Alaska News

NOAA Considers State’s Petition To Delist Humpback

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:49

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will look into whether to take the Central North Pacific humpback whale off the Endangered Species list.

The State of Alaska submitted a petition to remove the whale from the list at the end of February. NOAA announced today it has enough information to warrant further research. This is the second petition NOAA has received to take endangered protections away from the humpback whale.

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Categories: Alaska News

Pavlof Volcano Downgraded To Lowest Alert Level

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:48

Pavlof Volcano’s latest eruption appears to be subsiding.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has downgraded Pavlof to the lowest alert level. Volcanologist Tina Neal says the volcano isn’t producing new lava flows and it hasn’t released much ash since early this month.

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Lava fountains out of Pavlof Volcano, as seen from Cold Bay
early June 3. (Photo courtesy Robert Stacy)

“Based on that, and the fact that we’re not seeing ongoing strong seismicity, we think the eruption is over,” Neal said. “One thing we do caution, though, is that Pavlof is the type of volcano that sometimes goes through periods of pause in a longer eruptive interval. So we wouldn’t be too surprised if it turned back on sometime soon.”

Neal says that could happen without much advance notice.

“The system is very hot and open,” Neal said. “It’s been erupting now, on and off, for a couple of years. So we would not expect necessarily to see a lot of earthquakes giving us warning.”

Right now, Pavlof is still restless. Neal says it’s undergoing small earthquakes and letting off steam and puffs of ash as it cools down. She says the AVO will be on the lookout for a temperature spike, which could foretell another eruption.

The AVO has five volcanoes on alert in the Aleutians right now. Neal says none of them were affected by the major undersea earthquake that happened Monday near Adak.

Categories: Alaska News

Questions Remain Despite Successful Missile Defense Test

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:47

A physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists is calling the Ground Based Midcourse Missile Defense System, less than proven, despite Sunday’s successful test over the Pacific Ocean.

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The Missile Defense Agency will be placing 14 more interceptors like this at the Fort Greely missile base by 2017. The will bring the total number of interceptors at the base to 40. Photo from the Missile Defense Agency.

The Ground Based Midcourse Missile Defense System test employed a second generation kill vehicle that had missed its target in two previous tests in 2010. Dr. Laura Grego, who covers defense issues for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says Sunday’s intercept of a dummy enemy missile should be looked at in context.

“You know, I think a lot of people put a lot of work into making this test happen, and they should feel great that it was a success, but it actually doesn’t tell you a whole lot about how capable the system is. And one reason for that is it hasn’t been tested very frequently,” Grego said. “Right now we know it’s one for three, which isn’t great for something that you’d want to count on to defend against nuclear weapons and something that has to work the first time.”

Alaska’s Ft. Greely is the primary staging site for the Ground Based Midcourse Interceptor system. The 26 missiles housed there include a mix of first and second generation kill vehicle technology, that Grego says together have a less than 50 percent success rate in tests, a track record she considers only part of the story.

“Both versions have had upgrades and patches. According to an LA Times investigation, almost all of the interceptors have differences from each other. It’s not clear that knowing that one works will tell you much about how well another one works,” she said.

Grego blames the ground based missile defense system’s less than stellar performance on its rushed deployment, dating back to the Bush Administration.
“That’s why we instituted fly before you buy. This was an experiment in getting rid of fly before you buy and this is the result: not very good,” Grego said.
The Missile Defense Agency had no one to available to answer questions this week, but a spokesman for Ground Based Midcourse Defense contractor Boeing, Terrence Williams says the company is confident in the technology.

“The significance of this test is that it is the first intercept using an enhanced version of the EKV, also called the Exo Atmospheric Kill Vehicle, and we remain confident in the system’s ability to defeat adversaries both now and in the future,” he said.

Williams could not comment on whether or not all system missiles will be upgraded with the latest kill vehicle. The Obama Administration said in March that it would not move forward with the addition of 14 new interceptors at Ft. Greely unless Sunday’s test was successful. There’s been no word since the test on the over $1 billion interceptor build up and other planned system upgrades, but members of Alaska‘s Congressional Delegation heralded the success.

Categories: Alaska News

National Parks Prohibiting UAVs

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:46

A new National Park Service policy prohibits the use of unmanned aircraft. It’s intended to give the agency time to assess the risks and benefits of allowing UAV’s in Parks.

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On June 20th, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis issued a memorandum directing park superintendents to ban the use of unmanned aircraft in national parks. A spokesman for the parks service, Jeffrey Olson, says the unmanned aerial vehicles being used in national parks are primarily owned by hobbyists for recreation.

Quadcopters similar to this one were the most common type of UAV used in national parks.
(Credit Greg Walker / University of Alaska Fairbanks)

“They usually have a video camera that is carried aloft and they shoot video and stills and a lot of times they go home and they make a little video out of it and put a music soundtrack on it and share it with friends or even put it on YouTube,” Olson said.

Denali National Park spokeswoman Kris Fister says a recent post on YouTube shows some of the problems that arise with UAVs in national parks.

“They were in the Savage River parking lot and they flew up and provided an overview of the area and then at one point the aircraft zoomed down, flew right over the nest enclosure that we have for the mew gulls that nest on the gravel bar and flew under the Savage River bridge,” Fister said. “So that’s an instance where certainly there was high potential for wildlife disturbance and potentially disturbance to visitors who are also utilizing that parking lot.”

Parks spokeswoman for the state, Morgan Warthin, says Alaska has limited experience with UAVs, but there is concern about the effects they could have on the park’s environment.

“Our primary goal is always to ensure that we can protect park resources and ensure visitor safety while providing all visitors with a rich experience, and at this point we have some serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, in particular in the lower 48,” she said.

Jeffrey Olson agrees. He says increasing availability and affordability of the technology led the parks service to reevaluate their policy. He calls the new policy a “timeout” that gives the Parks Service time to research the effects of UAVs and develop nationwide regulations.

“We don’t have all the answers, and that’s why this is temporary. We like to have people in National parks and we like to have people enjoying themselves in national parks and if there are places where this is going to be an appropriate activity we want to find that out,” Olson said.

The maximum penalty for violating the policy will be six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. The policy won’t go into effect for 60 days. Research and development of nationwide regulation could take 18 months or more.

Categories: Alaska News

STD infections rise in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:45

The state’s Department of Health is reporting an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in Alaska. In 2013, Gonorrhea and syphilis infections were up more than 50 percent from 2012. Alaska was ranked first in the nation for Chlamydia infections in 2013. And in just the first five months of this year, 23 new cases of HIV have been diagnosed and reported. That’s one less than last year’s total.

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Susan Jones with the state’s Section of Epidemiology says it’s hard to know exactly why more cases of gonorrhea and Chlamydia are being reported. With thousands of people testing positive, they can’t ask everyone about their sexual behaviors.

“Could it be that individuals are seeking service and getting detected earlier? That could be part of it,” Jones says. “Could it be that providers are aware that they should screen for gonorrhea and they are doing more screening? That could be part of it.”

But Jones says they do ask people who test positive for syphilis and HIV about their risk factors. She says some of the increase is due to people meeting their sexual partners online or through phone apps.

“If you’re a person practicing these high risk behaviors, of having sex with people that you don’t know, be careful.”

Jones says one of the key ways to stop the spread of STDs is for infected people to inform their partners and help them get treated. She says the state can help track them down.

“You know back in the day, it used to be phone calls and knocking on the door. Today it’s phone apps and social media.”

The state offers free treatment for people who are infected, though funding for that program runs out at the end of this month.

Categories: Alaska News

State Scores Well On Long-Term Care Report Card

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:44

Alaska ranked 5th in the nation in a recent state scorecard on long-term services for older adults, the disabled, and family caregivers. However, local experts say gaps in the system can cause big problems.

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Categories: Alaska News

Salmon Signs Appear And Disappear In Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:43

Salmon signs began appearing along Bethel roadsides in June. (Photo By Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

Brightly colored wooden fish signs have been posted along Bethel roads this summer. The signs, with conservation messages, come in a year of king salmon closures never seen before on the Kuskokwim River. But just as quickly as the signs went up, they’ve been disappearing.

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Reyne Athanas’ white Subaru is loaded full of colorful salmon-shaped signs as she heads towards Bethel’s boat harbor. Kids painted one side during a recent Saturday market. On the back are messages that she hopes will build awareness about conserving Kuskowkwim King salmon.

“Well, we’re at Watson’s corner and we’re heading toward the boat harbor and we’re passing some fish right now that say, ‘save today, more tomorrow’. Just meaning that if you conserve a little bit now and let there be some escapement, eat some of the other fish that we have like whitefish that are in the river we’ll have more fish in the future for my grandson.

As we pull up to the boat harbor, Athanas’s grandson, Landon, and her son, Ryan Burke jump out to help her put up the signs.

After 2013 showed the weakest King salmon run on record, and not having made escapement in two of the past four years, managers of the Kuskokwim River fishery are not allowing directed king salmon fishing. They’ve been trying to get enough Kings to spawning grounds before opening the fishery to nets targeting salmon. Many in Bethel, like Athanas, and her son support the conservation measures.

Burke says the message of the guerilla public art project is important.

“I’m helping my mom out as a volunteer to put up these signs to let people know we should conserve our fish for future generations cause I think if we overfish em and they’re all gone and they won’t come back there’s not gonna be any more fish for people, especially Kings. From what I’ve been told we’re running low on Kings and we’ve got to conserve them or they’re gonna be gone forever.”

The mother-son-grandson team nail the wooden fish onto small posts and pound them into the sandy bank, placing rocks at the base of the signs to keep them from blowing over. When they’re done, the four signs they’ve pounded in read: “Let’s Save Kusko Kings.”

Just then a truck pulls up from Bethel’s Tribe, ONC.

“My name is Roberta Chavez and I’m the partners fisheries biologist for ONC. We were just talking about who was putting up these fish signs cause ONC is really supporting the conservation measures of the Chinook Salmon so we’re happy that these fish signs are going up.”

But not everybody likes the signs.

Critics of the closures say that Alaska Natives subsistence fishers who depend most on the fish are unfairly burdened with the brunt of conservation measures and believe that managers should do more to crack down on commercial bycatch. During a recent tribal fish forum of the Yupiit Nation, a consortium of federally recognized tribes pushing for more tribal sovereignty, Ed Johnstone, a leader with Quinalt Indian Tribe and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission said the signs are divisive.

“I see the signs out her that are along the road that say, you know, that King salmon are important and let ‘em grow. I’m gonna say that’s not really a good thing. It pits people against each other. It starts the talk about, ‘oh well, if you just don’t catch any King salmon then things are gonna be good. That’s not true. We don’t know what the problem is, as I hear it. We don’t know whether it’s the upriver habitat and the spawning grounds or the marine survival rate in the ocean.”

Whether it’s people who agree with Johnstone or simply vandals, many of the signs have gone missing in the past couple of weeks. Some have been strategically removed to reverse the message — like one along the highway that used to read ‘Eat More Chicken’ and then read ‘Eat More’. Another said Extinction Is Forever’, but the only remaining sign now says just ‘Forever’. And the ones that Athanis put up with her son and grandson near the boat harbor went down four or five days after they put them up.

Athanis says she’s done putting signs along the roads and instead plans to make them into a more permanent art installation in a more protected location.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 25, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 16:34

Individual news 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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City of Bethel Investigation Reveals Improper Contracts and Perks

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel City Council has released a redacted version of its investigation into city contracts, nepotism, and personnel issues.  The investigation led to the firing of Bethel’s city manager in May.

NOAA Considers State’s Petition To Delist Humpback

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will look into whether to take the Central North Pacific humpback whale off the Endangered Species list.

The State of Alaska submitted a petition to remove the whale from the list at the end of February. NOAA announced today it has enough information to warrant further research. This is the second petition NOAA has received to take endangered protections away from the humpback whale.

Pavlof Volcano Downgraded To Lowest Alert Level

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has downgraded Pavlof to the lowest alert level. Volcanologist Tina Neal says the volcano isn’t producing new lava flows. And it hasn’t released much ash since early this month.

Questions Remain Despite Successful Missile Defense Test

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists is calling the Ground Based Midcourse Missile Defense System, less than proven, despite Sunday’s successful test over the Pacific Ocean.

National Parks Prohibiting UAVs

Aaron Berner, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new National Park Service policy prohibits the use of unmanned aircraft. It’s intended to give the agency time to assess the risks and benefits of allowing UAV’s in Parks.

Alaska’s STD Rates Increase

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The state’s Department of Health is reporting an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in Alaska. In 2013, Gonorrhea and syphilis infections were up more than 50 percent from 2012. Alaska was ranked first in the nation for Chlamydia infections in 2013. And in just the first five months of this year, 23 new cases of HIV have been diagnosed and reported. That’s one less than last year’s total.

State Scores Well On Long-Term Care Report Card

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Alaska ranked 5th in the nation in a recent state scorecard on long-term services for older adults, the disabled, and family caregivers. However, local experts say gaps in the system can cause big problems.

Salmon Signs Appear And Disappear In Bethel

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Brightly colored wooden fish signs have been posted along Bethel roads this summer. The signs, with conservation messages, come in a year of king salmon closures never seen before on the Kuskokwim River. But just as quickly as the signs went up, they’ve been disappearing.

Categories: Alaska News

Clean-Up Continues for Norton Sound Hospital Fuel Spill

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 12:10

Clean-up efforts continue beneath Norton Sound Regional Hospital after a spill of hundreds of gallons of heating fuel.

Tom DeRuyter is the State On-Scene Coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. In a status update Tuesday, he said, “They’re removing the contaminated soil as much as possible right now. But it is right next to the building and next to the pilings, so we do not want to destabilize the structural supports on the building.”

(Photo via KNOM)

A report from the DEC says 600 cubic feet of soil has been removed so far.

Last week, anywhere from 800 to 1,200 gallons of fuel leaked from the hospital tank farm after a fill valve failed, causing a fuel tank to overflow. The hospital estimates the spill covers 2,500 square feet of land.

“When the discovered the overfill, they shut off the power,” DeRuyter said, “and that effectively controlled the source and stopped the release.”

The Norton Sound Hospital did not respond to requests for comment. But a report from the DEC says those inside the hospital could smell a “diesel odor” during the spill. As of Monday, “indoor air monitoring [has shown] no evidence of diesel vapors inside the” building.

“Fortunately,” DeRuyter said, “the hospital is built on pilings, so there’s plenty of air movement underneath the building, and that mitigates the problems that can be associated with indoor air quality.”

Hospital staff laid absorbent pads and boom to soak up pooled fuel following the spill. The DEC report says, whether or not groundwater has been contaminated is unknown, and there have been not reports of wildlife being affected by the spill.

Air monitoring and excavation of the site is ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

Community Leaders Flying to Kotzebue for Meeting on Ambler Road

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 10:41

AIDEA is holding a large community meeting, it’s 30th in the outreach process ahead of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement. Earlier this month there was a tri-village meeting in Kobuk. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KNOM News)

Starting Wednesday, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority—or AIDEA—is holding two days of meetings in Kotzebue about a proposed 200-mile road through the interior to the Ambler Mining District.

“We’re pulling together community leadership from the stakeholders in the proposed corridor, as part of our community outreach. And we’ve had a lot of interest and are expecting really good participation,” said Karsten Rodvik, AIDEA’s head of external affairs. The agency is flying in representatives from almost all the communities along the road’s potential route from the Dalton Highway, through the Interior, and to the Kobuk Valley—all as AIDEA moves forward the Environmental Impact Statement for the road.

But PJ Simon, second chief for the community of Allekaket, says leadership there isn’t sending anyone, out of protest. When AIDEA held it’s first and only meeting in Allakaket last year, Simon remembers leaders felt the agency and other representatives did not adequately listen to local feelings about the road.

“You guys say you…are here to hear our concerns, but yet none of you even have notepads out,” Simon recalls, “and it doesn’t seem like you guys are going to listen to us.”

Local leadership in the Koyukuk region opposes the road—and has issued resolutions saying so—and that’s why Simon thinks AIDEA’s holding the meeting in Kotzebue, which isn’t along the road’s propose route.

“They never go to Allakaket because they know we have a firm stance against the road. So we feel that we’re not getting heard. And having a meeting in Kotzebue, of all places—nothing wrong with that—but it’s away from the road. It’s not ground zero. You won’t be able to see what is affected,” he added.

Rodvik disagrees. He says Kotzebue has the facilities to hold a gathering of this size. Those facilities include conference rooms at the Nullagvik Hotel, which will also lodge many of the representatives coming to the meeting. The hotel is owned by the NANA Development Corporation; NANA, for its part, says it supports AIDEA’s environmental review of the potential road but hasn’t made a decision on the road itself.

Rodvik explained that AIDEA has worked hard to connect with communities as the process has advanced.

“This meeting is consistent with our community outreach,” he said. “We’ve had numerous meetings in communities and have publicized those meetings in the community. And through local tribal and city councils. So, we feel that we are reaching out.”

Despite that outreach, few details about this week’s meetings were publicly available ahead of time. AIDEA has a websitedevoted to the Ambler Road, but nothing about the meeting or it’s agenda are posted there.

Rodvik says the intention is not to shut anyone out, but to make sure the conversation takes place between what he calls the most “immediate stakeholders.”

“Well there’ll be representatives from NANA and Doyan Regional Corporations, Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, National Park Service, and others. Again this is a meeting involving stakeholders—theimmediate stakeholders I should say—in the proposed corridor.”

But the definition of a stakeholder isn’t so clear: while nine communities lie along the road’s proposed path, there are also business owners, wilderness advocates, and subsistence users claiming they’ll be impacted by any industrial road through the region.

Wednesday’s meetings in Kotzebue starts at noon and last through Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Hatchery Chum Salmon Forecast Close To 2013 Levels

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 10:40

Salmon jumping out of the water at Amalga Harbor during last year’s opening. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The first returns of hatchery chum salmon are showing up in fishing nets in Southeast Alaska this month. Summer chums play an important part in the early season for net fishing fleets and the troll fleet as well. Hatchery officials are forecasting runs close to last year’s.

A little lost in last year’s record setting pink salmon haul in Southeast was a strong catch for chum salmon. Last year seiners, gillnetters and trollers brought in 12.5 million dogs in the region. The bulk of those fish start their lives in hatcheries around the Panhandle and most return earlier in the summer than pinks. Fishery managers expect nearly as many chums this year but nowhere near last year’s record setting pink catch.

Juneau-based Douglas Island Pink and Chum expected a good year last year with a forecast of 2.7 million chums – but the actual returns were DIPAC’s biggest ever at nearly five million. Whether or not 2014 lives up to that standard, DIPAC executive director Eric Prestegard expects a strong run.

“Well the forecast is up from last year’s forecast. But last year came in well above forecast, so it’s below what returned last year but what we would call a very good forecast about 3.3 million.”

A big portion of DIPAC’s returns are expected back to release sites in Lynn Canal. And Prestegard thinks there are some good early signs for this year’s chums.

“The first gillnet opening certainly it looked pretty good from our eyes. That was about twice what we kinda would have forecasted to have happened. Again that’s just sort of built on some averages and what not so it’s not great data but it’s reasonable. So we thought that was good.”

On the flip side, Prestegard says trollers targeting chum along the Home Shore area of Icy Strait are not having the big season they had last year. Nevertheless, he says it’s the time of year to wait and see what comes back.

“Now’s when you sort of chew on your fingernails and wait for the days they fish and look at that data. You know we did take some samples from the first opener there in Lynn Canal. They were big beautiful fish, 10.9 pound average, which is very large for us and mostly five year olds. So that’s a good sign.”

Trolling has been open for spring fisheries in May and June, while gillnetters and seiners had their first openings in mid June.

Closer to Sitka, one point one million chum are forecast to return to Hidden Falls and Medvejie Deep Inlet. Those are two sites operated by the Sitka-based Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, or NSRAA.

Last year Hidden Falls saw a run of 1.3 million. Medvejie Deep Inlet doubled last year’s forecast with a return of 2.2 million. NSRAA general manager

Steve Reifenstuhl says he’d be happy with three percent survival rate for the chum released each year.

“And that would put the Medvejie run around 1.5 to 1.8 million annually and Hidden Falls, closer to, with three percent marine survival closer to two million annually. You know we’d love to see bigger than that but that’s what my hope is.”

Fishing started slow for seiners catching chum returning to both sites but Reifenstuhl was hopeful catches would be increasing. And Like Prestegard, Reifenstuhl says the fish so far this year are large.

“At this point all the data says the fish are big, over 10 pound average, which is fairly unusual and suggests they’re five year old fish. The bulk of the fish are typically four year old fish.”

Further to the south, the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association forecasts three point two million chums back at four different release sites around Ketchikan and Wrangell.

The largest return anticipated is 1.8 million at Neets Bay off of Behm Canal north of Ketchikan. Last year that run saw a return of just under a million fish.

The Ketchikan-based association’s Susan Doherty says they’re forecasting an average survival rate for summer run chum at four different release sites. If the forecast holds up it would beat last year’s summer chum total of just over two million. Other SSRAA fish return to Kendrick Bay on southern Prince of Wales Island, Anita Bay close to Wrangell and Nakat Inlet south of Ketchikan. Those returns typically start showing up a little later in the summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Hatchery in Kake closing June 30th

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-06-25 10:33

(Photo from Gunnuk Creek Hatchery website)

A hatchery in the Southeast community of Kake is closing its doors this month and has released its final chum, pink and coho salmon. There’s still some hope that a larger regional hatchery organization can figure out a way to restart the salmon enhancement program there.

The Gunnuk Creek hatchery started in 1973 as a Kake High School project. Community members formed a non-profit and incorporated in 1976. General manager John Oliva says they’re boarding up the hatchery this month and will close the doors June 30. He said the Kake Non-profit Fisheries Corporation did not have enough money to keep operating.

“The corporation owes like $22 million to the state,” Oliva said. “About half of that, maybe a little more than half of that is actually deferred interest, going back to 1981.”

Oliva noted the state could not provide additional funding and the non-profit was forced to close.

“The corporation’s shut the doors voluntarily signed over all the assets to the state. So as of right now, we’re boarding up everything,” Oliva said. ”The state’s sold off a good portion of the equipment, incubators, net pens, net pen complexes, anchor systems, forklifts, trucks, stuff like that to NSRAA.”

NSRAA is the Sitka-based Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. That regional non-profit was already partnering with Gunnuk Creek on a chum project off of nearby Kuiu Island. Now NSRAA is considering whether it should operate the Kake hatchery after Gunnuk Creek closes its doors.

NSRAA general manager Steve Reifenstuhl said they’re evaluating whether it pencils out to install new equipment to re-circulate and regulate the water in Gunnuk Creek.

“So that we can number one clean up the water quality and then deal with the extremely cold temperatures in winter and the extremely high temperatures in summer,” Reifenstuhl said. ”And by reducing the amount of water we need and recirculating it, we think that we can do a much better job at raising high quality eggs and fry.”

Gunnuk Creek has been logged and has increased sediment and greater temperature fluctuations. Reifenstuhl said the high cost of energy in Kake also will enter into the decision. They’re looking into a small hydro electric turbine to generate the needed electricity. They also have to consider the impact to NSRAA’s facility at Hidden Falls hatchery on Baranof Island where chum are raised. Reifenstuhl said it’s difficult to put additional pressure on the production at Hidden Falls.

“It’s difficult for staff to manage another 55-60 thousand broodstock fish. It’s tough on the seiners to pull all those fish out of their fishery. And the facility wasn’t built for anywhere near that much,” Reifenstuhl said. ”We can do it. But it would be better if we could do it in Gunnuk Creek.”

Ultimately it’s a decision for the NSRAA’s board of directors, based on information from engineers and staff. Meanwhile, that regional non-profit is going forward with new chum production nearby Kake at Southeast Cove. That program will mean 35 million chum released there next year, and 55 million the following year.

Staff at Gunnuk Creek released their final chum, pinks and coho in late May and early June. Gunnuk Creek’s Oliva thinks some of the salmon could continue to spawn after the hatchery shuts down.

“I think there’s a good chance the pinks and the coho will,” Oliva said. “The pinks and the coho came from this creek. The coho definitely are a native Gunnuk creek stock. And the pinks, the hatchery back in the 90s was doing pinks and they stopped and the pinks continued to come so they may come back still. The chums on the other hand may be a different story.”

“You know we put our weirs down and removed all our barriers so the fish can go upstream but there’s going to be limited spawning habitat up there for ‘em. So we still might get some chums to come back but I don’t think there’ll be any great numbers.”

The hatchery was impacted when the Gunnuk Creek dam broke in 2000, leaving the community without a water supply for several days. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rebuilt the dam but Oliva said that too caused problems.

“Basically had a full building full of alevins and they killed them all off with the construction,” Oliva said. ”xLost all of our water and stuff when they were doing the construction. So we actually had to start rebuilding again and it was just a battle. You know this last year we’re finally seeing some good returns come back but it was a day late and a dollar short basically.”

Oliva says Gunnuk Creek has four full time employees and 10-12 season workers, mostly local kids who help with the egg takes each year. The fish returning to the area are caught by Southeast’s fishing fleets. The bears that congregate on the creek each year, drawn by the returning chums, have also been an attraction for smaller cruise ships.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Assembly approves new fire station, delays other decisions and discussions

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-24 21:38

The Anchorage Assembly approved the purchase of land to relocate Fire Station #3 at last night’s meeting. But they postponed most of the other major decisions and discussions, including the public hearing on the city’s labor laws.

Fire Station 3 is currently located near Merrill Field in Airport Heights. It’s in need of major repairs. Municipal staff says moving it to Bragaw between 4th and 6th Avenues will be cheaper than fixing the old building and make it easier for firefighters to reach both Mountain View and Airport Heights.

But Assembly Member Pete Petersen expressed some concerns over the new location. “I do think it’s important if they could figure out some way to route either the entrance or the exit off of Bragaw because of traffic congestion. Also if school happened to be getting off at the same time as there was a call, it could create a dangerous situation for pedestrians.”

The new 3-bay fire station will be next to the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School.

Despite those concerns, the Assembly unanimously approved the $1 million land purchase for the station during Tuesday’s meeting. They also passed the amended Anchorage School District budget, which the School Board approved it back in May.

The Assembly planned to hold a public hearing on AO-37 and Assembly Member Jennifer Johnston’s newer version of the labor law. But it was put off until the July 22 meeting to allow for more discussions. A repeal of the controversial law could still be included in the November ballot.

The Assembly also delayed making a decision on the Anchorage Wetlands Management plan. It will be discussed again on July 8. About ten people spoke against the plan’s new language.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: June 24, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-24 17:36

Individual news 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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Shipping Safety Advocate Criticizes Arctic Preparedness Plans

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

As the summer arctic shipping season gets underway, a member of a group that formed after the Selendang Ayu ran aground a decade ago, is calling for more rescue tugs, monitoring and risk management measures in the Bering Strait and Unimak Pass.

New Placer Mining Permits Proposed

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Interior miners aren’t happy with changes proposed to federal permits for small scale placer operations that impact water resources, including wetlands. Dozens attended an Army Corps of Engineers public meeting in Fairbanks last week on the proposals.

Groups Ask Seek Endangered Species Protection For Yellow Cedar Trees

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

Conservation groups are asking for endangered species protection for yellow cedar trees in Alaska. The trees have been dying off in portions of Southeast over the past century.  Scientists say it’s likely due to a warming climate and lack of snow cover for vulnerable roots.

Lobbying Efforts Galvanize Unalaska Hospital Project

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Tribal and federal officials say the plan to build a regional hospital in Unalaska is closer than ever to reality.

Should E-Cigarette Vapors Be Treated Like Tobacco Smoke?

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau Assembly is considering a ban on e-cigarette vapors in nearly all indoor public spaces.

The local chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence led the push at an Assembly Committee meeting Monday. A council representative argued that the new tobacco alternative is being marketed to youths and misrepresented as harmless.

In First Drift Opening Near Bethel, Managers Balance Chinook Conservation With Opportunity

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

After months of planning and studying the numbers, state and federal managers okayed the first six-inch-drift gillnet opening today on the most densely populated stretch of the Kuskokwim river. The fishing will be aimed at chum and sockeye salmon, but managers are moving cautiously to make sure enough king salmon make it to spawning grounds.

Anchorage Celebrates World Refugee Day

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage residents gathered at Mountain View Lions Park on Friday to celebrate World Refugee Day. The day honors people who have fled their home country, often because of war or ethnic persecution. About 120 refugees are resettled in Anchorage every year as part of a national program.

Categories: Alaska News

Shipping Safety Advocate Criticizes Arctic Preparedness Plans

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-24 16:51

(Graphic from Marine Exchange of Alaska)

As the summer arctic shipping season gets underway, a member of a group that formed after the Selendang Ayu ran aground a decade ago, is calling for more rescue tugs, monitoring and risk management measures in the Bering Strait and Unimak Pass.

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In letters to the Coast Guard, Rick Steiner with the Shipping Safety Partnership, says the money to address these concerns could come from the 3.5 billion-dollar Oil Spill Liability Trust fund the Coast Guard has.

“It’s used almost exclusively for spill response, but we all know spill response simply doesn’t work, so we’re arguing that this fund should be broken open and used to charter these rescue tug assets during the summer shipping season through the arctic and then they could relocate this tug to the Dutch Harbor, Unimak Pass area for the winter which is where the risk increases down there.” Steiner said.

The Coast Guard has no deepwater port north of Dutch Harbor, so it has to deploy its assets north seasonally. It has ramped up its presence there over the past three shipping seasons with a program called Arctic Shield. Before leaving for his new post in Washington DC, Seventeenth District Commander Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo visited Dutch Harbor with Senator Mark Begich. Ostebo said the Coast Guard is focused on the Bering Strait and northern sea route. Ostebo says response preparation is key but the U.S. can’t govern the Bering Strait.

“The Bering Strait is an international strait. Anybody who wants to can go through that. We don’t own it, we don’t control it, we don’t have a toll booth there, we don’t manage that. The northern sea route, also an international strait overseen very heavily by the Russians obviously, but what I like people to first realize is, we don’t control this, so all of this is going to happen whether we want to play or not and our involvement in this I think needs to be appropriate for the likely hood of a mishap.”

This is a very different Arctic presence for the Coast Guard than what Ed Page remembers from his thirty years of service

“When I was in the Coast Guard, the arctic was, we spent no time up there. It was totally off the radar screen.”

Page now heads up the Marine Exchange, a Juneau based vessel tracking organization that has 95 real time monitoring stations in Alaska. Page says back in the day, there was none of that.

“And if you would have asked me where the ships were in the arctic or the Aleutian islands, I go, well, we’ll put a plane up tomorrow, we’ll look out the window and I’ll get back to ya. Today the Coast Guard can say, well, I got it on my iphone or ipad or my desktop, I can tell you exactly where the vessels are right now because, through international treaty, international maritime organization has required that all vessels, larger vessels, commercial vessels have this technology, transponders much like aircraft have.” 

Page says the vessel’s name, speed, dimensions are displayed and are tracked. Vessels are now required to stay farther off shore. This allows more time to get help if they have engine problems, before they run aground. Page says if this system would have been in place when the Selendang Ayu had trouble a decade ago, they would have known immediately rather than 19 hours after the vessel lost engines, because it would automatically have triggered an alarm in the operations center.

If the vessel doesn’t respond, the Marine Exchange notifies the Coast Guard. Page says he appreciates the concerns of Steiner and other environmentalists who want to protect the fragile arctic ecosystem but he says although arctic vessel traffic has increased in the last decade, its still relatively low compared to other shipping routes.  He says if vessels had to pay a fee to support rescue assets, it would be high based on the few transits. He worries they may then decide to go to Canada and bypass Seattle, allowing them to transit Alaskan waters on innocent passage. Besides, He says, other coastal states wouldn’t want to use the Coast Guard’s spill response fund to bail out Alaska.  His biggest concern is with enormous cargo vessels. Ships that are 1300 feet long, carry thousands of containers and have hundred thousand horsepower engines. If they have trouble in a storm, there’s no tug large enough that can help.

“Absolutely no tug. It’s gonna go wherever Mother Nature decides it wants to take that ship. That’s the concern I have. You just watch it unfold, because you can’t do anything about it, they’re so big.”

But Rick Steiner insists there’s still a lot more that can and should be done and he’s persisting in urging that the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund be reprogrammed to include prevention.

“The greatest missing link here is the political will to drive the risk as low as possible. I get the sense that the Coast Guard and the state of Alaska and the shipping industry are willing to roll the dice and hope for the best and just expect that this won’t happen on their watch. But what if it does?” Steiner said.

Whoever’s watch it may be, the system has been evolving, and will continue to. The Coast Guard hopes to have a voluntary vessel separation scheme in place through the Bering Strait before long, and while Congressional funding for more icebreakers may be nowhere in sight, other ice hardened vessels are being tried. Ed Page says the Coast Guard has not secured funding from Congress to build a vessel tracking network for Alaska, making the Marine Exchange’s monitoring program all the more critical for observing who is transiting the vast and remote waters of the arctic.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

New Placer Mining Permits Proposed

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-24 16:50

Interior miners aren’t happy with changes proposed to federal permits for small scale placer operations that impact water resources, including wetlands. Dozens attended an Army Corps of Engineers public meeting in Fairbanks last week on the proposals.

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Categories: Alaska News

Groups Ask Seek Endangered Species Protection For Yellow Cedar Trees

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-24 16:49

Conservation groups are asking for endangered species protection for yellow cedar trees in Alaska. The trees have been dying off in portions of Southeast over the past century. Scientists say it’s likely due to a warming climate and lack of snow cover for vulnerable roots.

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The groups say logging also poses a threat to the cedar trees on the Tongass National Forest.

Kiersten Lippmann is a biologist with The Center for Biological Diversity and says the cedar decline in Southeast Alaska is drastic.

“The reason we’re doing this now is we’re seeing, especially in Alaska, the timber industry is targeting the remaining living cedar,” Lippmann said. “It’s kind of like when the buffalo were dying out, people would go out and hunt the last buffalo because it was their last chance to get them.”

Other petitioners are the Boat Company, Greenpeace and the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will review the petition to determine whether the species status deserves further review. That finding is supposed to take 90 days.

There’s only one plant in Alaska on the endangered species list – that’s the Aleutian shield fern, which is found on Adak Island.

Categories: Alaska News

Lobbying Efforts Galvanize Unalaska Hospital Project

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-24 16:48

Tribal and federal officials say the plan to build a regional hospital for the Southwest in Unalaska is closer than ever to reality.

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For most locals, the idea of a full-size hospital in Unalaska has always been little more than a pipe dream. But not for Tom Robinson of the Qawalangin Tribe. He’s been trying to make the hospital happen for more than five years.

Unalaska’s Bureau of Indian Affairs hospital was bombed by the Japanese during World War II. (Courtesy: National Library of Medicine)

“We noticed that we really needed a medical facility in Unalaska,” Robinson says. “And with the course of events of losing some of our elder a couple years ago, the [Qawalangin] tribe really pressed the issue.”

They teamed up with their tribal health provider, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, to put new energy into lobbying for a hospital. Now, the APIA’s primary care services administrator, Jessica Mata-Rukovishnikoff, says that work is paying off.

“It is definitely the closest we’ve been in all the years since we first started the project in 2008,” she says.

That’s thanks in part to Alaska Sen. Mark Begich. He’s lobbying for up to about $100 million in federal funds for the project. Mata-Rukovishnikoff says the APIA would be happy to see even part of that sum, and they’re asking local groups to chip in, too.

“They’re more likely to see and pass and give money based on support from the community,” she says. That includes more than just tribal stakeholders. The hospital will be designed to serve everyone in the region — locals, veterans, fishermen and other industry workers and tribe members.

So the APIA is casting a wide net to look for funding. Meanwhile, other details of the project are still coming together. There’s no location for the hospital in Unalaska yet. And housing for its 200 or so expected employees is still up in the air.

In terms of services: Mata-Rukovishnikoff couldn’t say yet how many beds the hospital would have. But she says it should offer a 24-hour emergency room, basic surgeries and a range of specialists.

She’s also hoping they can provide prenatal and maternity care. That would mean expectant moms wouldn’t have to spend weeks in Anchorage when it was time to give birth, which, she says, “would be something of a major accomplishment.”

For outpatient services, the new facility would absorb Unalaska’s two existing clinics — the APIA’s Ounalashka Wellness Center, and the Iliuliuk Family & Health Services community clinic.

IFHS director Eileen Conlon-Scott expects to move all her staff, services and grant funding over to the new hospital. The clinic’s current building might become an administrative office.

Scott says the merger would be a big step forward.

“We have people that don’t get health care services because they can’t afford to fly off the island,” she says. “[At IFHS], we’re trying to bring consultants to the island at least to get an initial check-up by a specialist, but to have some of these specialists here the whole time — it’s much better for our community.”

For Tom Robinson of the Qawalangin Tribe, flying to Anchorage for routine care has been the norm for far too long.

“If you look at what the locals in the region have to go through to get primary care — it’s very tough,” he says. “And this’ll also serve our elder — can you imagine the stress that our elder have to go through to travel to get primary care?”

Robinson says the hospital would serve about 2,000 tribal members, and as many as 10,000 Aleutian, Pribilof and Southwest residents in total.

It would also make good on a decades-old loss — by replacing the native hospital destroyed in Unalaska during World War II.

“Our hospital was bombed by the Japanese … and then burnt down by the military. And thereafter, it was never rebuilt,” Robinson says. “Really, there wasn’t any effort put back into — or there wasn’t the initiative to have it rebuilt until recently.”

Even if everything goes according to plan, Unalaska won’t see its new hospital until about 2018 — and Robinson is confident it’s going to happen. The tribe has already started doing community outreach in Unalaska. They’re planning on more as they start looking at locations for the hospital later this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Should E-Cigarette Vapors Be Treated Like Tobacco Smoke?

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-24 16:47

Robert Rodman, owner of Percy’s Liquor Store, shows how an e-cigarette works. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly is considering a ban on e-cigarette vapors in nearly all indoor public spaces.

The local chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence led the push at an Assembly Committee meeting Monday. Kristin Cox, a naturopathic doctor and the council’s tobacco prevention program coordinator, argued that the new tobacco alternative is being marketed to youths and misrepresented as harmless.

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“So e-cigarettes: They’re new, they’re blue, but will they still kill you?” Cox asked.

She didn’t exactly say yes – the research world is playing catch-up with the products as more parties enter the marketplace and innovate – but Cox did warn that the widespread claims that e-cigarette vapors are harmless and an effective way to help someone quit smoking are both scientifically unproven, and may be entirely wrong.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, recently published a review of 84 e-cigarette studies in a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association. They found a chaotic marketplace filled with a range of unsubstantiated claims and quality control issues with the products themselves.

Results of trials comparing the toxicity of various e-cigarette vapors to traditional tobacco smoke varied wildly. For example, one study of a particular brand discovered toxic metals at levels higher than in regular cigarette smoke, likely coming from the e-cigarette’s metal heating elements. Other studies bore out claims that e-cigarette vapors were less harmful than tobacco smoke, but not harmless.

“You know, middle school kids think they’re harmless. They’re using these devices, they think they’re really harmless. There’s harmless water vapor is what their inhaling. And that’s not the case.”

Cox says big tobacco companies have been pumping a lot of money into buying e-cigarette companies and beefing up their advertising campaigns with youths in mind. E-cigarette juice, vaping liquid or e-liquid, is being made in candy and fruit flavors.

Cox says it’s an initiation tool to introduce youths to nicotine addiction and tobacco use.

“This is a really, really serious issue. It’s re-normalizing cigarette smoking in public. Little kids can’t distinguish between what’s a traditional cigarette and what’s an e-cigarette,” she said.

Under the ordinance the Assembly is considering, the vapors would be treated the same as tobacco smoke, which Juneau banned from virtually all indoor public spaces in 2008.

If the Assembly adopts the ordinance, Cox said, “It’s going to signal to people that these are dangerous, they’re not harmless.”

A few blocks away from City Hall, Robert Rodman has sold e-cigarette products for about a year in his store, Percy’s Liquor.

He’s more or less indifferent about the possible ban.

“I don’t think it’s a huge issue one way or the other,” he said.

Rodman keeps an e-cigarette for himself in the shop to demonstrate how it’s used. His looks like a fat pen. One end houses a battery and heating element. The other end has a vial with the e-liquid in it. The liquid he uses has no nicotine.

“Yeah, I’m not a smoker. I have no interest in nicotine,” Rodman said.

Then, Rodman used one of the lines Cox was worried about.

“It’s just flavored water, basically,” Rodman said. “You know, in that case, you know, there’s no harm.”

In fact, the base in most e-liquids is a common food additive the Food and Drug Administration says is safe to eat, though researchers warn drawing it into your lungs as an aerosol isn’t the same and can cause respiratory problems.

Rodman pushed a button and breathed in. A moment later, he puffed out wisps of a white, scented vapor that hung in the air a few moments before dissipating.

“You’re not really inhaling it. So, I dunno, it’s just a pleasurable sensation,” Rodman said. “You know, you get a little bit of mouth feel with it, you know, in your throat. And with the flavors, you know, you get some taste. I mean, this is coffee. You know, it’s kind of a cool thing.”

The Assembly will hold a public hearing on the e-cigarette vapor ordinance at its next meeting, June 30.

Categories: Alaska News

In First Drift Opening Near Bethel, Managers Balance Chinook Conservation with Opportunity

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2014-06-24 16:46

After months of planning and studying the numbers, state and federal managers will open the first six-inch-drift gillnet opening on the most densely populated stretch of the Kuskokwim river. The tremendous fishing power will be aimed at chum and sockeye salmon, but managers are moving cautiously to make sure enough king salmon make it to spawning grounds.

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No one will know for sure until well after the king salmon have stopped running, but State Kuskokwim Area Management biologist Aaron Poetter says the early conservation measures seem to have successfully moved king salmon past many of the river’s 2,000 subsistence households.

“We feel pretty comfortable with making the call that we have enough fish upriver to at least make the lower end of the goal. We want to ensure that those fish do make it to spawning grounds so we will tread lightly and implement chinook conservation as we provide additional opportunities,” said Poetter.

After not meeting escapement in two of the past four years, the priority this year is hitting the midpoint of the river’s escapement goal, about 85,000 fish. 2014 was expected to be a weak run, between 71 and 117 thousand kings. Nobody has been allowed to fish for kings since May 20th, but managers briefly opened a portion of the lower river to fishing for other salmon species last week.

Managers say Friday evening’s four-hour opener on the lower river brought out just under 200 boats. They estimate that of 11-thousand salmon caught, about 670 were king salmon. With many more boats anticipated out of Bethel and nearby communities, Federal In-Season Manager Brian McCaffery says kings will be caught in the six-inch, 25-fathom nets.

“I would anticipate this next opening that there will be some thousands of kings taken by all the boats, but given where we are in the run, we’re pretty confident the run can handle it given how many fish have already gone by,” said McCaffery.

Managers don’t have a great estimate how many boats will drop their nets in at 10 a.m. Tuesday, but Poetter says fisherman will be out in force.

“The 130 four-inch whitefish nets are probably going to pale in comparison to what we’re going to see,” said Poetter.

Restricting nets to 25 fathoms instead of the usual 50 fathoms, managers can further fine tune the amount of harvest. The latest data from the Bethel Test Fishery on Sunday shows that the chum and sockeye ratio to king salmon is about 9 to 1.

Poetter will attempt to get a rough sketch of the harvest Tuesday morning and how many kings were caught in the net before setting the next opening.

“I do expect more openings this week, we’re looking for something a little bit later on this week as we continue to roll opportunity up the river and continue to liberalize opportunity down on this lower section,” said Poetter.

The full regulations are here

Categories: Alaska News
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