Alaska News

‘Gar-Barge’ Arrives To Courier Alaska’s Marine Debris To the Lower 48

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-15 17:35

A massive barge is docked in Kodiak this week. The barge is more or less a huge floating trash can. It’s en route to the Lower 48 with hundreds of tons of marine debris on board – debris that will be recycled once the barge arrives in Seattle.

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Barge in Kodiak, without bags. Photo by Candice Bressler

A lot of the marine debris littering Alaska’s shorelines is from the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.


Janna Stewart is the Tsunami Marine Debris Coordinator for Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, one of the organizers of the event. She says it’s hard to determine how much of the debris is from that tsunami. However, they’ve seen things like fishing gear and dock fragments: “…Foam that’s used in a lock of construction, tanks, household items,” Stewart says. “As time has gone on, some of the heavier debris been coming in that’s been moving in the currents rather than bouncing up, driven by the wind,” says Stewart. “So, they’ve seen a change in the nature of the debris that’s come in. For example, they weren’t seeing dimensional lumber from Japan until a couple of years after the tsunami and now they’ve starting to see that.” Stewart says nonprofits and other groups have been collecting marine debris for years and many of those collection sites are remote, like Gore Point and Montague Island. “At a lot of those sites, the debris can’t be removed even by smaller vessels because the shorelines are rocky, they’re high-energy beaches with a lot of surges. So, the debris once it’s been collected and stored on the shoreline, for many of these locations, the only practical way and the safest way to get the debris of the shorelines is to get it airlifted onto the barge.” The Japanese government is largely funding the project with $900,000 from the $2.5 million it granted Alaska. Stewart says Japan donated a total of $5 million dollars to coastal states and says she’s met with other funding recipients at conferences. Not only did Alaska get hit harder than other states, she says, but it also faces unique challenges. “The story I always tell is, when they were doing the presentation on the pickup of this dock that came in, I think it was in Oregon, they talked about they had to drive a quarter of a mile on a logging road to get to the beach. And I said ‘You have a road?’” It’s an issue that the Kodiak Archipelago can relate to. Tom Pogson is Director of Education, Outreach, and Marine Programs of Island Trails Network, a nonprofit that has been working to remove marine debris from Kodiak shorelines since 2013. Pogson says ITN has accumulated 180,000 pounds of marine debris in its storage yard and volunteers spent the weekend preparing it for transport. He says ITN started to make plans with other organizations for the debris removal in February and those plans fell into place over the last couple of weeks. “We’ve been talking about this for a couple of years, but the specifics of getting the contracts finalized and getting a plan and finding appropriate vessels and getting all the mechanics of this particular large-scale removal from this large stretch of coastline set-up has been very complicated,” says Pogson. And he says that’s the nature of the beast. “It’s a bit like riding your bike in the dark on a road without any lights. You basically know you’re on the road, you can sorta get a feel for where you’re going, and you know there’s lots of other people that are going there with you. And you kinda just close your eyes and go.” A kick-off event will take place Thursday in Kodiak to celebrate the barge launch and the month-long debris removal along the coast. The public is invited to hear speakers including DEC Commissioner, NOAA Marine Debris Program Regional Coordinator, and the Director of Alaska Keeper, a major nonprofit involved in organizing the event. The kick-off will be at 2pm at Koniag on Near Island.
Categories: Alaska News

Administration OKs Further Work On The Juneau Access Project

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-15 17:33

The state Department of Transportation is moving forward with its environmental review of the Juneau Access Project. The governor’s state budget director wrote a memo last week giving the department the go-ahead to finish the document that lays out the state’s case for where the road should or shouldn’t be built.

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The end of the road on May 25. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh)

Last December, the governor ordered DOT to stop all discretionary spending, not incur new expenses or change existing contracts. Now, the administration is allowing DOT to spend up to $900,000 of general fund money and associated federal funds to finish the supplemental environmental impact statement.

DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says part of completing the environmental review is responding to public comment.

“Last fall we held a public comment period and we received about 44,000 comments. Of those comments, about 2,400 of those are unique in a way that were going to require some additional work,”

DOT has laid out 8 alternatives for improving access to Juneau. Its preferred alternative involves extending Juneau’s highway system about 50 miles north to a new ferry terminal on Lynn Canal. From there, shuttle ships would complete the link to Haines and Skagway.

The other alternatives include another road option, ferry options or no action. After completing the environmental review, the state will submit its final preferred alternative to the Federal Highway Administration; Woodrow expects it to support the state’s choice.

In the memo, budget director Pat Pitney wrote that reaching that milestone ensures the state won’t have to repay nearly $27 million in federal investments. Around the New Year, then-DOT Commissioner Pat Kemp had raised the issue and was asked to resign.

Pitney also wrote the fed’s decision is expected in January. Woodrow says it could take longer.

“We did have to shut down some of the progress on moving forward with the EIS, so therefore, right now is what we call ramping up stage, getting the contractors back on, deciding what the next logical steps are in moving forward with the EIS,” Woodrow says. “We’re definitely shooting for that January 2016, but it’s too early to tell if that’s a deadline that we can meet with the work that needs to be done.”

So far, Woodrow says about $41 million has been spent studying the Juneau Access Project.

DOT’s preferred alternative would extend Glacier Highway about 50 miles to a ferry terminal at the Katzehin River. Map courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Categories: Alaska News

Short $1B, Icebreaker Advocates Consider Leasing, Sharing

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-15 15:04

Rep. Don Young speaks at an Arctic symposium in Washington, D.C.

Nothing illustrates American disinterest in the Arctic as much as the tiny inventory of U.S. icebreakers: One heavy-duty ship, one medium and one down for repair. Alaska leaders and some federal officials say the country can’t assert its national interests, or see the benefits of increased shipping and resource development in the Arctic, without more icebreakers. But some advocates now say, why buy when you can lease?

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft sounds a little embarrassed by the state of the icebreaking fleet.

“We have eight times the GDP — probably about eight and a half right now — of Russia,” he said. “Russia has a fleet of over 25 ocean-going icebreakers. They’re building six new nuclear icebreaker. And here we are trying to cobble together and maybe reactivate a 37-year-old icebreaker. Because that’s the best we can do.”

For years, Alaska’s delegation to Congress has pleaded for money to build a new icebreaker, and they’ve won appropriations of a few million dollars for pre-construction work. But the Coast Guard says it needs six icebreakers, and a single new ship is projected to cost a billion dollars or more, roughly equal to the Coast Guard’s entire capital budget. Alaska Congressman Don Young says next week he’ll offer a bill to promote alternative funding.

“This is a problem,” he said at an Arctic symposium in Washington today. “I’ve been trying to get an icebreaker. (Sen.) Lisa Murkowski’s been trying to get an icebreaker. But Congress is not about to appropriate $1 billion, 400 million for an icebreaker. So we have to figure out to get the money either from the Army, the Navy and the Coast Guard …  a collective organization together to build us icebreakers.”

Young says the government should seek bids from the private sector to build an icebreaker and lease it to the government, with the expense divvied among several agencies. Young says he knows leasing is not the Coast Guard’s top choice.

“Everyone wants to own their own ship. That’s, by the way, one of the worst things we could do. You own a boat, you find out how much money you lose on it,” he said. “So if you’ve got somebody that’s going to lease it to you, and maintains it for you to standard, that’s the way I’d go.”

Some Coast Guard leaders, over the years, have questioned whether a leased ship is appropriate for frontline government missions, where the Coast Guard is asserting U.S. sovereignty. Admiral Zukunft, the current Coast Guard boss, says the service can’t do as much with a leased ship.

“First and foremost, you need to have some degree of agility,” he said.
You may need to operate that platform beyond what it was designed to operate in a given year, based on the mission demands that are being placed upon it.”

For any lease-or-buy decision — whether it’s a a house, a car or a ship — a key factor is how long you intend to keep the asset. After a certain point, buying has the advantage. Also, Zukunft says, Congressional budget rules essentially charge an agency the whole cost of the lease in the first year.

“So from a business case, a lease option right now, does not provide us an optimal return on investment for a platform that quite honestly we’ve proven that we can maintain these for 35 or 40-plus years,” he said.

But, as with houses and cars, if you don’t have the money, buying isn’t really an option. Sen. Lisa Murkowski this week plugged an idea of former lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell. He says the United States could join other countries to provide an icebreaker escort service. As he sees it, with Canada, Finland, China, maybe Korea, and maybe Russia, the U.S. could set up regular trans-polar convoys. Treadwell says it requires thinking of the Arctic as a shared business asset, like a jointly owned canal.

“Suppose we told the ships of the world, ‘meet us at a Port Clarence every Wednesday at noon. And there’s an icebreaker heading out to a port in Iceland or a port in Norway,’” Treadwell said. “And you might pay a fee like you pay a fee for a canal.”

Treadwell’s concept couldn’t stand in for some of the Coast Guard’s government missions, but Murkowski says, maybe it makes sense to focus on the commercial service first.

Categories: Alaska News

An Uncertain Future for Wild Shellfish Stocks In A Changing Ocean

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-15 12:00

Kachemak Bay – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver/KBBI

This is the fourth in a four-part series on shellfish and ocean acidification produced by Shady Grove Oliver at KBBI-Homer. You can hear Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 on the web.

According to a recent NOAA study, Alaskan shellfish hatcheries risk becoming unsustainable by 2040 because of ocean acidification. Over the last week, we’ve heard how a hatchery in Oregon is dealing with changes in ocean chemistry and about groundbreaking genetic research on shellfish adaptability. But the big questions still remain- how far-reaching will the effects be and can we mitigate them before it’s too late?

Throughout this discussion, there’s been an elephant in the room. Wild stocks. Do wild coastal shellfish face the same 25 year end date that Alaskan hatcheries do?

“Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the million dollar question right there. Can organisms evolve quickly enough to compensate for that change?”

Gretchen Hofmann is a leading scientist in the field of genetic adaptability.

She’s found that certain strains of organisms do selectively favor the trait of acid tolerance from generation to generation.

“You know, if you look into the literature in other systems, you can find examples where rapid evolution has occurred. So, the answer for biology and living things is yes. But…”

The answer for specific breeds of living things is…we don’t really know yet.

That’s a concern for Alaskans, who have relied on particular types of clams and other shellfish for generations as a food source.

Jeremy Mathis is a NOAA oceanographer who worked on the study at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward.

“The measurements we made in the hatchery does cause some alarm for the natural environments because it’s the same water we’re seeing in the hatchery that’s all up and down the coast,” says Mathis.

Jeff Hetrick is the owner of Alutiiq Pride. Like many local residents, he’s noticed a serious decline in certain shellfish populations in southcentral Alaska.

“Oh absolutely. I don’t think that we’re going to lose the wild stocks, you’ve basically lost the wild stocks. They’re really hard to come by. It’s difficult for us to even get the brood stock to produce in the hatchery. There’s a razor clam issue that people are aware of on the peninsula. But, especially in lower Cook Inlet and the Homer area, littleneck clams, butter clams, cockles, they’re hard to find. There’s been a decline now for the past decade,” says Hetrick.

Hofmann says some of the urchin divers she works with on the California coast have noticed similar years with very poor harvest numbers. She says there haven’t been enough studies to make a definite correlation with acidification yet, but it’s something scientists and locals are thinking about.

“It’s a pretty big concern, you know, because some of the things we learn about invertebrate biology is that, just the simple first beginning step of fertilization is pH sensitive. So, right there, if you have a species that has the sperm-egg interaction being affected by acidification, then right off the bat, no matter how many adults you have, you have fewer progeny going forward and therefore, really bad recruitment years,” says Hofmann.

“So, what we need to do now, is take our monitoring systems that we’ve installed in the hatchery and expand those out into these natural sites, so that we’re getting that same level of monitoring, that same level of environmental intelligence, so that we can answer that question,” says Mathis.

NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environment Lab in Seattle and the University of Alaska Fairbanks are doing just that. Not only do they plan to expand hatchery research to another site, possibly Ketchikan or Homer, they are also partnering for a new study.

Wiley Evans, is heading out this week with a team of scientists to survey acidification parameters from Dixon Entrance in southern Southeast all the way to Kodiak Island.

“We’re doing measurements both continuously, as the ship’s moving from surface seawater flowing through the vessel, sort of in the same way that we are making measurements at Alutiiq Pride. And we’re also going to be making measurements at specific places where we profile the entire water column from the surface down to the bottom,” says Evans.

When that team disembarks in Kodiak, they’ll still leave some of their equipment on board to continue bringing in data on a different mission that will go up to the Bering Sea, over to Dutch Harbor, and back to Seattle.

Evans says they’re hoping to get a more comprehensive picture of current ocean conditions, so they can make more educated decisions on how to deal with acidification in the future. A future that could look much worse than today, says Hofmann.

“I think it’s a pretty big problem if you stand back and look at it for what it is,” says Hofmann.

It is a complex problem with regional factors that exacerbate it. In places like Alaska, carbon emissions speed up CO2-rich glacial melt. In places like Washington, Oregon, and California that are subject to seasonal upwelling, the newer top layer of oxygenated water now has more CO2 to begin with, so it can’t as efficiently counteract the deeper, older, CO2-rich water that comes to the surface.

On top of that, scientists have estimated that that water coming up is 30-50 years old, so from the 1960s-1980s. Imagine that many years from now when today’s water is what’s below the surface.

“We can’t get complacent and say well, we’ve done enough, it’s time to move on to the next crisis. This is something we have to keep right at the forefront and make sure that people understand that while we’ve learned a lot in the past few years, we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of understanding the long term implications of ocean acidification,” says Mathis.

Mathis says that’s why it’s crucial to do the work now, to salvage and protect what we can of the marine ecosystem for 2, 10, or 25 years down the line.


Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, July 14, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 17:43

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

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Coast Guard Gears Up For Shell’s Chukchi Season

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

As Shell gears up to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the Coast Guard is getting ready, too. At an Arctic Symposium in Washington D.C. this morning, the head of the U.S. Coast Guard outlined the difficulties the service will face in the Chukchi Sea this summer, and in the Arctic generally.

Shellfish genetics could be the key to climate change adaptation

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A recent NOAA study found that by 2040, Alaskan shellfish hatcheries may no longer be sustainable because of ocean acidification, unless serious mitigation efforts are put in place. Yesterday, we reported on a hatchery in Oregon that’s become a model for adapting to these different conditions. But the long term solution may actually lie in shellfish genes.

Report: Heroin Use is Skyrocketing in Alaska

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A new report from the state health department shows a dramatic rise in heroin use in Alaska. The number of hospitalizations for heroin related causes nearly doubled in the state from 2008 to 2012.

Education Lawsuit Heads Through Appeals Process

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Several briefs were filed by the June 30th deadline with the Alaska Supreme Court in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s ongoing lawsuit challenging the State of Alaska’s requirement that local governments earmark a certain amount of property taxes for public education.

Knik Arm Project Gets A Tentative Green Light from Administration

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

In a letter to state Department of Transportation commissioner Mark Luiken, state office of management and budget director Pat Pitney has advised DOT to proceed within existing appropriations, to continue work on the Knik Arm Crossing.

Falling Debris From Decrepit Apartments Closes Juneau Park

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The burnt out Gastineau Apartments in Juneau will finally be demolished by the end of November, according to Juneau’s city attorney. In the meantime, the city says the downtown buildings are a public safety concern. It’s temporarily closed the neighboring park due to falling debris.

City Considers Amending Land Use Code to Address Child Care Shortage

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau Assembly is working on amending child care permit regulations in an effort to increase child care availability in Juneau.

Nome Reindeer Ranch Cultivates A New Generation of Herders

Laura Kraegel, KNOM – Nome

In 1967, Larry Davis snow machined from Nome to Cape Espenberg. When he returned, he brought with him 200 reindeer — a herd that would eventually swell to 10,000 in the 1990s.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor’s Office Advises DOT To Proceed With Knik Arm Project

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 17:37

In a letter to state Department of Transportation commissioner Mark Luiken, state office of management and budget director Pat Pitney has advised DOT to proceed within existing appropriations, to continue work on the Knik Arm Crossing.

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The memo, dated July 6, advises DOT to seek federal loan money to pursue right of way requirements. The memo essentially removes the Knik Arm project from a state halt on mega projects.

DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says the memo will allow DOT to pursue a letter of interest for a federal TIFIA loan

“We are picking up really exactly where we left off when the administrative order was issued, so we were about to pursue the letter of interest for TIFIA, we were working with the National Marine Fisheries Service for the permit, which most of the other permits hinge on this permit, and then of course, finishing up the right of way, in particular, working with Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.”

McCarthy says the steps outlined in the memo are all outside of the control of the state, so it makes sense to pursue them, so the state can decide whether to move forward on the bridge project or not.

Categories: Alaska News

Education lawsuit heads through appeals process

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 17:36

A flurry of briefs was filed by the June 30th deadline with the Alaska Supreme Court in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s ongoing lawsuit challenging the State of Alaska’s requirement that local governments earmark a certain amount of property taxes for public education.

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A 2015 property tax bill from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough includes a break-out of how much a homeowner pays toward the state’s required local contribution for public education. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

“I’ll go out on a limb and say I’m absolutely confident that we are correct in this matter,” says Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst.

He knows the borough has a good case. They won the first round, after all, when Superior Court Judge William Carey ruled in January that the state’s required local contribution for schools violates the Alaska Constitution.

The question is: Will the Alaska Supreme Court uphold Carey’s decision?

State attorneys didn’t waste any time filing an appeal with the high court, and Carey’s decision was put on hold pending that appeal.

Borough officials also filed an appeal because, while winning the main point, they didn’t get everything they wanted. Judge Carey ruled against the borough’s request for a refund of the previous year’s required local contribution – about $4 million.

The most recent filings with the high court allowed each side to argue why the justices should rule against the other side. The borough relied on a prior case, State v Alex, which in the 1980s, challenged a required tax, which went directly from commercial fishermen to regional aquaculture associations.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the tax violates the Constitution’s prohibition against dedicated funds.

The borough’s brief focuses on similarities between Alex and the current case.

“It absolutely hits it, every point,” Bockhorst says.

Borough Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen adds: “One of the lynchpins of the arguments that the state makes is that, if the money doesn’t hit the state treasury, there can be no dedication and you don’t have to appropriate the money. But in the Alex case, the money never hit the state treasury.”

He explains that the Constitution stipulates that public funds can’t be dedicated, or earmarked, by the state – revenue has to be appropriated on an annual basis by the Legislature.

The state counters that the required local contribution isn’t state revenue, and that the statute only requires local funding – not necessarily a local tax. But Bockhorst says the only realistic way a local government can raise the mandated millions of dollars every year is through taxes, and that those local taxes are a back-door way for the state to fund schools.

“The state is able to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools by forcing us to levy what amounts to state taxes,” he says. “We get the blame and they get the benefit.”

The borough didn’t win the refund issue because Judge Carey ruled the state wasn’t enriched by the required local contribution. The Legislature can choose to reduce or increase school funding each year, and the mandatory local contribution doesn’t necessarily factor in to that process.

The borough, though, contends that the state is, indeed, enriched.

“If we’re compelled by the Legislature to spend a chunk of money in furtherance of their responsibility, then that money is being spent for their benefit, whether they’re required to fully fund or not,” Brandt-Erichsen says.

With this latest set of briefs filed with the Alaska Supreme Court, each side now has until July 28 to respond in writing. After that, the next important date is Sept. 16. That’s when oral arguments are scheduled with the Supreme Court in Anchorage.

“And the Supreme Court has signaled in the past that they plan to rule promptly,” Bockhorst says.

An exact timeline for a decision is not known, but ideally a ruling would be announced prior to the next legislative session. That way, everyone would know before lawmakers convene in Juneau whether or not the state needs a whole new education funding system.

Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Considers Amending Land Use Code to Address Child Care Shortage

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 17:33

The Juneau Assembly is working on amending child care permit regulations in an effort to increase child care availability in Juneau.

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The Juneau Lands and Resources committee met Monday evening to push forward an amendment to the city’s land use code that would allow child care providers to care for more children. (Photo by Lakeidra Chavis/KTOO)

On Monday evening, the city’s Land and Resources committee forwarded an amendment that would change part of the land use code, allowing at-home child care facilities to take in 12 children instead of eight.

The Association for the Education of Young Children, or AEYC, provides resources and advocates quality child care in the Southeast. Coordinator Nikki Love says the organization is in full support of the amendment.

“There’s enough licensed care for 1 in 4, or 1 in 5 children, under the age of 5, so the need is really high,” Love said.

In the past few years waitlists have increased but remain at a steady rate, according to Love.

“We’d like to see a decrease in barriers to child care facilities and businesses in town since there is such a great need for child care, and changing the zoning would help open the door to potential businesses,” she said.

The amendment also provides a clear definition of child care home-facilities, requires at home providers to have sufficient parking and if state fencing requirements apply, the city may require the fence to meet neighborhood aesthetics.

If passed, the amendment would not affect any child care facilities currently operating.

The amendment is a part of a larger comprehensive plan to fix the child care crisis Juneau.

Gold Creek Child Development Director Gretchen Boone says she’s in favor of the permitting — the more childcare, the better.

Boone says the waitlist at Gold Creek has 75 children on it — the highest she’s ever seen it despite working at the facility for nearly two decades.

“Having more child care out there would benefit the entire community. There are families on our waitlist who have been on our waitlist for over a year and will probably never obtain space with us,” Boone said.

Lisa White, former owner of Little Bear Daycare, says she also had long waitlists.

“Usually by the time I would get back to some names they had long since found a place, but sometimes it would a year or two,” White said.

White cites over-regulation as the reason she closed her child care center in 2007.  Nearly finished with the re-licensing process she called it quits as a child care provider in Juneau after 17 years, a profession that she cherished.

While speaking about the lack of childcare in Juneau, White got emotional. She looks forward to the situation improving for Juneau’s families.

“It’s just going to keep getting worse unless they do something about it. There are all these families — they need this, and they don’t need this years from now, they need it years ago,” White said.

The amendment was forwarded on to the full assembly, and will be considered at a future meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

Nome Reindeer Ranch Cultivates A New Generation of Herders

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 17:32

In 1967, Larry Davis snow machined from Nome to Cape Espenberg. When he returned, he brought with him 200 reindeer — a herd that would eventually swell to 10,000 in the 1990s. But that’s just a piece of recent history.

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Photo: Mitch Borden, KNOM.

Larry’s son — Bruce Davis — is the owner of the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch. On Monday, he sat down with members of the Reindeer Club to talk about the big picture.

He asked: “What year do you think reindeer herding came to Alaska?”

“1900? 1969? 1920?”

Those are the kids who make up Reindeer Club, a program borne from collaboration between Davis’ ranch and Nome Eskimo Community. Now in its second summer, the club meets on Mondays to learn about different aspects of reindeer herding.

Yearling Brownie explores the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch outside of Nome. Photo: Mitch Borden, KNOM.

On Monday, Davis focused on history, explaining how reindeer were introduced to Alaska in 1892. But he didn’t stop there. He touched on topics from corral construction to vaccinations to the lichen his reindeer like to eat.

His goal is to educate young people on the ins and outs of reindeer herding. He says it’ll take time for Alaska — having herded for just over 100 years — to catch up to places like Chukotka, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, which have been refining their techniques for 4,000 years.

Bruce Davis leads Brownie around the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch a year after she was orphaned and adopted. Photo: Mitch Borden, KNOM.

“We’re trying to revitalize the reindeer industry again, but it’s dying out,” Davis said. “So we have to get the young people involved again. So it takes a while. This is part of our outreach — to let you guys know that reindeer herders are still here.”

For the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch, “here” means 13 miles out on the Kougarok Road. The ranch opened in 2010, and its herd now includes 100 reindeer. The most beloved is Brownie, a yearling that was orphaned before being adopted and domesticated by the Davis family.

While the kids in Reindeer Club called Brownie back to her trailer on the ranch, the rest of the herd ranges across an area 50 miles wide and 30 miles deep. Davis says he eventually hopes to grow the herd to 3,000 or 4,000 reindeer, a process that could take 10 to 15 years. He also has plans to evolve the small summertime club into a larger 4-H program.

For now, the Reindeer Club will meet weekly on Mondays through August. Interested kids can contact Nome Eskimo Community for more information.

Categories: Alaska News

Falling debris from decrepit apartments closes Juneau park

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 16:43

The burnt-out Gastineau Apartments will finally be demolished by the end of November, according to Juneau’s city attorney. In the meantime, the city says the downtown buildings are a public safety concern. It’s temporarily closed the neighboring park due to falling debris.

The city closed Pocket Park at the end of last week.

Tourists stand in front of the closed Gunakadeit Park, also known as Pocket Park, on Monday. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“One of our workers was in there the other day and noticed some broken glass in the fountain area,” says Colby Shibler, park maintenance supervisor for Parks and Recreation, “and realized that it wasn’t a broken bottle and then looked up and noticed a bunch of the windows were broken out in the building there and realized that the glass was probably falling out of the window or had been broken out from the inside, it looked like, and was concerned about glass falling on people in the park.”

Dave Lane admits people have trespassed into the apartments in the past, but now he says the buildings are more secure. Lane does construction for the owners of Gastineau Apartments, James and Kathleen Barrett.

“We as of late, and that being the past 8 months, 9 months, have been patrolling more. Almost every evening, we come through and we make sure there’s no one in here at that time. We made sure everything is secure to the best of our abilities,” Lane says.

Gastineau Apartments still have unboarded, broken windows. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

City building official Charlie Ford says the Barretts are being negligent with security.

“I had been working with Mr. Barrett to try and keep the building secured and all of a sudden, I noticed a side door was open and there was a ladder leaning up against the Rawn Way side of the building that was obviously used for access to get into the upper floors,” Ford says.

Ford sent a letter to the Barretts Monday asking them to board up more windows and clean up the remaining glass shards. He says if they don’t care of it, the city will.

Gastineau Apartments have been uninhabitable since a November 2012 fire. The city declared the buildings a public nuisance soon after. The Barretts have repeatedly missed deadlines for repairs or demolition. Part of the building caught on fire again in March.

The Barretts had until June 19 to turn in paperwork and plans for demolishing the buildings. When they failed to do that, the city sent a letter a week later stating that it would demolish them on its own. At the end of June, the Assembly appropriated $1.8 million to do that.

James Barrett says that’s hindered his own plans to sell or demolish the buildings. He says he’s talked to more than 30 companies.

“It’s just put me at a standstill when we thought we were moving forward. I’m going to see where the other contractors who are bidding are going to end up. That’s about all I can do at this point,” Barrett says.

Barrett says he’s seriously considering suing the city.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Heroin Use is Skyrocketing in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 16:35

A new report from the state health department shows a dramatic rise in heroin use in Alaska. The number of hospitalizations for heroin related causes nearly doubled in the state from 2008 to 2012.

And in 2013, 23 people in Alaska died from heroin overdose, four times the number of overdose deaths in 2008.

Source: Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services.

Dr. Jay Butler is the state’s chief medical officer:

“When we look at the magnitude of heroin deaths combined with the magnitude of deaths due to prescription opioids, we’re looking at a similar number to what we see with motor vehicle accidents. that’s a problem, but it’s one of those things that doesn’t tend to get in the news very often because it doesn’t happen all at once.”

According to the report, many addicts switch from prescription pain killers to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to find. Dr. Butler says he had a patient last year who told him he spent more on cigarettes than heroin.

Butler is working to improve access to the drug naloxone (nah-LAX-own), which can prevent overdose deaths. And he wants to make the state’s prescription drug monitoring program more user friendly for prescribers and pharmacists and more well known:

“We also need to get the word out. I’ll be honest, I’m a licensed physician with a DEA number. I didn’t even realize we had a prescription drug monitoring program until I worked for the state.”]

The state’s prescription drug monitoring program was established in 2008 to combat the misuse of controlled substances.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Gears Up for Shell’s Chukchi Season

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 15:23

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft

As Shell gears up to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the Coast Guard is getting ready, too. At an Arctic symposium in Washington D.C. this morning, the head of the U.S. Coast Guard outlined the difficulties the service will face in the Chukchi Sea this summer, and in the Arctic generally.

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft says if Shell is allowed to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the Coast Guard will be there with five ships and two aircraft. But, the admiral says, nothing about the Arctic is easy.

“We are a service that prides itself on being semper paratus – ‘always ready’– but this area really does present a challenge for us,” he said.

Policing Shell is a big part of the job. Zukunft says the Coast Guard will be there to “provide that check and balance for (the) private sector. As they exploit these riches, there is zero room for failure,” he said. “And by that I mean an oil spill in the Arctic.”

Zukunft says environmental activists may be one complication.

“We may have a run-in with NGOs if Shell gets its final permit,” he said. “Greenpeace did protest when Russia was drilling in their Arctic domain. They were in prison for about 16 months. I don’t think we’ll take as harsh measures in the United States, but we need to be there as an enforcement arm.”

The worse-case scenario is a well blowout, which he says could send 25,000 barrels a day into the ocean. Zukunft says the lack of on-shore facilities would complicate a response. Zukunft was the federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon five years ago.

“We had 47,000 responders that we’re marshaled to the Gulf of Mexico, and you can’t do that anywhere but the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “Try to put 100 people in Barrow, Alaska, and after the first 50 show up, the other 50 will be fending off polar bears. We do not have the (on-shore) infrastructure.”

Arctic operations have to be sea-based, he says, and that’s why Shell is moving nearly 30 ships to the Arctic for the short drilling season. It’s also why the company is required to have a relief rig and a well-capping stack on hand.

The ship carrying the capping stack got a lesson in the hazards of the Arctic just outside Dutch Harbor July 3, when its hull was cracked. Presumably, the Finnish-owned icebreaker Fennica hit an uncharted object. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was surveying nearby and was able to check out the Fennica’s route.  NOAA found areas that were shallower than charted, but senior Arctic advisor Dave Kennedy says it’s still not clear what the Fennica hit.

“They’re still analyzing the data but the preliminary report is there is nothing obvious that they could find that would indicate something that should have been an obstacle there,” Kennedy said.

A Shell spokesman says the Fennica will be repaired temporarily in Dutch Harbor then set out for Oregon for permanent repair. Shell says the mishap won’t delay the Chukchi Sea operation because the capping stack isn’t needed until August.

Admiral Robert Papp, a former head of the Coast Guard, says the Fennica might have hit something like an underwater spire, a natural structure he says would be hard for surveyors to spot. Papp is now the State Department’s special Arctic representative, and at the Arctic Symposium he hinted at a big, high-level meeting in Alaska next month.

“I can’t talk a lot about that today, but it will draw the attention of the world to Alaska and the Arctic, and I’m very excited about it. “

Months ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski let slip that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry plan to visit Alaska in August. The exact date, and which communities they’ll visit, aren’t publicly known. Papp says he expects an announcement shortly.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Marine Debris Stockpile To Be Shipped to Lower 48

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 09:59

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A massive cleanup effort is getting underway in Alaska, with tons of marine debris — some likely sent to sea by the 2011 tsunami in Japan — set to be airlifted from rocky beaches and taken by barge for recycling and disposal in the Pacific Northwest.

This undated photo provided by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, shows pelagic gooseneck barnacles (Lepas anatifera) established on a buoy off the Gulf of Alaska. The barnacles are native, open-ocean barnacles; the most common and abundant organism observed on marine debris. A massive cleanup effort is getting underway in Alaska, with tons of marine debris, some likely sent to sea by the 2011 tsunami in Japan, set to be airlifted from rocky beaches and taken by barge for recycling and disposal in the Pacific Northwest. (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation via AP)

Hundreds of heavy-duty bags of debris, collected in 2013 and 2014 and stockpiled at a storage site in Kodiak, also will be shipped out. The barge is scheduled to arrive in Kodiak by Thursday, before setting off on a roughly one-month venture.

The scope of the project, a year in the making, is virtually unheard of in Alaska. It was spurred, in part, by the mass of material that’s washed ashore — things like buoys, fishing lines, plastics and fuel drums — and the high cost of shuttling small boatloads of debris from remote sites to port, said Chris Pallister, president of the cleanup organization Gulf of Alaska Keeper, which is coordinating the effort.

 The Anchorage landfill also began requiring that fishing nets and lines — common debris items — to be chopped up, a task called impossible by state tsunami marine debris coordinator Janna Stewart.

Pallister estimates the cost of the barge project at up to $1.3 million, with the state contributing $900,000 from its share of the $5 million that Japan provided for parts of the U.S. affected by tsunami debris. Crews in British Columbia will be able to add debris to the barge as it passes through, chipping in if they do. Pallister’s group has committed $100,000. Delays due to weather could drive up costs, which Pallister said is a concern.

The cost to operate the barge is $17,000 a day, Stewart said.

Many of the project sites are remote and rugged. Crews working at sites like Kayak and Montague islands in Prince William Sound, for example, get there by boat and sleep onboard. The need to keep moving down the shoreline as cleanup progresses, combined with terrain littered with boulders and logs, makes it tough to set up a camp, Pallister said. There’s also the issue of bears.

While relatively few people visit these sites, it’s important to clean them, Stewart said. Foam disintegrates, which can seep into salmon streams or be ingested by birds, she said. There’s concern, too, with the impact of broken-down plastic on marine life.

What’s not picked up can get swept back out, she said.

“It’s like it never really goes away unless we get in there and actively remove it,” Stewart said.

Alaska has more coastline than any other state. And Alaska cleanup operations often are expensive and dangerous, said Nikolai Maximenko, a senior researcher at the Hawaii-based International Pacific Research Center.

“Even without the tsunami, Alaska is well-known for being polluted with all these buoys and other stuff from fisheries activity and from other human activities,” he said.

It can be hard to definitively distinguish tsunami debris from the run-of-the-mill rubbish that has long fouled shorelines unless there are identifiable markings. But Pallister and others say the type and volume of debris that has washed up in Alaska is different since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which killed thousands in Japan.

Before the tsunami, a lot of old fishing gear would be on the beach. But afterward, the debris included an inundation of Styrofoam and urethane, Pallister said. Objects such as property stakes and crates used by fishermen in coastal Japan also have begun showing up, he said.

Crews plan to do cleanup work in the Gulf of Alaska this summer, which will add to the material that has already been cached in heavy-duty bags above the high-tide line. All this would be loaded onto the barge.

The logistics are complicated.

Dump trucks are expected to ferry the large white bags of debris from the Kodiak storage yard to the barge after it arrives. Tom Pogson with the Island Trails Network, which worked on the Kodiak-area debris removal, said that will be the easy part.

Categories: Alaska News

Shellfish genetics could be the key to climate change adaptation

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 09:28

A recent NOAA study found that by 2040, Alaskan shellfish hatcheries may no longer be sustainable because of ocean acidification, unless serious mitigation efforts are put in place. We recently reported on a hatchery in Oregon that’s become a model for adapting to these different conditions. But the long term solution may actually lie in shellfish genes.

Diagram of upwelling which is a cycle of seasonal winds pushing newer oxygen-rich water off the surface of the ocean and older, nutrient and CO2 rich water rising up to take its place causing a lot of pH fluctuation. (Image courtesy of NOAA)

Evolution and resiliency are the buzzwords for a sustainable mariculture industry in Alaska, a state that is particularly vulnerable.

“And Alaska is going to be the test bed unfortunately for informing us for how the rest of the ecosystem will respond to ocean acidification,” says Jeremy Mathis, a NOAA oceanographer who worked on the recent study based at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward.

One short-term solution hatcheries are testing is injecting the acidic ocean water with carbonates that are needed for organisms like clams and mussels to develop hard shells.

But in the long term, Mathis says they may need to turn to genetics for answers.

“Ideally we can start looking at species that are more resilient to ocean acidification and adapting the commercial fisheries and commercial processing to animals that have that robustness to tolerate ocean acidification as opposed to the ones that are more vulnerable to it,” says Mathis.

That’s where scientists like Gretchen Hofmann come in. She’s a marine biology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I work on marine invertebrates and sometimes fish and we study how they respond to their environment. We would call it environment-organism interactions and lately we’ve been interested in how these organisms will respond to future changes in ocean pH and ocean warming,” says Hofmann.

She’s a leader in what Mathis calls the emerging field of genetic adaptability.

“So it really just started with a conversation with oceanographers who were thinking about this and from there, we started to do experiments, and then we started to ask deeper questions about whether or not organisms could adapt to these changes in the ocean and even if there are already genotypes and strains of organisms that are able to handle a low pH condition,” says Hofmann.

She says the first experiments they did were a bit too basic for Mother Nature. They’d take species, put them in water with different pH, and see how they’d react. That didn’t reflect natural variations in ocean conditions.

“What we found was that there wasn’t just this straight line, no pH change, but that pH was going up and down sometimes quite dramatically,” says Hofmann.

Alaskan waters, for example, are very cold and have shifting pH depending on the seasons, fresh water inputs, and how much CO2-rich glacial melt is present.

From Washington to California, the coast is subject to a phenomenon known as upwelling, which is a cycle of seasonal winds pushing newer oxygen-rich water off the surface of the ocean and older, nutrient and CO2 rich water rising up to take its place. That means a lot of pH fluctuation.

So, Hofmann says they shifted their sea urchin research to take upwelling into account.

“And we formed the hypothesis to test that the adults from the place where there was a lot of low pH exposure would be genetically different from the wimpy ones that did not experience all that pH stress,” says Hofmann.

They found that the urchins from areas with upwelling had a different genetic signature from those who weren’t and their progeny, or babies, were more tolerant of acidic water.

“It was even more interesting because it looked like the trait of being able to tolerate that low pH, that was heritable,” says Hofmann.

She points to work being done in New Zealand, where different types of green-shelled mussels are being cross-bred to develop a new resistant and adaptive strain.

So, an Alaskan hatchery, for example, could choose to make the shift from some common species being raised now to ones that selectively favor that trait.

But it also may mean letting go of consumer preference for certain types of clams, mussels, and other shellfish that just don’t measure up.

“These are things that we should be taking a strong look at because it could be that there are other strains of shellfish that could be used that would be more successful in a mariculture setting. But, it is a very thorny issue and one that I think science could bring a lot of daylight to, I think, if we work together on it,” says Hofmann.

Hofmann says it’s important for industry and scientists to start partnering now, to get ahead of the game as much as possible.

“The first thing we have to do though is get carbon dioxide emission levels under control and then we can deal with the damage that has already been done through mitigation and adaptation strategies,” says Mathis.

Because, the problem will only get worse with each coming year.

Categories: Alaska News

Suspicious Duffel Bag at Federal Building Draws Juneau’s Bomb Squad

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-07-14 09:26

Photo: KTOO.

A suspicious duffel bag left in the post office parking lot outside Juneau’s downtown Federal Building on Monday drew out the bomb squad.

Police cordoned off the area, but the building wasn’t evacuated.

Lt. Kris Sell with the Juneau Police Department says their initial call was “that a woman who was running for some unknown reason threw down a duffel bag and left it in the parking lot.”

Sell says the woman came back about 25 minutes later and tried to reclaim the bag, but at that point police erred on the side of caution and inspected the bag as if it were a bomb. It wasn’t.

The woman isn’t in custody and hasn’t been identified, though police want to talk to her and have surveillance video.

“If the woman who jettisoned the bag and then came back for it could contact us to talk to us, that would save us a little bit of leg work in the investigation,” Sell said. “We’d sure like to have a conversation with her and know what’s going go.  Not that she’s necessarily in any trouble.”

There was nothing illegal in bag. Sell says the investigation is ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell’s Fennica Vessel Limps to Oregon For Repairs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-13 19:45

A Royal Dutch Shell PLC ship carrying required blowout response equipment for Arctic offshore drilling will be sent to a West Coast shipyard for repairs.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith says the 380-foot icebreaker Fennica will transit from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Portland, Ore., for repairs.

Smith says the company’s 2015 drilling schedule should not be interrupted.

The hull of the Fennica was gashed July 3 by an uncharted object as it departed for the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.

The Fennica’s primary mission for Shell is carrying a capping stack, which could be lowered onto a wellhead to stop a blowout.

Smith says Shell drill rigs can begin top-hole work and the Fennica will not be needed until August.

Categories: Alaska News

Records: Employees used leave time for charity golf tourney

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-13 19:00

Public records show nearly all of the employees of the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. who played in a charity golf tournament last month took personal leave time that day.

Stacy Schubert, a spokeswoman for the independent state agency, says some returned to work while others took personal leave for the day. She says one employee, who helped with the tournament and later returned to the office, was paid for the day.

Rep. Lynn Gattis used the event as an example of the need for agencies to exercise restraint in activities that go beyond their core missions as the state deals with large budget deficits.

Schubert says no state or federal money was used to put on the event, which raised about $15,000 for the Nome Boys and Girls Club.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard searches for a missing cruise ship passenger near Seattle

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-13 18:36

The Coast Guard is searching an area in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca near Seattle for a passenger reported missing from a Holland America cruise ship.

The cruise line says the 64-year-old man was aboard the ship Statendam when it sailed from Victoria, British Columbia, Sunday night, but he didn’t check off the ship after it docked in Seattle on Monday.

Petty Officer Katelyn Shearer says Holland America reviewed surveillance video and determined the man’s location was last known off the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Neither the Coast Guard nor Holland America would immediately say what the video showed.

The Coast Guard says it has two cutters, two smaller boats and a helicopter searching for the man. He’s described as a U.S. citizen who had been traveling alone.

The Statendam was on a 14-day roundtrip cruise from Seattle to Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, July 13, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-13 17:45

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

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State Says Sockeye Fire Sprung From A Burn Pile; 2 Face Charges

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Two Anchorage adults have been charged with igniting the Sockeye fire, which destroyed 55 homes near Willow in June.

Marriage Ruling Doesn’t Protect LBGT Alaskans Against Workplace Discrimination

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska is one of 28 states that allow workplace discrimination against someone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Calista Shareholders Vote to Enroll ‘Afterborns’

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Thousands of so-called afterborns will be eligible for shares of Calista Corporation after shareholders voted Saturday. The preliminary results from the annual meeting in Kasigluk dramatically reshape the ownership of the Y-K Delta’s regional Alaska Native Corporation.

Lessons for Alaska: Oregon Shellfish Hatchery Tackles Ocean Acidification

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A recent NOAA study named 2040 as the date for the potential end of Alaskan shellfish hatcheries. That is, unless serious mitigation efforts are put in place to combat ocean acidification. Earlier this week, we reported on the research, done at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward. Now, we’ll take a look at what a hatchery on the Oregon coast is doing to deal with these harmful changes in ocean chemistry.

On the Nushagak, Sportfishers Struggle to Reel In the Kings

Matt Martin, KDLG – Dillingham

The Nushagak River is becoming one of Alaska’s premier destinations for king salmon sport fishermen. The king return to the Nushagak is proving stronger this year than last, and Fish and Game says they’re on track to meet the escapement goal. But sport fishing guides say the angling has been less than average.

New RX Drug Drop Gives Community a Chance to Safely Purge Meds

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Starting Monday, Juneau residents will be able to walk into the police department and hand over drugs without consequence. It’s been several months since the community could safely dispose of prescription medications.



Haines Sees A Spike in Avian Rescues

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

The American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines has seen such a dramatic increase in bird rescues that they’re asking for the public’s help. The foundation plans to form a volunteer Avian Rescue Team.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire Charges Filed

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-07-13 17:43

Two Anchorage adults have been charged with igniting the Sockeye fire, which destroyed fifty – five homes near Willow in June.

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The point of ignition of the Sockeye fire has been traced to an unattended burn pile on Willow property owned by Anchorage resident Greg Imig, aged 59. Imig, and Amy Dewitt, age 42 have been charged for their role in starting the 7,220 acre wildfire. According to state fire information officer Tim Mowry,  Imig and DeWitt did not have a burn permit for the debris pile located on forested lands at a recreational cabin owned by Imig.

“They were burning debris without a permit, and they did leave that fire unattended, and it is a worst case scenario and that’s why it strictly says on our burn permits, and it is what we try to drive home.. never leave any fire unattended.”

According to Mowry, an investigation conducted by the state division of forestry and the state fire marshall’s office concluded that the illegal burn was left unattended on the evening of June 13. One of several of the burn piles smoldered and crept into the woods, resulting in the blaze that swept toward Willow on Sunday, June 14, causing evacuations Sunday night and Monday.

“You know, to be clear, there was no burn suspension in place. So if these folks had have had a permit, and had followed safe burn guidelines, they would have been within the law. It’s tragic all around what happened”, Mowry says.

Imig and Dewitt are to be arraigned in Palmer District Court on July 28. Charges include three counts of reckless endangerment, criminally negligent burning, failure to obtain a burn permit, burning without clearing an area, allowing the spread of fire and leaving a fire unattended. Mowry says that Amy Dewitt did make the 911 call to fire officials.

The Sockeye wildfire moved so quickly that many evacuees had little time to gather more than a few items and rescue pets. The fire was fought with help from Hot Shot crews from the lower 48, and at one point there were 500 firefighters attacking the blaze.  Mowry says that the most recent information puts the cost of fighting the blaze at over $8 million.  That cost does not include losses of the structures.

In addition to the 55 homes lost, 44 additional structures were lost in the blaze.

Categories: Alaska News