A plan to bring land-based high speed internet to the western Interior is moving forward this summer. GCI’s TerraNet uses hilltop repeater sites to pass microwave signals along the ground, rather than sending the signals to satellites in space.
The system is already in operation in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, and around Bristol Bay. But GCI is eager to get TerraNet up and running in the western Interior because it’s the final phase in a process the company calls “closing the ring.”
GCI Spokesperson David Morris explains that, once all TerraNet sites are connected in a loop and linked up with GCI’s high speed fiber optic lines around Anchorage and Fairbanks, internet services gets faster and fixing problems becomes simpler.
“Because once you have the ring, you have effectively doubled the capacity on the Terra network. Right now, because it is single thread, we have to have satellite backup for it. The amount of capacity that you can put on a hybrid microwave / fiber system is just significantly more than what you will find on satellites. Once you get the ring, that creates the ability to switch traffic in either direction in the event that there is a break, so that the traffic remains in service.”
The TerraNet repeater sites are located about 50 miles apart down the Yukon River corridor, where GCI has to connect its existing system around Kotzebue to fiber optic lines near Nenana.
Six sites are planned for construction in the next phase of the TerraNet build-out, including the last crucial backbone sites between Galena and Buckland, which will close the TerraNet ring. In addition to the backbone sites, TerraNet has spur lines that would extend the network to outlying villages.
The seed money for TerraNet came through an 88 million dollar stimulus program grant and loan package. But Morris says that federal funding has come and gone and now the company is financing the project out of its own pockets.
“That was a one-and-done. That is what allowed the initial part of TerraNet to get distributed from Anchorage to the Bethel region. There has been a little bit of extra money from the federal government to extend it to Unalakleet, but everything beyond that is just at-risk capital – in other words, just money from the company. ”
Morris says that TerraNet has been so popular in western Alaska that GCI is already having to upgrade its equipment to handle the demand and improve service.
City of Fairbanks voters will consider a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana. The city council has approved putting the proposed retail tax before voters in the October municipal election. The tax is an effort to tap unknown revenue that legalized marijuana sales could provide.
Ordinance sponsor, Fairbanks City Council member David Pruhs told the panel that the tax follows on direct language from the statewide ballot initiative approved by Alaska voters last fall legalizing recreational marijuana.
“This is what the industry wanted. They wanted to be treated alcohol,” Pruhs says. “We’re treating them just like alcohol.”
The city of Fairbanks already has alcohol and tobacco taxes. Pruhs further advocated for the proposed marijuana sales tax as an alternative means for the city to raise money to help cover a dip in property tax revenue.
“What we have to do is make the decision: ‘Do we want to put this in its operating form for the voters and let them decide?'”
A version of the tax ordinance that would have allowed the rate to be set anywhere between 5 and 8 percent was turned back by the council after concerns were raised by council member Jerry Cleworth about compliance with the city charter.
“It specifically says that if we’re going to set a rate, then go to the voters. And that’s what we’re doing,” Cleworth says. “But if we’re going to raise that rate, we need to go to the voters again.”
Local cannabis advocate Frank Turney spoke out against the proposed marijuana sales tax, saying it will have a negative effect.
“Pushing people into the black market, so to speak,” Turney says.
Turney and twoother citizens who voiced opposition to the tax, also cited a $50-per-ounce state tax that will be levied on marijuana growers. No one from the marijuana industry testified. The state is still formulating regulations governing commercial marijuana, which becomes legal for licensed operators next year.
The parent company of Alaska Airlines reported its highest quarterly profit in its history Thursday … despite stiff competition in the Northwest skies.
Delta Air Lines continues to expand on Alaska’s home turf. Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden told Wall Street analysts his carrier is “doubling down” on service to hold its rival at bay.
“As we pause to take a look at how we’re doing mid-year and two and a half years into the biggest competitive incursion we’ve seen in a while, I am happy to share that we are thriving. Our operation is firing on all cylinders.”
Alaska Air executives said they’re maintaining market share at SeaTac Airport, which both Alaska and Delta now claim as a key hub.
Delta has begun flying to Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, which had only been served by Alaska Airlines.
The brisk growth by both carriers seems to be coming at the expense of other airlines serving the Northwest such as United and Southwest.
Delta executives said they’re bullish about the performance of their new Pacific gateway during their own earnings conference call a few days ago.
Alaska critics of British Columbia mines probably won’t get any help from a cross-boundary panel they’ve asked to take on their concerns.
The International Joint Commission addresses U.S.-Canada water conflicts. Critics say it should take up the possibility that mines near the border will pollute rivers key to Southeast Alaska fisheries.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott says he spoke with officials during a recent trip to Washington, D.C.
“It was clear in my meetings with the State Department and the Canadian counterpart that they view this as a relatively local issue. [They said] that certainly the federal governments have a role, but essentially it is Alaska-B.C.,” he says.
Mallott heads up a multi-agency task force considering the state’s response to transboundary mine concerns.
He traveled to British Columbia in May to meet with provincial officials, as well as tribal and business leaders. One was Mines Minister Bill Bennett, who committed to a Southeast Alaska trip.
Mallott says that will be Aug. 24-26. He plans to school Bennett in regional economic and environmental issues.
“And to impress on him even more firmly the requirement that these transboundary rivers never have issues of downstream pollution and other degradation resulting from development on the B.C. side of the border,” Mallott says.
The lieutenant governor and his transboundary mines task force will also host meetings of tribal, fisheries, tourism and other groups Aug. 5-6 in Juneau.
He says those attending will discuss their concerns and help develop policy.
“It is hopefully the beginning of a conversation and a set of relationships that will allow stakeholders to have a meaningful and timely voice,” he says.
Mallott will also visit Whitehorse, the Yukon Territory’s capital, for a series of meetings next week. He says he and Yukon officials will discuss fisheries, energy and related resource issues.
He’ll also stop in Teslin, a Tlingit community about 100 miles east of Whitehorse, for its annual cultural celebration, called Hà Kus Teyea.
In 1962, the Douglas Indian Village was set ablaze to make way for a new harbor. This month marks 53 years since the city displaced households of Tlingit T’aaku Kwáan families. Little to no restitution has ever been offered.
The Douglas Indian Village was a winter spot for the T’aaku Kwáan people. Water flowed underneath a row of about 20 structures on pilings. There was a saying, “this was where the sun rays touched first.”
The village had no running water or electricity. But to John Morris it was home.
“That was the trail I used to walk to go to school right here. But my house was right where that truck is right now,” he says.
Where we’re standing has been filled with gravel. The water no longer comes up to this point. It’s been turned into Savikko Park, a place where children play Little League and families grill out hamburgers.
Morris remembers seeing his childhood home here going up in smoke.
“We left everything as is in the house with the thought that if they saw that we hadn’t moved anything out that they would maybe prolong the burning. It didn’t stop them.”
Fishing nets, clothing, dishes–everything.
“There are no pictures of my childhood. It was all burned up in that house,” he says.
Morris is a carver, teacher and tribal leader. At 75 years-old, he’s also one of the last living members of the tribe to witness the burning of the village in 1962. He remembers, back then, racial tensions were high. He delivered newspapers as a kid.
“And I had a paper sack that had Juneau Empire on it. And as long as I had that paper sack I could go anywhere in Douglas. Once I took that sack off people would tell me, ‘Get down to your village.’”
In 1946, the Douglas Indian Association was looking for boat loans. At the time, boats were kept under the house. But that wasn’t deemed suitable. So the city and the Army Corps of Engineers were asked to build a harbor where the village stood–with the understanding the village would be rebuilt.
That plan didn’t go anywhere.
“But the plan for the harbor stayed on the books and in 1962, the City of Douglas destroyed the Indian village to build that,” says attorney Andy Huff. He put together a formal report in 2002 on what happened for the Montana Indian Law Resource Center.
Back in the ’60s, the City of Douglas found a loophole to condemn the Native village: Most of its occupants were gone to fish camps in summer.
“Even so, the city didn’t have jurisdiction over the houses in the first place. It was a federally protected enclave.”
Huff says when he was doing his research, two more red flags stood out. One was the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the agency that’s supposed to help, did nothing to intervene.
“They just flatly refused to get involved even though there was this plan to kind of destroy the village,” Huff says.
The other red flag was a possible conspiracy.
“I found that two members on the city of Douglas zoning commission, which was the entity in charge of destroying this village, were also members of the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the same time. ”
They were Charles Jones and A.W. Bartlett. Both men resigned from the zoning and planning committee citing conflict of interest. But the plans to burn the village were already underway. Huff says that’s an obvious breach of trust. When he put the report together 13 years ago, he thought it would affect change but no restitution has been offered. He thinks, even after all this time, there’s still a legal case.
“I don’t think the federal government can argue it doesn’t know exactly what happened and what the issues are in light of the report coming out and being released by the tribes,” he says. “Something should have happened by now.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs could not be reached for comment.
After the controlled burn in 1962, the village was never rebuilt. The Douglas Harbor and eventually the park were constructed in its place. Morris, who was on military leave at the time, says he went back to Fort Hood, Texas, changed.
“I went back with a bitterness. A bitterness that I’m not going to have anything to come back to. I don’t have a home. The people I grew up with, I got to see firsthand, how they treated us people, us Natives,” Morris says.
It took years for him to come back to the Juneau-Douglas area but he did. He says sometimes friends tell him he should file a lawsuit; he could be a millionaire.
“My response is that’s not what I’m after. I do want to see that corrected but it will never leave me. It will never leave me. It lays dormant and I don’t like to touch it unless I have to,” he says.
Morris says he forgives but he doesn’t forget. He would like to see restitution for the T’aaku Kwáan people.
Budget cuts are creating stress for communities trying to keep their citizens safe with fewer dollars for law enforcement. In a state with staggering statistics for violence and sexual assault, how can municipalities, cities, and villages keep the peace amid jail closures, fewer troopers and local police.
HOST: Lori Townsend
- James Cockrell, director, Alaska State Troopers
- Ethan Berkowitz, mayor, Municipality of Anchorage
- Captain Andrew Merrill, Alaska State Troopers
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send email to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
The Bethel City Council is appealing the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s rejection of their protest of the Bethel Native Corporation’s package liquor store application. The council met in executive session Thursday evening for three and a half hours.
The ABC board on July 1st called the city’s protest of the proposed Bethel Spirits license “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable”, sparking outrage from the council. The board is required to honor protest unless it meets those criteria. Mayor Rick Robb says he’s personally in favor of local sales.
“But I do not think the protest was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. I think the protest was valid, based on community standards, debate, process, public hearings, past votes, planning on future votes. All of those things were taken into consideration. The protest was very well thought out,” said Robb.
The board has not decided on the status of the license and plans a public hearing in Bethel after the October election in which citizens will again advise the council on whether they want to see a liquor license of some variety. And in that same election, it’s possible that voters could choose to go back to local option with a city-run store.
In the council’s Tuesday meeting, they could introduce a move to hold a binding vote in October on the possibility of opening city-run liquor store through local option. Councilman Chuck Herman is sponsoring the action and cited local control.
“Especially now with this uncertainty over what we can do as a community, I think that is what at this moment forced my hand. I don’t believe we have the power any more. It doesn’t seem like the ABC board is going to uphold our ability to control our own community. I think the only way we can get that power back is by going towards this local option with the ability to have a city-run liquor store,” said Herman.
Before it goes to voters, the measure must make it through council. The city did away with local option in 2009. Citizens in a 2010 advisory vote rejected several types of liquor licenses and the city successfully protested several licenses. Citizens again rejected going back into local option in May of that year.
For now, October is shaping up to be a busy month and the timing of the city’s appeal is uncertain. The board hasn’t formally issued their finding to the city, which they need before proceeding. Leif Albertson is Bethel’s Vice Mayor.
“The stage we’re at right now is we directed counsel to appeal the protest, and they’re going to put together what they feel is a good appeal. That’s going to involve legal research,” said Albertson.
Councilman Zach Fansler says he wants to get the conversation rolling in advance of the fall vote.
“The last thing we want is people to be making these decisions thinking they’re going to get something they’re not going to get out of it. I think there is a lot of half-truths, or 75 percent of the facts, but not the whole story and you think you might be able to do this or that. I think it’s incredibly important and I think it’s going to take up a lot of everyone’s time to make sure everyone is as informed as possible and knows exactly what they’re choosing when they’re voting,” said Fansler.
That vote is October 6th. Separately, 17 months after the city launched anexpensive third-party investigation into contracts, purchasing, and personnel issues, there’s still more to discuss. Michael Gatti, a former city attorney and the man who led the third-party 2014 city investigation was at the meeting. Mayor Robb gave a brief update following executive session.
“The council received an update from our legal team about the investigation, considered litigation and other options. We will continue to look at ways to improve operations of the city. The city will address some of these issues in upcoming public meetings,” said Robb.
Another executive session item concerned potential litigation regarding real estate taxes. The city’s next meeting is Tuesday night.
The research vessel Sikuliaq docked in Nome on July 21 and opened its doors to local visitors. While touring the ice-capable ship — owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks — visitors asked questions of the crew and learned about their upcoming missions.
The Sikuliaq will be working in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas through November on three different research assignments, according to the vessel’s master, Capt. Mike Hoshlyk. He explained the Sikuliaq’s water sampling system, which can measure the properties of water as deep as 10-thousand meters.
Just how deep is that?
“The height of Everest. Deeper than Everest,” said Hoshlyk. “You could go to the Marianas Trench.”
Peter Worcester is the chief scientist on one of the upcoming missions. He won’t be researching the world’s deepest trench, but he will use the Sikuliaq to gather data on ocean acoustics, which could shed light on the changing conditions of Arctic waters and sea ice.
“The basic idea is very simple,” said Worcester. “If you have a sound source here and a receiver here, and you measure very accurately how long the sound takes to travel that distance, that’s a very good measure of the average temperature.”
Faster sound means warmer waters — and valuable information on how ocean temperatures are changing. Several visitors were curious about climate change, including how the Sikuliaq itself may contribute. As one visitor said:“My question and concern would be, with the disruptions up there, is [the Sikuliaq] contributing to the climate change?”
Those “disruptions” referred to oil exploration and drilling — two things the Sikuliaq doesn’t do. While the research vessel can cut though roughly 3 feet of ice, Joan Braddock says it’s not an icebreaker. Braddock is the Dean of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at UAF and says the Sikuliaq only works in seasonal ice, which is less invasive.
“I think the impact — at least at this point – of research vessels is pretty minimal. But you’re right. As there are more and more ships, there’s going to need to be thoughtfulness,” said Braddock. “We’re certainly going to be a part of the discussion to make sure we’re doing things right with this ship — so that we’re answering questions that are important to Alaskans but not causing problems.”
The Sikuliaq shipped out today to tackle those questions. But the vessel will be back in Nome for the U.S. Arctic Research Commission meeting during late August.
Cakes, crafts and airfare are among the purchases paid for by the North Slope Borough that involved Mayor Charlotte Brower’s family.
The Alaska Dispatch News reports Brower told the assembly in a July 7 memo that she had no knowledge that her staff was making purchases from her family members that included $500 cakes and $25,000 in crafts.
One of the records obtained by the newspaper is a request for help in sending five of Bower’s grandkids to basketball camp in California. The bottom of the request had a note that said “7-11-14 Approved Charlotte Brower.”
The trip cost the borough a total of $8,400.
Assembly members voted last week to have an independent law firm investigate the North Slope Borough’s purchasing policies and the possibility of ethics violations.
Citing a state study that shows a sharp decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands, six conservation groups have asked state and federal officials to take steps to help preserve the remaining animals.
Specifically, the six organizations want the state to cancel the upcoming wolf trapping and hunting season on POW, the federal Office of Subsistence Management to cancel the subsistence wolf harvest, and the Forest Service to halt logging activity on the Big Thorne Timber Sale.
Gabriel Scott is the legal director with the Alaska office of Cascadia Wildlands. He said the population numbers for POW wolves has not been clearly known for a long time.
“There’s new data, just come out, with a reasonable population estimate. And it’s much, much lower than it ought to be,” he said. “So that’s the bottom line: The population appears to be crashing on the island, and we can’t afford to let that happen.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game last month released a report showing that the number of wolves in Game Management Unit 2 had dropped in a single year from 221 to 89. The numbers are estimates, based on a relatively small study area on Prince of Wales Island.
To get that estimate, the number of wolves in the study area is counted, and that number is expanded to the rest of the game management unit. The estimate of 89 wolves is the midpoint of a range. The population could be as low as 50, or as high as 159, according to Fish and Game.
Gabriel Scott said the only way to get those numbers up is to halt all hunting for the time being, and make sure adequate habitat is in place for the wolves and their main source of food, which is Sitka blacktail deer.
“One of the big pieces of this puzzle that often gets overlooked is the habitat component,” he said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road. The deer population is not high enough to support human hunters and wolves. And when that happens, the wolves are the ones who go.”
Habitat in this case means old-growth forest, which is why the groups want to stop logging on the Big Thorne Timber Sale.
Tongass National Forest Spokesman Kent Cummins confirms that the Forest Service has received the letter from the six conservation groups. He said officials will revisit the issue to see whether there is a need for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which is one of the requests in the letter.
“I think, with a sense of urgency, they’ll look at this information,” Cummins said. “If necessary, they’ll proceed with another supplement.”
He said the Forest Service takes its role as a steward of the land seriously. But, he said, it can be a delicate balancing act.
The Big Thorne Timber Sale is a critical project from an economic point of view, and it’s meant to help the timber industry stay afloat as it switches from old-growth to second-growth harvest.
“It gives a multi-year supply of timber there on Prince of Wales, and stability for jobs, and giving local businesses the opportunity to retool and seek new markets for the young growth trees,” Cummins said. “That’s the dilemma.”
He said logging is taking place now on the Big Thorne Timber Sale. Halting that activity immediately while the Forest Service looks into the wolf population report is unlikely without a court-ordered injunction.
And then there’s hunting and trapping.
Ryan Scott is Southeast Region Supervisor for Fish and Game. He said he hasn’t read the letter sent to the state asking for suspension of the coming wolf harvest on POW. However, he said that from the agency’s perspective, there isn’t a conservation concern about that wolf population.
“Even with the lower estimate, the number of animals there, and what we know about the animals there, suggests that they’re viable and they’re going to persist well into the future,” he said.
Ryan Scott said the state’s hunting and trapping season starts Dec. 1, which gives officials time to look into wolf numbers and options for the season. They’ve already reduced the maximum allowed harvest from 30 percent to 20 percent of the estimated population.
“Recognizing that we had such a decline in the estimates, I don’t think it’s very likely that we would open it to the maximum allowable harvest of 18 wolves,” he said. “Where that harvest quota would land, that’s undetermined at this point.”
Gabriel Scott of Cascadia said he doesn’t share the state’s confidence that POW wolves will be OK. He points to the fact that his organization is asking for a halt to the subsistence harvest as evidence of how serious they believe the situation has become.
“Asking to stop a subsistence hunt is a really extraordinary step for us to take,” he said. “It’s the absolute last thing that we would want to do.”
The subsistence harvest is set to start on Sept. 1. A call to the Federal Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage wasn’t returned.
The six organizations that submitted the letters are Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, the Boat Company, Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Greenpeace.
Climbers have collected new data from North America’s tallest mountain to more accurately determine the height of its highest point.
Officials say the new summit elevation measurement on Alaska’s Mount McKinley is expected to be announced in late August and will replace the current official elevation of 20,320 feet.
The U.S. Geological Survey is the lead agency working on the project, along with partners that include University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute. Officials say the data collected during a June climb is now being analyzed.
The survey taken on the mountain last month used GPS instruments. Officials say that method provides more defined elevations than technology that was used in 2013 to calculate a slightly lower elevation than the official measurement.
The Alaska Senate’s former chief spokeswoman is expected to serve at least two months in jail after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors.
The Alaska Dispatch News reports that District Attorney Clint Campion said Wednesday that the ex-spokeswoman, Caroyln Kuckertz, will plead guilty to an assault charge and to driving under the influence.
Kuckertz was charged in June after striking two women as she pulled out of the parking lot of the Legislature’s Anchorage office building. The most seriously injured woman was taken to the hospital and released.
Kuckertz didn’t respond to a call seeking comment.
She is expected to serve two months for the assault charge and 20 days for the DUI charge.
A change of plea hearing has been set for August.
Alaska has somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 non-profits, and their important role in supporting community needs throughout the state is undeniable. Today we’ll be examining that role, and how it has grown over the past half century.
HOST: Ellen Lockyer
- Susan Foley, president, Alaska Community Foundation
- Sarah Scanlon, deputy executive director, RuralCap
- Hilary Morgan, CEO, YWCA
KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, July 24, at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, July 25 at 6:00 p.m.
Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, July 25 at 4:30 p.m.
A fourth man in less than two weeks was found dead outside in Anchorage on Thursday late afternoon. The man, who has not been identified by the Anchorage Police Department, was near 3rd Avenue and Karluk Street close to where one man was found last week. He was a member of the homeless community. He’s the sixth member of that community to die recently. Two passed away in the hospital last week according to staff at Bean’s Cafe. Three died outdoors.
Police spokesperson Renee Oistad says no foul play is suspected, and the body will be autopsied. Paramedics did try to revive the man. Oistad says the number of death seems high because they happened in public places, but the number of death reports is not unusual for the department.
Young Votes Yes, Meant No, On Bill Gutting GMO Labeling Laws
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
The U.S. House on Thursday passed a bill to allow “voluntary” labeling of food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
2nd Murkowski Energy Bill Has Controversies Lacking in 1st
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
Yesterday Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced an energy bill that steered clear of hot-button issues to ensure Democratic support. Thursday, the Alaska Republican sponsored a separate energy bill of just hot buttons.
Gov. Walker Travels to Pentagon to Make Case for Alaska Troops
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is in Washington, D.C., making the case with the military for restoring proposed personnel cuts.
Five Fires Threaten Tanana On the Yukon
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Recent rain slowed wildfire growth around the interior, but there are still nearly 200 active blazes, and over twenty staffed fires. The largest response is to a half million acre complex of fires near Tanana.
Anchorage To ‘Revisit’ Knik Arm Bridge
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
The Municipality of Anchorage has taken a big step toward opposing the proposed bridge called the Knik Arm Crossing project.
Suspect Arrested for Threatening Calls To Arizona Schools, Which Were Similar to Alaska’s
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
A New York man was arrested last week for making threatening phone calls to Arizona schools that were motivated by online gaming on an Xbox, authorities say. Details of the calls sound similar to ones made to Alaska schools, though the FBI says the arrest hasn’t been connected.
4 Charged with Theft of Oysters from Kachemak Bay Farm
Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer
Four local residents are being charged with criminal trespass and theft for stealing oysters from a farm on the south side of Kachemak Bay on 4th of July.
With Ever-Changing Restrictions, 2015 Marks a Summer of Flexibility on the Kuskokwim
Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel
Subsistence fishing is open indefinitely on the Kuskokwim River. But that hasn’t been the norm this summer, as the river underwent two management regimes —state and federal—and strict closures for two species. Lower river fishermen are adjusting to the new reality of Kuskokwim subsistence—where conservative management is now the status quo.
Pains of Trooper Cuts Felt At Small Community Jails
Joe Sykes, KFSK – Petersburg
Budget cuts to state troopers are taking place all over Alaska. But in small Southeast communities, like Petersburg, it’s a double whammy. That’s because community jails are also taking a hit. And the two are inextricably linked.
Haines Climbers Likely First Women to Summit Cathedral Peaks
Emily Files, KHNS – Haines
Haines residents Jenn Walsh and Jessica Kayser Forster are likely the first women to summit the 6,400-foot Mount Emmerich in the Chilkat Valley, also known as Cathedral Peaks.
The U.S. House today passed a bill to allow “voluntary” labeling of food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Alaska Congressman Don Young voted for the bill, which he says he did by mistake.
The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by the president, would gut state labeling laws, including Alaska’s 10-year-old requirement that any genetically modified salmon sold in the state carry a disclosure to consumers. The legislation has become an online flashpoint, pitting the food industry against sustainable food activists and consumer groups.
Michelle Wilson Nordhoff, an Anchorage mom and natural-food shopper, says she wrote Young recently and asked him to vote against the anti-labeling bill. She got a letter back, dated Monday.
“In the letter that he wrote to me, he said ‘Rest assured that I will oppose this legislation should it come to the House floor for a vote,'” she recounted, reading from the letter.
Wilson Nordhoff says she noticed the bill was on the floor today, so she called Young’s office to find out how he voted. She says she was stunned when she got a voicemail message telling her the congressman voted for the bill. Wilson Nordhoff says the vote is bad for Alaska’s efforts to market its wild salmon.
“I think once people find out that Rep. Young went ahead and supported this, Alaskans are going to be shocked,” she said. “I mean this is definitely a huge issue for our economy.”
Young’s spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, says it was simply a mistake: Congressman Young pushed the ‘yes’ button when he meant to push the ‘no’ button.
“Unfortuantely, by the time he realized his mistake, the voted had closed and he was unable to change his vote to no,” Shuckerow said. The bill passed by a wide margin.
Shuckerow says Young has long supported GMO labeling, particularly for salmon, and after the vote, he submitted a statement for the Congressional Record to clarify his position. Just yesterday, Young wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter in favor of GMO labeling in which he urged the entire House to vote against the bill that he, in the end, voted for.
Wilson Nordhoff is skeptical that Young’s “yes” vote was just a mistake.
“I just think most of these leaders now in Congress just vote according to what corporations want them to vote for,” she said. “I don’t think they’re listening to the people. Maybe not even to fishing industries in the state anymore.”
Shuckerow says Young has sponsored two bills in the House that show his true position. One would ban genetically modified salmon and the other would require product labeling for GMO fish. Young has also explained his accidental vote in a Facebook posting.
Yesterday Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced an energy bill that steered clear of hot-button issues to ensure Democratic support. Today, the Alaska Republican sponsored a separate energy bill of just hot buttons. The bill would end the ban on exports of crude oil. It also includes state revenue-sharing for off-shore oil development. The bill would direct revenues from Alaska’s outer continental shelf to the state, coastal communities, and tribes. The bill also has revenue sharing for Gulf of Mexico and Southern Atlantic states.
Budget cuts to state troopers are taking place all over Alaska. But in small Southeast communities, like Petersburg, it’s a double whammy. That’s because community jails are also taking a hit. And the two are inextricably linked.
When you think of doing time, most people imagine something on a grand scale like out of the film “The Shawshank Redemption.” But the community jails in Southeast are a little different from that.
Kelly Swihart is Petersburg’s Chief of Police. He shows me a cell block made up of two rooms lodged at the back of the Petersburg police station.
He takes me into one of the cells.
“We have two steel bunks with some mattresses here and over in the corner is a combination unit of a sink and a toilet. It’s pretty sparse,” he says.
The maximum stay here is 15 days at the moment. After that an inmate will be transferred to a larger facility in Juneau or Ketchikan. The state troopers are responsible for the transportation of people from community jails. But there are no law enforcement troopers in Petersburg, and Swihart thinks the swingeing cuts to the state troopers program will make it difficult for them to move prisoners in good time.
“The chain of command at the DOC and the department of public safety need to connect,” he said. “Right now we are only supposed to hold people for 15 days based on our facility set up so they’ve only got a couple of weeks to get em out.”
And he says what makes it extra hard is the Department of Corrections has slashed the budget for community jails. In Petersburg, state funding fell from 320,000 dollars to $185,000. He’s put in a proposal which would limit the length of stay in Petersburg’s jail to 9 days. That would make it even harder for the state troopers to get there on time.
“Cuts to community jails has been a great concern to Alaska state troopers,” said Colonel James Cockrell, the Director of Alaska State Troopers. He says he’s already seeing a backlash from police departments in small communities as the troopers do not have the budget anymore to act as effectively in moving prisoners.
“We are the face of state government and we’re the ones interacting with local police departments and we’re the ones who are going to have to pick up the back load when they start reducing their services,” he says. “We’re starting to get an adversarial relationship with the small police departments.”
And much of the issue here is about maintaining relationships. The Department of Corrections controls the budget for the jails while the Department of Public Safety deals with the State troopers. Alaska State Troopers are being told to cut a further $2.6 million this year. With both agencies making severe cuts Cockrell says they will have to start to prioritize services.
“There might be occasions where we are not going to have the manpower to make the transport but more likely we’ll make the transport and a trooper won’t be able to respond to a call for service,” he tells me.
This is something that really concerns Kelly Swihart but he thinks whatever happens the community jails need to stay open.
“The state needs to have a jail here. We need to have that type of facility here in Petersburg,” he said. “Without that facility we would have a negative impact on our quality of life and it would negatively impact our public safety.”
For the time being the jail here is safe. But Swihart says it might not be long before further cuts spell closing time for community jails across the state.
Oyster theft is, unfortunately, not an uncommon crime around Kachemak Bay, an area with more than a dozen mariculture sites dotting its coastline.
On July 13th, Alaska State Troopers received a call from an oyster grower in Jakolof Cove.
“The oyster farm had essentially pulled up a batch of its oysters and realized there weren’t nearly as many as there should have been,” says Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the Troopers.
“And after they did that, they went back and they reviewed their security footage because they do have security cameras around their operation. They noticed that on July 4th there was a group of four adults that did not have any type of permission to be there. Essentially, those individuals stole oysters from their oyster farm.”
Through images from the security tape, they were able to identify three of the four people as Homer Deputy Harbor Master Matt Clarke, his wife Rebecca, and local resident Christine Kulcheski.
“And we made contact with the three people that they had identified. Those people did cooperate with us. Through our efforts, we were able to identify the fourth person that was involved and charges are also being pursued against that individual.”
The name of the fourth person has not been released yet.
The two Clarkes and Kulcheski are being charged with fourth degree theft and first degree criminal trespass.
The number of oysters and their monetary value have not been disclosed yet.
Deputy Harbor Master Clarke was contacted but did not wish to comment at this time.
Recent rain slowed wildfire growth around the interior, but there are still nearly 2 hundred active blazes, and over twenty staffed fires. The largest response is to a half-million-acre complex of fires near Tanana. Managers expect suppression and demobilization to take weeks.
Like many of the big wildfires in the interior, the five blazes around Tanana were started by abundant lightning that hit the region a month ago. One of the 2 largest: the Spicer Creek Fire has sandwiched the village up against the Yukon River. Bill Paxton, an information officer with the Lower 48-based team managing the response says over 350 people are working both quiet and active areas of the fire.
“While we’re doing rehab and pulling hose on one part of the fire we’re over, actively building line on another (part of the fire) where the threat is,” Paxton says.
Paxton says there’s potential for the Spicer Fire to spring back to life as the weather warms and dries this week, and the priority continues to be protecting the community.
“We’ve got, probably, 20-some miles of hose laid out protecting structures here, plus on the lines that we’re building.”
Paxton identifies the current area of concern as northwest of Tanana, where crews are directly attacking the fire.
“Building a defensible line all the way to this stream called Bear Creek, and from Bear Creek all the way to the Yukon, it’s tough going. It’s hand work. It’s saw work.”
Paxton says structure protection like hoses and sprinklers remain in place along 150 miles of the Yukon River, where the Spicer and 4 other large fires have threatened to advance for a month. He says the management team has committed to running the fire response through the end of July, after which the plan is to transition to a smaller organization.