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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: 32 min 18 sec ago

Sockeye Fire Slows, For Now

Wed, 2015-06-17 01:12

There is a bit of heartening news from the Sockeye fire. Erratic weather, expected to bring strong winds to the area late Tuesday, did not actually materialize after a thunderstorm passed overhead, and fire crews have arrived from outside Alaska to begin an offensive against the blaze.

The parking lot at Houston High School is now a staging area for forestry personnel, as fire crews begin a full assault on the Sockeye wildfire.

Vanloads of equipment are piled high, cases of water bottles stacked everywhere, and shovels and backpacks are heaped up, ready for the five  20-person Hot Shot crews that arrived Tuesday. Tom Kurth, the incident commander, hosted a press conference in the school parking lot Tuesday afternoon,  saying the fire had gained one thousand acres between Monday and Tuesday, and he was watching the weather, concerned that conditions that could expand the blaze

“We’re starting to get familiar with exactly how to approach it, and you’ll see progress made as we continue through the week here. Again, we do have what our fire weather forecaster is saying no break in the activity here as far as she can see. Today, we have dry thunderstorms predicted for the Talkeetna Mountains, due East of here. That could bring dry lightening, new starts, it could also bring strong downdrafts, winds, behavior that could excite the fire out there. ”

The thunderstorm passed over the North end of the fire, around 7 pm,  sprinkling the area a bit, but doing little to douse the rest of the blaze. Celeste Prescott, an Alaska Incident Management Team  fire information officer, said the winds did not come up late Tuesday either, and that is good news.

“The crews were able to get a great amount of work done, with favorable weather through most of the day. When the thunderstorm, the cell, did move through the area, they did receive some winds on the fire, but no major significant events happened from that.”

Prescott said  that the fire is not expected to grow much by Wednesday.  She said that there will be a total of 16 crews working on the blaze when another planeload of firefighters arrives Wednesday from Boise, Idaho.

Prescott said that some of the incoming firefighters will be sent to work on the Kenai wildfire. One hot shot crew was loaned to Mat Su to fight lightening caused fires near Montana Creek on Tuesday, she said. Those blazes are under control.

The Sockeye fire is the number one priority in the state, and the nation, she said, although so many fire resources are available now because there is little fire activity in the Lower 48.

Although the slight inroads on the fire are welcome news, Prescott could not say how long it will be before the fire is contained.

“Well, here’s our biggest issue. This is a fuel driven fire, also, with wind and weather, I mean, we need the help of Mother Nature to help us out.”

And mother nature is notoriously fickle.

“We’re gonna work on securing the edges as much as possible. But with as large a fire as this and as hot as it’s burnt and as deep as it’s burnt, we’re going to need some rain and some cooler temperatures. We’re going to be in this for a duration of time. ”

And for homeowners waiting in shelters to find out if it is safe to go home again, the news is not good. Tom Kurth said on Tuesday that a lot of places that were evacuated are in the interior of the fire. He says forestry wants to keep those areas clear for fire crews to do their work

“So we’re trying to keep that area clear so we can move our firefighting resources in and out of those places safely. We know it’s a major inconvenience for people, but we do have the cooperation of law enforcement who have sealed those areas off. So right now, we have not allowed people in there. That decision will be made in cooperation with the Mat Su Borough and with law enforcement, and it is likely, I’m going to still put forty eight hours on that.”

A community meeting is set for 7 pm in Houston Middle School Wednesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Lightning strikes cause new fires near Parks Highway

Tue, 2015-06-16 20:33

On Tuesday evening, lightning strikes started two fires in the area of Goose Creek near Mile 95 of the Parks Highway. Sockeye Fire Incident Command spokesperson Celeste Prescott said that the Division of Forestry dispatched two tankers and a helicopter to combat the fires. She says a total of at least nine new starts due to lightning had been reported by 8:00 pm on Tuesday.

As of that time, Prescott said the aircraft reported that they were returning from the area, which could indicate that the fires have been significantly slowed.

Prescott said a hotshot crew on loan from the Sockeye Fire efforts is on the way to the fires to attempt to contain and secure the area. They are officially being referred to as the Montana Creek fires.

The Division of Forestry has also confirmed an addition fire in Cooper Landing, not far from Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula. However, details are not yet available.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire No. 1 Priority Fire in US

Tue, 2015-06-16 20:00

Detailed Sockeye Fire Maps available through Alaska Wildland Fire Information.

Update: Tuesday 8 pm Detailed maps available through Alaska Wildland Fire Information.

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The Sockeye Fire burning north of Willow is now the number one priority fire in the country. At least 400 firefighters will be on scene by the end of Tuesday.

Fire information officials held a parking lot press conference at Houston High School, which is serving as the command post, this afternoon.

Tom Kurth, Sockeye fire incident commander, said crews coming in are attempting to gain a safe anchor at the north end of the fire and begin offensive action.

He said the fire – which started Sunday afternoon – is advancing on three sides; the eastern perimeter, the northwest corner and the southern tip.

“We still have a lot of potential for the fire to move,” he said. “However… t least we’re getting familiar with what it’s going to take to try to slow it down.  There are a lot of structures still at risk, there’s a lot of values inside the perimeter so those are of upmost concern.”

Kurth said the priority is to protect structures, protect the railroad, and keep the Parks Highway open. Kurth said the number of structures destroyed has grown, as well.

“There’s somewhere between 50 and 100 structures that have been lost. That’s a very loose survey that’s been done by drive-by… but I do want to qualify that a structure could be as small as 40 square feet.” Structures could include greenhouses and even some chicken coops.

Kurth said firefighters who have been working so far are reaching fatigue limits, but new crews that had just arrived would soon be on scene.

Categories: Alaska News

Card Street Fire Now Estimated at 2,000 Acres; Homes Being Evacuated

Tue, 2015-06-16 19:00

Map courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Update — 7 pm, Tuesday
The Division of Forestry is evacuating the Kenai Keyes subdivision for the second time today as the now 2,000 acre Card Street Fire is only one mile to the east of the area.

According to their Facebook post, “Firefighters are holding it out of the area but they want to get people out in the event wind associated with thunderstorm cells building to the east produces winds that could fan the flames.”

Various agencies are reporting that Hot Shot crews have arrived on the Kenai Peninsula to assist. Five teams, totaling 100 firefighters will join state and local forces numbering around 70.

Additional air support has also been called in, with two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters on the way and a scoop air craft. Nearly 40 drops have been made with fire dispersants.

The fire is moving to the east, and has forced the closure of the west entrance of Skilak Lake Road. The boat ramp there is still accessible from the east entrance.

The Division of Forestry estimates the cost for the first day of operations runs in excess of $140,000. So far 30 loads of retardants have been dumped on the fire. Ten structures have been confirmed destroyed.

A Type-2 management team from Washington state will transition into a lead role Wednesday, working with local agencies. An update from those officials is set for noon Wednesday.

Original post — 5:30 pm

New maps from the Kenai Peninsula Borough show the Card Street Fire has grown to approximately 1,500 acres.

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The Community Center in Sterling continues to be the hub for relief efforts. Residents are sharing updates, along with food, clothes, phone chargers, everything.  I was just opening my laptop to pull up the latest evacuation maps when a man who had just left the fire zone came over.

“My name is Shun Ada Chi. I saw that maybe my house was going to burn down because it’s coming very quickly through the Feuding Lane and Kenai Keys area. The people were screaming, crying, it’s a very horrible situation. My house is okay. But I’m feeling very sorry for people who have lost their house.”

Shun is one of the lucky ones. Crews have been battling the fire in his neighborhood for nearly 24 hours and ten structures have been destroyed. Krista Schooley is volunteering here. She’s already heard of some bad news for one family.

“We had a lady come in who lost everything,” Schooley said.  “She was able to save her two dogs. Her husband woke up to the fire being on her house and all he could do was grab the animals and get out. She was dazed, just in shock. And she came in here and we just loved on her.”

This fire has been confirmed as human caused. It started Monday afternoon and quickly grew to more than six hundred acres. Calm winds throughout the night and into Tuesday morning helped slow the fire’s growth. But Forestry spokesperson Terry Anderson says firefighters are concerned about Tuesday night’s forecast.

“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.”

A Hotshot crew was scheduled to arrive on the scene Tuesday night. A Type 2 management team is slated to take over operations Wednesday morning. Another Forestry spokesperson, Andy Alexandrou says more air support will be on the way as well.

“A couple of Black hawks that were ordered up this morning from the National Guard to pitch in with their bucket and water capability as well as a Canadian CL-215 scoop aircraft,” Alexandrou said. “We’ve seen them here in the state in the past.”

Travelers along the Sterling Highway should check with the Department of Transportation’s 511 number for information on closures. The Alaska State Troopers are in the area helping direct traffic as crews focus their attention on the east end of the fire, where it’s just a couple miles from the highway.

Categories: Alaska News

Audio Postcard: Naknek Preps for Salmon Season

Tue, 2015-06-16 17:03

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Fishing communities across Bristol Bay are pulsing with action these days as armies of fisherman work to ready their vessels for the extra-large return of salmon this year. KDLG’s Matt Martin spent the weekend at the boatyard in Naknek and brings us this audio postcard.

Categories: Alaska News

Dozens Evacuate to Escape from Card Street Fire

Tue, 2015-06-16 17:02

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Dozens of people have been evacuated from properties in the vicinity of the Card Street fire. Larissa Notter and her husband, Jason, left their home Monday evening with as much as they could pack into their cars and headed to a family member’s house indefinitely. Notter says this isn’t the first time they’ve had to leave.

Categories: Alaska News

Industry Chafes at Relief Rig Rule for Arctic Drilling

Tue, 2015-06-16 16:49

Witness at U.S. House hearing include Richard Glenn of ASRC, former state senator Drue Pearce, and Michael LeVine of Oceana.

The safety of drilling in the Arctic Ocean was debated at a U.S. House subcommittee hearing this morning. Advocates of oil and gas development say the rules the government wants to impose on future offshore projects in the Arctic are needlessly burdensome.

If Shell goes ahead with plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, it will be following custom-crafted safety terms it worked out with the federal government. The government now wants to lock some of those requirements into regulations, to apply to future Arctic projects. It was obvious at the hearing that industry especially dislikes one proposed condition: The requirement that an operator be able to drill a same-season relief well in case of a blowout.

Alaska Congressman Don Young says Arctic wells are unlikely to go out of control because they would tap shallow, low-pressure petroleum reservoirs. Young challenged Brian Salerno, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, about whether a blowout is even possible under those conditions.

“Sir, we would agree that the risk is low,” Salerno said, but he said they are still possible.

Young chided witnesses at the hearing for emphasizing the risk.

“That’s what I call leading in hysteria,” Young said. “The chances of a blowout will not occur.”

In Salerno’s view, the penalty is high for being wrong about that.

“Should something occur and you don’t have the means to deal with it, you may be stuck with an out of control well until the next season,” he said.

The same-season relief well requirement means operators would have to send two rigs to the Arctic, so it’s expensive. It also shrinks the drilling season, because they’d have to stop regular operations with enough time left to drill an emergency well before the ice returns in the fall.

Drue Pearce, a former Alaska legislator and now a policy advisor to industry, argues the requirement actually increases risk. As Pearce sees it, the shorter season means it will take two years to drill a single well, and each year, an armada of support vessels has to sail from Dutch Harbor into the Arctic and back.

“And most of the accidents that put oil in the water are transportation-related accidents. So you have at least doubled, if not more than doubled, the risk, by forcing that transportation twice,” she testified.

Pearce says new safety technologies used in other countries would be more effective than a relief well in the unlikely event of a blowout. (Salerno says his agency has chased down reports of such technology but says he knows of nothing that can substitute for a relief well.)

To Congresswoman Lois Capps, a California Democrat whose district includes Santa Barbara, the reassurances from Pearce and others rang hollow.

“The company that operates the pipeline that recently burst in my district also assured state regulators that pipeline was ‘state of the art’ and that spills were ‘extremely unlikely,'” Capps said. “On May 19, that ‘extremely unlikely’ event actually happened.”

Now, Capps says, a hundred miles of California beaches are fouled by heavy off-shore crude, fishermen are suffering and hundreds of birds are dead.

Pearce, though, says that pipeline accident in Santa Barbara proves one of her points: that most oil spills stem from transportation, not drilling.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Bill Would Impel Izembek Road, Undo EPA Efforts

Tue, 2015-06-16 16:22

A bill by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski cleared an Appropriations subcommittee today, but controversy is brewing over sections that would undo two of the Obama administration’s highest profile environmental efforts. The bill would also compel a land exchange to build an 11-mile road in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, to connect King Cove and Cold Bay.

If the state of Alaska agrees to the land exchange, the bill would require the federal government to trade some 200 acres in the refuge so the road can be built, according to Murkowski’s staff. Murkowski has long argued the road is necessary for medical evacuations, and she says this bill aims to pin down the feds.

“We’re not going to let the Interior Department say they’re not interested,” she said in a phone call to reporters. “We’ve already gone down that road once before.”

Nationally, the bill would block new rules defining “Waters of the U.S.” in the Clean Water Act. Republicans complain the so-called WOTUS rule is EPA overreach. The bill would also gut new Obama administration limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.

Murkowski, as chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, is responsible for writing the bill that funds Interior, the EPA and other resource agencies. She says the bill fully funds contract support costs for Native-run hospitals. It also changes the way fighting wildfires is funded, so agencies won’t have to divert money from other programs to pay for major fires.

The top Democrat on the subcommittee, Tom Udall of New Mexico, says he has deep objections to the policy changes.

“This bill takes dead aim at core environmental laws that have for decades protected the health of our communities, our families and our environment. And for decades were bipartisan,” he said.

Udall says he’ll try to strip those sections out on Thursday, when the bill goes to the full committee.

Categories: Alaska News

Wildfire Burns Near Dot Lake

Tue, 2015-06-16 16:02

Smoke rises from the Tanana Slough Fire burning northwest of the community of Dot Lake on Monday. (Photob by Don York/Alaska Division of Forestry)

A wildfire caused by lightning in the interior is burning near the Village of Dot Lake. The Tanana Slough Fire has burned about 500 acres on an island in the Tanana River. The island is about three miles north of the small Native community off the Alaska Highway near Tok. Area state forester Jeff Hermans says suppression efforts are aimed at keeping the fire on the island.

“Not let it escape out of the slough where theres lots of fuels in front of it in either direction. And so far we’ve been successful in that, it’s tried spotting out a couple of times and we’re able to keep the fire in check.”

Hermans says firefighters hope to conduct a burn out operation to consume fuels on the island when winds are favorable.
Meanwhile, another wildfire is burning in the Yukon Flats, near Ft. Yukon.

The Back Yukon Slough blaze had burned about 40 acres as of Monday night. The human caused fire was about 20 miles northwest of the village. The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reports that 14 smoke jumpers are working the blaze.

Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay fishermen prep for a busy salmon season

Tue, 2015-06-16 13:47

Fishing communities across Bristol Bay are pulsing with action these days as armies of fisherman work to ready their vessels for the extra-large return of salmon this year.

Still sitting on stilts in the boat yard, the Homeward rumbles to life for the first time this season. The Lummy yard is a beehive of activity with people making all the final preparation before they put their boats in the water.

Carl Spielman is the Skipper of the Vantage Point. He’s hoping to get his boat started up and in the water in a day or two.

“Get the boat up and running, sort of wake it up like a bear coming out of hibernation,” Spielman said.

The same thing could be said about the town of Naknek itself. There is traffic on the road and there is an energy in the air as people are anxious for the season to start.

Spielman looks forward to that feeling each year. He’s been fishing out of Naknek for almost 4 decades.

“Like deer camp, when you go out hunting or something, we come out and see each other for the first time, and we share tools and it’s really fun,” he said.

Lummi’s marine shop’s nonstop roll of customers had the store owners too busy for even a short interview but Sam Yoder who fishes on the F/V Thumper was at the store looking for parts.

“I’m trying to plum in a refrigeration system but unfortunately there pretty slim pickings for parts this time of year when everybody is trying to do the same thing,” Yoder said. “It’s a bit of a struggle. You got to get creative when it comes to putting things together.”

Even though he was a little stressed about finding the right piece he needed the prospect of a large return and the warm sunny weather had him ready to fish, and the slogan on his tank top was a clear sign of that.

“That’s it man, suns out guns out, you know it,” he said.

Yoder has been fishing for 20 years and he wouldn’t think of doing anything else.

“You know, honestly, I don’t know what I would do if I had a summer off,” Yoder said. “I hear the 4th of July is fun but I wouldn’t know.”

All the fishermen in town seemed to have one goal in mind, to get their boats in the water. One boat even had a robotic fish singing the crews theme song for the week.

Categories: Alaska News

Small Fire Around Old Sterling Power Pole Quickly Extinguished

Tue, 2015-06-16 12:44

Power was out for residents from Diamond Ridge to the Old Sterling Highway for about an hour on Monday afternoon. The incident, which took place on the Old Sterling, also caused a small fire.

The outage started just after 2:30 p.m. and affected about 630 Homer Electric customers.

Old Sterling Highway HEA Power Pole Fire – Photo by John Getty

HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher says the outage was caused by the failure of an insulator on a power pole. Insulators protect the poles from the heat of the power lines. The failure caused some sparking on the pole which lit a small fire around it.

“When HEA crews arrived at the pole, they were able to see there was a small fire burning at the pole. We quickly made contact with emergency services. The Division of Forestry arrived along with the Anchor Point Fire Department. They quickly extinguished the fire. It never really amounted to much.”

Gallagher says the furthest the fire got away from the pole was about 25 feet before it was extinguished.

“Our guys were able to go right back in afterwards and make some repairs to the power pole. We had power back on at 3:45.”

He says HEA is prepared for the unexpected, but this unseasonally warm and dry weather warrants some extra caution. There was no additional damage reported and no injuries.

“With this weather we’re experiencing right now, it’s very nice out and very warm, but it’s extremely dry. We’re all very well aware of the fire danger that exists right now.”

The Kenai Peninsula is under a burn suspension until conditions change.

Categories: Alaska News

Road Deterioration Hindering Copper River Access

Tue, 2015-06-16 12:39

A dipnetter’s group is seeking state assistance to repair a sketchy stretch of trail used to access the popular personal use fishery on the Copper River near Chitina. The old section of the Copper River Highway has deteriorated due to past year’s landslides.

President of the Fairbanks based Chitina Dipnetters Association Chuck Derrick recently sent a letter to state legislators, seeking up to $150,000 to fix the former road turned trail.

“That part of the Copper River Highway between O’Brien Creek and Haley Creek is the main ground access to the canyon where you can access the back-eddies and everything where the fishing is best,” he said.

Derrick says if nothing is done, the trail will become useless. He adds that the Dipnetter’s Association has received positive feedback from the State Department of Transportation about fixing the trail. DOT Northern region spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says officials recently surveyed the 6 mile section of trail, which she adds the agency already considers impassable.

“There’s a lot of landslides, there’s a lot of material over the road,” Bailey said. “So we anticipate it would take a couple of weeks to go in and make repairs, but we think we could with about a $100,000-$150,000 investment be able to make that road accessible.”

Bailey says the work is not in the DOT’s budget, but if the legislature were to approved funding it could be scheduled in for the fall of 2016. The Dipnetter’s Association’s Derrick says the 350 member group has pledged to cover 20 percent of the repair cost.

Categories: Alaska News

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

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