Alaska News

Walker Announces Budget Vetoes, Warns Of Layoffs

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 12:25

Gov. Bill Walker announced on Monday morning that he will be vetoing parts of the state operating budget.

In a letter sent to state employees, Walker explained that the partial veto is being made because the Legislature authorized $5 billion in state spending when only $2 billion are readily available.

“I have made clear I cannot accept a budget that is not fully funded. To do so would put the State in the position of not being able to fulfill our obligations. This is unacceptable,” Walker wrote.

While Alaska has a $10 billion rainy day account, a three-quarter vote is needed to access the funds, and lawmakers have not reached a deal to tap it. The Republican majorities and Democratic minorities are in a stalemate over education funding and the expansion of Medicaid, and no compromise has been reached on those issues three weeks into a special session.

In his letter, Walker stated that many state employees will receive layoff notices in early June if a deal is not reached. He wrote that he prioritized appropriations dealing with public safety and health when making his vetoes.

Lawmakers plan to continue their budget negotiations. The special session is scheduled to end on May 27.

This is a developing story.

Categories: Alaska News

Bandit the Runaway Wave Buoy Back in Service

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 12:10

A popular, yet troublesome, ocean monitoring buoy went back in service this spring in southern peninsula waters after being out of service for a year and a half.

The Lower Cook Inlet Wave Buoy is loved and used by many, when it decides to stay in once place.

“This buoy is affectionately nicknamed Bandit because it’s come off its tether multiple times in the past couple years,” says Darcy Dugan, program manager with the Alaska Ocean Observing System. “Two summers in a row it came off its chain for reasons we weren’t able to completely pin down, but we’re guessing the strong tidal current was one of those reasons. Most recently, we ended up having to take it off its tether because it started to malfunction and we had to get it fixed and take it back out. So, we’ve got our fingers crossed that this time it’ll stay out there.”

Angie Doroff of the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve and Kris Holderied of NOAA’s Kasitsna Bay Laboratory with Bandit the Buoy

So why put an expensive piece of equipment in a rough spot where its likely to break free? Dugan says the answer lies in the question.

“Cook Inlet is a dynamic place and with the ice and the boat traffic and the currents, we knew it was fairly risky to put it out there, but the need was so great it was worth the risk,” says Dugan.

The buoy is located off the coast of the southern peninsula between Homer and Anchor Point. It was first deployed in 2011 and transmits information on wave height and direction, wave period, and water temperature.

It’s maintained by the Alaska Ocean Observing System, or AOOS, which is one of 11 such organizations around the country. Dugan says they try to identify and fill gaps in ocean monitoring around the state. That’s why their motto is the Eye on Alaska’s Coast and Oceans.

“We are under the umbrella of NOAA but we act as a non-profit organization and our mission is to improve access to marine data,” says Dugan. “So, we work with institutions and organizations and groups across the state that pull together information on the coastal and marine environment and produce interactive data tools that the general public can use to get information.”

The Cook Inlet buoy’s data can be accessed three ways online. There’s a real-time sensor map through AOOS. The map also provides information from more than 2000 other weather, wind, and water monitoring stations and webcams around the state.

Its information is also on the website of the National Data Buoy Center through the National Weather Service and through the Army Corps of Engineers.

She says the data is updated every few minutes. And when Bandit the buoy manages to escape up the inlet and stops transmitting, Dugan says her office hears about it.

“The buoy has a really wonderful group of Homer supporters that check it on a regular basis. So, when the buoy goes down, we get phone calls which, from the perspective of someone managing the buoy, it’s great to know the buoy is in such high demand.”

But the rough seas and unpredictable waves that Bandit so dutifully measures are exactly the forces that may make it live up to its adventurous name sometime again in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers investigate two Atmautluak fires

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 10:46

Two weekend fires in the Kuskokwim delta community of Atmautluak were contained over the weekend—but Alaska State Troopers say they’ll still investigating the cause.

The first blaze came Saturday afternoon. In an online dispatch Troopers say they were alerted to the fire at 4:20 in the afternoon. Locals were able to keep the flames to just one room of the Tribal Office Building—but the flames also damaged the outside of the structure.

The second fire came early Sunday morning around 3 o’clock—and was reported at the community’s old Moravian Church.

Troopers say that second fire “totally destroyed the abandoned church” and also damaged a house next door. The house was occupied at the time of the blaze.

No one was injured in either fire.

Troopers were on the scene Sunday to investigate both fires.

The determined the city office blaze was caused by “two young children playing with lighters” underneath the structure. The second fire, Troopers say, was started by a 13-year-old boy and an 18-year-old playing with fire.

Investigation into both incidents remains ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

Police seek suspect in fatal shooting outside Fairbanks bar

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 10:39

Police are looking for a suspect they say shot and killed a Fairbanks man he’d been fighting with in a bar.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports city of Fairbanks spokeswoman Amber Courtney says the men fought and were kicked out of a bar on Old Steese Highway in the early morning hours on Sunday, and continued the argument outside.

Witnesses say 23-year-old John D. Kavairlook Jr. was with his wife, and the suspect was with three other men as the fight escalated to throwing rocks. Courtney said Kavairlook approached the four black men and was shot multiple times.

Police are looking for witnesses and surveillance footage that will help identify the suspect, described as between 5’8″ and 5’11”, weighing 200 to 230 pounds with a short haircut.

Categories: Alaska News

Contaminated soil removed from aviation fuel spill site

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-05-18 10:37

State authorities say all contaminated soil from a spill of 1,900 gallons of aviation fuel has been removed.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the soil was contaminated when a Big State Logistics tanker-trailer rolled April 21. The accident happened about 20 miles north of Healy on the Parks Highway.

The truck driver was cited for negligent driving.

Officials say about 300 cubic yards of material was removed and delivered to a facility for incineration.

A release from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says about 250 gallons of fluids were recovered with absorbent pads right after the spill. Another 900 gallons were pumped from a nearby ditch.

There were no reports of wildlife being affected by the spill.

Categories: Alaska News

Parents Sue ASD Over Vague Suspension Notification Policies

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 17:45

Two families are suing the Anchorage School District for illegal suspension practices. The mothers say that the suspension notices the district sends out don’t include the full reasons for the suspensions, just simplified codes like “74-Dangerous Actions” or “14-Willful Disobedience.”

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Jim Davis from the Northern Justice Project, which is arguing the case on behalf of the families, says the incomplete notices violate due process rights because they don’t give families enough information to decide if they want to fight the decision or not.

“You can’t just put it on whichever families are the most aggressive or whichever families make the most phone calls will find out what really happened. Families should be told from the beginning ‘Here’s what happened,” he says.

Six different families have brought up the issue to the Justice Project. Many of them do not speak English as a first language, which makes it harder for them to seek out the full reason for the suspension, Davis argues.

The suit is asking the district to change the policy and tell families the factual reasons behind any suspensions.

The Anchorage School District says they do not comment on any active litigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Young Riles Indian Country With Hearings on ‘Land in Trust’ Powers

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 17:44

The Interior Secretary’s power to take land into trust for tribes could create pockets of Indian Country across Alaska. Tribes see it as an opportunity to police their own territory and improve village safety. Others see it as the reservation model that Alaskans rejected in the land claims settlement act 44 years ago. Outside the state, land-into-trust is controversial, too. Alaska Congressman Don Young presided over a testy hearing Thursday on the subject.

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Early in the hearing, Congressman Young called out tribal advocates sitting in the audience. Young said people from the National Congress of American Indians were trying to undermine him and his work on the Indian Affairs subcommittee, and pouring gasoline on a political fire:

“I’m going to suggest we play ball straight. This is not to start an issue or try to destroy the effects of this committee. I hope everybody understands that. Because I do not forgive very well …. Not once have I not served the American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

Young, chairman of a subcommittee on Indian Affairs, says he just wants to create uniform standards, so the Interior Secretary doesn’t have total discretion on when to take lands into trust. But Young’s recent hearings on the subject, and memos from his subcommittee staff, have riled Indian Country.

Kevin Washburn, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, says he worries Young’s vision is a return to the darkest days of federal Indian policy. Washburn also spoke of an attack on tribal sovereignty and urged Young not to join it.

“I respectfully ask you not to take this path. If you take this path against the people of Indian Country, the Obama Administration will be standing shoulder to shoulder with tribes as they fight you on this.”

The secretary’s land into trust power was granted by Congress in 1934. Washburn says the goal was to make up for previous federal policy and re-establish tribal jurisdiction on some of the 90 million acres tribes lost.

“Now admittedly, Interior’s power to take land into trust only rarely during the previous presidential administration. But when president Obama came into office he made restoring tribal homelands one of his highest priorities. So interior dusted off the power and began taking land into trust again.”

He says the administration is more than halfway to its goal of accepting half a million acres in trust before it leaves office. Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, thanked Young for letting his views known so voters can choose come election time.

“You’ve made plain your concerns about tribal governments. And you’ve not hidden your prejudices, and I respect that because although I disagree with you, I’m glad you’re not running from your convictions.”

Young both scolded Washburn and showed him respect. The Congressman says he just wants to make it fair for all tribes that want to put land in trust.

“Why would you object to that?” Young asks.

“Well, because there’s no tribe that’s asking for that, chairman. There’s not a single tribe that wants you to pass a law…”

“Now wait a minute. That’s not true. There are tribes that say we need to know why we were turned down. It’s because of the discretion of the secretary, the BIA.”

In Alaska, a judge’s order, for now, prevents the Secretary from accepting land into trust, but the administration is ready with new Alaska-specific rules once the case is resolved.

Categories: Alaska News

Wolf Hunt Adjacent to Denali Closes Early

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 17:42

The state of Alaska is closing wolf hunting early in the Stampede area along the northeastern edge of Denali National Park.

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The emergency shutdown ends the season two weeks ahead of its scheduled closure. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game action follows the killing of two Denali wolves shot earlier this month on state land, near a bear baiting station. A state release says bear hunting regulation changes have resulted in more hunters in the area. Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotton says the situation increases the chances of wolves commonly seen in the park, being taken.

Individuals and environmental groups petitioned the state to take the action to better protect a Park wolf population that’s plummeted to 48 this spring, its lowest level on record.

State Division of Wildlife Conservation Acting Director Bruce Dale says there’s no biological or conservation issue. Wolf viewing has declined in recent years, but trapping and hunting aren’t the only reason cited by biologists, who also point to low snow winters that have made it tougher for wolves to prey on caribou and moose. Wolf advocates want restoration of a protective buffer zone along the park’s north eastern boundary. The board of game eliminated the wolf buffer in 2010.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, May 15, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 17:39

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

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Parents Sue ASD Over Vague Suspension Notification Policies

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Two families are suing the Anchorage School District for illegal suspension practices. The mothers say that the suspension notices the district sends out don’t include the full reasons for the suspensions

Rep. Young Riles Indian Country with Hearings on ‘Land In Trust’ Powers

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The Interior Secretary’s power to take land into trust for tribes could create pockets of Indian Country across Alaska. Tribes see it as an opportunity to police their own territory and improve village safety. Others see it as the reservation model that Alaskans rejected in the land claims settlement act 44 years ago.

Sealaska Unveils Its New Building in Downtown Juneau

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

The Sealaska Heritage Institute unveiled its new structure in downtown Juneau on Friday. It’s called the Walter Soboleff Building after the late Tlingit scholar, elder and religious leader.

Wolf Hunt Adjacent to Denali Closes Early

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state of Alaska is closing wolf hunting early in the Stampede area along the northeastern edge of Denali National Park.

5 Ill After Eating Fermented Seal Flipper

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

First three, and now five, people have fallen ill or been taken under medical observation after two separate meals of fermented seal flipper in the Seward Peninsula community of Koyuk have been linked to the toxic bacteria that causes botulism.

NOAA Seeks Public Comment on Beluga Recovery Plan

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a draft recovery plan for Cook Inlet beluga whales. According to a release from NOAA, the plan will structure efforts to bring the whales back up to a healthy population size. Once there, the hope is to remove them from the federal endangered species list.

Anchorage: Activists Rally for Medicaid Expansion, Oil Tax Law Revision

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Supporters of Medicaid expansion have continued their efforts with rallies in downtown Anchorage this week.

49 Voices: Seth Landon of Wasilla

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

This week, we hear from Seth Landon, who also participated in the Clean Air Challenge. Landon moved to Alaska five years ago from the flat lands of Michigan and now calls Wasilla home.

AK: Biking A Century

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Have you ever thought about biking one hundred miles in one go? KSKA’s Anne Hillman did, so she signed up for the Clean Air Challenge. It’s a bike ride the American Lung Association hosts every year to raise money for education and research on lung disease.

Categories: Alaska News

Seaalaska Unveils Its New Building in Downtown Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 17:15

The Sealaska Heritage Institute unveiled its new structure in downtown Juneau on Friday. It’s called the Walter Soboleff Building after the late Tlingit scholar, elder and religious leader. Inside stands a full-sized replica of a traditional red cedar clan house.

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Singers in front of the newly unveiled artwork on the clan house (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

A large crowd gathered in front of the Soboleff Building listen to a series of speakers (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

Canoe coming in to dock (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Robotics Team Heads to World Championship

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 16:57

A Fairbanks high school team took the top honor at the recently competed First Tech Challenge World Robotics Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. The kids, who have been competing together for the last four years, demonstrated the best mix of technical engineering, performance and sportsmanship.

Schrodinger’s Hat team members and their robot.
Credit: Dan Bross / KUAC

The Fairbanks robotics team advanced through local, state and regional competitions to earn a spot at last month’s World Championship, where they bested 127 other qualifiers for the top honor: The Inspire Award.

Colleen Johnson is one of six kids on the Fairbanks team that goes by the name:“Shrodinger’s Hat,” a play on the famous physics experiment “Shrodinger’s Cat.” Members wear big black top hats during competitions that involves running a milk crate sized robot they build and program for a customized challenge.

Justin Hannah drives the battery powered wheeled robot during competitions that consist of numerous two-minute matches.

Beyond the game field, teams also must track the engineering that goes into their robot and are further judged on how they work with other teams, according to Colleen Johnson’s sister and teammate Katie.

The team has already mentored others in Alaska, the Lower 48 and in places as far away as Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Australia. Australian is the location of a competition the team has been invited to in July. They’re currently raising money for the trip.

Categories: Alaska News

5 Taken Ill After Eating Fermented Seal Flipper

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 15:27

First three, and now five, people have fallen ill or been taken under medical observation after two separate meals of fermented seal flipper in the Seward Peninsula community of Koyuk have been linked to the toxic bacteria that causes botulism.

According to state Department of Epidemiology officials, the first person fell ill after sharing a meal with six others in Koyuk last Friday [May 4]. That patient had mild symptoms—dry mouth and dizziness—and sought medical help in Nome. No one else from the meal felt sick—a stroke of luck that medical epidemiologist Dr. Michael Cooper says makes botulism so difficult to control.

“The toxin distributes itself very unevenly in the food, whether its seal oil, seal flipper, beaver tail, whatever. There may be a part of that meal that has a very high concentration, that will kill you or make you very sick, and there may be a part of that meal that has no toxin.”

The first patient received botulism anti-toxin at Nome’s Norton Sound hospital, and Dr. Cooper says health officials reached out to ensure no more of the tainted seal was eaten. But just five days later, a another tainted flipper was eaten.

“It was the same preparers involved with both meals. Two separate meals, two separate seals, prepared separately.”

That second meal was shared by four people—and left one person “severely ill” and led to three others being taken under medical evaluation. In all, three people—one from the first meal, and two from the second—were given the anti-toxin for botulism.

“The two others, upon further questioning, they didn’t have the correct symptoms, and on exam they had a normal exam, so they were deemed not to have botulism.”*

Leftovers from the second meal tested positive for the botulinum bacteria—the toxic spores of which cause botulism.

Epidemiologists says those who ate the first meal have finished a ten-day observation period; those from the second meal remain under observation.

Even when prepared carefully and using traditional practices, fermented foods can pose a risk. A batch of botulism-tainted seal oil sickened dozens of people in December in the Bristol Bay region, and early last year, one man died after eating a meal of fermented fish heads.

Health officials are urging residents in Koyuk—and anywhere else where fermented foods are consumed—to be on the lookout for symptoms of the disease, which includes shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth and blurry vision.

Categories: Alaska News

Activists for Medicaid Expansion, Oil Tax Law Revision Rally in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 15:20

Supporters of Medicaid expansion have continued their efforts with rallies in downtown Anchorage this week.

An Anchorage based political group again called on the state Legislature to make changes in oil tax credits now.

Backbone is an activist group loosely made up of a former state lawmakers and community leaders who are opposed to current state policies regarding oil taxation.

Group members positioned themselves around a table downtown today to demand that state legislators get back to work.

Vic Fisher, himself a former state lawmaker and a signer of the state Constitution, says the current legislative impasse is unacceptable. Fisher says it’s a few key figures in the government who are blocking a decision on the budget:

“These decisions are being made by the legislative leadership — the chairs of committees, the speaker, the president, the Senate. So that’s where the responsibility lies.  They are the ones who have to reach out to the governor, work with the governor… they’re the ones who have to work with the minority if that’s what it takes to serve the people of Alaska.”

The problem, former Anchorage mayor Jack Roderick says, is that the Legislature has lost control of the oil industry.

“The Legislature… I think most of this is way over their heads. Except for maybe a couple of people who work for the oil companies and are key members of the Legislature. And you can not serve two masters at the same time.”

Fisher says it is not a matter of changing current oil tax law, but at pinpointing the problems that exist within it to hammer out an equitable solution for both the oil companies and for the people of Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

First Kuskokwim Restrictions Expected May 21

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 14:51

Salmon strips drying on a rack in Bethel, 2015. Photo by Daysha Eaton

Expecting another poor king salmon run, the first fishing restrictions are expected to go into effect on May 21st. With the lessons learned from 2014, managers hope to bring enough king salmon to spawning grounds and allow for limited fishing along the way.

For the second year in a row, federal staff will manage day-to-day fishing on the Kuskokwim river from the mouth to Aniak. The first early season restrictions from the up to Tuluksak will go into effect May 21st. And whereas 4-inch whitefish nets were legal 24/7 last summer, this year a weekend schedule will be in place.

Neil LaLonde is the refuge manager and in-season manager during the chinook run. He says many people have bought their nets over the winter, and will be ready to fish.

“We feel that if we didn’t go to some type of schedule that harvest should be much greater with the sheer amount of additional 4-inch nets that are available on the river,” said LaLonde.

The schedule is expected to last five weekends, beginning Thursday, May 21st. Nets can go in at 6 a.m. Thursday and must be out by 6 a.m. on Sunday. Setnet fishing would be closed the remainder of the week. The closures will roll up the river, beginning May 28th from Tuluksak to the refuge boundary above Aniak.

LaLonde says the schedule came after visiting villages and talking with people this winter and spring and choosing the weekend rather than a more sporatic schedule.

“They would not have to pull nets in and out of the river every day. it leaves opportunity for honest people…boats can break down, family emergencies, things can happen. We think that will be easier on the users and be more fair,” said LaLonde.

Mangers will close fishing to all but federal qualified subsistence users – that is people who live in communities on or near the Kuskokwim, a provision that’s unique to federal management. Sport fishing will be closed.

A new set of gill net closures is anticipated for several tributaries. As of June 7th, there will be no gill net fishing on the Kwethluk, Kisaralik, Kasigluk, and Tuluksak rivers.

“Those tributaries have not done well specifically in this drainage over the last several years. that’s an additional measure that we think will help drainage wide escapement as well as those tributaries. We also took that into effect when we looked at all of the 4” opportunity,” said LaLonde.

LaLonde says subsistence fishing is open now with no restrictions on gear until the first closures begin on the lower river on May 21st. LaLonde says the plan for the first larger mesh openings in the latter part of June is will be determined once the run is in progress and they begin to see other species outnumber king salmon. He plans extensive engagement with the tribes and and the recently established Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission and continued work with the state, which runs many of the rivers’ monitoring projects.

The run is forecast to be slightly better than 2014, which saw the lowest subsistence take of king salmon on record, but conservation and making escapement will remain the top priority.

“Our view is it’s not a point estimate, but it’s the upper end of the escapement goal range and that’s what we hope to achieve in 2015,” said LaLonde.

Information on anticipated restrictions is available here.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Seth Landon of Wasilla

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 14:43

This week, we’re hearing from Seth Landon, who also participated in the Clean Air Challenge. Landon moved to Alaska five years ago from the flat lands of Michigan and now calls Wasilla home.

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Categories: Alaska News

Staying safe in bear country

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 11:59

Everywhere is bear country in Alaska, even the urban areas. From encounters on the trails and along fishing streams, to bears raiding trash cans and chicken coops, it’s spring and bears are awake and on the move. How do we keep ourselves and them safe?

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Sean Farley, biologist, ADFG
  • Elizabeth Manning, education specialist, ADFG
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail 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, May 19, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Seeks Public Comment on Beluga Whale Recovery Plan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 11:21

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a draft recovery plan for Cook Inlet beluga whales.

According to a release from NOAA, the plan will structure efforts to bring the whales back up to a healthy population size. Once there, the hope is to remove them from the federal endangered species list.

The plan includes a list of criteria that would have to be met to take the whales off the list and declare them a recovered species.

Jim Balsiger is the regional administrator for NOAA. He says the plan was made with the best available science.

It focuses on ten types of threats to the population and assesses the severity of each threat.

They include natural disasters, oil spills, mass strandings, noise pollution, and other stressors, both natural and human-caused.

Cook Inlet beluga whales have been on the endangered species list since 2008. Since 2011, the inlet has been designated a critical habitat for the species.

According to NOAA Fisheries, the population is estimated to be only 340 animals and there has been a steady decline in the species over the last decade.

Categories: Alaska News

Klukwan high schoolers prepare for next steps

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 11:07

Two of Klukwan School’s high school students are either graduating or moving after this year. The high school/junior high teacher is also leaving.

Some Klukwan teens choose to go to bigger schools in Haines, Sitka or Juneau. Kaitlyn Stevens and Joseph Lamberty chose to stay in the small, 13-student K-12 school. They’re the only students in their class this year.

Lamberty lives in Mosquito Lake, Stevens lives in Klukwan. She says when she first started school here, there were more kids. It’s slowly shrunk over the years.

“It’s pretty sad,” Stevens said. “The school has just always been here and not a lot of people have wanted to stay here because it was so small and it just kept getting smaller.”

“A lot of kids get to a point where they just want to have athletics and clubs and activities,” said Klukwan’s 6-12 grade teacher Carson Buck. “And as much as we try, we can’t offer everything a big school has to offer.”

Buck says last year, he had nine students. This year, it’s just these two. He says once students get older, a lot of them transfer from Klukwan to Haines School, Mt. Edgecumbe Boarding School in Sitka, or a Juneau school.

But Stevens and Lamberty stayed.

“It’s really relaxed, there’s like no stress involved,” Lamberty said about Klukwan School.

He says some days, if the weather is nice, he, Stevens and Mr. Buck will go skip rocks on the river, or just go on a walk. Or, if there’s something they need extra time on, they can shift around the schedule. With only two students, the teaching can be super individualized.

“There haven’t been many times where I wished I was in a big school, because I like it a lot here,” said Stevens. “I like having the one-on-one attention, and it’s easier to get work done.”

Stevens did try going to a bigger school her sophomore year. She went to Mt. Edgecumbe for a semester. But she says it was difficult to keep on track. She wasn’t learning the way she does here. So she came back her second semester.

Their teacher has also helped keep them here.

“I might’ve switched schools had Mr. Buck not been teaching here,” Lamberty said. “But he’s an awesome teacher, so that was a pretty big part of the decision.”

“That’s great to hear,” said Buck. “I see them in sixth grade, when they’re 12 years old. And I see them leave at 18, so you get pretty attached. They’re almost like your own kids after a while.”

Buck is from Haines, and he started teaching in Klukwan in 2008. He says it was a steep learning curve – teaching almost every subject to students in a six-year age range. The small number of students means he can really help them on a one-to-one level. But it’s not all good.

“It’s bad in that you see the same kids every day for six or seven years straight. And they need variety. And I think it’s good that they’re both moving on. I can only give them so much, they need to have other experiences besides just one teacher. So that’s the dark side of it.”

Buck says they try to expose the students to as much as possible outside of school walls and village boundaries. Stevens and Lamberty recently went on two field trips. One was a transition camp trip to Juneau, where they job shadowed at Sealaska, NOAA, the Coast Guard. Right after that, they traveled with Gustavus high school students on boat trip to Glacier Bay.

Stevens is a senior. She’s graduating and going to University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau to study biology. She hopes to become a physical therapist.

“My grandma, her shoulder was hurt and she needed help with her exercises one night,” Stevens explained. “I helped her, and I’ve been wanting to do that ever since, because I like helping people.

Lamberty is a junior, but he won’t be finishing high school in Klukwan next year. He’s moving to Oregon, where most of his family lives. He says the high school he’ll attend there has about 100 students, much more than he’s used to. But he says he’s not too worried about that.

As for Buck, his position at the school is being cut. Klukwan and Gustavus schools Principal Nancy Moon says the needs of the school will be mainly elementary students next year. Kathy Carl, who is qualified to teach special education, high school and elementary, will take over high school classes.

Buck says teaching at Klukwan School wasn’t always easy, but it was “a really good time.”

“There’s a sense of community here that I’ve never felt anywhere else,” Buck said. “Growing up in Haines, I didn’t really get to know the people of Klukwan well. But since teaching here it was a really, really good experience.”

The Klukwan School graduation and promotion ceremony is Friday at 5 p.m. in the ANS Hall. As the only senior, Stevens will be the graduate speaker.

Categories: Alaska News

Thirsty California a potential market for bulk water

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:59

Garry White came to Sitka in 2008 and has ridden the wave of the bulk water venture. But new developments in infrastructure and capital are giving him hope that bulk water shipments to California will happen this year. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

In Sitka, raising the hydroelectric dam at Blue Lake has created not only a source of renewable energy, but an even larger reserve of fresh water. The bulk water presents a business opportunity.

With a contract deadline looming that could terminate its exclusive rights, Alaska Bulk Water hopes to deliver on long awaited promises to ship tankers of water and to make California its first customer.

In April, California Governor Jerry Brown gave a speech in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The formidable snowpack, which melts to provide ⅓ of California’s water supply, was nowhere to be seen. The earth was brown and bare.

Brown: People should realize we’re in a new era. The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day – that’s going to be a thing of the past.

The Governor goes on to impose the first mandatory water restrictions in state history, cutting urban use by 25%. Now compare the situation in California, to this…

(Blue Lake water stream)

“Water coming out of a temperate rain forest…frankly, I think our water is better tasting than anyplace else in the world,” said Garry White, the Executive Director of the Sitka Economic Development Association. “I’m kind of a water snob now.”

We’re driving through the Tongass Forest, which averages around 100 inches of rain a year. The bulk water (and emphasis on bulk) was enough to incentivize a short lived bottling venture, called True Alaska Bottling.

“It was on Alaska airlines. It got on cruise ships. It got into Hollywood movies,” said White. “If you look at the movie the Duplex,  Ben Stiller’s got a bottle of it sitting next to his nightstand.”

And California is exactly where White hopes to send Sitka’s water again. Not bottled in plastic, but delivered in ships.

The bulk water ships are too large to dock, so the plan is to anchor them to mooring buoys in Sawmill Cove and run a floating pipeline that will carry the water from the shoreline system. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

We hop out of his truck. Unfurled at our feet, like a glittering blue carpet, is Sawmill Creek, the freshwater outlet stream from Blue Lake, which provides hydropower and drinking water to the city of 9,000. The water from Blue Lake is so plentiful that household use is not metered and so clean that it’s not filtered before it goes to the tap. While it sounds like an Evian commercial, for White it’s a business opportunity.

“It’s a tough venture, but if people are thirsty enough and need the water enough and it makes fiscal sense, it can happen,” said White.

Sitka already built the infrastructure to draw the water from the lake to the shore. It’s behind us – a giant red nozzle poking up out of the ground. From there, a floating pipeline will carry the water into containers or bags loaded on big cargo ships. Just like oil. Sitka set the price point for water at 1 cent a gallon and can legally export 95 billion gallons a year. If you do the math, that’s quite a bit of money.

“If we move all 9.5 billion gallons a year, that’s 95 million dollars that could come into this community,” said White. “That’s huge.”

The challenge, of course, is actually getting the water to market.

Sitka’s vision of a bulk water business began 15 years ago, when the pulp mill closed. The city acquired rights to the land and to the water and in 2006, signed a 20-year contract with True Alaska Bottling, which is now called Alaska Bulk Water.

We put in performance criteria that said after 24 months from the beginning of the contract, they had to move a certain amount of water or the city at their option could terminate the contract.

The 24 months passed. And?

“No water was moved,” said White.

So, the city renewed the contract, but under the condition that Alaska Bulk Water pay a non-refundable fee for water credits.

The contract has been extended four times (in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012) and to keep it, Alaska Bulk Water spent $1.5 million and must ship 50 million gallons by December 8th. Still, no water has been moved. But White says that recent developments give him hope that water will finally leave the island this summer.

“I’ve always been ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’” said White. “But when I see our current partners putting real money down to go out and put in a mooring buoy system and hire engineers to design it and going out and getting their Army Corps permit, doing all the right things and continuing to invest in the venture, then it’s no longer a 30,000 view of it. It’s starting to get down to the details.

Terry Trapp, the Chief Executive with Alaska Bulk Water, declined to be interviewed in detail for this story. But over the phone with KCAW, he said the company hopes to have the operation up and running this July.

In the meantime, White says there is a lot of trouble shooting to be done. For instance:

“When you show up to a receiving port with 10, 20, 30 million gallons of water, what do you do with it? Right? You got to have a place to store it. You got to be able to recharge aquifers. That’s a huge part of this venture that needs to be figured out.”

In addition to storage on the California side, it’s unclear what kinds of ships will be used. If those ships aren’t flagged as American, their passage from Sitka to California violates the Jones Act, which prohibits the transport of goods by foreign vessels. White is looking to Alaska Bulk Water and several engineering firms to tackle these and other issues.

White also wonders if, even at 1 cent a gallon, water is too expensive to transport at a reasonable cost.

KCAW: What do you say to Sitkans who are like, ‘No way. No way is this actually gonna happen. This is crazy sounding.’

White: I’ve been in that boat. But as you see somebody work out any type of problem that’s a lofty goal, it’s encouraging to see those baby steps that get you closer down the path.

In order to hold onto this contract, Alaska Bulk Water pledged to ship $50 million gallons by December 8th of this year.

Categories: Alaska News

M/V Redeemer Heads for Scuttling, After Decades of Salvage Work

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:45

Dan Magone stands in the wheelhouse of the salvage vessel Redeemer. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

A legendary Western Alaska salvage vessel has reached the end of its life. Salvager Dan Magone is getting ready to sink his old tugboat, the Redeemer.

And it means he’s also getting ready for the next phase of his own storied career.

These days, even getting onto the Redeemer is a bit of an adventure. The tug is separated from the dock in Dutch Harbor by two other Dan Magone projects — old vessels in disrepair.

Magone: Oh, I guess the only place to cross is right here…

Magone is finding a tricky path out to the boat where he built his career. The Redeemer had its last mission in 2013, when the crab boat Arctic Hunter went aground outside Unalaska.

Now, the tug is past its prime. It’s littered with remnants of old jobs – wood pallets, rusty scrap metal, an old National Geographic in the wheelhouse – all waiting for a proper send-off.

“I spent a lot of the last 25 years on this boat,” Magone says up in the wheelhouse. “Lots of days and nights, lots of adventures.”

The Redeemer at sea during the salvaging of the M/V Cougar Ace in 2006. (Charles Homans/KUCB)

The Redeemer was built in WWII, then became an oil drilling mud-ship off the Gulf Coast. In the 1980s, Magone says a company heading to the Nome gold fields took it on. They wrecked it on the sand dunes there, and it stayed put for almost a decade.

“During that time, I saw it over there and people suggested it’d make a great boat for me,” Magone says. “I told them no — it would probably cost me $100-grand to get it off the sand dunes and get it to Dutch.”

Instead, he says the boat wound up with loggers from Sitka. They patched it up and headed south, but wound up abandoning the ship in Sand Point.

“And then it sank at the dock,” he says, laughing. “Everywhere it goes it’s leaving people with their head in their hands, right?”

Meanwhile, Magone had just paid millions to set up his floating Dutch Harbor office, and was losing local business to shorter fishing seasons. He saw a new opportunity in the stranded boat. He rebuilt it for cheap, with scraps from his own yard. The yellow-green hull was painted a bright blue, and Magone renamed the boat Redeemer.

He says its first job was hauling horses, dogs, hay and cowboys to the other side of Unalaska Island to start the Chernofski cattle ranch.

“And so we did all manner of anything, all over the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands, Alaska Peninsula, and we managed to survive,” he says. “We managed to find enough work to keep going.”

Over the next two decades, he says the Redeemer was part of “almost every significant salvage job in Western Alaska,” from the small, like stranded barges and fishing boats, to the huge: deadly groundings and oil spills on the M/V Kuroshima and Selendang cargo ships, and the capsizing of M/V Cougar Ace, a car carrier.

All those accidents – plus the Exxon Valdez spill – helped usher in new environmental protection and safety standards. By 2013, Magone says the Redeemer couldn’t keep up – and work on its replacement was just as pricey.

Dan Magone crosses the deck of the salvage vessel Redeemer. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

“It eventually cost so much that I just had to sell the company,” he says. That sale to Resolve Marine International went through last year. And the Redeemer has been taking up valuable space in their new shop.

Shipping it out as scrap isn’t cost-effective – so Magone is asking the federal government for permission to scuttle the boat. He says that’ll mean cleaning it out, setting up explosives and sinking it at mile-deep spot north of Unalaska Island, where he’s been allowed to sink ships in the past.

“See all this equipment, the winches and the cranes, all the hydraulic lines and stuff? That all comes off,” he says, pointing around the Redeemer’s deck. “There can’t be any loose debris in or on the boat. So there’s a great big bunch of work to do.”

Increasing regulations have made scuttling harder, too, but Magone is confident this one will happen in the next couple of months. He’s already taken the ship’s bell from the wheelhouse.

“Otherwise, it’s just another piece of metal that might be worth something to someone,” he says. “But that one – I don’t want to sell.”

His new work boat, the Makushin Bay, is visible outside the window — built for the future, but the same blue as the Redeemer. Magone says it marks the start of a new era, and the Redeemer’s scuttling will be the end of another.

“The old days, the seat-of-your-pants, the ‘just go out and git-er-done’ type of thing — those days are gone,” he says. “With all the regulations and oversight and everything, it’s not the world that we were able to operate in.

“That world is past now,” he says — the world where he was a cowboy, too, like the ones he once took for a ride on the Redeemer.

Categories: Alaska News

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