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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: 20 min 46 sec ago

Six cruise ships release treated sewage into harbors

Tue, 2015-06-16 12:10

The cruise ship Norwegian Pearl sails south through Chatham Strait on its final voyage of 2013. The ship is one of six permitted to release treated blackwater into Alaska harbors this summer. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Did you know some cruise ships are allowed to discharge wastewater while anchored or tied up in port? State officials and industry representatives say it’s safe. But critics fear it’s fouling local harbors.

The Norwegian Pearl pulls up at one of Ketchikan’s cruise ship berths. Many of its nearly 2,400 passengers head out onto the docks.

Toby Hatcher of Portland, Oregon, is one. He says the ship encourages environmental awareness through recycling, low-flush toilets and other means.

“You have to request for your sheets to be changed or reuse your towel, so I hang up my towels and my washcloth. So you just save one for the whole week,” he says.

A regular Alaska cruiser, he’s aware of other efforts to control pollution. But he says he hasn’t thought much about how this and other ships discharge what comes out of the floating city’s toilets, sinks and laundries.

“I guess I’d prefer them not to do it in general at all. However, if they are going to do it, I’d prefer them not to do it right here, where they’re dock,” he says.

But, in fact, they do.

The Pearl is one of a dozen large cruise ships allowed to discharge treated wastewater in Ketchikan, Juneau and some other Alaska harbors this year.

Six, including the Pearl, have permits covering treated sewage, called blackwater. Those ships, plus six others, also have permits to discharge kitchen, laundry and shower runoff, also known as graywater.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issues the permits for “stationary discharges” under new rules that took effect late last summer.

“It has to be treated wastewater through an advanced wastewater treatment system,” says DEC Environmental Program Specialist Ed White.

He says that technology makes it possible to discharge while stationary. Some ships were even allowed to do it under an older, more restrictive permit system. That measured pollutants coming directly out of the ships.

White says the new system allows samples to be taken after being diluted in what’s called a mixing zone. That was proposed by former Gov. Sean Parnell and approved by the legislature in 2013, at the urging of the industry.

“We have some additional requirements for those ships that discharge while stationary. They have to take water samples both on board the ship and also in the water (to measure) what happens in that mixing zone,” he says.

The zone for most harbors is 90 yards from the point of discharge. That’s about a third the length of the Norwegian Pearl.

White says the ships may be stationary, but tides and currents mean the water is not.

“We do have some restrictions. For example, in Skagway, there’s a dock where there would be an overlap. So they either can’t discharge there or they’d get a much smaller mixing zone if they can meet those requirements,” he says.

The dozen ships were issued individual permits while a new general permit system is on appeal.

“We feel that this new general permit does do the citizens of Alaska and the clean water of Alaska a big disservice,” says Daven Hafey of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the region’s largest environmental group.

He says new wastewater treatment systems are an improvement. But they’re not good enough to fully protect fish, shellfish and people.

“Our research shows that Alaska would really be the only place in the entire world that would allow cruise ships of this size to dump those wastes and partially treated waste while tied up to a dock,” he says.

The cruise industry disagrees.

“The water really is virtually drinking water quality when it’s discharged now from the vessels,” says John Binkley, president of the Cruise Lines International Association’s Alaska chapter.

He says releasing treated wastewater in harbors poses no threat.

“It’s a pretty advanced system. The final process in there is sterilization of the water, similar to what they use in hospitals and whatnot. And so it’s really pretty pure water that comes out,” he says.

In addition to the 12 ships granted stationary discharge permits, another six are allowed to discharge while underway, which dilutes the waste further.

In all, 18 ships have the OK to release wastewater this summer. White, of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, says another 14 don’t.

“Typically about half the ships in the last few years hold their wastewater and then treat it in whatever way they have and discharge it offshore,” he says.

Beyond Alaska’s regulatory reach.

White says copper and ammonia are among the pollutants measured.

“There’s always going to be impacts of any human activity, so the goal is to minimize those impacts and to restrict any impacts that could cause significant harm,” he says.

Stronger wastewater treatment standards were part of an initiative passed by Alaska voters in 2006. The current permitting system basically replaces those standards.

SEACC appealed the general permit, though the state rejected all but one of its points. Officials say they don’t know when that will be heard. Meanwhile, individual permits allow the same thing.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell’s Dutch Harbor-Bound Oil Rig Departs Seattle

Tue, 2015-06-16 11:56

A giant drill rig operated by Royal Dutch Shell undocked Monday morning from Terminal 5 in Seattle. The Polar Pioneer is headed for Dutch Harbor. It’s expected to arrive in 12 days.

According to the Coast Guard, 24 arrests were made as tugboats moved the rig out of port. A group of so-called “kayaktivists” formed a blockade in an attempt to stop the rig from departing. It’s been docked in Seattle for the last month.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Shell obtained two permits from the Environmental Protection Agency last week that will allow the company to discharge fluids from it’s rigs. The oil giant is awaiting authorization of four remaining permits before it can begin exploratory drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas this summer.

As the Polar Pioneer pulled out of Seattle, officials from Unalaska met with Shell’s Marine Operations team this morning. According to Unalaska City Mayor Shirley Marquardt, staff from the Department of Ports and Harbors as well as marine pilots, members of the Unalaska Police Department and the city Manager were in attendance. Marquardt says this is the third meeting the oil company has hosted to outline their operations with local officials.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Signs Bill Repealing Film Tax Credits

Tue, 2015-06-16 11:53

Alaska’s film tax credit program has gone from comatose to dead.

Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill ending the subsidies on Monday. The program was created in 2008, and it’s paid out about $50 million in credits to television shows, movies, and documentaries film in the state.

The program was already scheduled to sunset in 2018, but Walker repealed the program because he does not expect oil prices and state revenue to bounce back by then. In a statement, Walker said he supported the film industry, but the credits were not justifiable when the state is in deficit-spending mode.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican.

Supporters of the program argued that it brought jobs and economic activity to communities used as filming locations. The program has granted credits to television shows like Deadliest Catch and Sarah Palin’s Alaska and to movies like Frozen Ground.

Categories: Alaska News

Hot Shot Fire Crews Expected in Kenai Tonight

Tue, 2015-06-16 10:47

Five Hot Shot crews are expected in Kenai tonight to assist with the Card Street Fire in Sterling.

Division of Forestry spokesperson Terry Anderson says the fire slowed down a bit in the early morning hours after rapidly growing to more than 1,200 acres. To the south and east, the fire is burning into territory that was burned during last year’s Funny River Fire.

photo courtesy of Alaska Division of Forestry

“Our concerns are yes, there’s less available fuels, but there’s (other) issues,” Anderson said. “The ground is no longer frozen and so there’s re-burn potential and deep burning potential. In Alaska, we have fuels that are sometimes a foot thick in the tundra. Those are long-term fire care issues that we have to be aware of.”

Anderson says the forecast calls for lightning. That could cause the winds to become very erratic in the area.

“The national lightening forecast for dry lightening, which firefighters always go over in the morning, is a forecast from 1-6,” Anderson said. “Usually in Alaska you may see twos or threes or fours for a lightening forecast. The forecast for the Kenai is a six today. That’s about as high as it gets.”

Evacuation efforts are still underway in the subdivisions from Card Street east to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge boundary mile 76 of the Sterling Highway, south to the Kenai River. This still includes Feuding Lane and Kenai Keyes.

The Sterling Highway is still open as of 10:30 a.m., but officials are asking people to avoid the area if possible.

Maps of the fire are still being drawn up at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

Wood Bison Arrive on the Kuskokwim

Tue, 2015-06-16 09:46

Lone bison spotted between Aniak and Kalskag. (Photo courtesy of Marco Nichelson)

North America’s largest land animal has made it to the Kuskokwim.

Most of the wood bison released in early April are still in the area around Shageluk, but one group of twenty-five broke off to explore southward and have scattered over an 80-mile area. One of the larger groups can be seen in the area around Holy Cross while one lone wanderer was seen in the area between Aniak and Kalskag.

Cathie Harms is a Wildlife Biologist with Fish and Game who has been part of the project to reintroduce wood bison to Alaska.

“The more they travel and the more they learn the expanse of their habitat and what kind of ground is out there, the better
they’re going to be prepared to survive the coming winters, Harns said. “So it’s a very, very good thing for the established population that they learn this kind of experience by moving around.”

In early April one hundred wood bison were released in Shageluk, Alaska. Seventy-five were cows, twenty-five of whom we pregnant, and the rest were juvenile bulls. In late May an additional twelve mature bulls were sent
out.

“The bison were released near Shageluk and since then they have been eating the grasses and sedges that are in the areas
that have greened up. It’s just brought them a whole bunch of energy and many of them are really exploring the habitat that’s around there.”

Wood bison are the largest land animals in North America, with bulls weighing on average 2,250 pounds. For tens of thousands of years, bison lived in Alaska, filling a role in the ecological system as grazers. They disappeared from the state between one and two hundred years ago.

At this time it is illegal to kill the bison, but hunting will happen once the population can sustain it.

“Hunting has always been part of the plan, but we have to wait until the herd can provide a harvest without stopping its
growth,” Harms said.

“It depends on how many they produce and how the survival is. We don’t know if hunting with be able to be allowed within five years, 10 years, 15 years or 20; it just depends on how they do. But certainly we worked with residents of the GASH region, residents of Southwest Alaska, residents of Anchorage and Fairbanks to put together a
management plan that does allow for hunting.”

This year, biologists estimate that more than twelve calves have been born in the wild. The herds will most likely meet back up again in late July and August for the breeding season.

Categories: Alaska News

Card Street Fire Grows To 1200 Acres

Tue, 2015-06-16 08:35

photo courtesy of Alaska Division of Forestry

The Card Street Fire near Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula doubled in size overnight. Now at more than 1,200 acres, the fire has destroyed at least six structures. Division of Fire spokesperson Tim Mowry says it’s burning mostly through spruce.

“When something’s burning in spruce like that, it grows quick and by the time our guys got there it was torching and crowning and that’s a fast-moving fire,” he said.

The fire was called in sometime after 1:30  Monday afternoon. Initially, it was a small grass fire, about an acre in size, but in a place that was only accessible by 4-wheeler.

The Kenai River borders the fire to the south, the Sterling Highway to the north and Skilak Lake to the east. Evacuations of several neighborhoods continued through the evening.

Division of Forestry Spokesperson Andy Alexandrou says the fire has expanded south, following wind patterns, since it started. Overnight, it spotted across the Kenai River, but hasn’t jumped. But a shift in the wind, pushing it east toward wetlands late last night helped responders protect residential areas.

“It started north, up by Aspen Lane and Cottonwood Lane areas, adjacent to Feuding lane and has burned to the south and southeast, and a bit to the southwest of its point of origin,” he said.

According to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, seven additional response teams from around the state and outside are expected to arrive today.

Late last night and into the wee hours this morning, community members have been mobilizing independent relief efforts- using social media to coordinate camping space for families to shelters for horses and smaller pets.

 

At the Sterling Community Center, thing were quieting down around nine o’clock Monday night. Rochelle Hanson works there. She says so far, people seem far more concerned with how to help than with the actual fire.

“Everybody’s been coming and signing up horse trailers, boats, heavy equipment, I have a 5th-wheel, I have this, I have that. It’s pretty amazing to see how this little community pulls together,” she said.

The community center was one of two designated places for people evacuated. The other is at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Helicopters were being used to try and keep the fire from jumping the Kenai River, but in has crossed in some spots. Ground crews from the Kenai Peninsula Borough were first to respond.

No injuries due to the fire have been reported.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Map Shows Modest Fire Growth For Monday

Tue, 2015-06-16 04:12

Perimeter of the Sockeye fire, as of 1 a.m. Tuesday.

This map of the Sockeye Fire was released at 1 a.m. Tuesday. The fire grew modestly on Monday, to 7,555 acres. (A previous estimate of 8,500 acres was revised downward.) A temperature inversion helped slow the spread of the fire, but that is expected to lift this morning. Today’s forecast calls for warm, dry weather with possible dry thunderstorms. The Type 1 Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team will take over command of the firefighting effort at 7 a.m. Type 1 incident command teams are deployed to the most complex wildfires, to manage state and federal resources.

Categories: Alaska News

Card Street Fire Grows On Kenai Peninsula

Mon, 2015-06-15 20:33

A wildfire burning on the central Kenai Peninsula had consumed about 150 acres and destroyed six structures near the community of Sterling by Monday evening. 

Division of Forestry first responded to the Card Street fire at about 2 pm on Monday.

Spokesperson Andy Alexandrou says the fire is located in a populous area but no injuries had been reported by Monday evening.

“We do have confirmation that six structures were lost. I don’t know if those were primary residences or a garage or something of that nature,” she said.

According to a release from Brenda Ahlberg of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, just after 7:30 pm Monday, evacuations are in place for residents living in the area of Salmon Run Drive to the end of Fisherman’s Road and Dow Island. Also, for all subdivisions off of Feuding Lane to Sterling Highway and Kenai Keys to the Kenai River.

Alexandrou says there are many more structures in danger, and evacuation notices will be updated regularly.

“The loss of the structures is awful and it is in an urban interface. [There’s] way more urban interface involved than with the experience with the Funny River Fire,” she said.

That’s the wildfire that consumed nearly 200,000 acres of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge last year.

Alexandrou says the fire has expanded south, following wind patterns, since it started.

“It started north, up by Aspen Lane and Cottonwood Lane areas, adjacent to Feuding lane and has burned to the south and southeast, and a bit to the southwest of its point of origin.”

Alexandrou says support and equipment have come up from Homer, as equipment from the central peninsula went to help fight another fire, the Sockeye Fire near Willow. Additional outside support is expected to arrive soon.

The Kenai Peninsula is currently under a burn suspension until further notice, due to the unseasonably warm and dry conditions over the past few weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Card Street Fire Doubles In Size On Kenai Peninsula

Mon, 2015-06-15 18:03

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Update: 6:40 p.m. Monday June 15th:

State fire managers are calling the Card Street Fire in Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula “very concerning.” It is now 150 acres and has consumed at least six structures. It has doubled in size in just a few hours. The evacuation area has been expanded North and South of the Kenai river to include 200 homes.

Evacuations currently include: Salmon Run Drive to the end of Fisherman’s Road and Fisherman’s Court and Dow Island, all subdivisions off of Feuding Lane to Sterling Hwy and Kenai Keys to the Kenai river. Temporary shelters have been set up at the Sterling Community Center (relocated from Sterling elementary) and K-Beach Elementary School. Pets in kennels may come to the shelter but owners should bring food and medications for pets as none is provided. No injuries have been reported

Update: 5:00 p.m. Monday:

Two wild land fires were reported Monday afternoon on the peninsula. The larger one  was called in at about 1:30 in the Sterling area.

State division of forestry spokesperson Andy Alexandrou  said by 3:00 p.m. it had grown to 75 acres and was posing a threat to homes.

“We have retardant aircraft inbound to assist with the suppression action,” he said. “We have a helicopter there that we replaced (for) our Kenai helicopter that went to Willow yesterday. We brought one up from Homer from Maritime Helicopters. It is on the Card Street Fire right now.”

There were no official numbers, but voluntary evacuations are underway as several hundred homes are located in the area. Personnel from the Kenai Peninsula Borough are responding on the ground.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire Continues to Burn; Walker Declares Disaster

Mon, 2015-06-15 17:20

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The Sockeye Fire near Willow is now the state’s number one fire-fighting priority. Governor Bill Walker personally viewed the burned area by air on Monday, while forestry officials are bringing in help from the Lower 48 and British Columbia. Meanwhile, about 50 people in a Houston shelter are waiting to find out if they can go home again.

Sunday’s initial response to the Sockeye fire has already cost the Matanuska Susitna Borough $48,000. That was spent before midnight Sunday, according to Matanuska-Susitna Borough manager John Moosey, who said Monday that the borough has requested a disaster declaration from the state.

Governor Bill Walker, fresh off a flyover of the fire area, said in Palmer: “I’m accepting it today. We’ll use the steps that are available to me and make this a declaration of disaster.”

Gov. Bill Walker briefed reporters on Monday. (Photo by Eric Keto – Alaska Public Media)

There’s no counting the cost of this fire, which is zero percent contained. Some residents don’t know if their homes survived the flames.

Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Vern Halter also briefed reporters, saying “it is a very serious fire.”

During Sunday’s hectic initial response to the fast spreading fire, some neighborhoods closest to the blaze were voluntarily evacuated before the Parks Highway shut down. Willow’s Frank Cross was one of the evacuees:

“I saw the fire, and I’m going, man the wind is blowing 35 miles an hour, and the fire’s is five miles north of me, and I thought, I’d better keep an eye on this thing, and I’m looking at it jump at quarter mile intervals because of the wind.

It flamed up behind Kashwitna Lake back on Sockeye and it jumped a half a mile out by the road, and jumped over the road, and it looked like it was jumping a half a mile, a quarter at a time. the wind is pushing this thing.”

Cross spent the night in a Red Cross shelter hastily set up at Houston Middle School. As did Greg Hatfield, who made a run from the fire with his dog.

“I just tied him up over there,” Hatfield said.

“I gotta go round up a dog bowl, something to water him with, feed him with.

Was it just you and your dog?

Yep everything we had pretty much went up in flames.

You sure of that?

Yup. we was one of the first ones. We saw the helicopter going around, we seen some smoke, But there was nothing we could do. About a half hour later, offices started hollering, get out of here, get out of here. ”

Gordon Bovey could see the fire three miles away from his home on the Parks Highway:

“We were outside working and noticed a plume of smoke to the north. My wife called 911 and they had just dispatched the fire department. So from there, our day kind of turned. We realized pretty quickly it was heading our direction. So we started packing up our pets. One of our neighbors was a firefighter, so we had to help him pack up his 25 sled dogs. We packed up our pets and shortly thereafter the Troopers came through and asked us to leave. ”

Meanwhile, Willow dog mushers’ animals were taken to Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake.  Monday afternoon,  handlers were moving dogs, watering dogs, feeding dogs,  dogs dogs dogs. But Buser was taking it in stride, while giving a busload of tourists a tour of his kennel:

“We do daily tours.  They’re gonna come out of the movie and into the dog lot, ” he said.. “Which is four times normal size.”

The fire could hurt the Mat-Su tourist industry, officials said Monday at a Palmer press conference.

Casey Cook, Borough Emergency Services Manager, has asked evacuees to wait at least until Tuesday to attempt returning home. Cook said Monday that the Borough has started damage assessments in individual neighborhoods to determine who’s homes are still standing.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Special Report Into National Guard Calls For More Accountability

Mon, 2015-06-15 16:42

A new inquiry into the Alaska National Guard reaches many of the same conclusions as last year’s federal investigation into the force. It finds that sexual assault and harassment claims were mishandled, and calls for increased accountability and transparency to prevent future abuses. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

At a Monday morning press conference, the current Adjutant General Laurie Hummel said what happened under her predecessor was unacceptable.

<<”On behalf of the Guard, let me apologize to a number of individuals and Alaskans more broadly for this organization’s mishandling of complaints about serious offenses and for betraying the confidence of people who only sought help and justice.”>>

A new 92-page report confirms the Guard did have problems with its sexual assault reporting mechanisms, and that leadership was not trusted to properly handle complaints. Patricia Collins, a retired Juneau judge who conducted the special investigation, told reporters that some of the causes were as mundane as not keeping proper paperwork.

“When you don’t maintain adequate records of what’s being said to whom and when, you facilitate a culture that sort of feeds upon itself, where those persons that feel like they can bully or take advantage of others do, because there’s no reporting of it.”

Collins said that allowed a few members of the Guard to get away with particularly bad behavior. It also discouraged future victims from coming forward, meaning the number of sexual assaults is likely higher than documented.

The report also looked at how law enforcement and the executive branch handled Guard complaints, going beyond the scope of the federal inquiry.

Of the reports that were filed and ultimately sent to police, Collins’ investigation found that law enforcement operated appropriately. She also concluded the previous administration was aware of at least some of the problems with the Guard and could have addressed them in a more systematic manner. However, she says the response from the office of then-Gov. Sean Parnell was characterized more by mismanagement than malice.

“I did not find an overt cover-up. I did find a very unfortunate lack of information sharing between the National Guard and the governor’s office — a lack of protocols that, at least in my view, should be in place to ensure better communications between those offices.”

Going forward, Collins recommends that the National Guard be regularly surveyed on its command climate, and that those results be made available to the governor, the Legislature, and — when appropriate — the public. She has also advised that two sexual assault cases be reopened, as well as a suspicious death.

Categories: Alaska News

Newspapers in Fairbanks, Kodiak for Sale

Mon, 2015-06-15 15:11

The chief executive officer for two Alaska newspapers says the publications are for sale.

William Dean Singleton says the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Kodiak Daily Mirror are both available. Employees were informed today.

The family trusts of Singleton and his media partner, Richard Scudder, bought the News-Miner from C.W. Snedden in 1992. The News-Miner owns the Kodiak newspaper.

Singleton and Scudder founded MediaNews Group, which once owned dozens of newspapers across the nation. Scudder died in 2012; Singleton retired a year later.

Singleton said in a letter to employees he and Scudder owned newspapers in Alaska for 23 years and grew to love the state. But no other family members chose newspapers as a career.

Singleton said if the right buyer isn’t found, the trust will continue to own the newspapers.

Categories: Alaska News

Tradition, fellowship, and the season’s first fish

Mon, 2015-06-15 12:29

Hjalmer ‘Ofi’ Olson
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

Celebrating the first salmon of the season is a long and important tradition in Bristol Bay. Last Thursday, we turned Hannah Colton around on her way to work because we heard some boys had caught theirs on the beach and were going to take one to an elder. She followed along, and brought this report…

A text message from Robyn Chaney told me her boys had caught three kings on the morning tide. They and their grandpa were going to deliver them. Here’s Triston Cheney:

Yeah we caught three this morning… gave one to my mom, kept one, and then one to Ofi.

So why do you bring one to Ofi? — Cause we always give some of what we catch to elders. And then if you give some to elders then you’re gonna catch more. 

Hyalmer Ofi Olson is an elder who has left a mark on Bristol Bay as few have … he fished these waters for some five decades, starting as a kid in the sailboat days

Among other leadership roles, Ofi was longtime director, CEO, and president of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation,. But he’s retired from all that now.

Ofi is in bad health. His kidneys are failing … and these days it’s tough to get too far from the house.

He was sitting on the couch when the Chaney boys and his old friend Robin showed up with that king.

The boys caught you a king salmon! King Salmon? Yeah! Oh yeah, small one! We caught it this morning! Yeah yeah that’s alright…

The fishermen responsible for the first 12-lb king: brothers Graelin, Triston and Dillon Chaney
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

He sized up the boys who brought him the fish and gave Robin a nod.

 “Okay Ofi, enjoy! Bye! – thank you Robin, boy, that’s gonna be a treat and a half – good, good…”

Later that evening, some old friends and fishermen came together to eat that fish with Ofi. They gathered around a humble table at Jerry Liboff’s house, off Chuthmok Road, named for Liboff and his patchy clothes …

Dave Bendinger grilled the fish for an hour on top of a cedar plank … and Ofi again asked for the recipe:

 “So you put the plank on the grill, wet it first, let it cook maybe ten minutes, then flip it so it’s charred, put the salmon on top skin side down….lid down, let it cook”

Set netter and Russian Orthodox priest Father Victor Nick stopped by for a bite and gave a blessing

 “Okay before we eat too much more, why don’t you bless the meal? ….prayer… You don’t want any? Oh, maybe a little bit…”

Ofi said the fish was small – but there was plenty of to go around. And it was the best.

“The first king melts in your mouth. Yeah…”

Liboff asked Ofi about the first kings when he was a kid…

 “That first king salmon was a big deal even then right? Your mama and grandma, how’d they cook it? — Well the head and the tail, and the eggs, they make chowder out of it. And out of the collars. And then you fry the steaks, either fried or boiled. Good. Every bit of the king salmon was used, nothing left but the bones.”

The night went on and around the table they sat … They talked boats, they talked prices, they talked nets and canneries and can sizes.

They cracked jokes and talked about fishermen from the old days.

And they talked about getting older.

“The greying of the fleet. The last of the hardasses trying to hang on. – yeah – Him, Ofi put up the white flag a couple years ago. I’m hangin in there. — I don’t wanna be the richest man in the graveyard. *laughs* Maybe Skagerrack is bumpin somebody else for that position.”

That’s Ofi, giving Skagerrack skipper Paul Friis-Mikkelsen a hard time. Friis-Mikkelsen took a hard fall a few weeks back and may not fish this season.

“You know, at this point, it’s not really about the money so much. It’s just good being a part. You know, it’s a lifestyle… If I was well, I’d still be out there floatin’ around too. The thing I was trying to say is, it’s like bein part of this whole cycle.”

The whole Bay is a cycle…The fish run out and back, tides go out and in, and nets need mending year after year. And people gather around the table each summer to tell stories and to fellowship around the first king salmon.

What I miss, Dave, is when I was small, young guy, even my first few years in high school, I used to go with my dad and some older people and, say we went camping or something. And then when the light went out, you stay there and listen to stories. Boy, interesting. Lots of stories, hunting stories, stories about ghosts. Sometimes I felt a little scared, but I never seen anything in my life. Never heard anything.”

With a twinkle in his eye, Ofi had a captive audience… and we all kept nibbling on that fish for hours after it got cold.

Categories: Alaska News

Owner says 2 Alaska newspapers are for sale

Mon, 2015-06-15 12:25

The chief executive officer for two Alaska newspapers says the publications are for sale.

William Dean Singleton says the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Kodiak Daily Mirror are both available. Employees were informed Friday.

The family trusts of Singleton and his media partner, Richard Scudder, bought the News-Miner from C.W. Snedden in 1992. The News-Miner owns the Kodiak newspaper.

Singleton and Scudder founded MediaNews Group, which once owned dozens of newspapers across the nation. Scudder died in 2012; Singleton retired a year later.

Singleton said in a letter to employees he and Scudder owned newspapers in Alaska for 23 years and grew to love the state. But no other family members chose newspapers as a career.

Singleton said if the right buyer isn’t found, the trust will continue to own the newspapers.

Categories: Alaska News

Miners Bid Farewell To West Beach

Mon, 2015-06-15 12:24

Permanent structures, like the cabin owned by Ian Foster (above), on Nome’s West Beach constitute a hazard and liability according to city officials. Photo: Francesca Fenzi

Today marks the final deadline to vacate one of Nome’s more infamous housing projects.

“If you’re into indoor plumbing, and you’re into nice hot showers after work every day, and you’re into not ever being cold – then living on West Beach is definitely not for you,” said Ian Foster, who has lived in Nome for the past six years.

He spent three of those years living in one of the more comfortable-looking shelters on West Beach, a plywood cabin with propane heaters and two big picture windows. Foster has since upgraded to a place with running water, but says the cabin and its beach-front property — which he leases from Nome Gold Alaska — still holds a special place in his, and Nome’s, history.

“A hundred years ago this beach had 30,000 people on it,” he said. “In tents, much like the shacks that you see right now. Now it’s actually changing. It’s actually coming to an end, this part of current history that we were able to live and experience.”

The impromptu mining camp has existed, in one form or another, for several decades despite shifting land ownership, and varying degrees of approval for would-be tenants. The current property owner, Nome Gold, officially opened the beach — along with another tract of land near the defunct Dredge 6 — for two-year leases in 2013.

“Unfortunately, that area didn’t work out very well,” said Nome Gold general manager Randy Powelson. “Some of the people didn’t behave very well, there were sanitation issues out there, trash storage issues. Pretty much turned into a free for all.”

Two dredges mine off the coast of Nome’s West Beach in June 2015. Photo: Francesca Fenzi

Powelson said the company’s decision not to renew those leases was three-fold. First, the property was difficult to manage — a seasonal population and lack of identifiable house markers made distinguishing between leaseholders and squatters next to impossible.

Second, he says, Nome Gold plans to make “industrial use” of the area for mining as early as 2017. And third, the beach shelters fall within the city’s flood plane — a point that Nome city manager Josie Bahnke said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was quick to make with city officials during its last inspection.

“Basically, they were built kind of out-of-sight-out-of-mind,” said Bahnke of the cabins on West Beach. “The folks constructing them didn’t follow the city’s building permit [or] flood plain permit.”

Bahnke said FEMA warned the city that semi-permanent structures on West Beach were a liability, and an order trickled down: Get rid of them.

But for beach residents that may be easier said than done. Foster explained the camp on West Beach isn’t simply historic, it provides a crucial alternative for miners too cash-strapped for Nome’s expensive housing market.

“I’m paying a thousand bucks a month for a little studio. And it’s not that big, it’s not that fancy, it’s just a studio, and this isn’t New York. So why am I paying a thousand bucks? That’s just what housing costs up here,” he said.

Powelson acknowledged that Nome’s steep housing prices are a problem, but said that problem “isn’t really Nome Gold’s responsibility to solve.” Instead, he said, it’s going to take a group effort to find workable solutions.

“It’s also going to take the dredging community to, not only police themselves, but take personal responsibility that we wouldn’t be in this mess if there hadn’t been some unfortunate individuals who made it not work for everybody,” Powelson concluded.

Foster agrees that some may have taken advantage of the housing arrangement on West Beach, but he thinks finger pointing is counterproductive.

“If we categorize any population in Nome as partly destructive, therefore all destructive, therefore they shouldn’t be here — that argument is awful,” said Foster, who plans to focus on the positive aspects of West Beach’s legacy.

“West Beach was an awesome, awesome period of my life. It was a type of deliberate living that I was really seeking. And I loved it. And, you know, they can’t take that away. Because that’s experiential. It’s in me. It’s already there; it stuck,” he said.

As for what a move closer to town will do for others in the mining community, Foster laughs: “Hopefully it doesn’t civilize us too much. We’re a wild bunch.”

Categories: Alaska News

Out-of-Service Fuel Tank Sprung a Leak in Wales

Mon, 2015-06-15 12:22

Diesel fuel leaking from a storage tank along a road in Wales has been contained, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

On June 4th, an employee with the Wales Native Corporation came upon the spillage beside the Kingkinkgin Road, 150 feet from the Bering Sea. The leaking, out-of-service tank could hold 22-thousand gallons of fuel – when it was found, only about 300 gallons remained. But Ashley Adamczak with ADEC says it’s unknown how much fuel was in the tank when the leak began.

The spill was caused by corrosion on the single-wall tank, which ADEC patched the following day. Adamczak says responders removed the remaining 300 gallons of fuel, and oily water from an adjacent tank. The next step will be discarding the containers and conducting a site assessment to gauge how far contamination spread through the soil. So far, there have been no reports of impacts to wildlife or the shoreline.

ADEC is developing a cleanup plan. For questions, or to provide information, you can call 907-451-2126.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire reaches 6,500 acres

Mon, 2015-06-15 10:22

Update: 10:20 a.m. Monday, June 15.

A quick-moving wildfire started Sunday near Willow has displaced hundreds of area residents and halted travel along the Parks Highway much of last night and this morning.

As of about 1 a.m. Monday the fire was estimated at about 6,500 acres.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough spokesperson Pam Ness says the fire does not appear to have grown much since then.

“The fire laid down last night, pretty much in the same area that it was,” she said.

Ness says the number of affected structures is currently unknown.

Mat Su Borough Emergency Services Director Casey Cook says Tuesday is the earliest residents may be able to return to their homes. Monday morning, the borough started a neighborhood by neighborhood assessment of which homes burned and which are still standing. They will make the information available on their website.

The blaze closed the Parks Highway much of Sunday afternoon and evening in the area as crews worked to slow its progress and protect structures.

Ness says State Troopers are allowing some traffic through the area periodically, but that’s subject to change, depending on fire fighting activities.

“We have AST currently stopping vehicles at Mile 66.5 and then we have pilot cars and AST alternating traffic north and south,” Ness said. “There is talk that the highway may be closed, but they’re gonna keep it open as long as they can.”

Ness says officials have given voluntary evacuation notices for residents between Miles 63 and 78 of the Parks Highway.

“We’re recommending that they evacuate and not go back,” she said.

Evacuation centers are set up at Houston Middle School and Wasilla FishHook Bible Camp. And at the Upper Susitna Senior Center near Talkeetna.

The Matanuska Electric Association has cut power to the evacuation area and the solid waste transfer site in Willow is closed.

Update: 6:15 a.m. Monday, June 15.

The Sockeye fire near Willow has jumped to more than 6,500 acres, consumed structures, closed the Parks Highway and is headed south.

How the fire started has  not been determined yet, but officials say it is human caused.

“We just know it was a human caused fire and it is under investigation,” said Tim Mowry, an information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry.

The fire, which started about 1:15 p.m., was in the Crystal Lakes Road area as of midnight, according to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s website.

One fireman has been treated for heat exhaustion, according to the borough.

“The Parks Highway will be opened as firefighting and public safety allow,” the borough said. “Expect periodic closures over the next few days and pilot cars guiding traffic through.”

It covered about 40 acres when authorities were notified.

According to the borough, about 210 residents had signed into evacuation centers.

The blaze was called in shortly after one ‘clock Sunday afternoon, at 40 acres.

By 4:00 p.m., it had spread to 200 acres when the wind kicked up. Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Vern Halter, who represents Willow, had just returned from a survey of the fire area after 9:00 p.m. Sunday evening. Halter spoke from his home near Willow

“I tell ya it’s on both sides of the highway when you cross Willow Creek,” Halter said. “Within a three-quarters of a mile, a mile of crossing Willow Creek, you just run into flames. “Both sides of the highway, there were structures burning, and the intensity, it probably took us a mile and a half, to two and a half miles to get through the main portion, both sides of the highway.

“And then there would be flareups, there would be. almost scare ya when you are looking out…because you can feel the intensity of the heat when you are inside the car with the windows rolled up.”

A voluntary evacuation was called from mile 72 to 77 on the Parks Highway on Sunday afternoon, but the wind pushed the evacuation area south to mile 69 Sunday evening.

The fire threatens a heavily populated area along Willow Creek Parkway. An incident command center, and a Red Cross shelter, initially located at the Willow Community Center, was moved late Sunday, as the flames crept closer to Willow.

“They’re moving the command center,” Halter said. “The command center and the Red Cross moved to the Willow Community Center, and now they are evacuating this area pretty much and moving every thing to the Houston Middle School. So the Red Cross is moving to Houston Middle School The fire command is staying here locally.”

Halter said firefighters are doing all they can to save homes.

“But there was a firetruck at just about every house that I could see, trying to keep water on buildings and houses, and let the fire pass, and save it. I don’t know, but I’m sure they saved a bunch, but there’s some that they couldn’t either. ”

The area is home to a considerable number of dog mushers, such as Dee Dee Jonrowe and Martin Buser. Halter is also a musher.

“There was a ton of dogs moved, and all of those came out of where Dee Dee Jonrowe lives, up there on mile 71, 72, 73, in there, there was 100s and 100s of dogs moved in about a two or three hour period this [Sunday] afternoon. Dee Dee Jonrowe, and Martin Buser, I saw their trucks. I imagine Martin Buser has 100s of dogs at his place right now. ”

Fire information officer Tim Mowry said Sunday night the Parks Highway would be closed all Sunday night. Mowry said a huge amount of effort is being used to fight the fire.

“We’ve got units, crews enroute to the fire, crews on the fire, we’ve got firefighters from Palmer on the fire,” Mowry said. “We have multiple aircraft, that have been working the fire all day. Three retardant tankers, and four water-scooping aircraft, plus multiple helicopters. We have five Hotshot (firefighting) crews on order from the Lower 48.”

But we basically are throwing everything we can at this fire and we have been doing it since we got the report just after one o’clock” [Sunday afternoon.

The front of the fire was three miles long by Sunday evening, according to reports.

“We are just trying to get a handle on this thing, and it’s been a tough thing to do. It jumped the Parks highway once, and I am trying to figure out if it has done it again.”

A State Trooper road block is set up at mile 77 of the Parks heading South.

Update: 10:18 p.m. Sunday June 14. 

The Division of Forestry now estimates the size of the Sockeye Fire at over 4,000 acres.

Willow residents from Sharen Road south to Nancy Lake Parkway are evacuating, and many people are stuck on one side or the other of the fire, which has closed the Parks Highway.

Update: 9:56 p.mSunday June 14.  

Emergency Services Director Bill Gamble reports a voluntary evacuation in effect for Willow, this includes Willow Lakes, Crystal Lakes, Shirley Lakes, Nancy Lake, and more. A new shelter is being set up at Houston Middle School.

Update 9:18 p.m. Sunday June 14.  

The shelter at the Willow Community Center is moving to Houston Middle School. Buses are helping transport residents from Willow to Houston, according to the Borough.

Update 8:51 p.m. Sunday June 14.  

The Matsu-Borough reports the fire is now at 1,800 acres.

Update: 8:44 p.m. Sunday June 14.  

Willow residents living along the Parks Highway from milepost 69 to milepost 77 are notified to evacuate for safety, reports Emergency Manager Casey Cook and Alaska State Troopers. The Willow Community Center is set up as a shelter. Animal Care is on scene to assist with pets. An emergency information numbers is 861-8500.

Update 7:28 p.m. Sunday June 14.  

The shelter for people displaced/stranded by the Sockeye fire will be the Upper Susitna Senior Center on Helena Drive, just south of the intersection of the Talkeetna Spur Road and the Parks Highway.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Wildfire Threatens Willow

Sun, 2015-06-14 23:59

A wildfire near Willow jumped from 200 acres to 1800 acres in five hours on Sunday, as high winds pushed the flames South toward a populated area. The fire has consumed structures, closed the Parks Highway, and is headed South.
How the fire started has  not been determined yet, but officials say it is human caused. Tim Mowry is a information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry

“We just know it was a human caused fire and it is under investigation.”

Now dubbed the Sockeye fire, the blaze was called in shortly after one ‘clock Sunday afternoon, at forty acres. By 4 o’clock, it had spread to 200 acres. That’s when the wind kicked up. Matanuska Susitna Borough Assemblyman Vern Halter, who represents Willow, had just returned from a survey of the fire area after 9 Sunday evening. Halter spoke from his home near Willow

“I tell ya it’s on both sides of the highway when you cross Willow Creek, within a three quarters of a mile, a mile of crossing Willow Creek, you just run into flames, both sides of the highway, there were structures burning, and the intensity, it probably took us a mile and a half, to two and a half miles to get through the main portion, both sides of the highway. And then there would be flareups, there would be.. almost scare ya when you are looking out.. because you can feel the intensity of the heat when you are inside the car with the windows rolled up.”

A voluntary evacuation was called from mile 72 to 77 on the Parks Highway on Sunday afternoon, but the wind pushed the evacuation area south to mile 69 Sunday evening. The fire threatens a heavily populated area along Willow Creek Parkway. An incident command center, and a Red Cross shelter, initially located at the Willow Community Center, was moved late Sunday, as the flames crept closer to Willow.

“They’re moving the command center. The command center and the Red Cross moved to the Willow Community Center, and now they are evacuating this area pretty much and moving every thing to the Houston Middle School. So the Red Cross is moving to Houston Middle School The fire command is staying here locally.”

Halter says fire fighters are doing all they can to save homes.

“But there was a firetruck at just about every house that I could see, trying to keep water on buildings and houses, and let the fire pass, and save it. I don’t know, but I’m sure they saved a bunch, but there’s some that they couldn’t either. ”

The area is home to a considerable number of dog mushers, such as Dee Dee Jonrowe, Martin Buser and Halter as well.

“There was a ton of dogs moved, and all of those came out of where Dee Dee Jonrowe lives, up there on mile 71, 72, 73, in there, there was hundreds and hundreds of dogs moved in about a two or three hour period this [sunday] afternoon. Dee Dee Jonrowe, and Martin Buser, I saw their trucks. I imagine Martin Buser has hundreds of dogs at his place right now. ”

Fire information officer Tim Mowry said  the Parks Highway would be closed all through Sunday night, and it is not certain when it will reopen. Mowry says a huge amount of effort is being used to fight the fire.

“We’ve got units, crews enroute to the fire, crews on the fire, we’ve got firefighters from Palmer on the fire. We have multiple aircraft, that have been working the fire all day. Three retardant tankers, and four water scooping aircraft, plus multiple helicopters. We have five hot shot crews on order from the Lower 48. But we basically are throwing everything we can at this fire and we have been doing it since we got the report just after one o’clock” [Sunday afternoon]

The front of the fire was three miles long by Sunday evening, according to reports.

“We are just trying to get a handle on this thing, and it’s been a tough thing to do. It jumped the Parks highway once, and I am trying to figure out if it has done it again.”

A State Trooper roadblock is set up at mile 77 of the Parks heading South.

Categories: Alaska News

Breaking: Fire prompts evacuations, Parks Highway closure

Sun, 2015-06-14 16:10

(Photo courtesy of the Mat-Su Borough)

Sunday afternoon, a wildfire in the Willow area prompted evacuation of 10 homes and the closure of the Parks Highway.

According to Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Division of Forestry, the fire was called in shortly after 1:00 p.m. At that time, it was estimated to be two acres in size. By 4:00 pm, it had grown to over 200 acres. The fire is being driven to the south by wind.

Shortly after 3:00 pm, Mat-Su Borough Emergency Manager Casey Cook confirmed that the Parks Highway is closed between Mile 74 and Willow Fishhook Road, and no traffic is passing through the area.

Officials are advising that people avoid the area of the fire.

As of 3:30, 10 homes were confirmed evacuated, and evacuation in the Sharen Road subdivision was beginning.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature’s Per Diem Expenses Approach $200K

Fri, 2015-06-12 21:08

Lawmakers collected nearly $200,000 in per diem over the course of two special sessions.

According to a preliminary tally by the Legislature’s accounting office, every lawmaker took at least one day’s per diem during the first special session, which began in Juneau and ended in Anchorage. Almost half took per diem during the Anchorage special session that followed. Twenty-four members also took per diem while the Legislature was in recess for two weeks, and not holding floor sessions.

Per diem is meant to cover food and lodging expenses, and it is federally set. It was paid at a rate of $233 per day while the Legislature was holding its special session in Juneau. It jumped to $295 for the second session in Anchorage, because of the start of tourist season and the move to a more expensive location.

While any legislator could apply for the allowance those who did not live within driving distance of the Anchorage were more likely to take it. Sen. Donny Olson, a Golovin Democrat who serves on the finance committee, was the top collector. He filed for 44 days, amounting to a payment of $11,439. Sen. Peter Micchiche, a Soldotna Republican, was the one exception to this — declining per diem during the Anchorage session, despite living 150 miles away.

There was less consistency with Anchorage and Mat-Su members.

Some members of leadership took per diem, even though they live within commuting distance of the LIO. House Finance Co-Chair Mark Neuman, lives one hour away in Big Lake, and collected $8,393 over the two special sessions. Senate Rules Chair Charlie Huggins, a Wasilla Republican, received $6,329, with most of his per diem collected while in Anchorage. But other members of leadership who live in the area did not. Neither Senate President Kevin Meyer nor House Rules Chair Craig Johnson — both Anchorage Republicans — applied for the funds during the second session.

There were even some rank-and-file members who collected per diem while the Legislature was meeting in their area. Sen. Lesil McGuire collected $7,347 during the special sessions, and Sen. Cathy Giessel received $5,352. Neither of the two Anchorage Republicans holds a leadership position or serves on Finance, the only committee to meet regularly during the special session.

However, the majority of Anchorage and Mat-Su legislators declined per diem during the second special session. None of the Anchorage Democrats in the House or the Senate applied for per diem. House Republicans also largely abstained, with Neuman being the lone exception.

At nearly $4,000 per member, the Senate’s Republican majority caucus collected the most per diem on average. At the low end of the spectrum is the House’s Democratic minority, with an average payout of $2,000 per member.

According to Legislative Affairs, these numbers could still be revised upwards. The agency is still receiving per diem claims. As of Thursday, the total cost of the two special sessions, which were called to address the budget deficit, exceeded $600,000.

To find a more detailed breakdown of per diem costs, click here.

Legislator Special Session Per Diem OLSON, DONALD $11,439.00 NEUMAN, MARK $8,393.00 COGHILL, JR., JOHN $8,188.00 STEDMAN, BERT $7,535.00 MCGUIRE, LESIL $7,347.00 OLSON, KURT $7,333.00 NAGEAK, BEN $7,299.00 THOMPSON, STEVE $7,176.00 HERRON, BOB $6,984.00 ORTIZ, DAN $6,466.00 FOSTER, NEAL $6,414.00 HUGGINS, CHARLES $6,329.00 KELLY, PETE $6,243.00 WILSON, TAMMIE $6,115.00 STEVENS, GARY $6,108.00 CHENAULT, MIKE (CHARLES) $5,745.00 GIESSEL, CATHY $5,352.00 KREISS-TOMKINS, JONATHAN $5,298.00 MUÑOZ, CATHY $4,989.00 HOFFMAN, LYMAN $4,585.00 EDGMON, BRYCE $4,173.00 KITO, SAM $3,834.50 MILLETT, CHARISSE $3,159.00 KAWASAKI, SCOTT $3,009.00 SEATON, PAUL $3,005.00 WOOL, ADAM $3,005.00 BISHOP, CLICK $2,962.00 TALERICO, DAVE $2,713.00 KELLER, WES $2,640.00 STUTES, LOUISE $2,129.00 MEYER, KEVIN $1,416.00 TARR, GERAN $1,416.00 GARA, LES $1,167.00 CLAMAN, MATTHEW $669.00 COSTELLO, MIA $669.00 DRUMMOND, HARRIET $669.00 DUNLEAVY, MIKE $669.00 ELLIS, JOHNNY $669.00 GARDNER, BERTA $669.00 GATTIS, LYNN $669.00 GRUENBERG, MAX $669.00 GUTTENBERG, DAVID $669.00 HAWKER, MIKE $669.00 JOHNSON, CRAIG $669.00 JOSEPHSON, ANDREW $669.00 LEDOUX, GABRIELLE $669.00 LYNN, BOB $669.00 MACKINNON, ANNA $669.00 MICCICHE, PETER $669.00 PRUITT, LANCE $669.00 REINBOLD, LORA $669.00 SADDLER, DAN $669.00 STOLTZE, BILL $669.00 TILTON, CATHY $669.00 TUCK, CHRIS $669.00 VAZQUEZ, ELIZABETH $669.00 WIELECHOWSKI, BILL $669.00 COLVER, JIM (JAMES) $604.00 EGAN, DENNIS $501.75 HUGHES, SHELLEY $223.00 AVERAGE $3,122.52 TOTAL $187,351.25
Categories: Alaska News

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