Bethel Search and Rescue has ended its participation in the search for Nick Cooke and Jim Lee Napoka due to deteriorating weather conditions and the coming freeze up.
Bethel Search and Rescue reports more ice floating past upriver villages. Ice chunks have also seen in Bethel. With freeze up close on the horizon, Bethel Search and Rescue made the call to bring back crews before ice conditions make travel dangerous.
The search is winding down very fast, but there were new assets in use this weekend: The specially trained search dogs Maro and Ruger, plus their handlers from Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs went out Sunday. Earl Samuelson is a pilot for troopers who flew with the team to the mouth of the Kialik river. He says the dogs picked up on a couple scents during a break in the weather.
“There were some possible areas they could focus on in the water. They picked up a couple areas of interest that they could go in and drag the area. Not to say that they’re there or not, they were just of interest,” said Samuelson.
Crews from Tuntuliak will be checking out the areas of interest, but the Bethel based crews have returned to town. Bethel Search and Rescue Chief Mike Riley says there were more than 70 people on site at one point doing water and land searches, on top of extensive air surveys with two airplanes.
“They gave all their efforts in trying to find to two boys down in the Tuntutuliak area,” said Riley. “I want to extend all my thanks to ALL searchers from throughout the area: Kwethluk, Akiachak, Napakiak, Napaskiak, Tuntutuliak, Tuluksak, Eek, Kasigluk. and I’d like to say a big thank you for all efforts.”
Crews camped on site for at least 9 days and went into Tuntutuliak during the bad weather. Samuelson says completing such a thorough search requires great coordination among all parties.
“My hat goes off to all the searchers out there, people who went out on land and water and helped with the air searches. When something of this magnitude happens, it brought a lot of people together and it worked out well. We were hoping for better circumstances, but it’s the way it works out sometimes and we have no control over that,” said Samuelson.
Nick Cooke and Jim Lee Napoka were last heard from three weeks ago on October 22nd. They were headed to Tuntutuliak for a funeral and never made it.
The Alaska State Troopers were involved in two search and rescue operations in the Mat-Su Borough on Sunday.
Two hikers were rescued by the Alaska State Troopers in Hatcher Pass on Sunday night. The hikers, identified by the Anchorage Daily News as Kari Mauldin of Wasilla and Hanna Ramage of Las Vegas, were reported overdue Sunday evening.
According to the State Troopers, they had left on Saturday to spend the night in a cabin 9 miles back from the Gold Mint trail head. They intended to return on Sunday, but more than four feet of fresh snow left them stuck.
The Troopers dispatched HELO-2, which was able to locate the hikers. Troopers walked from the landing site to the hikers, and brought them back to the helicopter. Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says that the hikers had lost most of their gear in the deep snow, and had injuries consistent with exposure to the cold. She says it was very fortunate that the HELO-2 crew was able to locate them. Both hikers are listed in stable condition at Mat-Su Regional.
Also on Sunday evening, Troopers from the Talkeetna post were contacted by an Anchorage man who said that he and three others were stuck on a four-wheeler trail near Willow. The man reported that the party were cold and wet, and did not have gear to survive the night.
One State Trooper and one Wildlife Trooper reached the party, which was eight miles down the Sheep Creek Trail, but were unable to transport them out, due to poor conditions.
They contacted the Rescue Coordination Center, and a helicopter was dispatched to retrieve the stranded group and fly them to Providence Hospital in Anchorage.
The Municipality of Anchorage has a preliminary agreement with the union which negotiates for the largest number of its employees.
Mayor Dan Sullivan’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying his administration had come to an agreement with the Anchorage Municipal Employee Association on wages, health benefits, incentive programs and the term of the contract.
The Anchorage Municipal Employees Association (AMEA) is a group of more than 500 employees working for the Municipality of Anchorage. The union represents a wide variety of city jobs, including appraisers, nurses and accountants.
“Both parties are continuing to negotiate, as we speak, right now to reach a mutually acceptable agreement,” AMEA President Mark McKee said.
A statement from the Mayor’s office details what’s been agreed upon so far: wages for AMEA members will increase 1.5 percent in January 2014 and again in January 2015. The contract will last for two years.
Mayor Sullivan says his team has been negotiating under the terms of the controversial labor ordinance, also known as AO-37, which limits municipal employees pay, benefits and their right to strike among other things.
“Despite all the gloom and doom and I think overdramatized negativity about AO-37, in fact it does give us the very clear guidelines so that we can have contracts in the future that are not only good for the taxpayers but good for the employees and, again, much easier to implement, manage and to understand in the future,” Sullivan said. “And that was the intent in the first place and, so far, I think we’re achieving that goal.”
Under public pressure, the Anchorage Assembly voted to repeal the law proposed by the Sullivan administration in October, but the Mayor used his veto power to override their decision.
The Supreme Court of Alaska is set to expedite a decision on whether a referendum to repeal the law can go forward. A decision is expected by February.
The Municipality and the AMEA started negotiating in September. They’re hoping to have a new agreement by the New Year.
Gov. Sean Parnell’s cabinet continues to experience turnover.
Becky Hultberg is resigning from her post as commissioner of the Department of Administration. In a letter sent to the governor on Monday, Hultberg said she is stepping down in December to take a job with the private sector. She is expected to provide more details about the new position later this week.
Hultberg has worked under Parnell for three years. The governor’s office is now searching for a replacement.
She is the fourth commissioner in as many months to leave the Parnell administration.
The bi-partisan Indian Law and Order Commission issued a report on Tuesday saying Alaska is on the wrong track to help Alaska Natives fight crime, but the state Attorney General says the Parnell Administration is doing a good job at tackling a mammoth problem.
Bartlett Regional Hospital’s interim CEO Jeff Egbert wants to create a culture of open communication with hospital staff and stability, something the hospital hasn’t had for a while.
Jeff Egbert is the latest chief executive officer at Bartlett Regional Hospital. He’s serving in an interim capacity to get the hospital back on track.
“Moving the organization from what seems to be a loss of momentum to forward progression is what I’m focusing on,” Egbert says.
Egbert attributes the loss of momentum to the turnover within hospital leadership.
Complaints surfaced earlier this year about a hostile work environment created by the senior leadership team. At the time, the team included CEO Chris Harff and human resources director Norma Adams. The city hired a private investigator in June and launched a personnel investigation. Shortly after the investigation ended, both Harff and Adams resigned.
Sue Gardner was one of many hospital employees interviewed during the investigation.
Gardner moved to Juneau four years ago to become the director of materials management. Prior to working at Bartlett, Gardner had more than 30 years of experience in the hospital business. Gardner’s spouse, Ron Gardner, says his wife experienced bullying and intimidation by some hospital officials.
“When she moved up here, she loved it. She loved the community. She loved going to work every day. She loved her job. She loved what she does,” Gardner says. “But she got to where she couldn’t stand going to work. She’d come home crying. She was so depressed. It was hard on her health.”
Chief of nursing Billy Gardner – who is no relation to Sue or Ron Gardner – recognizes the tension at the hospital.
“I’m a part of the leadership team and sometimes these are high stress positions,” Gardner says.
He hopes Egbert’s arrival will bring more stability. Gardner says Egbert is already making strides with forward progress and building a culture of open communication. “First and foremost, he’s visible,” he says. “He’s walking around to each unit. He’s introducing himself to folks that he meets. And his communication techniques are really strong, and so you feel relaxed. You’re able to talk to him and he listens to your ideas.”
Interim CEO Egbert says that’s how he learns about the organization.
“When you’re meeting people, you visit with them. You’re able to find out what are the challenges in their department, the barriers to good workflow and patient care, and we can start working on improving those things. It’s old management adage – management by walking around,” says Egbert.
To improve communication, Egbert may reinstate an employee newsletter. He also plans to eventually hold employee meetings.
“I’ve only been here two weeks, so there’s not a lot I can tell these people,” he says. “Mostly it’s me learning from them and when I do know enough and we’re moving forward, then I’ll have employee forums, then I can share meaningful information with them.”
Despite being temporary, Egbert still wants to foster a sense of stability among the medical staff and employees. He says being visible and accessible will help accomplish that.
“Culture doesn’t happen overnight. Trust is built over time with consistency and good communication,” Egbert explains. “It’ll take a while.”
Aside from Egbert, Bartlett’s current senior leadership team includes chief financial officer Ken Brough, human resources director Mila Cosgrove, and CNO Billy Gardner.
Egbert anticipates being the hospital’s interim CEO for six to nine months.
Rosemarie Alexander helped in reporting.
Two environmental groups want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether a strain of gray wolves on Prince of Wales Island should be considered for an endangered species listing, a decision that could affect future logging.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace petitioned to list Alexander Archipelago wolves in August 2011 and on Tuesday sent federal officials a letter urging a decision.
Center spokeswoman Rebecca Noblin says endangered species law calls for a federal decision within 90 days about whether additional protections may be necessary. She says no finding has been made in two years.
Service spokeswoman Andrea Madeiros says the agency is preparing a response.
The U.S. Forest Service is reconsidering a timber sale on the island to determine if it would threaten the wolves.
Southeast Alaska and the state as a whole has seen an apparent upswing in sea otter hunting in recent years. That’s according to numbers compiled by the US Fish and Wildlife Service which says this year will yield the biggest reported harvest on record for the marine mammals, which can only be hunted by Alaska Natives from coastal communities.
We recently told you the story of an ancient, charcoal tree found beneath a pile of ash near Sitka. Scientists hoped tests would help them better understand the area’s rich volcanic history.
Young Blake LaPerriere found this tree during a family outing near a beach on Kruzof Island, west of Sitka.
The trunk and branches were charred as they were buried in hot volcanic ash and debris thousands of years ago. But they remained upright and became visible as ocean waves washed away some of the surrounding material.
Forest Service Geologist Jim Baichtal took samples and sent them off to a lab. The results came up with an approximate date: 13,180 years ago.
Baichtal says that generally corresponds to earlier tests on other ancient items found in the ash area. But those results were in question. These aren’t.
“This has low probability of any kind of contamination and it’s definitely contained in the flow. And you can see from the deposit that there were a couple different surges of that eruption. So you know this tree was living on the landscape and got encased in this very, very hot pumice ash at the time of the eruption,” he says.
The tree age provides a firm date for the explosion from Crater Ridge, a cone near Mount Edgecumbe, the region’s most visible volcano.
“There was a relatively large eruption that blanketed a good portion of Southeast Alaska with volcanic ash,” he says.
Baichtal says about 2 ½ inches covered much of Baranof Island, parts of Glacier Bay and as far east as Juneau.
So anytime it’s found, it dates what’s above or below. (Read a CoastAlaska report on more Southeast volcanos and lava flows.)
The same ash layer has also been found in Sitka Sound, a large ocean bay next to the volcanic area. That’s no surprise. But it was in layers of fresh-water sediments.
“We know that Sitka Sound itself was elevated above its present location and (was) a non-marine environment. It had a fresh-water lake in it,” Baichtal says.
In fact, it was almost 200 feet higher than it is today. Baichtal says that’s due to weight and pressure from advancing and retreating ice-age glaciers.
Tests also established the tree as a Sitka Spruce, which of course, grow in groups.
Does that mean there are more charcoal trees under the ash?
“Without a doubt. There was a forest growing there that just was rapidly buried.”
Baichtal says tests on the tree revealed nothing earth-shattering. But, like so much in science, it added information that will help the experts shape a better picture of Alaska’s past.
Jumping into the icy waters off the coast of Antarctica isn’t for everyone. But it is for open water swimmer, Lynne Cox. Cox was in Fairbanks recently to talk about her career.
Commercial fishing groups are pushing back against a proposed ballot initiative that would ban a sector of their industry. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Fish politics can be messy stuff. They’re complicated; they’re emotional, and there’s a lot of money involved. Now that a group with ties to the sportfishing lobby is trying to put the existence of the Cook Inlet setnet fishery to a vote, fish politics are being taken to their messy extreme.
When the initiative application was filed last week, commercial fishing groups were mostly quiet. Now, they’re issuing full-throated denunciations of the move to prohibit set-netting in urban areas. “Theatrics and political games” is how the United Fishermen of Alaska — or UFA — is describing it. The Alaska Salmon Alliance — another trade group — has called the initiative a “public relations scam” meant to pressure the Legislature into giving sport and personal-use fishermen more access to Kenai River king salmon.
Andy Hall directs the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, and he thinks the initiative is more about allocation of fish than conservation.
“They’re down in the Legislature trying to get somebody kicked of the Board of Fish, or eavesdropping on the UFA annual meeting, or, you know, kicking off some initiative to put a bunch of people out of business. That’s not conservation,” says Hall. “Maybe they’re conserving an opportunity for themselves to partake of, but, boy, I don’t see any king salmon conservation.”
Conservation groups also question the motives of the initiative sponsors. Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson says the group behind the initiative hasn’t reached out to him, and that they would be focusing more on habitat measures if they were concerned about improving the fishery. Shavelson also worries about having fisheries management decided by a public vote instead of going through the established process.
“I think it’s a horrible precedent,” says Shavelson. “I think it’s people who have money and political influence trying to drive their agenda in a way that is totally outside the science basis where we should be making decisions.
Sponsors of the initiative have used their own searing rhetoric to describe their goals. Joe Connors, who is heading up the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance has described set-netters as creating a “wall of death” that is crippling the king salmon stock. This past year, commercial fishermen took 1,800 kings bound for the Kenai River. Sportfishermen took about 1,600, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance turned in their ballot application to the Division of Elections last week. If their application is approved, they would have to go through a long signature campaign before earning a spot on the 2016 primary ballot.
KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran contributed reporting to this story.
The power has been out in parts Downtown Anchorage much of the day.
Melissa Wolf, a spokesperson for Municipal Light and Power, says the outage started around three in the morning and crews have been working all day to fix it, but they haven’t pinpointed the cause.
“Some people did receive power and then it went out and it’s because of the trouble shooting that we’re doing to find the cause. One of the problems was a transformer needed to be replaced on top of the JCPenny’s Garage. And it wasn’t the cause but we did need to fix that to go forward with the repairs. And right now we don’t have and estimate on when the power will be restored,” Wolf said.
The outage is affecting ML&P customers between A and F Streets and 5th and 8th Avenues. It’s impacting commercial and residential customers.
Wolf says there is concern about the power being out much longer because temperatures are so cold.
The Anchorage Police Department has been notified as well as the Anchorage Fire Department. Though Wolf says many of the commercial buildings do have generators.
Temperatures are expected to be between 10 and 15 degrees overnight.
Wolf says customers without power, who have not reported it, should call ML&P.
Updates will be posted on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Gov. Sean Parnell has ordered state flags lowered to half-staff Thursday in honor of the late former state legislator Elton Engstrom, Jr.
Engstrom died last week at the age of 78. Funeral services are planned for Thursday in Juneau.
Engstrom served one term in each the House and Senate, beginning in 1965.
He was the son of former legislators, according to a statement from his daughter, current state Rep. Cathy Munoz, and during his life, worked as a lawyer, fish buyer and property manager. He also co-wrote a book.
Flags are to be raised to full-staff at sunset Thursday.
Gov. Sean Parnell is losing another commissioner.
Becky Hultberg told Parnell, in a letter dated Monday, that she plans to resign as the commissioner of Administration, effective Dec. 11, for a position in the private sector.
Hultberg is the fourth commissioner in recent months to step down.
Bryan Butcher resigned as Revenue commissioner in August to join the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. Dan Sullivan left his post at the Department of Natural Resources in September to run for U.S. Senate and Joe Masters resigned as Public Safety commissioner last month after five years in that role with plans to return to the private sector.
Hultberg has served as Administration commissioner for three years. An acting commissioner has not yet been named.
A storm that brought high winds, high water and high surf caused flooding to communities along the coast of Western Alaska this weekend. At least two communities have made disaster declarations.
Alaska’s Filipino community is pulling together to help the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the country early Friday morning.
After months of negotiations, KTUU-TV and GCI were unable to reach an agreement by their midnight deadline on Friday to keep KTUU’s programming available on cable in the more rural-areas of the state.
KTUU spokesperson Brad Hillwig says the two parties came close on financial terms, but it was primarily non-monetary terms that kept an agreement from being reached.
“They dealt with issue such as exclusivity of NBC in non-Anchorage, or rural, areas. GCI sought assurances that KTUU would not challenge any attempts on their part to put another NBC signal in rural Alaska,” Hillwig said.
Hillwig says another sticking point included a potential tiering system in the future that might allow cable companies to make subscribers buy access to local channels.
GCI Vice President David Morris says another road block involved KTUU’s desire for additional channel capacity. But, he says negotiations between the two parties are not over forever.
“This is just one part of a very complex contractual arrangement between Schurz Communication and GCI,” Morris said. “Negotiations will continue and we remain open that if Channel 2 comes back with a serious offer, we can come to some type of agreement about rural Alaska.”
Alaska Rural Communications Services – or ARCS – will still carry some KTUU programming, including news and late-night programs like Saturday Night Live.
In place of KTUU on GCI, most affected viewers will now see the Starz Kids and Family network. Those in Kuparuk and the North Slope will see WGN, a CW affiliate based in Chicago.
The administrative fee for vaccines through the state’s public health system is being waived in an effort to get more low income people protected from flu this season.
Rhonda Richmeier, the chief of Public Health Nursing for the state, says the free vaccines are being offered because there are already been a number of hospitalizations from flu this year.
“We’re concerned, we don’t know for sure yet, but we are concerned that this may be an earlier and more severe flu season and because of that, we really want to make sure we’re making it as easy as possible for all Alaskans to get their flu vaccine,” she said.
Richmeier says the free vaccines will be available at any public health center around the state to anyone eligible for state purchased vaccine. That’s anyone under the age of three.
“For anyone age three and older, we can only vaccinate people at our state Public Health centers if they do not have health insurance or they have a health insurance that doesn’t cover vaccines or they are uninsured, underinsured,” Richmeier said.
The free vaccines will be offered until the end of December. It takes 10 days after the shot to get full protection from the flu.
A big blue fire truck is on its way from Unalaska to the Pribilof island of St. George. The truck has been ready to go for almost a year, but until now, the two communities had no way to move it.
They found their solution in a crab boat.
The truck is being lifted off the Trident Seafoods dock by a crane and lowered onto the deck of the Farwest Leader. This fishing boat just offloaded their last haul of king crab. And now:
Kyle Craig: “We’re putting a firetruck on a boat. On a 109-foot crab boat.”
St. George has been trying to get the aging fire truck, known as Big Blue, to their island since May 2012. That’s when they bought Big Blue from the Sitka Fire Department for a dollar. They’d been without a working fire truck for 2 years.
St. George’s mayor, Pat Pletnikoff, says they tried every option they could find. Big Blue was too big to travel on any ferry, so the town arranged to have it flown out by the Air National Guard during a training exercise. But the exercise was canceled.
In the meantime, Pletnikoff says the need for a new fire truck became clearer than ever:
Pletnikoff: “Our carpenter shop that was owned by our village corporation burned down. Ironically, that’s probably, eh, 2, 300 feet from our public safety building on St. George, and had we had a fire truck that we could connect and get water to it, we might have been able to do something about the fire.”
Almost a year ago, the state paid for a barge to move the fire truck. It was too big to fit in St. George’s harbor, so instead, they dropped the truck off in Unalaska.
Pletnikoff: “And since that time, of course, we’ve tried everything that we could to find a way to get it to St. George.”
In the end, Trident Seafoods donated the use of the vessels the town needed for the final push — a freighter with a crane that can handle a 10-ton fire truck, and a crab boat that can safely navigate St. George’s shallow harbor.
Once the crew of the Farwest Leader chained the truck down on their deck, they got some basic instructions to pass along to St. George.
Senior Fire Captain Zac Schasteen has been taking care of the truck recently, and he tells deckhand Kyle Craig how to turn it on:
Schasteen: “I don’t know how familiar they are with the engine.”
Schasteen: “But just remember — turn that on, turn them both on…”
[sound of switches being flipped and truck ignition]
Craig: “Oh yeah.”
They run through all the horns and switches, plus the most important piece of equipment:
Schasteen: “You’ve got a siren, just turn that all the way up.”[sound of siren]
The fire truck is on its way to St. George. But even now, there are still a few kinks in the plan.
There wasn’t a crane in St. George to get the truck back off the crab boat until last month. Mayor Pletnikoff says one was just shipped in for another project.
Pletnikoff: “So we have the equipment. But the individual that was operating the equipment injured himself and had to go back to Anchorage. So that left us with someone who’s operating the crane but doesn’t have the kind of experience that I am totally, totally comfortable with — but can do the job.”
Another option would be to send the Farwest Leader over to St. Paul first, to pick up a trained crane operator. Either way, Pletnikoff says they’ll find a way to get the truck off the boat.
Pletnikoff: “I like to look at all the options and look at all the possibilities, so if I can do something that’s gonna be a little more convenient for the overall project, I’m gonna do that.”
And once it’s done, he says the town is going to welcome their truck in style. They’re planning a parade in its honor, and he says they’re going to paint the town’s name and official emblem — a fur seal — on Big Blue’s side.
Over the weekend, Alaskans had their last chance to say goodbye to the state’s Olympians – and prospective Olympians – before they start their seasons…and eventually head to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Olympic Games.
A light layer of snow covered the ground – fitting for the occasion – as Alaska’s Olympians and Olympic hopefuls strolled into Anchorage’s town square to the cheers of supporters gathered to give the athletes an enthusiastic send-off.
Nordic skier Holly Brooks, who competed in the 2010 Games in Vancouver, says despite Alaska being so large and its population so spread out, it still manages to remain a very close-knit community.
“Alaskans really get behind their Olympians and their athletes, and we really feel a lot of support from the community,” Brooks said. “So, it’s pretty special.”
Kikkan Randall, who will be competing in her fourth Olympic Games, says events where community members get a chance to chat with their Olympians are important because, when she was younger, those events inspired her Olympic dreams.
“I mean, I remember when Tommy Moe won the gold medal in Lilyhammer and came back and signed posters at the Alaska Club,” Randall said. “I remember when Nina Kemppel signed a poster for me when I was 10-years-old at the Gold Nugget Triathlon.”
Since then, Randall has become a source of inspiration for Alaska’s next generation of Olympians. Along the way, she’s earned the support of the community and she says that means a lot.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that so many people in this community have helped me get to where I am today,” Randall said. “So, to really just be able to celebrate that one more time and capture all this great energy so that we can take it with us on the road.”
Both Brooks and Randall leave later this week for Europe and the World Cup circuit, which starts in about two weeks. Randall says it will be an extremely hectic schedule from now through the end of the Olympics.
“We race the World Cup up until four days before the opening ceremonies,” Randall said. “So, we literally go to Munich, pack away our U.S. Ski Team stuff, grab our Olympic stuff and head over to Sochi, and then we just hit the ground running once we’re there.”
The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia start on February 7-23.