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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: 23 min 8 sec ago

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

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, June 12, 2015

Fri, 2015-06-12 17:36

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

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Mixed Feelings On A New Company’s Plans To Drill in Cook Inlet

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

A Texas-based company will begin drilling for oil in Cook Inlet next year using extended-reach oil wells.

Maritime Group Approves Aleutian Shipping ‘Buffer Zones’

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

The International Maritime Organization’s Marine Safety Committee is in the middle of its 95th session in London this week.  Included on the committee’s agenda is the adoption of five recommended “areas to be avoided” in the Aleutian Chain.

NOAA Investigates Steller Sea Lion Deaths Near Cordova

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is investigating the deaths of several Steller sea lions southwest of Cordova.

Advocacy Group Puts Setnet Restriction Measure on the Ballot

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance has handed over enough signatures to the state division of elections to get a voter initiative on the 2016 general election ballot.

Cameras May Remedy Gripes With Alaska’s Fisheries Observer Program

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Smaller boats in Alaska’s offshore fisheries may no longer have to carry human observers in the future, if a plan to deploy cameras proves feasible.

Feminist Icon Gloria Steinem Visits Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem speaks at the University of Alaska Fairbanks tonight.

49 Voices: Matt Williams of Anchorage

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

Xxxx

AK: Ice Dance

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

New York dancer and choreographer Jody Sperling had a rare opportunity last year. She was “artist in residence” aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy while it was on a research mission in the Arctic. Alone on vast ice floes, she danced while no one watched.

Categories: Alaska News

Advocacy Group Puts Setnet Restriction Measure on the Ballot

Fri, 2015-06-12 17:35

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance has handed over enough signatures to the state division of elections to get a voter initiative on the 2016 general election ballot.

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The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance wants to stop all commercial setnetting in five areas deemed to be “urban” and non-subsistence under Alaska law.

According to the groups’ president, Joe Connors, who owns a sport fishing lodge on the Kenai River, the Alliance’s motive is to conserve dwindling salmon stocks.

The initiative asks state voters to decide on banning setnets in the five urban areas.

A state Superior Court decision last year favored the Alliance’s plan to put the question on the ballot, but the state has challenged that decision and asked the state Supreme Court to decide if the Alliance’s initiative is legal. Corie Mills, a spokesperson for the state department of law, says state attorneys are drafting an opinion on the constitutional legality of the initiative, and would not comment further on the issue.

The state Supreme Court will hear the case during August 26 and 27.

Categories: Alaska News

Feminist Icon Gloria Steinem Visits Fairbanks

Fri, 2015-06-12 17:35

Gloria Steinem at a press conference in Fairbanks Friday.
CREDIT DAN BROSS / KUAC

Feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem speaks at the University of Alaska Fairbanks on Friday night. The human rights activist’s visit was instigated by local politics.

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University of Alaska Fairbanks Summer Session and Lifelong Learning Program Director Michelle Bartlet reached out to the Ms. Magazine founder last year after a borough assembly member unsuccessfully pushed to get the local Food Coop to stop selling the magazine because of a story in support of the right to abortion.

Bartlet says a Fairbanks organizing committee subsequently raised thirty thousand dollars from individuals, businesses and organizations to pay for the Steinem’s event, which is free to the public. Steinem spoke with reporters Friday morning. She says Alaska was the only U.S. state she’d yet to visit and that the local story about an attempt to ban Ms. got her attention.

Steinem attributes attempts to do things like ban a magazine empowering women’s reproductive rights, to a fundamental top down control model that underlies injustice and violence.

Steinem points to what she calls “supremacy crimes” like mass shootings and murder suicides as the saddest expression of the male control mindset.  

The 81 year old Steinem says she takes hope in major changes she’s seen over her decades as an activist and organizer, adding that humans have great ability to adapt.

Gloria Steinem’s only Alaska speaking engagement is tonight event at UAF, but the event will be streaming live over the web.

Categories: Alaska News

3-Man Seattle Team Wins Inaugural ‘Race To Alaska’

Fri, 2015-06-12 16:54

Team Excellent Adventure checks in from the Inside Passage during the “Race to Alaska” event. Photo by R2AK.

In the promotional video released for the first-ever Race To Alaska, a man walks past a sign in the woods saying “Welcome to Alaska.” He nails $10,000 to a tree and blows a fog horn. The premise was simple: no motors, first boat to Alaska wins.

Just before 1:00 p.m., five days and fifty-five minutes after leaving Victoria, British Columbia, the three-man crew of the Elsie Piddock sailed across the finish line.
“Cover your ears” cannon and cheering.

As Al Hughes, Graeme Esarey and Matt Steverson stepped onto Alaskan soil — in this case a wooden dock — race organizer, Jake Beattie was there to greet them with a handshake and $10,000 nailed to a piece of firewood.

Steverson says he’s not sure what will happen to the prize money.

“We didn’t do it for the money, bottom line. I don’t think we’ve talked about it.”

He says for him, it was all about adventure. The adventure included sleeping about two hours, twice a day, a constant drum of water against pontoons, and food.

“We ate a lot of fish, salmon and tuna. We did Israeli couscous, and pasta, and macaroni and cheese. Yeah, salmon macaroni and cheese was pretty good, you have to get the recipe from Matt.”
The men and the boat all are from the Ballard area of Seattle. Elsie Piddock, the winning carbo- fiber trimaran was borrowed from a friend, whose daughter named the boat after her favorite book.

“It’s an English children’s story about a young girl who skips rope and learns how to be the super duper rope skipper and eventually saves her town from the evil landlord. ”

Hughes says he is proud of the crew and of Elsie in particular, which he credited as their winning weapon.

Second prize is a set of steak knives, and has yet to be claimed. Team Por Favor is in second-place, but is still 200 miles away from the finish line in Ketchikan.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Matt Williams of Anchorage

Fri, 2015-06-12 16:22

This week, we hear from Matt Williams, who works as a special ed teacher in Anchorage most of the year. Every summer, he and his wife trade their frumpy teacher’s clothes for Grundens and head out to Bristol Bay, where they work as commercial fishermen. Williams shares some thoughts on life at fish camp on Nushagak Bay.

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Categories: Alaska News

Maritime Group Approves Aleutian Shipping ‘Buffer Zones’

Fri, 2015-06-12 16:12

The International Maritime Organization’s Marine Safety Committee is in the middle of its 95th session in London this week.  Included on the committee’s agenda is the adoption of five recommended “areas to be avoided” in the Aleutian Chain. The shipping buffer zones come in anticipation of increased mariner shipping traffic in the region.

The new zones apply to ships 400 gross tons and heavier – the kind of ships that make trans-oceanic voyages through the Bering Sea and the North Pacific.

Leslie Pearson is a project manager for the Aleutian Islands risk Assessment and a management consultant. She said the zones are meant to dampen environmental damage in the event of an accident or spill.

“Well certainly the projection of future development in Alaska and long the west coast helped as far as being a driver for these, but also past accidents,” said Pearson. “I mean we learn from history perhaps it’s better to be offshore than close into shore.”

The zones come from recommendations made by the US Coast Guard. They are based on similar “Areas To Be Avoided” established around the Northern Hawaiian Islands.

Those in the Aleutians extend 50 nautical miles from shore on islands at the tip of the Alaska Peninsula as well as Unalaska, Unimak, Adak, Atka, Kiska and Attu islands. But there are also passages outlined in-between each zone.

“One of the things that probably wasn’t taken into affect in Hawaii was when you get the winter storms, many mariners need to seek refuge in Bering straits where you have calmer weather than what you would see in the Pacific ocean and that was the reason for keeping the passage ways open so that way mariners can use them for storm avoidance,” explained PEarson.

In March, the International Maritime Organization approved the designations, but final approval falls to the IMO’s Marine Safety Committee.

“One of the things about going through the IMO process is it will actually put these ar eas to be avoided on charts – both international and domestic charts,” said Pearson.

Even though the areas will show up on maps and charts, they are only voluntary.

“Whether its voluntary or mandatory, people tend to adhere to them and insurance companies recognize these as well,” said PEarson. “So, if an operator is deviating from something that’s on the books, whether it’s recommended or mandatory, they do take notice.”

Under the IMO, the Coast Guard can still make the buffer zones mandatory. Once the IMO’s Marine Safety Committee gives their final approval, NOAA has six months to add the areas to charts.

Categories: Alaska News

Mixed Feelings On A New Company That’ll Begin Drilling in Cook Inlet

Fri, 2015-06-12 16:07

A Texas-based company will begin drilling for oil in Cook Inlet next year using extended-reach oil wells.

BlueCrest Energy plans to drill from shore about six miles north of Anchor Point. Informational meetings were held in Homer and Anchor Point this week. The participants seemed split between hope for an economic jump start and worry for the project’s safety.

BlueCrest held three meetings in the three communities closest to the proposed site, Ninilchik, Anchor Point and Homer. BlueCrest inherited the Cosmopolitan Project from a long line of predecessors. Pennzoil, Arco, Conoco Phillips, Pioneer and Buccaneer all tried to reach the reserves in question. They all failed. When Buccaneer took its shot, BlueCrest already owned a 75 percent interest in the project and they decided to buy the other 25 percent after Buccaneer fell into huge amounts of debt.

As full owner, BlueCrest plans to drill onshore wells, some as deep as 25,000 feet, straight down and two and a half miles out beneath the ocean floor to tap reserves in the cosmopolitan fields. Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) is directional drilling of very long, horizontal wells.

“We are not drilling offshore for oil. All of the oil development is from an onshore land rig.”

Larry Burgess, the Health, Safety and Environmental Manager for BlueCrest, says drilling from shore will leave very little risk of spills in the inlet.

Although onshore drilling was far more welcome than the prospect of offshore wells, Anchor Point and Homer residents still had concerns.

“[I am] Ken Lewandowski, I live in Cottonwood Subdivision which is in the backyard, the side yard of the Stariski plant that they plan on building.”

Lewandowski says there’s only one road in and out of his subdivision, where BlueCrest plans to drill.

“They literally tore up an ambulance coming down the hill in the winter time. Without having any access whatsoever to get out of our subdivision safely all year round and not having any kind of access to the facility leaves me to believe there’s a problem that’s going to happen in the future for sure.”

Lewandowski says living in that home was originally part of his retirement plan, but after learning about the Cosmopolitan Project, he’s looking for an exit strategy. He wants BlueCrest to compensate all four homeowners in the subdivision for the inconvenience.

“I spoke with this gentleman, Larry, a couple of minutes ago and he assured me that we’re going to sit down again and I’m looking forward to our next meeting.”

Other big concerns during the meeting included fire danger, spill prevention, noise, water use, and mode of transportation. Burgess was prepared with an answer for nearly every issue. But, no answer could stem worry over the risk of trucking oil. Burgess says there are only three real options to get the oil from the plant up to the Tesoro refinery in Nikiski. By truck, by ship, and by pipeline.

“If we have one barge running up and down Cook Inlet once or twice a week, that’s much less traffic with oil moving than if we’re running four or five trucks a day. On the other hand we’re looking at 400 barrels per truck as opposed to 50,000 barrels in a barge.”

BlueCrest would rather risk the 400 barrels on the road. A pipeline was the most popular option at both meetings. It’s the safest and most efficient mode of transport but it’s also expensive.

“More vehicles on the road, just by sheer probability is less safe than barging or a pipeline. That doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. It just means it’s less safe than the other options.”

BlueCrest plans to eventually produce about 17,000 barrels per day and Burgess says that’s nowhere near enough to justify a pipeline to Nikiski. Initially BlueCrest expects to have one or two trucks on the road each day. As production climbs the company plans to look at transportation alternatives.

Outside of safety concerns, the other big question on people’s minds was what benefits BlueCrest would bring to the Southern Peninsula.

Long-term Anchor Point residents Emmitt Trimble and Buzz Kyllonen were around to see the long procession of companies attempt the cosmopolitan project. Trimble says BlueCrest might be the people to get the job done.

“It’s going to be nice to see that income generated in this community when we don’t have a lot of economic growth or development here. It’s going to be nice to have somebody join the rest of us tax payers in paying those property tax bills.”

Kyllonen agrees with Trimble. But, he says they’ll keep an eye on BlueCrest.

“I think they’re on the right track and we’ll have to wait and see. But, I think they’ve done their homework and I’m optimistic.”

Burgess says BlueCrest needs feedback and he urges peninsula residents to share any comments and concerns they might have regarding this project. The company plans to start full scale construction in August.

Categories: Alaska News

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