are traditionally where you spend a lot of that money, are going to be purchased up by the Senate campaigns. So, $600,000 sounds like a lot, but it’s going to pale in comparison to the $20 or $30 million that are going to be spent on either side of the Senate campaign. And I think that sort of creates an opportunity to run a more grassroots campaign, to run a more social-media-oriented campaign, to connect with voters in different ways,” he said.
Matt Moore is the other Democrat to file. He actually tried to get his party’s nomination in 2012, but he started his campaign late and lost out to state legislator Sharon Cissna. When it comes to strategy, his angle is similar to Dunbar’s.
“The idea is – truly is – to work on building up the grassroots effort a lot earlier,” Moore said. “So, I’m starting now instead of a couple months before the primary.”
Moore is 53 and works as a health care administrator. He’s critical of Young’s leadership abilities and his attendance, and he’s hoping low approval of Congress works in his favor.
Moore says even though he lost the primary last time, he learned a few lessons about running a campaign. He’s scheduling fundraisers right now, and he’s got half a dozen staff and volunteers helping out with his campaign now. Their big goal at the moment is simply introducing Moore to voters.
“We’re working on the deficit of name recognition,” he said. “I don’t think you can do that in a real short period of time in a state this large.”
As a veteran candidate, Berkowitz says that both Dunbar and Moore have their work cut out for them. He says the U.S. Senate race, “is going to bury everything here,” in terms of money, attention, and press coverage, and that, “having run three Democratic primaries, primaries suck.”
Berkowitz says that having a contested primary means spending money fighting someone who’s effectively on your team and opening yourself to serious attacks before the real campaign has even started. He doesn’t think having a real competition will have some secret benefit of bringing attention to the House race.
“There is no benefit at all to the Democrats having a primary. I mean, it’s good in terms of being able to develop a coherent democratic philosophy. But in terms of keeping an eye on the final prize of winning against Don Young, I don’t see how this serves that purpose,” Berkowitz said.
Still, he’s glad to see people in this race already – that’s the point of democracy after all. Plus, strange things can happen in politics, especially if you have an operation in place to leverage it.
”Winning means being opportunistic for these guys, and they’ve got to put all of the mechanisms in place so that if an opportunity does materialize, they can take advantage of it,” Berkowitz said.
And as for Don Young’s thoughts on all this, his campaign did not respond to a request for comment
The Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks moved ahead Wednesday on a project that will demonstrate how solar energy can be collected year-round and used to heat a commercial building without fossil fuels, like heating oil. The project is being funded by one of the world’s biggest fossil-fuel companies.
Workers sprayed foam insulation onto a cylindrical steel tank the size of school bus that’s dangling from a big crane just outside the Cold Climate Housing Research Center’s office on Fairbanks’ west side.
A few minutes later, the crane operator swung the 40-foot-long tank into its final resting place – a big trench that was excavated Tuesday on the west side of the building.
It’s all part of a project that center research engineer Bruno Grunau says will demonstrate how solar energy can be collected and stored year-round in these northerly latitudes and used to heat a commercial-size structure – in this case, the center’s just-completed 8,000-square-foot addition.
“With this building addition, our goal was to run it completely without fossil fuels,” said Grunau, who’s heading up the project. “And so our approach in doing that was, one, using a pellet boiler, and two, supplementing that heat with this solar-thermal system.”
The big tank – which was donated by Fairbanks entrepreneur Bernie Karl – is coated with 6 inches of polyurethane foam and will be covered with about three feet of soil, then filled with 25,000 gallons of water.
Next spring, it’ll be hooked up to an automated solar-thermal system that’s been installed in the addition.
Grunau says the system will circulate fluid that’s been warmed in an array of 16 solar-heating panels on the building’s rooftop to the tank, and the water will store the heat collected from the panels – heat that can be later used to warm the building.
“We can manage that heat,” he said. “We can either send the heat to the building, directly, or we can send it to that tank. And when the time comes when the sun’s not putting so much heat out, we can pull the heat from the tank and put it right back into our building.”
It’s an impressive system, but the technology has been around for a while. But what distinguishes this demonstration project is that the system will be fully “instrumented,” meaning sensors have been placed throughout to monitor how it’s functioning. Grunau says that’ll help center staff determine how the technology is working – and it’ll provide real-time data that the center will share online.
“We’re going to be able to put it up on the website,” he said, “so that anyone anywhere around the world can pull it up and look at our system and say ‘Hey, this is what they’re doing today. This is what the energy flow did. This is how much heat they made, this is how many BTUs they made this year, this month.’ ”
Center Director Jack Hebert says this project is another effort by the center to research ways that Alaskans can heat their homes in an economical, and renewable, way.
“Of course as the state of Alaska’s housing research center, it’s really our responsibility to explore anything that’s available that may help decrease the energy cost for people in the state,” Hebert said. “And the sun of course is a potential resource.”
Hebert says it’s noteworthy that this $65,000 renewable-energy project was funded through a grant from one of the world’s biggest fossil-fuel producers – BP Alaska.
“I think that it’s very encouraging to see BP, a company that’s normally associated with the drilling and sale of fossil fuels, to support renewable energy,” he said. “And we hope this will be an example of a sustainable approach to a building that uses no fossil fuels at all.”
You can find out more about the project at the center’s website, cchrc.org.
Nearly 50,000 Alaskans registered for an earthquake preparedness event today called the Great Alaskan ShakeOut.
The state’s spokesman for the division of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Jeremy Zidek says it’s good that a large number of Alaskans registered to practice the drill.
People who signed up were instructed to practice the drill at exactly 10:17 this morning. Sort of like a flash mob for disaster preparedness, millions of people registered for similar events today across the world.
Zidek says because Alaska has experienced three of the six largest earthquakes ever recorded, it’s good for Alaskans to be ready for the next major event.
He says another shakeout drill is scheduled for the 50th anniversary of the 9.2 Good Friday earthquake that shook for nearly five minutes on March 27, 1964.
“Often when we talk to 1964 earthquake survivors, it’s a real changing point in their lives,” Zidek said. “We’re very susceptible to earthquakes here, it’s good for people to prepare and know what to do when they hit.”
Zidek says developing a family plan for how to handle a seismic disaster and the aftermath is important.