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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 40 min 57 sec ago

Ocean Acidification May Drive Shellfish Hatcheries Out of Business by 2040

Wed, 2015-07-08 08:39

New research paints an unsettling picture of the future of shellfish in coastal Alaska. The effects of ocean acidification are worsening and could mean the end of hatcheries in the next 25 years if costly mitigation efforts aren’t put in place.

Two-thousand forty – that’s the year put forward by researchers in the ongoing study.

“It is dire,” says Wiley Evans, a research associate at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environment Lab in Seattle and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Ocean Acidification Research Center. He led the project, based at the Alutiiq Pride Hatchery on the Kenai Peninsula. Right now, the hatchery has only a 5-month window where ocean conditions are right for production.

“It was very, very alarming. Not knowing much about ocean chemistry, I know a lot more now than when we started, that’s for sure,” says Jeff Hetrick, owner of Alutiiq Pride shellfish hatchery, which is situated at the head of Resurrection Bay in Seward.

“Right now we have blue and red king crab, roughly 6 million

Beach clams. Alaska Public Media stock photo.

sea cucumbers, 2 million cockles, 7 million little neck clams, 100,000 butter clams, roughly 300,000 purple-hinge rock scallops, abalone as well, and we have oysters and geoducks, too.”

It’s currently the only full-time commercial shellfish hatchery in the state, with on-site personnel, which made it a logical choice for data collection.

Jeremy Mathis is a NOAA oceanographer who helped choose the site.

“We had the opportunity last year to install a state-of-the-art system that could monitor the water chemistry of the seawater that they were pumping in to the hatchery on a continuous basis and it would report out to us in what we call real-time,” Mathis says.

Ocean acidification is the name for certain changes in the ocean’s chemistry due to higher levels of carbon dioxide. When seawater absorbs CO2, there’s an increase in hydrogen ions, leading to more acidic water, and lower levels of carbonate ions.

Carbonate ions are crucial for organisms like clams and mussels to develop hard shells. And, without shells, they aren’t protected and can’t survive.

Mathis says Resurrection Bay is in a particularly vulnerable position because of certain environmental factors.

“It gets a lot of freshwater input from not only the streams and little freshwater runoffs that come through there but also quite a bit of meltwater from glaciers. And that unique water chemistry can actually exacerbate or worsen the ocean acidification effect.”

Cold water, which is quicker to absorb CO2, combined with the presence CO2-rich glacial melt put Alaska as a whole at particular risk. Evans says those factors are natural and it’s a delicate balance. But as for the levels we’re seeing here now-

“It’s not natural and it’s a large problem,” Wiley says.

Humans and their carbon footprint have added serious amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere very quickly.

“And that little bit of additional carbon dioxide can just push the system past thresholds to where you can’t produce shellfish perhaps anymore without very serious mitigation strategies,” he adds.

That’s what worries Hetrick when he thinks about the future and the 5-month production window at his hatchery that’s on track to close completely in 25 years.

“We don’t really know what the full costs are going to be. There’s going to be some. There’s going to be capital costs and there’s going to be some operational costs. It’s just going to be another thing we’re going to have to do to produce shellfish.”

Figuring out exactly what to do next is tricky but Mathis says, Alaska has to put in the effort, immediately.

“Unfortunately, Alaska is the canary in the coal mine for ocean acidification. We’re seeing changes in water chemistry faster in Alaska than really any other place around the world. So, it’s our job now in the next few years to figure out what the magnitude and impact of those changes are going to be.”

And he says, find a way to protect our fisheries before it’s too late.

Categories: Alaska News

IG Finds Service to Veterans Lacking at VA clinic in Mat-Su

Wed, 2015-07-08 06:54

The Inspector General for Veterans Affairs has verified a host of problems at the VA’s Mat-Su outpatient clinic.

The clinic opened in 2009, but since 2012 the VA has had trouble retaining physicians or other practitioners to fill the two provider slots at the clinic. The report released yesterday says the lack of providers left some patients unable to get timely appointments, resulting in poor quality of care.

Forty patients assigned to the Mat-Su clinic died in the year ending in mid-2014. The inspector general found eight of those patients did not receive adequate access to care.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who requested the report, called its findings “devastating and disappointing.”

The report says the situation has improved more recently. Since 2013, more than 1,000 VA patients have been seen at the Southcentral Foundation clinic in Wasilla, at VA expense.

Categories: Alaska News

Young Amendment Blocks ANWR Wilderness Plan

Tue, 2015-07-07 17:45

Alaska Congressman Don Young this afternoon added an amendment to a bill that would block the feds from spending any money on a plan that calls for more wilderness in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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Young’s amendment to the Interior Department spending bill passed the House by voice vote after a brief debate.

President Obama announced the update to the comprehensive plan for the Arctic refuge in January, with great fanfare. The planning document calls for designating more than half of the refuge wilderness – the highest level of protection in federal law. In addition to the areas that are already wilderness, there’d hardly be any part of the refuge that’s not wilderness. The Alaska delegation to Congress and the governor hit the roof, and they’ve stayed mad. They, like a majority of Alaskans in many polls, want the coastal plain of the refuge opened to oil and gas exploration.

Young says the president’s actions are illegal, because only Congress can declare a wilderness area. He also referred to the “no more” clause in ANILCA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.

It is clear in the law: nothing more than 5,000 acres can be withdrawn and put into wilderness without the OK of the Congress. In Alaska. No more clause. It stands for no more!” You said. “Now we have a president who says ‘up yours’ to the Congress.”

Young emphasized that last statement with a gesture: thumb to nose, fingers waggling. He sees this as another case of federal overreach.

This is an example of what i think of the whole department of interior. Between the e.p.a. And department of interior they’re trying to cripple this nation and cripple my state. 

The president’s defenders say he’s not breaking the law because he’s only asking Congress to declare the new wilderness areas. Congresswoman Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, stood to oppose Young’s amendment on the House floor.

“ I understand there’s differences of opinion how to manage this land, and that legislation designated in this area as wilderness — may not get very far in this congress, but i want to commend the president for his leadership on this issue and i would hope that the legislative process could play out.”

The House is expected to vote on the full bill this week. Whether it would change anything on the ground, in the Arctic Refuge, is unclear. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it’s concerned about Young’s amendment but hasn’t done a thorough review. The service has repeatedly acknowledged it can’t fully carry out its new comprehensive plan anyway, unless Congress passes a bill declaring the new wilderness areas. The planning document itself says it would take an act of Congress to implement. And the Arctic Refuge manager has said he’s still treating the areas in question as they’ve been treated since 1988, under a (management) regime called “minimal management.” The differences between that and actual wilderness management are administrative and subtle. In Washington, I’m Liz Ruskin.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Ablaze: Fires Activity Puts State On Track For A Record-Setting Year

Tue, 2015-07-07 17:44

More than 300 wildfires are burning across Alaska right now- mostly in a wide swath of the interior and Southwest part of the state. More than 3 million acres of the state have burned so far this summer, which is on pace to beat the record setting 2004 season.

Tim Mowry is a fire information spokesperson with the State Division of Forestry. He says several fires that were quieting down roared to life again yesterday (Monday) as temperatures reached into the 90s.

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The photo shows a burned area in the Stetson Creek Fire in the Chugach National Forest near Cooper Landing on the Kenai Peninsula, which is now 100 percent contained. Photo: Alaska Division of Forestry.

Categories: Alaska News

Berkowitz Hopes to Swing Knik Arm Funding Over to the Port of Anchorage

Tue, 2015-07-07 17:42

New Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz is outlining his priorities. Berkowitz recently told the Alaska Dispatch News that he’d like to funnel state funds tabbed for the Knik Arm Crossing into Port of Anchorage upgrades.

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Berkowitz elaborated on that idea, saying directing public funds to places they need to go would make life easier for Alaskans.

“Right now, the port modernization has a greater priority in my mind than a potential Knik Crossing.”

Berkowitz says that at this time of state fiscal stress, it makes sense to use available funds to the greatest advantage

“Ideally, in a fiscally responsible world, where people are being careful with public monies, they wouldn’t spend money unless they absolutely needed to. The only project that I know of that is actually taking place on the Knik Arm right now, is the Port of Anchorage. So if you want to spend money to help develop the Knik Arm in any way, the Port of Anchorage ought to be your first port of call.”

He says the Knik Arm bridge is speculative, when the Port has proven economic benefit to the entire state. Berkowitz says he’ll pursue state funds for it.

“Absolutely, I am going to do everything I can to make sure we get that port taken care of. Port modernization will save consumers across the state money on a regular basis because it is going to keep the cost of goods and services down. It ‘s also has an important strategic advantage that Anchorage has, it has important applications for our industry and our military.”

But getting the Knik Arm funds switched to the Port may not be easy, or even possible. According to Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, the $45.3 million approved by the state for Knik bridge construction comes from a ‘federal authorization receipt’ .

“It could be used on the project if it moves forward with construction.”

That money is a pre-authorization of federal funds, and does not become real cash until construction begins. What’s more, it comes from federal highway funds

“And that actually cannot be used for ports, so it’s a different pot of money entirely. So for Knik Arm Crossing, the actually only money that could be used for the Port of Anchorage is the general fund amount, which is five million dollars, that’s been designate toward Knik Arm Crossing to date.”

He says the money in the state general fund would require legislative approval to be spent elsewhere. However, more federal highway funds are available for the Knik bridge.. $179.8 million dollars as of January of this year. But, he adds, spending it requires legislative approval. And that may be moot, since the Knik Crossing is still under an administrative order for review.

Mayor Berkowitz, however, has a vision for the Port of Anchorage. He says it’s the critical infrastructure that will shape the future of Alaska as the gateway to the Arctic.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tue, 2015-07-07 17:39

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.

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Shell Finds Fracture in Icebreaker Hull

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

An icebreaker leased to Shell had to return to Dutch Harbor early Friday morning after its hull was found to have a rupture.

Rep. Young Files an Amendment To Block ANWR Wilderness Plan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Alaska Congressman Don Young this afternoon added an amendment to a bill that would block the feds from implementing a plan that calls for more wilderness in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Alaska Ablaze: Fires Activity Puts State On Track For A Record-Setting Year

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

More than 300 wildfires are burning across Alaska right now- mostly in a wide swath of the interior and Southwest part of the state.

Report: Ketchikan Flightseeing Plane Was Equipped with Adequate GPS Tech

Associated Press

A federal accident report says a sightseeing floatplane that crashed in a mountainous site near Ketchikan, killing all nine on board, was equipped with technology to provide better information about the terrain.

Berkowitz Hopes to Swing Knik Arm Funding Over to the Port of Anchorage

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

New Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz  is outlining his priorities.  Berkowitz recently told the Alaska Dispatch News  that he’d like to funnel state funds tabbed for the Knik Arm Crossing into Port of Anchorage upgrades.

Homer Feels the Squeeze of State Budget Cuts

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

The state’s dramatic loss in oil revenue means budget cuts to local municipalities across Alaska. And the City of Homer is no different. This fiscal year Homer’s jail will lose nearly half its state funding and the city is also bracing for a loss in state funds that typically help balance its operating budget.

Some Juneau Whale-Watching Companies Commit To A Higher Standard

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Seven whale watching companies in Juneau are the first in the state to participate in a voluntary stewardship program that recognizes they go above and beyond federal and state viewing guidelines. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has brought the East Coast program Whale SENSE to Alaska.

Historic WWII Bomber, Recovered in Nome, Offers Russian Twist to Iconic American Plane

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

Now a B-25J Mitchell bomber left to rust in Nome is being stripped for parts—and may one day be refurbished—thanks to efforts from a Michigan war planes museum. And students from the Bering Strait region helped make it possible.


Categories: Alaska News

Report: Ketchikan Flightseeing Plane Was Equipped with Adequate GPS Tech

Tue, 2015-07-07 16:16

A federal accident report says a sightseeing floatplane that crashed in a mountainous site near Ketchikan, killing all nine on board, was equipped with technology to provide better information about the terrain.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report was released today (Tuesday). The deHavilland DHC-3 crashed June 25 on a steep cliff about 25 miles from Ketchikan, killing the pilot and eight cruise ship passengers. The report drew no conclusions about the cause of the crash.

The NTSB has removed from the wreckage instrument panels that are part of a terrain-avoidance technology known as the Capstone program.

The program generally provides GPS technology that allows pilots to see on cockpit displays concise information about terrain, other aircraft and weather.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast King Opener to Close After 8 Days

Tue, 2015-07-07 16:08

Southeast commercial trollers will soon take a break from the king salmon harvest, but the final target this year remains anyone’s guess.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game announced Tuesday (July 7) that the first king opening of the summer will close at midnight on Wednesday (July 8), after eight days of fishing.

That opening has been longer than many trollers expected. This year’s king salmon quota was the subject of a months-long dispute between Alaska and its neighbors to the south, including Canada, Washington and Oregon. Alaska challenged the pre-season forecast, which called for relatively low numbers of Chinook in Southeast. In the end, however, the state agreed to fish under the lower estimate, to remain in compliance with the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Still, Fish & Game hasn’t released a final number for this year’s king salmon quota, so it’s impossible to know how many kings the fleet is targeting. Even fishermen are in the dark.

Exact numbers on how many kings have been taken so far won’t be available for a few weeks, while the Department tabulates fish tickets. But Fish & Game expects a second king opening for trollers in August.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Finds Fracture in Hull of Icebreaker

Tue, 2015-07-07 12:36

Photo: Shell

An icebreaker leased to Shell had to return to Dutch Harbor early Friday morning after its hull was found to have a rupture. The MV Fennica carries the company’s capping stack — a critical piece of safety equipment for Shell’s plan to drill two wells this summer in the Chukchi Sea.

Coast Guard spokesman Shawn Eggert says the ship’s crew noticed the problem around 3 a.m.

“The Motor Vessel Fennica was departing from the port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska when the crew discovered that they had water coming in to their Port No. 4 ballast tank. At that point they returned to port and tied up at the Delta Western dock,” he said. “Divers there discovered a one-inch wide by three foot long fracture in the ship’s hull.”

Eggert says the Coast Guard has begun an investigation into the cause and will examine Shell’s proposal to repair the ship. The spokesman says a marine pilot, an expert in local navigation who maneuvers a vessel as it leaves or enters a port, was on board at the time the breach was discovered.

A Shell spokesman, in an email, describes it as a “small breach.” He says the vessel was in charted waters at the time. Whether the damage will delay Shell’s plans for the already short Arctic drilling season is unclear. The spokesman says that will depend on the extent of the required repairs.

If the final permits for the Chukchi operation are approved, the government would require Shell to have the Fennica nearby, with the capping stack ready to deploy within 24 hours of a blowout. The Fennica is a 380-foot Finnish-owned multipurpose icebreaker. Shell is also leasing its sister ship, the Nordica, for ice management.

If Shell is able to return to the Chukchi, it will be the first time since its 2012 season, which was plagued with shipping and towing problems.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketckikan Advances A $3 Per Pack Tobacco Tax

Tue, 2015-07-07 10:42

In a split vote Monday, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted to move forward with a proposed tobacco tax. Borough staff now will draft an ordinance for the Assembly to consider at a later meeting.

The proposal calls for the borough to work with the City of Ketchikan on a tax that would be similar throughout the community. The suggested tax is $3 per pack of cigarettes, or 75 percent of the wholesale price on other tobacco products. Tobacco substitutes, including e-cigarettes, also would be taxed at a similar rate.

Assembly Members Glen Thompson, Mike Painter and Jim Van Horne opposed the measure, while John Harrington, Alan Bailey, Bill Rotecki and Todd Phillips voted in favor.

Bailey says he supports the proposed tobacco tax, because he believes it will help discourage people from taking up the habit.

“This is a simple question for me. Can I make a decision that will help assist the lives of youth? Not a problem. You bet. Yes. And if that upsets some people who believe this is excessive, I can live with that,” Bailey says.

Painter argued that the tobacco tax is all about money, and has nothing to do with promoting health.

“People that are addicted to tobacco, whether it’s chewing tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, e-cigs, are an easy mark for you revenue hunters. Call it what you want to, this, in my opinion, if it passes, this is extortion. Because the revenue is not going toward the problem.”

The tobacco tax would generate an estimated $1.2 million a year. The proposal calls for 15 percent of that, or about $180,000, to be designated for smoking cessation programs. The rest would be split between the City of Ketchikan and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, based on population.

Earlier in the meeting, Thompson tried to amend the motion to put the issue in front of the voters. He says the public should have a direct say in a new tax.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to give the folks a bite at the apple, because they’re going to look at it as a sales tax. And they like to approve it when we pass taxes on them. And I trust the voters.”

That motion failed 3-4. Painter and Van Horne joined Thompson in voting yes.

Also Monday, the Assembly considered a proposal to legalize fireworks within the borough. The City of Ketchikan allows some fireworks, and the borough currently doesn’t allow any. Enforcement, though, is light.

There was public comment for and against that proposal. Van Abbott says he’d like fireworks to remain illegal, and for the borough to enforce that rule. Abbott says the residue from fireworks is dangerous, and could be getting into residents’ water systems.

“Twenty to thirty percent of the powders and the accelerants contained in these aerial shells and rockets does not ignite, and falls to the earth and more likely than not, onto our neighbors’ roofs.”

Many residents in the borough use roof-catchment systems to collect drinking water. Abbot says the chemicals in fireworks include heavy metals that can harm children, especially.

Don Westlund, who proposed the motion for Assembly consideration, pointed out that fireworks are easily purchased through the Internet, and the borough doesn’t get any sales tax revenue that way.

There also was discussion of the effect of fireworks on animals, and Assembly members talked about how to better enforce the current ban. In the end, though, members referred the issue to the city-borough Cooperative Relations Committee for further discussion.

Categories: Alaska News

Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum Earns National Recognition

Tue, 2015-07-07 10:24

The Alutiiq Museum in the city of Kodiak preserves and exhibits many Alaska Native artifacts from the Kodiak Archipelago region and other areas, and now the State of Alaska’s Division of Libraries, Archives & Museums has designated it as the state’s first natural and cultural history repository.

Marnie Leist is the Curator of Collections at the Alutiiq Museum and says the recognition is especially significant because they’re the second nationally accredited tribal museum in the United States.

They play a part in keeping and protecting Native history.

“Almost 80 percent of our collections are on loan to the museum,” says Leist. “It is our responsibility to help care for other tribal organizations, federal state agencies, to care for the collections in perpetuity. And, because we have a dedicated, professional staff, maybe a 1000 years from now those 7000 year old artifacts are still around for future generations.”

She says that takes physical upkeep of the objects.

“I try to put things in micro climates if they’re sensitive to help preserve them. Large objects, we do dust them and we actually just had a great workshop with the conservators from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology from Boston come and teach us more about how to vacuum objects, like kayak frames and other types of skin objects,” says Leist.

Part of maintaining artifacts is making sure they can survive in their environment. Here’s a very Alaskan example.

“Right now, we’re doing a paper test, so in our long, sunny, bright summer days we have lots of light. Well, UV damages objects, so I created this little test really quickly and here in another couple of weeks, we’ll see how much the paper bleached out in just those few weeks,” says Leist.

Scott Carrlee is the Curator of Museum Services at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau and says granting the Alutiiq museum repository status was easy. He says that’s because it’s one of the seven institutions in the state accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

“That means that they’ve been through a review process. A very rigorous review process,” says Carrlee. “What we are concerned about is this designation is really strictly the collection’s care, collection’s management portion of what the museum does, so the fact that the Alutiiq Museum is already accredited, that gave the committee a comfort level with designating them as a repository.”

Amy Steffian is the director of research and publication for the Alutiiq Museum and refers back to the year she first joined the staff.

“I’ve been with the museum since it opened in 1995 and I’ve seen the repository grow from a young organization learning professional practices, and to see us achieve both national and now state recognition for our practices is really lovely,” says Steffian.

The Alutiiq Museum’s collection holdings range from bone and ivory objects to photographs and historical documents.

The Museum will hold its annual Community Archaeology dig from July 13 to 31where volunteers from around Kodiak can work on an archaeology site to build that collection.

Categories: Alaska News

Homer Feels the Sting of State Budget Cuts

Tue, 2015-07-07 09:48

Homer City Hall – Photo by KBBI

The City of Homer holds a contract with the state to house prisoners arrested by the Alaska State Troopers outside city limits. The contract is still in place but to save money the state will stop paying about $350,000 to Homer. That is nearly 45 percent of the contract revenue.

“I would say we’re somewhere between desperate and just getting by,” says Mark Robl.

Homer Police Chief Mark Robl has recently lost a full time jail officer leaving him with less than 24-hour coverage of the jail.

“To compensate for that we have dispatchers monitoring prisoners through [a] video surveillance link and we have police officers going into the jail and performing jail officers’ duties when they’re not here,” says Robl.

The loss in funds is just another blow and it makes the chances of hiring a new jailer bleaker. Robl has been expecting the cuts since February but he says he wasn’t aware they would run so deep until about a month ago.

“It really makes a bad situation worse to some degree in the summer when we’re stretched so thin on patrol with all of the call volume that we have to deal with,” says Robl.

Robl will probably have to pull officers off patrol or have them work overtime to fill in as jailers. KBBI reported earlier this year the Homer Police Department was already stretched thin under perhaps the highest caseload per officer in the state. In a budget request for 2015 the department reported a caseload of about 570 cases per officer. Homer City Manager Katie Koester isn’t sure if hiring more staff will be possible anytime soon. On top of the jail cuts this year the city could lose another $320,000 in state funds called revenue sharing. Koester says the Homer City Council decided it would be unwise to rely on that money after the state warned it would eventually take it away.

“It was put into the general fund. It basically was used for balancing the budget and covering operating costs. That being said council has said, ‘don’t do that anymore.’ You have to consider it as one time funding because of the uncertain nature of it,” explains Koester.

This potential loss in revenue comes at a time when the city’s budget is already vulnerable.

“The city government has kind of been trimmed as close to the bone as it can be over the last few years since we lost the revenue from non-prepared food sales tax. The city went through a big exercise in trying to become more efficient,” says Koester.

Koester says now if it’s going to save money the city has to look at cutting services. There is a town hall meeting planned for July 20th at 5pm to explain the city’s position.

“We’re just going to have a conversation with the community about how to close this gap and what services we provide and how much they cost. I encourage the community to come out on July 20th for that and we will advertise that on our website and through other venues,” says Koester.

Koester isn’t optimistic the city’s situation will change for the better in the near future considering the state’s fiscal environment. She says we’re all in for some tight times. Chief Robl says he’s just hoping for a new jail officer to take the strain off his department.

Categories: Alaska News

Southeast Businesses Make A Plea to Restore Tongass Rec. Funding

Tue, 2015-07-07 08:25

Fifty Southeast Alaska business-owners are asking Congress to give more money to the Tongass National Forest recreation program. Funding for trails, cabins and wildlife-viewing sites has declined in recent years, and tour operators worry the Forest Service won’t be able to maintain the attractions they depend on.

The Tongass National Forest makes up most of Southeast Alaska (Courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

Much of the visitor industry in Southeast Alaska depends on the Tongass National Forest for sightseeing, hiking, camping and wildlife-viewing opportunities. And with tourism growing, companies that lead visitors through the Tongass worry federal funding for the biggest national forest is declining too quickly.

“The recreation program for the Tongass is so key to the tourism industry here that once the dollars started to drop it became an issue that a lot of both small and large companies started to take note of.”

That’s Laurie Cooper of Trout Unlimited, a national conservation organization active in Alaska. She also works as a guide in Juneau and says she started to notice a decline in trail maintenance and assistance with permitting issues.

“As funding has dropped, the Forest Service has basically said they’re not going to be able to provide the same services they have in the past. And with 80 percent of the land base here in the Tongass National Forest, a good majority of the tourism industry relies on being able to have access for visitors to take them into the Tongass safely and just to operate their businesses.”

Cooper says the recreation budget for the U.S. Forest Service has been in decline across the country, but the Tongass is facing cuts that are 30 to 40 percent deeper than in other states.

According to a letter a coalition of Southeast businesses sent to Congress, the amount spent on recreation in the Tongass doesn’t match up with the proportion of revenue it brings in.

Ten percent of the Tongass budget goes to recreation, but half of the forest’s revenue comes from recreation.

Wrangell District Ranger Bob Dalrymple says his recreation program budget was cut in half over the past two years.

He says he could only afford one seasonal worker this summer. The district usually hires four. It also has a hiring freeze, so vacant positions can’t be filled.

“Two of those are key. One of them is the Anan manager, and the other one is our recreation lead person that coordinates all of the cabin maintenance, trail maintenance and developed recreation, so that had a pretty big impact on the program. We’re still trying to keep things going.”

The Anan Wildlife Observatory is a popular bear-viewing site on the mainland between Wrangell and Ketchikan.

Dalrymple says he doesn’t have enough employees to provide firewood at cabins and campgrounds anymore.

He says trails and cabins in the Wrangell Ranger District are in good shape, but anything can happen.

“I know there’s some blowdown now on the Kunk trail and it has damaged the trail so we’re having a hard time responding to those kinds of fixes. The trail to the hot tubs, the bridge part of the foundation has failed on that. As those things happen we’re going to have to close those access routes until we can come up with some way to get it fixed.”

He says the Forest Service may have to partner with other organizations and increase fees to maintain recreation sites on the Tongass. Fees at Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier Forest Service viewing area are already slated to go up.

Categories: Alaska News

Analysis of National Guard Records Released Under Walker Yields Few Significant Findings

Mon, 2015-07-06 17:47

One of the biggest issues of last year’s governor’s race was the state of the Alaska National Guard. A federal report had concluded that it was plagued with problems, ranging from mishandling of sexual assault reports to a general lack of trust in leadership. For months, media outlets tried to get records on then-Gov. Sean Parnell’s response, and the struggle culminated in a lawsuit. The executive branch was ordered to release thousands of pages of documents related to the Guard just days before an election that Parnell lost.

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Recently, Gov. Bill Walker has re-released many of those same records, along with new ones. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has been combing through both sets of documents.

TOWNSEND: So you spent about a month reviewing these documents. What went into that?

GUTIERREZ: Well, between the Parnell release and the Walker release, you’re talking 7,000 pages of documents. I mean, you had eight attorneys plus support staff working on this stuff for about half a year, so it’s a lot of paper. When you print the records out, it’s enough to fill three banker’s boxes. The process of going through them was kind of like playing a very long and very serious version of one of those spot-the-difference games.

Were there many differences between the two batches?

There were a lot, but nothing that really fundamentally changes my understanding of how the National Guard was managed.

Breaking it all down, there were about 1,300 unique documents that the Walker administration released. That includes everything from short one-line e-mails to lengthy reports. When you tally it all up, about two-thirds of those records were technically new. Which is to say, they have new document ID numbers. With the way the Department of Law tracks records, an e-mail chain with 20 different responses would produce 20 separate documents, even if we think of it as a single thread. So, in reality, even a lot of the new documents were just variations on records we’ve seen previously.

Now, of the documents where we had a Parnell version to compare to a Walker version, about 40 percent had redaction differences. In some cases, that meant more information was released in the Walker version, and in others, it just meant that different privileges or fewer privileges were used as a justification to black out information.

Did you see any trends in terms of what was released and what wasn’t?

Where you could compare the Parnell and Walker documents, the Walker documents tended to be more surgically redacted. Like there was one complaint from a National Guardsman that was sent to the Governor’s office in 2013, alleging that his wife was being harassed by a fellow guardsmen and that guardsmen were using state resources inappropriately. The Parnell version totally redacted this complaint, while the Walker version basically just blacked out names.

There were also some cases where the Parnell redactions would be claimed using multiple privileges, so if you want to challenge the redaction, you would have to challenge it in five or so separate ways before it could legally be released. Those would often be cut down to one or two privileges in the Walker versions. So, you’re still not getting the information off the bat, but you would only have to come up with a couple of arguments to appeal the decision.

You talked to the Department of Law about these differences. How did they explain them?

I was told that the instructions given to the attorneys were actually basically the same between both administrations. The Parnell administration didn’t want to release any records when they were asked for them, but once a judge ordered them to hand the documents over, the directive was to err on the side of disclosure while still exercising the appropriate privileges. The explanation given for the differences was actually logistics.

Here’s Cori Mills, a spokesperson for the department.

MILLS: The main factor in why you got somewhat different results was because of the timing. We were really rushed in the October-November timeframe and crunched to try to get out as many documents as quickly as possible, since the Department of Law hadn’t really become involved until the lawsuit was filed.

That meant they couldn’t exactly be painstaking about the process.

MILLS: Because of the short timeframe, we just didn’t have the time to do a more laser-focused review and try to focus on, you know, ‘here are the three words we need to redact’ versus ‘okay, we just need to redact this whole paragraph because there’s definitely information in there that’s privileged.’

Basically, it’s like the difference between actually cleaning your home versus just throwing everything in the closet, because you know you have guests coming in ten minutes.

Was there anything that shocked you or surprised you with this new release?

For lack of a better term, there wasn’t really a smoking gun in any of this. I had some help on the review from a few other reporters, and I think KTOO’s Jenny Canfield may have put it best.

CANFIELD: I don’t think this new set of documents was very enlightening. It just added more confusion to an already big pile of confusion.

Like we are talking David Lynch movie-style confusion. That said, there were some interesting things that came out. Like, before this new release, I didn’t know that thy Parnell administration had actually turned to a media and crisis consultant named Matt Mackowiak to deal with damage control.

It was also interesting just seeing how the Parnell administration handled its operations and how little business the governor himself actually did via e-mail. KTOO’s Jeremy Hsieh, another reporter who worked on this, brought this up when talking to Jenny.

HSIEH: I worked on the Palin e-mail dump when she was the vice presidential candidate, too. It was her Yahoo mail and she communicated in e-mail. And that seems like a big contrast with Parnell. There’s very little — there might not have been any, actually. There were very, very few e-mails that Sean Parnell had actually written.
CANFIELD: I don’t think I saw any. I saw a few addressed to him.

As far as what was shocking, well, there was more information released on an allegation that a woman in the National Guard may have been a victim of foul play. A former contractor with the National Guard wrote the Parnell administration saying that a woman who had allegedly been sexually assaulted had died while pregnant and that nobody knew why because there was no conclusive autopsy.

Jeremy said those e-mails had a special impact for him, now that the case may be reopened.

HSIEH: When Patricia Collins, the special investigator for the Walker administration said in her press conference after her report came out, ‘Hey, we should reinvestigate this dead body, this woman who died under suspect circumstances,’ — that’s a thing that jumped out at me.

It’s definitely one of the darker accusations having to do with the Guard in all of these records.

Going into the session, there were some calls for the Legislature to hold its own hearings on what happened with the National Guard. That didn’t really happen. Did any of these records touch on how much the Legislature knew about the Guard’s problems?

So, there was an anonymous letter that was sent to at least some lawmakers in 2012 that was redacted in the Parnell dump and released in the Walker dump. It was sent from a group that referred to itself as “Friends of the National Guard,” and it was pretty specific and hit on a lot of the things that would come out in the report done by the federal National Guard Bureau.

Sen. Pete Kelly’s name came up a few times in the documents, because at the time he was a special assistant for Parnell handling military affairs. It looked like the Fairbanks Republican had been looped in on some complaints having to do with favoritism. An e-mail from Anchorage Republican and Senate President Kevin Meyer’s chief of staff said that he had received complaints about criminal activity from the contractor I mentioned, but that he didn’t have plans to address it.

There was one exchange where Rep. Dan Saddler, an Eagle River Republican, complained that the governor should have done more to loop him in on the federal investigation. And then, there were a lot of e-mails having to do with senators like Eagle River Republican Fred Dyson, Anchorage Democrat Hollis French, and North Pole Republican John Coghill actually asking the administration for more information about how the Guard was being managed.

Do you think things would have shaken out any differently for the Parnell administration if all of these documents had come out earlier?

You know, it’s hard to do the counter-factual, but the team who worked on this did talk about it some. Here’s Jeremy and Jenny again.

CANFIELD: It was just strange to see like, so, what impact would that have had had we known it six months ago? Like, some of the things that were redacted just seemed inconsequential.
HSIEH: Yeah, like one of the things that really jumped out at me was Nizich especially — from the chunk I saw, Mike Nizich, the former chief of staff to Gov. Parnell, would have really short, terse, one-word, matter-of-fact e-mails, and they’d be completely redacted. It’s like what are we missing here, or what is privileged about saying yes or no or okay.

Parnell went into a close election having lost a records lawsuit and, frankly, looking like he was hiding something by first refusing to release the records and then redacting so much of the information. It also made him look like he was unwilling to be held accountable when it comes to really serious questions concerning the public’s safety. That is not a good place to be.

The documents weren’t exculpatory, but they also weren’t really any more damaging than the results of last year’s federal investigation. And reading through the records, there’s not really a clear narrative that presents itself except that the National Guard was not in good shape and there was a crazy power struggle going on within it. There was just so much conflicting information in these records.

It might be a little simplistic, but there’s that whole saying about how sunlight’s the best disinfectant. I don’t see how releasing this information could have put him in a worse position than he already was.

Does this release set a standard for the Walker administration in any way when it comes to transparency?

That was one of the things I wanted to find out when I started digging into it, because it’s way easier to release the other guy’s records, right? And based on the fact that the directives from both administrations’ attorneys general were the same and that Walker still exercised at least some privileges in about 60 percent of the documents he released, I don’t think we can say people asking for records should necessarily expect to see records totally free of black boxes when they make their ask.

Walker’s administration also exercised executive privilege with about 300 cases, and that’s really the privilege that is, at its heart, the administration’s prerogative to use. They could waive it in every case if they wanted, but if they believe it would damage the office’s ability to function or affect state security, they can offer a justification that it shouldn’t be released.

Really, the real standard Walker set for himself when it comes to transparency was well before the release, on the campaign trail. He was critical of Parnell for broadly denying the requests when they were initially made, and said he wouldn’t let things get to the point of a court battle over records.So, if people make similar records requests of his administration, that’s what he should be held to.

Categories: Alaska News

Caribou Emigrate From Adak; Feds Struggle to Stop the Spread

Mon, 2015-07-06 17:40

Caribou on Adak in 1985. (Credit: USFWS)

Every summer, a team of federal exterminators set up shop in the southwest corners of the state. Their job is to root out non-native animals that might disturb the Alaska Maritime wildlife refuge.

Besides the usual rats and foxes, the refuge managers decided to target a new pest this season.

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It’s no mystery how caribou wound up on Adak Island. They were imported in the late 1950s so Navy personnel would have something to hunt.

Nowadays, the Navy is gone and the island is a prime spot for big game hunters. But not enough of them, says Steve Ebbert.

He’s a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. As he stands on the deck of their research vessel, sailing less than a half mile from the rocky shores of Adak, Ebbert says the caribou herd is now seven times its former size. And it’s starting to spread.

Ebbert points to a gently sloping beach just across the way on Kagalaska Island.

It’s not clear when the caribou started to swim across the channel to Kagalaska. But Ebbert thinks he knows why. The island is still covered in thick, white lichen — the same plant that used to grow naturally on Adak.

If the caribou are willing to travel for food, Ebbert says they probably won’t stop at Kagalaska when there even more islands to graze on nearby — all federally protected, refuge land.

After an environmental assessment, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided the best way to prevent that outcome was to organize a hunt on Kagalaska.

The team bagged nine male caribou. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski isn’t impressed with their haul.

The hunt cost $58,000, plus another $13,000 to butcher and salvage the meat. That part was specifically requested by Murkowski and other officials. But going forward, the senator wants to see a different approach.

The Senate Appropriations committee recently (on June 18) approved a new rule that would keep the refuge from using federal money to sponsor more caribou hunts at Kagalaska.

A similar ban would apply to two other islands, where wild cows have escaped from old ranches. Murkowski and her colleagues also suggest a $2 million cut in funding the Fish and Wildlife Service but a million-dollar bump for the refuge system’s budget. The entire package has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Elaine Smiloff has lived and hunted on Adak Island for years. She had her own doubts about trying to control the spread of caribou.

But Smiloff also says that this year, it got harder for local hunters to track down caribou in their own backyard. Without a boat — which most residents don’t have — their options seemed to shrink.

Usually, Kagalaska wouldn’t be one of them.

That’s one reason why Smiloff jumped at the chance to help federal hunters move huge slabs of meat off that island. More than a half-ton was distributed to local families.

Smiloff would be glad to help get more. But wildlife managers haven’t decided if they’ll try to conduct another hunt before the Senate takes action on the proposal to shut it down.

For now, the Alaska Maritime refuge is more focused on finding out if the first big control effort was a success.

They may have a chance to investigate in August, when refuge staff are scheduled to sail past Kagalaska aboard their research vessel.

Eventually, Steve Ebbert says he wants to find a method for tracking the number of caribou that reach the island. First, he’d have to mark them — with paintballs, or by branding.

But then again:

“You’re capturing the animals, drugging the animals in the case of branding, and marking them permanently — and just releasing them? It doesn’t seem as efficient. If you can shoot them with a dart, you can shoot them with a rifle,” Ebbert says.

The biologist says he wouldn’t call that hunting — more like counting. By elimination.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, July 6, 2015

Mon, 2015-07-06 17:40

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.

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Analysis of National Guard Records Released Under Walker Yields Few Significant Findings

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

One of the biggest issues of last year’s governor’s race was the state of the Alaska National Guard. A federal report had concluded that it was plagued with problems, ranging from mishandling of sexual assault reports to a general lack of trust in leadership. For months, media outlets tried to get records on then-Gov. Sean Parnell’s response, and the struggle culminated in a lawsuit. The executive branch was ordered to release thousands of pages of documents related to the Guard just days before an election that Parnell lost.

From Alaska to Australia: A $23M Military Exercise Takes Flight

Zach Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

On Monday, military units stationed a Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson begin a massive multinational training operation.

Missing Hiker Found Dead Near Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A Florida man hiking on Juneau’s Mount Roberts trail system on July 4th was found dead Sunday night.

Troopers Detain Man After Standoff in Selawik

Associated Press

Alaska State Troopers have taken a man into custody after he barricaded himself inside a home in the village of Selawik. One person was found dead outside the residence.

Couple Missing from Denali Highway Found Dead

Associated Press

Alaska State Troopers say a man and woman reported missing from a campsite off the Denali Highway have been found dead.

In Juneau, A Call To Remove Mississippi’s Confederate Flag from Display

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

Some locals are calling for the removal of the Mississippi state flag flying on the main street into downtown Juneau because it prominently features the Confederate stars and bars.

East Coast Theology School Selling Off Alaska Native Art, Feds to Investigate

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

The country’s oldest theological school is selling off its Native art collection, and Sealaska Heritage Institute is asking the feds to investigate.

Caribou Emigrate From Adak; Feds Struggle to Stop the Spread

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Every summer, a team of federal exterminators set up shop in the southwest corners of the state. Their job is to root out non-native animals that might disturb the Alaska Maritime wildlife refuge.

Mt. Marathon Attracts A Deeper Field of Competitors

Annie Feidt, KSKA – Anchorage

This weekend marked a new era for the Mount Marathon race in Seward. Foreigners dominated Alaska’s favorite mountain run Saturday. And the top Alaskans say they are happy for the new level of competition.

Categories: Alaska News

Mt. Marathon Attracts A Deep Field of Competitors This Year

Mon, 2015-07-06 17:39

This weekend marked a new era for the Mount Marathon race in Seward. Foreigners dominated Alaska’s favorite mountain run Saturday. And the top Alaskans say they are happy for the new level of competition.

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Emelie Forsberg celebrates her Mount Marathon record. Photo credit: Annie Feidt

It was overcast– but not raining– as Holly Brooks drove into Seward Saturday morning to watch the race. The course snaking up to the top of the mountain was visible under a bank of high clouds. Brooks turned to her husband, Rob Whitney and made a prediction.

“I looked at Rob and was like, it’s a record day, I mean these conditions, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

The two time Mount Marathon winner had decided not to compete this year after a grueling winter of marathon ski racing in Europe and Russia. But Brooks- who initially said she wouldn’t even watch the race- couldn’t resist the chance to cheer on the Alaskans. So she was at the finish line when Sweden’s Emelie Forsberg obliterated the 25 year old women’s race record by more than 2.5 minutes.

“She made it look easy. I think everyone here cheered and then it just kind of went silent. Because people were either kind of flabbergasted and/or didn’t know who she is. But now they will.”

Forsberg looked as if she had just finished a polite tennis match instead of a grueling mountain race. She says she typically competes in ultra races that take hours to compete and aren’t as technical as Mount Marathon. And Forsberg says she didn’t know she had the record until the very end.

“I was surprised when I came to the finish line, I had no idea of the time, and I just felt so good the whole way, it’s a super nice race and I really like it.”

Soldotna’s 18 year old Allie Ostrander came in second in her rookie year in the women’s race. The high school running champion also beat the previous record, 50:30, set by Nancy Pease in 1990, by two seconds. Brooks marveled at Ostrander’s time.

“If someone else is going to come in from Sweden and take our record, at least we have an Alaskan who can duck under. She looked great and wow, what a rookie race for her, so it was incredible.”

A few hours later in the men’s race, Kilian Jornet of Spain shaved more than a minute off the record with a time of 41:48. Jornet said his calves were “exploding” on the way up, but he was able to save enough energy to open up a wide lead on the technical downhill. He says he loved the atmosphere of the race, with fans lining the course:

“It’s incredible. Just people all the way up in the mountain, it’s not many races where you have all these people all the way up to summit.”

The previous men’s record holder, Eric Strabel came in 4th Saturday, behind Ricky Gates, of Wisconsin and Jim Shine of Anchorage. Strabel says he’s excited to have a new level of international competition descend on Mount Marathon:

“I’m so lucky to have been in this race and to have those guys out in front to chase, it’s everything a competition should be.”

Strabel will have another shot catch Jornet. The Spaniard says he’ll return to defend his title in next year’s race. And as for Emelie Forsberg?

“Are you going to be back next year? Oh yes! I’m so happy for that, I’ve already made my race calendar for this.”

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Detain Man After Standoff in Selawik

Mon, 2015-07-06 16:14

Alaska State Troopers have taken a man into custody after he barricaded himself inside a home in the village of Selawik. One person was found dead outside the residence.

Troopers say the man was taken into custody at about 2:30 p.m. Monday. Troopers flew to the village earlier in the day after receiving a report shortly after 4:30 a.m. that a man was shooting a firearm in the village.

No other details were immediately released. Troopers say they are working to positively identify the person who died, as well as the suspect.

Categories: Alaska News

Couple Missing From Denali Highway Found Dead

Mon, 2015-07-06 15:41

Alaska State Troopers say a man and woman reported missing from a campsite off the Denali Highway have been found dead.

The bodies of the pair were found inside a dilapidated trailer in the area after troopers heard noises coming from the vehicle Sunday afternoon. Troopers say there was no response when communication was attempted.

The names of the man and woman were not immediately released. Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen says the bodies are being sent to the state medical examiner’s office for positive identification and to determine cause of death.

Troopers received a report that Friday evening that the pair was missing from the campsite around mile 79 of the Denali Highway. Troopers say they found signs suggesting gunfire associated with the pair’s vehicle and camper trailer.

Categories: Alaska News

Historic WWII Bomber, Recovered in Nome, Offers Russian Twist to Iconic American Plane

Mon, 2015-07-06 14:28

A B-25 J Mitchell bomber left to rust in Nome after World War II is being stripped for parts—and may one day be refurbished—thanks to efforts from a Michigan war planes museum and help from students across the Bering Strait.

The B-25 Mitchell bomber recovered in Nome in June 2015. The plane, destined for the Russia front, still bears the red star of the Soviet Air Force. Photos: Warbirds of Glory Museum.

The B-25 was a U.S. military bomber of the same class that went to Russia through the lend-lease program leading up to World War II, and planes of its kind later dropped bombs on Japan after Pearl Harbor. It flew with the U.S. Army Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, and the Soviet Air Force.

In June, Patrick Mihalek with the nonprofit Warbirds Of Glory Museum in Brighton, Michigan, came to Nome to rescue an unusual B-25. “We came up to Nome to recover a World War II B-25 that was sitting out on the tundra for the last 70 years,” Mihalek said, knowing that the distinctly American aircraft had a uniquely Soviet twist.

“We went through the whole wreckage of the aircraft and disassembled it,” Mihalek said. “Many pieces that we need currently for the ongoing restoration we shipped home.”

That “ongoing restoration” is of a different B-25 known as Sandbar Mitchell, another bomber during the war that went on to become a plane for pilots in training, and eventually dumped water on Alaska wildfires near Fairbanks through the 1960s. It crashed in 1969, and after 44 years spent rusting on a Tanana River sandbar, the museum recovered that plane. Mihalek said the museum will use parts of Nome’s B-25 to get Sandbar Mitchell in the air once again.

“We’re going to continue our main project, which is restore Sandbar Mitchell to flying status,” he said. “There’s a few parts from this [Nome B-25] that are airworthy that we’ll put in Sandbar Mitchell, and then vice versa, the parts that are not airworthy from Sandbar Mitchell, because of damage, we’ll put on the Nome [B-25], so in that way, the [Nome plane] could resemble a B-25 once again.”

Just how the B-25 first came to the Seward Peninsula goes back to 1944. After being assembled in Kansas, the bomber was part of a group of planes allocated to Russia through Franklin Roosevelt’s “lend-lease program” prior to and during the U.S. entering World War II. The plane was officially handed over to Russian pilots in Fairbanks, who were set to fly it to Nome and onward to the Russian front. The Nome B-25, however, never crossed the dateline; a rough landing in Nome left it un-flyable, and facilities in Nome at the time left it irreparable.

But the Russian pilots of the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily—the Soviet Air Force—didn’t let the plane go to waste.

“The Russians stripped it of all the parts and things they could use as repair parts, or replacement parts, that they felt they could use on their other B-25s,” said museum trustee Todd Trainor during his visit to Nome. “Then it was just left there for vandals and scoundrels to take parts and shoot holes in it with guns.”

In the 1980s, former state House Representative Richard Foster visited Skagway and told then-Skagway resident and aviation enthusiast Mitch Erickson about the bomber. Erickson moved to Nome in 1991, and less than a year later, he found the B-25: axed, chopped, and shot up over years of impromptu target practice. He got the plane loaded on a flatbed and hauled away for safekeeping, but one wing still bearing the red star of Soviet Russia remained trapped in the mud.

“We actually had the NACTEC kids there when we pulled the old wing out of the mud,” said Nathan Pitt, the program coordinator for NACTEC, the Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center in Nome. “We had to have every hand available to flip that old wing over. And there on the other side you could see the Russian star still on there, barely visible, but it was still there.”

Recovering Nome’s B-25 was built in to NACTEC’s summer aviation program, and students from Nome and across the Bering Strait worked to recover the plane and disassemble its components.

Pitt said it was an application of the skills students learned working on NACTEC’s own ongoing restoration of another plane, a 1962 Piper Colt. The coordination linked the historic plane to their work in the classroom.

“The 1962 Piper Colt is NACTEC’s project that we’re restoring, so the kids were putting rivets in and also taking rivets out [of the Piper Colt], and then they went over to see the B-25 project, where they were taking all the rivets out in order to disassemble the plane,” Pitt said of the multi-day project.

“They could see where this work was done, and they had a little bit of knowledge about the process and the parts that, you know, keep a plane together.”

The Nome bomber now sits in a shipping container within Nome’s Satellite Field T-hangar—itself a relic from World War II—not far from where the wing was dragged from the mud. “Hopefully within the next year, we’ll be able to raise some money to have the shipping container shipped back to Michigan,” Mihalek said.

The ultimate goal would be to get the Nome bomber flying again, but the wing’s spars are corroded and a “substantial donation” would be needed to make that happen. Failing that, Mihalek said it could be assembled as a static airplane, offering a distinctly Russian display piece for the Michigan museum to tell the unique story of the B-25.

Categories: Alaska News