APRN Alaska News

Subscribe to APRN Alaska News feed APRN Alaska News
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: 38 min 56 sec ago

Hyder border to reopen for 24-hour access

Thu, 2015-05-21 10:34

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.

(Photo via KRBD.org)

“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.

Categories: Alaska News

ACLU says Anchorage restriction on alcohol sales illegal

Thu, 2015-05-21 10:29

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Delayed ferry heads for Unalaska despite government shutdown threat

Thu, 2015-05-21 10:24

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.

Courtesy of Nancy Heise

“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.’

Categories: Alaska News

Gov’s Arctic advisor discusses climate change, subsistence regs at convention

Thu, 2015-05-21 10:21

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.

Craig Fleener, Gov. Walker’s Arctic policy adviser, addresses the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society at Juneau’s Centennial Hall on Wedensday. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“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.

Categories: Alaska News

BlueCrest Energy looking to drill on southern Kenai Peninsula

Thu, 2015-05-21 10:19

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate panel advances rewritten sexual assault-prevention bill

Thu, 2015-05-21 10:18

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Delta touches down in Sitka

Thu, 2015-05-21 10:17

Delta landed it’s first flight in Sitka for the 2015 summer season. Daily flights will operate directly from Seattle and provide direct competition to Alaska Airlines. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

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.

Delta has set up shop at Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport. Daily flights will be offered from May 15, 2015 until November 7, 2015, at prices that compete with Alaska Airlines. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

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.”

Delta doled out slices of strawberry-filled cake to passengers. The cake was made at AC Lakeside. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

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.

Categories: Alaska News

APD says 4 Anchorage deaths likely a murder/suicide

Thu, 2015-05-21 10:02

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Diomede Graduation Speaker Found Dead at Community School

Wed, 2015-05-20 17:44

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.

Download Audio:

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Salmon Run Leaves Juneau Stream 2 Weeks Early

Wed, 2015-05-20 17:41

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.

Download Audio:

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.

“Joestradamus, Joestradamus.”

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…

“…Mismatch….”

…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.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Seeking the Source’ of Anchorage’s Trails and Their Community

Wed, 2015-05-20 17:39

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.

Download Audio:

“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…

The “Seeking the Source” group meets with U.S. Fish & Wildlife. Photo: Anne Hillman/KSKA.

 

“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.”

Doug Conti is one of the participating artists in “Seeking the Source.”

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 deboards from a canoe on Westchester Lagoon. Photo: Anne Hillman/KSKA.

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wed, 2015-05-20 17:35

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

 

Download Audio:

 

White House Says A Veto Is Likely On Rep. Young’s Fisheries Bill

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The U.S. House this evening began debate on a bill by Alaska Congressman Don Young to renew the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s primary fishing law. Actually, lawmakers just debated how they’re going to debate the legislation. Meanwhile, the White House has issued a policy statement criticizing Young’s bill, suggesting the president would veto it.

Research Identifies Massive Underwater Waves

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Anyone who has spent time on a beach can visualize rolling waves, breaking as they approach the shoreline. What most probably don’t realize, is the same thing happens out of sight, deep under the ocean surface – but on a massive scale.

El Nino Returns

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Ocean driven climate cycle El Nino is back. That means immediate weather changes along the Equator, and some effects as far north as Alaska.

Diomede Graduation Speaker Found Dead at Community School

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

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.

Neighbors Aim to Take Concerns Over Halfway House to Court in Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A group of Juneau residents have been trying to remove a transitional home for just-released female inmates from their neighborhood for well over a year.

Salmon Run Leaves Juneau Stream 2 Weeks Early

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

There is a little creek in the Juneau area that biologists have been consistently counting fish and monitoring for the last 35 years. Last month, the peak of the usual exodus of outgoing pink fry was two weeks early. Fish heads talk about why that’s happening and what kind of affect the warm Pacific Ocean mass – aka The Blob – will have on those little fish and the big huge run that will be returning in a few months.

M/V Redeemer Heads for Scuttling, After Decades of Salvage Work

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A legendary Western Alaska salvage vessel has reached the end of its life. Salvager Dan Magone is getting ready to sink his old tugboat, the Redeemer.

‘Seeking the Source’ of Anchorage’s Trails and Their Community

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

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 over grown girl scouts; they’re artists who are “Seeking the Source” of the trail and it’s role in the community

Categories: Alaska News

Hyder-Stewart Border to Re-Open 24-Hour Access

Wed, 2015-05-20 16:32

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.

Here’s Murkowski spokesman, Matthew Felling:

“This is an imminent change. This is not something that’s going to happen overnight, we don’t have a timetable. 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 says 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.”

Felling says there likely will be a faster process available for people needing emergency medical care. He says 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 1st.

Categories: Alaska News

White House Says Veto Likely on Young’s Fisheries Bill

Wed, 2015-05-20 16:30

The White House, like environmental groups and some small-boat fishermen, disapproves of the flexibility written into Young’s bill. It would give regional management councils more leeway to set catch limits and rebuild stocks. The White House says Young’s flexible approach would put fish stocks at risk. Young spokesman Matthew Shuckerow says the Congressman is still listening to stakeholders and he says the bill is likely to change in the legislative process ahead.

“We believe, and Congressman Young believes, it’s entirely premature for the president to discuss vetoing the legislation at this time,” Shuckerow said.

Young says some regions of the country don’t have enough fish data to employ the rigid science-based model that’s been so successful in the North Pacific. Critics, though, say if catch limits aren’t tied to science, councils will be pressured to let fishermen take too much, depleting the resource.

That very debate played out on the other side of the Capitol today, in a Senate subcommittee hearing on fisheries data. Sen. Kelly Ayotte , R-N.H., made a passionate plea for the cod fishermen of New England. Their catch limit, the senator says, was slashed 75 percent in a single year.

“And then when I look back over the course of five years, the total cut is 95 percent. I do not know a business that could take a 95 percent cut and continue to operate,” she said.

Kathryn Sullivan, the head of NOAA (and, incidentally, the first American woman to walk in space) told Ayotte she does care about fishermen, but she says the cod of New England are in dire trouble, in danger of never recovering.

“We’re obliged by law to set catch limits that ensure we do not have over fishing occurring on a stock, and with a stock that’s at 3 percent of its biomass. That is a disasterously low number,” she said.

Ayotte says that’s not her only duty: “You’re also obliged by law to think about the economic impact.”

Ayotte says the fishermen have no confidence in NOAA’s grim stock assessment because it doesn’t match what they’re seeing on the water. The NOAA Administrator told her there’s a place for fishermen’s observations, but it’s not always the most accurate picture.

“Cod are known to school in very large aggregations and when they aggregate that way it becomes easier to catch the fish and that can give … sometimes a false impression,” she said.

A Senate bill to renew the Magnuson Stevens Act hasn’t emerged yet. The full House is likely to begin debate on Young’s version of the bill in early June, after the Memorial Day recess.

Categories: Alaska News

Wood Bison Bulls to Join Reintroduced Herd

Wed, 2015-05-20 16:08

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.

A larger group of cows and calves was delivered to the area by cargo plane earlier this year, and released into the wild on April 3 as part of a long-term effort to reintroduce the species to the wild in Alaska.
Fish and Game biologist and pilot Tom Seaton is the Wood Bison Project Leader. He says that the males will be transported in the same shipping containers used to airlift the cows and calves, with some new modifications to make their trip on the barge more comfortable.

“We increased ventilation by a significant amount. We now have air conditioning units and fans installed in there. We have a watering facility. If they still get a little bit warm in there after all that, we have misting that we can go from river water so we can keep the containers and the animals damp and cool them down if we have these really hot days. As you can see, we are having high 70s in May which is pretty amazingly warm.”

The containers will also give each bull more space to move around compared to the set-up for the cows and calves. Bulls are considerably larger than cows, with some bulls measuring over 10 feet long and weighing over a ton.

Two handlers will travel with the bison on the barge to monitor their conditions around the clock. The barge will not stop along the Yukon to deliver additional freight, as it normally would. Instead, it will be moving downriver as quickly as possible to minimize the time the bison have to spend in the containers.

Once the barge turns up the Innoko River, Seaton will pilot a surveillance plane to figure out the best unloading site and communicate that information to the barge.

“And right now the cows are mainly everywhere from 10 miles downstream of Shageluk on the Innoko to as much as 12 miles upstream from Shageluk. So we will find the best spot where it is safe for the bulls to unload, and it is also close enough to the cows that they can catch scent of the cows when they get off the barge and hopefully they will hook up over time.”

The adult and juvenile bison were raised at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage from Canadian stock.

The bulls will be transported by truck from Portage to Nenana, and then transferred to the barge. Inland Barge estimates that the trip to the offloading site will take about four days.

Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Releases Cook Inlet Beluga Recovery Plan

Wed, 2015-05-20 16:04

NOAA Fisheries has a draft recovery plan to rebuild the population of Cook Inlet beluga whales. The end goal is to one day remove Belugas from the endangered species list. Mandy Migura with the National Marine Fisheries Service says the agency wants to use public comment on this initial draft to create the final version.

“We would like the public to review the plan and let us know if we have missed any big issues or if they have any information that we haven’t considered that should be considered in this plan.”

The public comment period opened Thursday last week and will close on July 14. Migura says Cook Inlet’s belugas have an estimated population of 340 whales compared to an estimated 1,300 whales back in the 1970s.

She says NMFS first noticed the population’s decline in 1993 when the agency began its first comprehensive aerial surveys of Cook Inlet Belugas. The population was reduced by an additional 50 percent between 1994 and 1998 and that decline was attributed to unsustainable subsistence harvests.

“We have worked with our co-management partners and since 1995 the harvest has been greatly reduced. There has been no harvest since 2005. Since then the population doesn’t appear to be rebounding like we thought it would.”

NMFS has not been able to identify a clear reason why the population has not been replenished since subsistence hunts were closed. Migura says the final version of the recovery plan will come after the public comment period closes depending on how long it takes the agency to review and incorporate public input.

She says public comment could be crucial to this process especially if individuals can not only point out concerns the agency might have missed but also provide specific information that should be added to the plan.

Categories: Alaska News

Research Sheds Light On Massive, Underwater, Deep Sea-Churning Waves

Wed, 2015-05-20 14:13

Anyone who has spent time on a beach can visualize rolling waves, breaking as they approach the shoreline. What most probably don’t realize, is the same thing happens out of sight, deep under the ocean surface – but on a massive scale.

Picture this: a giant wave, close to 1,000 feet tall, spanning more than 50 miles – that is the scale we’re talking about, and it’s happening thousands of feet underwater.

“If you’ve ever seen the office toys that have a layer of blue fluid and a layer of clear fluid, and you can rock them back and forth and see these very slow-moving undulations,” Harper Simmons, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said. “That is exactly the phenomena we’re talking about.”

He’s been studying these massive, undersea waves for over a decade.

Since 2007, Simmons has been taking part in a study in the South China Sea, with researchers from 25 institutions from five countries, taking a closer look at how these waves work.

Even though the movement of these waves appear similar to a waves on the surface, he says there are some differences.

“They move at approximately three meters per second, whereas a surface wave might move at 10 or 20 times that rate,” Simmons said. “So they’re massive waves; they contain huge amounts of energy, but they evolve in slow motion relative to what we would see at the surface.”

Simulation of internal waves of the South China Sea by Dr. Harper Simmons of the University of Alaska Fairbanks using Arctic Region Supercomputer Center (ARSC) High Performance Computing resources. Visualization by the University of Washington Center for Environmental Visualization (CEV).

But why are these waves so important?

Big waves create big turbulence, and Simmons says that’s what makes them vital.

“And anywhere you can have strong turbulence, you can bring up fresh nutrients from depth,” he said. “And, so these waves have profound effects on ecosystems.”

By redistributing the deep-sea nutrients closer to the surface, the waves help replenish the shallower parts of the ocean where much of the biological activity takes place.

Undersea waves require ocean stratification in order to form – meaning layers of water, defined by differences in salinity and temperature. If stratification exists, Simmons says the other primary ingredient is usually tidal action moving over submarine ridges, islands, and other types of underwater topography, which means these waves are forming all over the world – including Alaska.

“A place like Prince William Sound, a fjord, is highly stratified and there’s very significant tides,” Simmons said. “So we expect that the larger fjords, such as Prince William Sound, would be absolutely filled with these things.”

Not much research has been done on Alaska’s sub-surface waves, but Simmons says researchers do know they form in the Arctic Ocean – albeit in a weaker form.

“One of the main energy sources for these are from storms in the Arctic,” Simmons said. “And the ice kind of an insulating barrier to prevent that kind of energy from being put into the ocean.”

Simmons says researchers are interested to see if the Arctic dynamic changes as the area continues seeing reduced sea ice, seasonally.

Categories: Alaska News

Neighbors Aim to Take Halfway House Concerns to Court in Juneau

Wed, 2015-05-20 13:09

A Juneau neighborhood association is taking its fight against a transitional home for just-released female inmates to court, after exhausting all of its municipal appeal options.

Signs protesting Haven House’s location can be seen all over the Malissa Drive area, even in front of Haven House. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Haven House can continue operating on Malissa Drive in the Mendenhall Valley for now.

The Juneau Assembly denied the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association’s appeal Monday, upholding the planning commission’s decision to allow permitting for Haven House.

“My clients intend to appeal that decision to the Superior Court,” says attorney Dan Bruce, who represents the neighborhood association.

He wants the state court to overturn the city’s decision. Bruce and his clients continue to argue that Haven House is a halfway house, which under city code, isn’t allowed in typical residential districts, like the area around Malissa Drive.

“Haven House is the only non-single family use in that whole neighborhood,” Bruce says.

Bruce says the home will lower property values and have an adverse effect on the neighborhood. He hopes the legal fight will shut the house down.

Haven House Director Kara Nelson says she isn’t surprised. In the beginning of the Tall Timbers’ protest, she says she took it personally. Nelson herself has been in prison and struggled with addiction. She’s been sober since 2011. Now, she sees the fight as an opportunity.

“It really brings a good challenge for those of us that have been in prison to really show what we know, and that is what we’re being perceived as is not true when we’re living in long-term recovery,” Nelson says.

Haven House is a faith-based non-profit. It provides a structured living situation where residents have to come up with an individual action plan and get the support to follow it through. They must attend some sort of women’s support, recovery or Bible group. Haven House can accept up to nine women transitioning out of prison who can live there for up to two years.

Nelson says the Tall Timbers’ perception of what Haven House will do to the neighborhood is an example of the stigma Haven House residents face on a daily basis.

“We’re not going to be ashamed,” Nelson says. “We’re not dismissing the crimes that have been committed, but what we’re saying is addiction is a disease and so we’re focusing on the solution. The solution is long-term recovery and to do that you surround yourself with other people who have done it before you.”

Nelson says it’s been a long journey to get Haven House going and she says an appeal at the Superior Court level is just another step.

Categories: Alaska News

Maps Merge Data on Birds and Ships to Mitigate Oil Spills

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:32

A local scientist and entrepreneur is leadinga mapping project to find out where potential oil spills could have the worst effects on seabirds.

Martin Renner owns Turnagain Consulting based in Homer and has a background in biology. A little more than two years ago, Fish and Wildlife Service got a grant and contracted Renner.

“The motivation was fairly specific, for oil spills affecting birds in the Aleutian Islands.”

Seabird Density Mapping Tool – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KBBI

His job was to collect and collate data on bird population density and shipping traffic in the Aleutians and find out where they overlap the most.

“And you could interpret it both for the risk of a large catastrophic oil spill or for the risk of chronic oil pollution that is just the byproduct of any kind of industrial shipping activity.”

Basically, if there are a lot of ships traveling through a single area, that raises the likelihood of a spill there. That’s particularly dangerous if, say, there’s a large summer nesting population of seabirds in the same spot.

“The main choke point is in Unimak Pass near Dutch Harbor. We already knew that there are high densities of seabirds both in summer and in winter and every vessel that travels through the Bering Sea between east to west really needs to go through this one pass.”

That was something he expected to find. Something he didn’t expect was a buildup of vessels and birds just south of Sand Point near the shelf break, for example.

“Well, the data all existed before, but there was no analysis to really put it together. There was no model to show you what kind of seabird densities to expect in different places.”

Renner says he did some of the data collection, but most of it came from observations going back decades. The bird data is based on at-ship surveys with observers on research and container vessels. They counted birds 10 minutes at a time and used GPS to mark their locations.

For the ship data, Renner says they were interested in large ocean-going ships like container vessels that carry a lot of fuel and could cause a large spill. Many of those ships have automated equipment that radios in their position with a weather report, for example.

He developed a mapping tool that put those two virtual maps on top of each other. The new map will inform oil spill mitigation efforts.

“There are now plans to put more response gear into the Aleutians, like into Dutch Harbor, like offshore tugboats. By having more data on where those critical areas are, it will allow us to make more informed decisions on strategically placing those resources.”

His map not only found new choke points, it showed that some old ideas on good places to put equipment and response gear weren’t that useful. For example, there had been plans to possibly station a tug in Adak.

“It’s fairly clear that Adak would not be an ideal spot. It’s far away from concentrations of shipping traffic and it’s also not really at the heart of the main seabird densities. You’d have to travel several days from Adak to get to a likely position, whereas at Sand Point, you’d be within an hour’s striking distance.”

Renner says this project is just one piece of a larger ongoing effort to utilize current technology to process information from the past and hopefully, better protect vulnerable species in an environment that’s getting busier and more industrialized every day.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel settles out of court with Wassillie Gregory

Wed, 2015-05-20 10:18

Wassillie Gregory and the City of Bethel have settled out of court related to an incident in which the man was roughly arrested by a former Bethel police officer in the AC parking lot.

Gregory’s Attorney Sean Brown filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the city and former officer Andrew Reid, seeking damages. He argued that Reid violated Gregory’s civil rights and committed assault and battery in what he described as an “attack” last July.

The complaint says Gregory presented no threat to the officer and that the city is liable for Reid’s conduct. It claims the city knew of other complaints against Reid and did not properly investigate.

Brown says the terms of the settlement are confidential but that the case is dismissed as part of the settlement.

A judge earlier this month dismissed Gregory’s conviction for harassment afterthe video surfaced in early April.

Gregory pleaded guilty last year to the harassment charge without the assistance of an attorney. He originally faced charges for harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. The latter charges were dismissed with original guilty plea.

From a distance the video shows the arrest in which the intoxicated Gregory is slammed to the ground several times. Brown’s complaint on behalf of Gregory says the officer pepper sprayed Gregory in the face and that he suffered a fractured shoulder and rib, requiring medical treatment in Anchorage.

Reid was hired by the city in 2012 and fired in March of this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Pages