The owner of the Niblack mining project on Prince of Wales Island continues to explore the possibility of a minerals processing plant on Gravina Island near Ketchikan.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and Heatherdale Resources, LTD on Tuesday announced a memorandum of understanding for evaluation of a mill and tailings facility at the Gravina Island Industrial Complex.
AIDEA is a state-owned corporation set up to advance economic development in Alaska. Spokesman Karsten Rodvik says the agreement will help it investigate financing options in support of the Niblack project.
“Part of the feasibility that they are doing, of course, is to determine whether or not they would be able to process materials in-state or if they would have to process them out-of-state,” Rodvik said. “That’s where we come in. We look at the Gravina Island Industrial Complex site as a potential site for Niblack to process the materials.”
Financing could be key for moving the project beyond the exploration phase and into permitting. Niblack Project Manager Graham Neale told an audience at the recent annual meeting of Southeast Conference that Heatherdale has had trouble attracting enough investors.
“As an exploration company we are at the whim of the financial markets and the only way we can raise money is by investor dollars,” Neale said. “And for whatever reason over the last couple years, I’m sure people’s portfolios have noticed, that investment dollars have kind of dried up and they are just getting harder to come by. So, in 2013 unfortunately we couldn’t raise the capital that we needed to pull off a program.”
The Canadian company has long expressed interest in the Gravina Island site for a minerals processing plant. Last year, it agreed to a memorandum of understanding with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which owns the industrial complex land.
If developed, it’s estimated Niblack would create up to 230 full time jobs at both the mine site and the processing plant.
Heatherdale is the sole owner of the copper, gold, zinc and silver prospect located about 30 miles southwest of Ketchikan. Geologists say Niblack’s mineral deposits are similar to the Greens Creek Mine near Juneau.
Southeast Alaska’s maritime economy provides more than a quarter of the wages paid in the region. That’s according to a new study published by the Southeast Conference.
Frank Foti, president and CEO of Vigor Industrial, says the Ketchikan Shipyard is “Alaska’s newest and best ship-building facility.”
He’s biased, since his Portland-headquartered company owns Alaska Ship and Drydock. He elabarated during a speech celebrating last spring’s opening of a new ship-construction hall.
“After the collapse of the timber economy here, these leaders saw an opportunity for growth and jobs and economic prosperity, while others saw only derelict infrastructure and a dying industry,” he said. (Watch a time-lapse video of the hall’s construction.)
A new study shows the shipyard is a key contributor to the region, with about 120 employees and $37 million in annual revenues. It’s part of Southeast’s maritime or “blue” economy. (Click here to read the report.)
“So who are we. What sets us apart from other places and makes our resources unique. Is there one thing that defines our people, geography and economy?” asked Meilani Schijvens, who researched that question as part of Juneau-based Sheinberg Associates.
She spoke at last month’s Southeast Conference annual meeting in Sitka, where the study was released.
“We are here today to tell you that there is. We are a maritime economy and a maritime region,” she said.
That’s no surprise, given Southeast’s geography.
But the study has the details to prove it. The report shows about 400 maritime businesses and government agencies employing more than 8,000 people. Their total annual wages come close to half a billion dollars, with individual wages averaging about $50,000 a year.
Researcher Barb Sheinberg says this is the first thorough study of the blue economy. It includes commercial fisheries, ferries and marinas.
“When you think of the visitor industry, that includes whale-watching cruise staff. When you think about construction that’s our marine welders. When you think about government, that’s our Coast Guard folks,” she said.
Not included were on-shore businesses relying on cruise ship passenger traffic or barged goods.
She says ocean harvests dominate the maritime economy.
“That’s our seafood processors and commercial fishermen, the mariculture workers, that’s where half of the maritime jobs and wages are,” she said.
Sheinberg says the blue economy is larger than mining, timber, construction or any other sector in Southeast.
Schijvens says shipbuilding and repair jobs have doubled over the past five years.
“This growth is not accidental, but resulted from strategic planning and targeted investment,” she said.
Like Ketchikan, Wrangell is a former logging town that’s found new opportunities.
State and federal grants, as well as private investments, have paid for seafood plant improvements, a marine service center, a travel lift and a new harbor.
Economic Development Director Carol Rushmore says that’s brought unexpected benefits.
“Now we have transient moorage space. So now we’re seeing yachts coming to Wrangell, because before, we never had that ability,” she said. “Commercial fleets were being rafted 3 or 4 deep. Well, the yachts don’t want to tie up to the commercial boats. But now we’re seeing this huge increase of yachters coming to Wrangell. It’s added an extra element to our tourism industry.”
She says growth hasn’t been easy. Grants take years. Community planning can be contentious. And it’s natural for people to become impatient.
“Recovery is very slow, as you are all are very painfully aware of. It has taken 20 years for our community to start rebounding,” she said.
Wrangell isn’t all the way there. It still hopes to see development at the sites of its old mill and a former Bureau of Indian Affairs school.
Rushmore says that could include expansion of the city’s blue economy.
A pair of Canadian sculptors selected to build a piece for downtown Fairbanks visited the community last week to preview officials and the public about the project. Their work is designed to represent and reflect the local environment.
A plan to build indoor tennis courts was put on hold at the regular Anchorage Assembly meeting Tuesday night. The body voted unanimously to accept a 26.5 million dollar bundle of legislative funding for improvements to several city-run buildings, but postponed their vote on whether to accept 10.5 million dollars for the construction of a new city-run Recreation Center. The center would hold six tennis courts and two half-basketball courts. Tennis organizations and Mayor Dan Sullivan support the plan. But some Assembly members are critical of accepting the money because they did not request it. Assembly members said they wanted more time to gather information. Around 50 people testified on the issue. The majority supported building the courts. The issue will be before the Assembly again on October 22nd. Dozens of people who showed up to testify on measures related to a controversial labor law passed last Spring ran out of time to testify at 11pm and the meeting will be continued Wednesday at 6pm.
Public feedback at a town hall meeting Tuesday at East High School in Anchorage regarding the proposed Northern Access route to the U-Med District was almost entirely against the new road.
“I am very disturbed by this project, and I’m also very disturbed by the process that we have gone through to get this $20 million for this,” Helen Nienhueser, a resident of the area since 1969, said. ”It was a backroom deal that happened in the closing moments of the legislature with all the local representatives opposing it, but not given anything other than token, ‘we will listen to the public.’”
Her sentiment was echoed by nearly all of the 40 citizens who spoke on the issue.
The “backroom deal” she references is a $20 million allocation from the state that was added to the budget in the closing days of this past session.
State Senator Bill Wielechowski says despite arguments against the funds voiced by the U-Med area’s representatives, community councils and constituents, the money remained in the final budget.
“It really is, I think, a slap in the face to the local community to completely disregard the will and desire of the community,” Wielechowski said.
Though most attendees of the town hall meeting were opposed to the road, many agreed that it may be in the district’s best interest have a plan for if the road does eventually go through.
“If we have to have a road, how we build it, how we make it so it doesn’t disrupt the neighborhoods surrounding the U-Med District as well as the qualities that bring people,” Kelly Smith said when asked what he was there to speak about Tuesday evening.
No representatives from the State Department of Transportation or DOWL H-K-M were present at the meeting to respond to questions.
The company contracted with the state to manage Alaska’s new online medical records data base is defending its privacy protections. The Alaska E-health Network, like many across the country, resulted from state and federal mandates designed to improve efficiency and privacy of health information transfer. It was piloted in Fairbanks, and went live this summer statewide. Alaskans are required to opt out of the system if they don’t want their medical records in the data base. The American Civil Liberties Union is critical of that, and has also raised concerns about access by hackers and government agencies.
In November, voters in the small city of SeaTac will decide whether to set one of the highest minimum wages in the country.
The controversial Proposition One would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for some workers, including ground crew at the airport. Alaska Airlines is fighting the measure.
Traditionally, when workers want better wages, they join a union. So why are airport workers taking this approach instead?
They don’t have a lot of choices – they’re stuck in a legal limbo under federal labor law.
Alaska Native tribal governments are keeping their doors open, but worry about how long the federal government shutdown will go on.
“So now the shutdown, we won’t even get our payment till lord knows when,” Richard Peterson, tribal administrator for the organized village of Kasaan in Southeast Alaska, said.
He says the Bureau of Indian Affairs had to recalculate payments to tribes to comply with across-the-board budget cuts, or sequestration, then was shut down. That’s put the BIA 10 months behind in payments to support his tribe’s operations.
He’s worried about how much longer it can continue normal operations.
“Right now I don’t know. I’m not even comfortable trying to answer that until we really sit down and take a hard look at where we’re at,” Peterson said, when asked if the shutdown might lead to tribal employee layoffs. “Depending on how long this goes on, and deciding whether we want to look at financing options or what have you. I just know it puts us in a serious bind.”
The BIA provides funding to tribes for a wide range of programs – including disaster relief, roads, and tribal courts.
Gloria O’Neill is president and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Southcentral Alaska. She says CITC’s general assistance program is underfunded and normally runs out of money half way into the fiscal year, but she says the infusion that normally comes with the start of the new fiscal year on October first is missing.
“Because of our preparation, we are continuing with service as usual throughout the organization, however, we have a couple of limited service interruptions, one being general assistance,” she said. “That program is funded by the BIA and we’ve not received our funding for general assistance this year.”
O’Neill says CITC is routing people eligible for General Assistance to other aid programs. She says education funding is also affected by the shutdown.
“We have funding on hand and so we really try to be careful to ensure we can meet those obligations and get those scholarships out the door, because our kids are in school and they need to see, they need to see that money,” she said.
O’Neill says funding to tribes should not be treated as discretionary.
“We should be more of a program like defense or some of the others that really take into account that this is an actual need,” she said. “It’s not something that if we have the money, we’ll fund it, but this is literally a need in our communities and it is based upon treaty obligations.”
Tribes also rely on funding from other federal agencies in the U.S. Department of Interior, and in the departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Justice, and Agriculture.
The main groups working to help Alaskans sign up for marketplace insurance plans haven’t successfully enrolled anyone. One week after after the launch of the federally run health insurance marketplace, it’s still not operational.
It’s 8 a.m. and Joshua Weinstein is doing something that has become a familiar routine over the last week. He’s trying to sign on to Alaska’s health insurance marketplace:
“So obviously start at Healthcare.gov and you can start an application or you can log in. I have made a consumer account. I got that far. This is looking optimistic…”
Weinstein is a benefits consultant at Enroll Alaska, the company that’s deploying insurance agents around the state to sign people up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He has attempted to log onto the marketplace at least a dozen times over the last week. In that time, he’s successfully created an account, but hasn’t gotten much farther. And on this morning, his optimism quickly fades as he lands on a screen that is mostly blank except for a small blue person icon near the top:
“I’ll click the person’s head and see what happens.”
That click doesn’t go anywhere. And Weinstein says that’s why he isn’t walking actual clients through the process just yet:
“So this is not a very confidence boosting experience and for me or any one of our agents to be sitting across from someone at a health care facility or a retail location doing this sort of clicking around, it would be nonsensical.”
In the meantime, Weinstein is helping clients choose an insurance plan and figure out what subsidies they may qualify for. But actually enrolling in a plan will have to wait until the federal website is functioning. Enroll Alaska says it has a backlog of 1200 Alaskans who are ready to sign up for insurance. Weinstein says he didn’t expect the first week to be perfectly smooth, but it has been discouraging:
“We have people who are on salary, we have expenses and we have no way to at this point help people get enrolled and make this a successful business model.”
Enroll Alaska intends to have two dozen insurance agents in communities across the state. But the company is waiting to deploy most of those agents until the website is working. Tyann Boling is COO of Enroll Alaska. She says the high initial demand for coverage in Alaska is encouraging. But she worries that if the marketplace isn’t working soon, that enthusiasm will drop off:
“And we really don’t want that to happen. We’re hoping that by the end of this week, we’re hoping that by tomorrow it’s going to be going, it’s all determined on when the federal government can get it functioning.”
The federal government doesn’t have an estimate for when that will be. Susan Johnson is regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She can’t say if anyone from Alaska has successfully enrolled. She says technical problems are affecting all of the federally run marketplaces, in 36 states:
“We’re making improvements every day but we’re not where we want it to be yet. We’re adding both hardware and software improvements and we know it’s frustrating, we’re working as hard as we can to get to where we all need it to be.”
Johnson says there is no hurry to sign up for insurance. She’s asking for patience. And at least one Alaskan who is eager to buy new insurance is okay with that. Alex Cruver is a 28 year old who has asthma. He already has health insurance, but he expects to save money on the marketplace. He has logged onto healthcare.gov three times over the last week. He hasn’t even been able to create a user account, which has left him a bit perplexed, but not too concerned:
“I guess I thought it would be fixed by now.” Reporter: “So how frustrated are you?” Cruver: “Not that frustrated, I mean it’s kind of a bummer, but not very frustrated.”
Cruver says the website problems won’t deter him at all. He’s content to wait, as long as he’s eventually able to sign up for a plan that starts January 1st.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
It’s been one week since the federal government shut down.
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development expects a rise in federal workers filing for unemployment payments due to the furlough.
The labor department started receiving calls from furloughed federal workers the first day of the shutdown. They had these types of questions:
“Am I eligible for unemployment insurance? How much can I get?”
Virginia Calloway is acting chief of unemployment insurance for the state.
“This is a very uncertain time about what’s going on with the federal funds and I know it’s making people anxious and we’re here to try to help,” Calloway said.
Depending on how long the furlough lasts and if individual claims meet eligibility, the state would pay furloughed federal workers from the unemployment insurance fund, then bill the federal government for reimbursement after the quarter ends Dec. 31.
If federal workers receive unemployment benefits, then are paid retroactively for the time they were furloughed, Calloway says it’s unclear if they would have to repay those benefits.
“That’s a question that is up in the air but unfortunately we can’t ask the federal government because they’re closed,” she said.
“Our position would be to pay them as long as they’re eligible at the time,” Lennon Weller, who’s currently in charge of managing Alaska’s unemployment insurance trust fund. “Later on if the situation becomes that they end up getting retroactively paid for those weeks, then that’s not for us to determine at this point. I think our biggest worry is to obviously put money in people’s pockets in the immediate time frame if they’re currently obviously not working or not able to work and aren’t receiving a paycheck.”
Weller says he doesn’t know how many federal workers have filed for unemployment insurance since the government shut down, but he expects it will be higher than normal.
“It’s looking like the latest tallies that are coming which of course would be just activity that’s happened in the last day or two does seem to be indicating a significant bump in demand at least for the federal workforce or ex-federal workforce,” she said.
Weller says the maximum weekly unemployment payment is $370.00, not including dependents. If the furlough continues, the earliest payment for a federal worker who filed last week would be Oct. 15.
For the past five years, the housing authority has received federal funds for an elder service coordinator on Prince of Wales Island. This year, two new communities will be included in the program, which helps seniors access things like health care, financial information, events and activities.
“Programs like gardening, language classes, storytelling, or cultural events,” Ricardo Worl, the housing authority’s chief executive officer, said.
He says additional grant money will be used to hire coordinators in Yakutat and Saxman, where Tlingit and Haida recently opened new senior centers.
“A lot of our tenants in these senior housing facilities have spent their entire lives in that community, and they want to remain there. Their family lives there, their grandchildren live there,” Worl said.
The housing authority contracts with Catholic Community Service to run the program. Marianne Mills is director of Southeast Senior Services for CCS, which operates similar programs in Juneau and the entire region.
“The main thing is to keep them active, healthy, and connected with other people,” Mills said. “Not just staying in their place by themselves.”
Mills says the elder service coordinators in Yakutat and Saxman will tailor programs and activities to the needs of their community. She says the program on Prince of Wales has benefited from partnerships with other agencies.
“For example, with the SEARHC clinic, they did a sit and be fit class, got some exercise equipment in the senior apartments there, and arranged for doctor and physical therapy visits on a regular basis,” she said. “Just made a variety of different health promotion activities available.”
Tlingit and Haida this year received a total of $246,000 for elder service coordinators from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money is part of HUD’s Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiencygrant program. Despite the federal shutdown and sequestration budget cuts, Worl says he’s fairly confident the money will continue to be available.
“If they don’t have programs that allow our elders to age in place, in the rural communities, it’s going to be even more expensive to bring them to our urban centers, where it’s a lot more competitive,” Worl said. “The wait lists to get into these senior housing and health care programs are tremendous.”
He says the housing authority will just need to remain diligent in communicating to Alaska’s Congressional delegation the importance of such programs.
Energy and the challenges of providing it in remote Western Alaska was the main topic of a summit in Bethel on Monday.
Tribal leaders from dozens of villages throughout the Yukon-Kuskowim Delta attended the gathering put on by the Association of Village Council Presidents.
It’s fall now in the Y-K Delta with temperatures bouncing around the freezing mark. But winter is coming. And the elders say it could be a cold one.
Toksook Bay elder Paul John told the audience that traditional Yup’ik teachings include information on how to survive in the harsh environment.
John McIntyre with AVCP has heard elders say that the Earth is busy insulating itself and preparing for the cold weather that’s ahead.
“In some of those villages I’ve heard of grass growing up to five feet tall,” McIntyre said. “And the leaves, you know this summer when I look at the trees, the leaves were even bigger.”
“With those kind of indications, we need to start now to look at our energy needs.”
McIntyre works with the TANF program – or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. He says this past spring, cold weather lasted through May and families were running out of heating fuel. One family had 11 people sharing a single small home.
“And they didn’t have fuel oil for two months,” he said.
AVCP only learned of the family’s struggles after visiting the village and running into one of the elders who was staying at the house. In this particular case, one of the children in the home qualified for services and the whole household benefited from the heating assistance.
McIntyre implored the tribal leaders to share that kind of information with AVCP.
“You know who needs help,” he said. “Once you know who needs help, let us know, because we can provide these kinds of services to our people that are not making it.”
AVCP’s Energy Summit precedes the Association’s Annual Convention which happens this week in Bethel.
Since natural gas was discovered on the North Slope, there’s been talk of building a pipeline to get it to market. But where should that pipeline end? Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada announced on Monday that Nikiski is their top choice for a stopping point.
Steve Butt, the project’s senior manager, says the decision came down to some pretty simple questions.
“Is it suitable for a site? Can you build it there? And can you run it there? We thought the Nikiski industrial area had the best possibility of success.”
By choosing a spot on the Kenai Peninsula, the companies could build a pipeline that passes through the Interior and Southcentral and delivers natural gas to consumers along the way. There’s access to a large population base that already has some experience with natural gas processing. And especially important, there’s plenty of space to develop industrial facilities. About 500 acres of land are needed at the pipeline’s stopping point to build a processing plant and other infrastructure.
Butt says that’s the big reason Nikiski was chosen as the lead site over Valdez — that even though Valdez already has a marine terminal, there might not be as much space to build a major LNG facility. If development at Nikiski falls through, the North Slope producers have a short list of other potential sites, but are keeping the names of those communities confidential. Valdez plans to continue pushing for its selection as a pipeline terminal.
So, Alaskans have been waiting for the development of a natural gas pipeline for years. Exactly, how big of a deal is this announcement?
“It’s not the order for steel that Alaskans want. It’s not the order for the ribbon for the groundbreaking that Alaskans want, but it’s significant,” says Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for an Alaska natural gas pipeline. “You have the four companies — with the three North Slope producers in particular — agreeing on something. That’s always news.”
Legislators from both parties and the governor have issued celebratory press releases welcoming the decision. State lawmakers who have promoted the development of a separate, smaller gasline say this could even lead to a merger of the two projects. Persily says that make sense, because the choice of Nikiski as an end point would seem to “eliminate the need for a small-volume, state-supported line going same route, same direction, same customers.” Dan Fauske, head of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, did not return calls to explain how this development could affect the development of a small diameter gasline.
So, instead of something meant to primarily serve Alaska utilities, there’s the potential forone single, big line that would transfer billions of cubic feet of gas every day mostly for export. It would stretch 800 miles, have five take-off points, and cost at least $45 billion.
And that price tag is still the big hurdle. Project Manager Steve Butt says that just because they have an idea of where they want to end the gasline, the North Slope producers still need to be confident the line will be profitable before they start building anything. That means knowing there’s a viable export market and knowing how much you’re going to be taxed.
“Until you really understand that fiscal structure, it’s like asking somebody to take out a 30-year mortgage on a home, but they don’t know what the interest rate is. You know, we need to know those fundamental numbers so that as we move forward, everybody can have confidence that it makes sense.”
Gas taxes are expected to be a marquee issue next legislative session.
The CEO of Great Bear Petroleum says their new 3-D seismic data confirms a promising new oil resource in the shale rocks just south of Prudhoe Bay. Ed Duncan said they received the data late last month and are still examining it.
“Every source rock that we predicted to be present, is present. At the depths we predicted it to be in, at the state of thermal maturity we predicted,” Duncan reported. “These are things we said to the state, that we’ve said in public presentations. The rocks are there.”
Great Bear is the first company to actively pursue unconventional oil in the state. Duncan won’t provide any specifics, but he is confident that with modern fracking technology, they can get oil out of the rocks and make money.
“There’s nothing not doable about our technical and our business thesis.”
The small independent company leased about 500,000 acres of land from the state in 2010 with the hopes of finding commercially viable oil in the shale. A 2012 USGS report says that there could be up to 950 million barrels in the rocks Great Bear is targeting.
At this point, Duncan said the company has spent over $100 million. They have only drilled two exploratory wells so far, directly next to the Dalton Highway, though they have six permitted.
Joe Balash is acting commissioner of the state’s Department of Natural Resources. He said the resource isn’t proven until more wells are drilled, but he sees great potential. “We think– our geologists think– that there’s tremendous opportunity with the unconventional resource, and we hope that Great Bear is just the first company to make a buck on it.”
Duncan said they will gather more seismic data this winter. Then, they will unveil their development plan at the end of 2014. That includes how they plan to move the oil off of the North Slope.
“Initial development would very likely be trucked to Prudhoe. And then longer term development certainly would warrant a dedicated processing facility and very likely a tap into the pipeline.”
Great Bear’s leases are about 15 miles south of Pump Station One on the TransAlaska Pipeline.
The first big wind storm of the season is forecast to hit early Tuesday Morning.
With lots of wet weather and the ground still unfrozen, the National Weather Service says Anchorage should be prepared for some downed trees and power outages.
Say one last goodbye to the golden leaves that have brightened Anchorage’s autumn. They’re about to be blown away, according to Shawn Baines, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. He says it’s going to be very windy Tuesday.
“For those areas that typically get these really high winds, Turnagain Arm and higher elevations, we’re looking for gusts of 75-90 miles per hour, but we are expecting some of that wind, not nearly as strong, to get down to lower elevations of Anchorage – the lower hillside and parts of East Anchorage,” Baines said. “And we’re looking for gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour there.”
Sustained winds of 45-65 miles per hour are expected in the Turnagain Arm and the Upper Hillside. The Lower Hillside, East Anchorage and Eagle River can expect sustained winds of 20-35 miles per hour. Winds will increase overnight and be at their height between 6 and 10 a.m.
With a wet August and September, Meteorologist Eddie Zingoni, also with the Anchorage office of the National Weather Service, says the wind has the potential to do some real damage.
“There’s a greater change during this storm to see uprooted trees which increases the chance that one could knock out the power or be across the road in the morning, during the morning commute and could maybe cause an issue with that,” Zingoni said.
Zingoni says the winds are predicted to pick up just after midnight and the high wind warning will remain in effect until noon.
Forecasters say this storm won’t likely last as long as that one hit last September. That storm lasted for over 12 hours and knocked out power for about a week in some parts of the city.
A quarter to one half inch of rain is expected during this storm and minor flooding onto roadways is possible.
The National Weather Service has issued a high wind warning from 1 a.m. until noon Tuesday.
The Red Cross is urging Anchorage residents to be prepared.
Federal workers who have been furloughed will likely be paid retroactively once the shutdown is over. And government employees who are remaining on the job during the shutdown will be paid for their work eventually, but they don’t know when. For Alaska families living paycheck to paycheck, that’s a severe hardship.
Fuel from a sunken vessel in the Haines Small Boat Harbor has been contained, although it could still be several days until clean-up is complete and the boat is salvaged.
The 76-foot fishing tender Neptune sank while moored at the harbor about 1 a.m. Saturday. No one was onboard, but someone in the harbor called 911 and Harbormaster Phil Benner was notified. Benner said he and his staff responded and found the engine room flooded and the back deck already underwater.
“We did try to get some gas pumps started on the boat but it did not, it wasn’t successful,” Benner said. “The boat started tilting off the dock, and we evacuated everyone off the boat and cut the lines.”
Benner said the harbor staff deployed containment booms at the harbor’s entrance within 45 minutes. He contacted the boat’s owner who said there is about 1,600 gallons of fuel on board. Early Saturday morning Benner shut the harbor to boat traffic to keep leaking fuel from spreading into Port Chilkoot.
“Everybody’s moving as fast as we can but we want to make sure we aren’t contaminating Lynn Canal by opening up the harbor,” he said.
A sheen was visible in harbor early Saturday. The smell of diesel permeated the area, which is only a few blocks from downtown Haines. As the tide receded, a black line of diesel was left on the rock break wall and along grassy areas of the beach.
Local diver Norm Hughes went to the harbor early Saturday to see the sunken tender. Then the boat’s owner, Don Axelrod, called Hughes to see if he would dive on the boat. As a commercial fisherman, Hughes was especially interested in helping out.
“Don called me a little while later and asked if I’d go down and see if I could get the fuel vents closed off so we can keep the oil from coming out and maybe they’ll open the harbor back up then,” Hughes said. “If we can stop the environmental leaking of the oil then maybe the fleet can go fishing.”
Officials with the Coast Guard and field responder Bob Mattson with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conversation arrived by mid-day Saturday. As soon as the Coast Guard approved an operating agreement, local responders from the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization, or SEAPRO mobilized.
SEAPRO is the area’s oil spill removal organization. It has response teams in seven zones of Southeast, including one with equipment based in the Haines Harbor, which, Mattson says, helped with quick response time.
Mattson said officials decided to allow fishing boats to leave the harbor, but a decontamination site was set up at the harbor’s entrance. Beginning Sunday morning, fishing boats were stopped at the entrance and sprayed down.
“We have them come over here to our decontamination station and we’re using pressure washers to try to get as much of the film or sheen off the vessels prior to letting them leave the harbor,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Joshua Thorne said.
After the fleet left, the cleanup effort began in earnest. At least 15 responders were walking the docks in the harbor and using small skiffs to lay out absorbent oil pads. Mattson said because of the size of the harbor, and difficulty maneuvering around the sunken vessel, the skimming skiffs were not being used.
The Neptune is a privately owned tender contracted by Ocean Beauty Seafood during the commercial fishing season. Axelrod, the owner, and his insurance company are working on a plan to raise the Neptune. Axelrod was on the docks Sunday and talking with a salvage company, but didn’t want to comment.
Coast Guard petty officer Jeff Cruz said Sunday the salvage operation is going to be difficult. The Neptune is a wooden hull boat, built in 1937. Cruz said wood hull boats are difficult to raise.
“If you raise it the wrong way, it could break up, it could do all sorts of other stuff,” Cruz said, “And we don’t really want to mess with it underwater we could but you also run risks of contaminating the wood and getting contamination all throughout the boat and making it harder to dispose of.”
Mattson and the Coast Guard says they have not discovered any wildlife affected by the fuel spill at this time. The Coast Guard will investigate the cause of the sinking.
Fairbanks Police are expected to play a support role in the review of new data raised in the Fairbanks 4 case. The new information filed in court last month points to other suspects than the 4 local men convicted of the 1997 murder of John Hartman. Last week the state announced that it would conduct a review of the information raised by the Alaska Innocence Project, including a confession by a former Fairbanks resident imprisoned for other murders.
A dispute between the Municipality of Anchorage and Eklutna, Inc. is headed to court. Eklutna, Inc., an Alaska Native Corporation, claims it is due about half the revenue generated from the methane gas produced at the Anchorage Landfill, but Muni attorneys say the land didn’t generate the gas, city garbage did.
The Yukon Kuskokwim region is gaining national attention through the business savvy of the local Sparck sisters who happen to be triplets. Since 2006 the entrepreneurs have run a cosmetic company, ArXotica, using ingredients from the tundra. Now, they have a chance to win a free commercial for their company, which will be aired during the Super Bowl and are asking for your help.