Alaska News

Anchorage’s 2014-15 snowfall levels lowest on record

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 11:50

As July begins and the National Weather Service resets their annual snowfall totals to zero, it’s official — Anchorage’s snowfall levels last winter are the lowest on record.

Anchorage’s official total for the 2014-2015 snowfall season is 25.1 inches.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Snider says that beat the previous record – set in 1957-58 – by more than 5 inches.

“Something else to keep in mind is this new record is about 1/3 of the normal seasonal snowfall, which is about 74.5 inches, or so,” Snider said. “We count that over about 30 years and take the average.”

Snider says only three of the last 12 months exceeded the normal monthly precipitation averages. And he says the effects of such a low snow winter are evident in this year’s busy fire season.

“The snow here in Anchorage is just a point representation, but many other locations, like the Susitna Valley; like the western Kenai Peninsula, all those regions were very low on snow this year,” Snider said. “And that affects the moisture level of the ground, of the shrubs and the landscape, and all that is feeding into the dramatic fire season we’re seeing this year.”

Wildfires have burned 2,253,575 acres so far this summer.

This year’s record low comes just three year’s after Anchorage saw a record-high annual snowfall of 134.5 inches in the 2011-12 season.

Categories: Alaska News

Fish and Game still finalizing budget

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 10:18

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is still finalizing a plan to for the most recent cut to its budget, but Bristol Bay shouldn’t see too many more cuts, said Commercial Fisheries Director Jeff Regnart during a recent visit to Dillingham

During the special session in June, the Legislature cut about $1.3 million in general fund dollars from Fish and Game’s budget for the new fiscal year, which started July 1, Regnart said.  The Division of Commercial Fisheries will take the largest cut, about $850,000.

“We’ll have a package put together by mid-week next week,” Regnart said. “I can’t tell you whether or not it’s going to impact the bay. The bay has been hit pretty substantially already, with what we’ve done during the legislative cycle. There still might be a few tweaks here. But I don’t see anything significant.”

Regnart said the department was already planning on cuts to Bristol Bay management this summer based on earlier versions of the budget. That includes ending the count at the Nushagak sonar in July, so it won’t count pinks and chums in August.

“We’ll still manage, and we’ll manage based on the fisheries performance, but likely we’re gonna be more conservative, which means less opportunity probably, because if we’re not sure, we will err on the side of the fish,” Regnart said.

That will save the department about $90,000, but likely comes at a cost to the fishery, Regnart said.

Categories: Alaska News

Sea Shanties, Scurvy, and a Sailboat Regatta without Wind

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 10:13

Fair winds and following seas. A blessing for sailors, heading out onto the water, at the mercy of time and tides.

It was what we hoped for the Arctica, a small but mighty sailboat, with its motley crew of recent surgery patients, pregnant women, and greenhorns.

There’s de facto First Mate Liska Kandror:

“It gets exciting, for sure, you have to move fast, and things drop out of your hands and then there’s a gust of wind that comes up and it’s a good time.”

Her friend Allison Shockley:

(Photo via KBBI – Homer)

“So she invited me and I thought, I’m not going to miss up a cool opportunity to really experience Alaska.”

And mild-mannered yet fearless captain Craig Forrest:

“I’ve been sailing in Homer now since 1977.”

My partner John and I, along with Allie, could all say we’d been near sailboats before. But not necessarily on them. Certainly not crewed them.

On the first day, we learned to sail. It started slow, with the first several hours calm, calm, calm.

“When there’s almost no wind, everything that we do on the boat makes a difference,” said Forrest. “If you step a little too hard in one direction, that makes the boat do something we might not like. If a boat goes by us and puts up a wake, that shakes the wind out of the sails so we can’t maneuver. It’s just really, really difficult.”

It picked up toward afternoon and for the last hour, we splashed through the waves, tacking and jibing, racing around marker buoys. We went home that night, tired and sore.

“Oh man. Crawling around on deck game me some black and blueies on my knees, I’ll tell you what,” said Shockley.

But we came back the next day, ready to hit the water again. We were confident. We hopped up on deck, got her ready to go. Ready for squall and gale were we!

But instead. Nothing.

“Well, we were very close to the buoy at one time,” said Kandror. “We are supposed to go to our next marker and we are not. We are slowly drifting in circles.”

The occasional whisper of half a breeze flopped the sails around. The wrong way.

“What’s happening is the main is forcing our bow upwind and the spinnaker doesn’t have enough wind in it to force it downwind and we keep spinning,” said Forrest.

And so we spun. And spun. And the buoy got smaller and smaller. And then, we got caught by the current, which was moving faster than the wind.

“For some reason we can’t turn. We’re doing 1.5 knots backwards,” said Forrest.

And so we sat, sometimes drifting in the wrong direction, sometimes twirling like a top. But mostly we just sat. Bobbing like a cork in Kachemak Bay. First we turned to sea shanties.

Then, our thoughts turned to the trials and tribulations of our predecessors.

“Back in the day when there were no engines, you know these giant sailboats got stuck in the middle of the ocean with no wind for days, weeks. Weeks with no wind. I mean, they had to store their water and their food and they got scurvy,” said Kandror.

“The old square-rig sailboats were not very efficient at all with the wind,” said Forrest. “They’d have the crew hauling buckets of water to throw over the sails. Some of those boats, the masts on them were 80-100 feet tall. That’s a long ways up for a bucket of water.”

And we thought of those sailors, adrift, maybe, or on long voyages far from home. Captain Craig regaled us with tales of sailors of old, of ships in bottles, of how they crocheted, using their knowledge of knots. Of how they were innovative using citrus, berries, and grasses to combat scurvy. Of how they were at the mercy of the winds and seas.

“You look at it all, the history of boats at sea are an idea of a long way of learning how to do stuff and making it work,” said Forrest.

He told us of his own nights at sea, once in a storm with water filling the cabin and the boat on its side. Once sailing through the Barren Islands with kerosene lamps lighting the small boat and the stars brilliant overhead.

There’s something magical about sailing, learning to read the weather, leaving some things to chance, with more than a thousand years of history behind you.

“Because you feel like you’re moving on windpower instead of motor power and panthering across the water. That’s a good feeling,” said Kandror.

At the end of the day, the race was called. Not enough wind to complete the course. We took advantage of modern technology, and got towed back to the harbor.

Disappointing? Not at all. We came as strangers to the Arctica and left as friends with a greater appreciation for the sea and the art of sailing and revised our hopes for next time:

Fair winds and following seas, but if not, good company, please.

Categories: Alaska News

East Coast theology school selling off Alaska Native art, feds to investigate

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 10:11

Chuck Smythe unrolls the tunic from storage. It’s kept this way to avoid damage. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

The country’s oldest theological school is selling off its Native art collection, and Sealaska Heritage Institute is asking the feds to investigate. Tlingit and Haida pieces are among the works–some of which might be sacred.

At Sealaska Heritage Institute, culture and history director Chuck Smythe walks down a flight of cedar steps to the basement, the place where Native artifacts are kept.

Behind a locked door are some of the pieces in the collection.

“We’re going into the conservation room. You hear the freezer going,” he says.

Items that arrive at the institute are cooled to 40 below to kill insects before the pieces go into long-term storage in a temperature controlled room. Smythe shows me a Southeast Native tunic, probably from the 20th century.

“It’s a green tunic with red border and it has flowers and designs.”

Sealaska Heritage Institute is looking for the tribe this tunic belongs to. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

It has delicate beading on the sleeves and collar, a raven on the front. But that’s all we know. The tunic was repatriated from a museum in 2007. Information about which tribe and clan it belongs didn’t follow it back home.

“It’s hard. A lot of museums have very generalized identification of objects,” he says. “I used to work at the Smithsonian in the repatriation office and they have hundreds of objects that are just ‘Northwest Coast.’”

Even harder to track are the Native artifacts that fall into private collectors’ hands. That’s what the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts says could happen to 80 pieces in its care because the owner wants to sell.

The museum has housed the collection since the 1940s; The Andover Newton Theological School is the owner.

Dan Monroe, the museum’s director, says the school informed him a few months ago.

“The 80 works are works that they’ve selected that have the greatest monetary value,” he says.

The college says it’s not an art curator; it’s an educational institution.

Items in storage at Sealaska Heritage Institute. The Andover Newton Theological School’s collection contains works from 52 tribes. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Sealaska Heritage Institute is questioning whether the artifacts are sacred–pieces used in ceremony.  A federally supported entity, like a school or museum, is barred from selling those and obligated to return them to the tribes.

Rosita Worl, the president the institute, says the spirits of her ancestors are associated with those objects.

She notified the feds that some of the Tlingit and Haida pieces in the theological school’s collection could be subject to repatriation laws–particularly a halibut hook with a wolf crest and shamanic doll.

“We believe that everything has a spirit and that includes animate and inanimate objects,” she says.

Worl is Tlingit of the Eagle moiety and Thunderbird clan. She says she’s been trying to “get over the history” of how the theological school acquired these artifacts in the 19th century.

“We know they were well meaning in terms of trying to Christianize us, but we went through a lot of difficulties with that,” she says. “And I really want to respect all different religions but having the history of that overt suppression of our beliefs was difficult to take again.

The college is estimated to turn a million dollar profit. But Martin Copenhaver, the school’s president, says the pieces for sale are not sacred items. He believes the museum is engaging in an “ugly disinformation campaign.”

“I think the status quo works for them. They have the pieces. They’re able to display them for free. They did not pay for those,” he says. “I think it doesn’t work for them now if those pieces are in other museums.”

He says the school plans to sell to other museums, not private collectors.

“Unless those are ones who intend to then in turn donate them back,” says Copenhaver.

But museum president Dan Monroe says it typically doesn’t go that way.

“I would say it’s fair to summarize the frequency of that happening as highly infrequent,” says Monroe.

Appraisers have already been sent to assess the items but there’s no date for the sale yet. Worl says the willingness to sell the artifacts contradicts the school’s mission statement: “We will strive to be good stewards of the sacred tradition we have inherited.”

“My first wish is that they would say, ‘OK we recognize that Native people have these spiritual relationships to these objects.’ That they are significant,” Worl says. “I would hope that they would recognize that.”

Federal repatriation agents have opened an investigation.

Categories: Alaska News

Man dies after apparently shooting self in Alaska park

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 09:58

An Arizona has man died after apparently shooting himself with a gun at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

National Park Service officials say it’s unknown if the shooting was accidental or deliberate.

Authorities say rangers responded to a report of a gunshot Tuesday morning and found the 22-year-old man, who was dead at the scene. The man’s name has not been released.

Park spokeswoman Miriam Valentine says the shooting occurred at the Riley Creek campground, which is located just inside the park near the entrance.

Valentine says the man was visiting the park with his father, but the father was not present when the shooting occurred.

Alaska State Troopers are investigating the incident along with the Park Service.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s shoreline erosion rate among highest worldwide

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 09:57

Alaska has some of the most aggressive rates of shoreline erosion in the world. These findings are part of a new study released Wednesday by the U.S. Geological Survey.

USGS scientists studied nearly 1000 miles of shoreline from the Canadian Border to Icy Cape. The most extreme erosion was found around Drew Point, north of Teshekpuk Lake, about 70 miles east of Barrow.

USGS geologist Ann Gibbs is the lead author of the study. She says the most destructive erosion happens on elevated land.

“When the bluffs erode as opposed to a beach that might, the sand might get deposited offshore and then get washed back up, that happens a lot in more temperate climates,” Gibbs said. “Once the bluff erodes, it’s gone, it’s not coming back.”

An average of a meter per year is eroding overall. Gibbs says on the Chukchi side, the rate is about 0.3 meters per year.

“And on the Beaufort coast it’s about six times higher, 1.7 meters a year, so there’s a lot more going on on the Beaufort coast and we don’t quite know why that is. it has to do with the geology, the rock strength and the energy of waves hitting that part of the coast,” Gibbs said.

The study is part of an ongoing assessment of the nation’s shoreline. It did not address climate change.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska officially drops lawsuit challenging gay marriage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 09:26

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed the appeal of a court case that struck down Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that the appeals court Wednesday accepted a joint notice to dismiss filed by the state and attorney Allison Mendel, who represented the couples who filed suit against the Alaska.

A federal judge in October ruled Alaska’s ban violated the U.S. constitution.

After the appeals court lifted a temporary stay and the U.S. Supreme Court denied a review of the case, the state had asked federal appeals court panel for a review.

That appeal was suspended in January when the Supreme Court agreed to hear a series of marriage equality cases. The high court ruled Friday to legalize same-sex marriage across the county.

Categories: Alaska News

University of Alaska Southeast director won’t take job

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 09:26

Just over a week before he was supposed to start, the newly named director of the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus says he won’t be showing up for work.

The Daily Sitka Sentinel reports that Chris Gilmer emailed UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield Tuesday to inform him that family circumstances and other opportunities will keep him from reporting for duty.

Caulfield says he will be in Sitka next week, at which time he will meet with the community advisory council to plan the next steps for an interim leadership arrangement.

Gilmer was selected for the position in February to replace Jeff Johnston. Gilmer has been core professor and chair of the Department of Undergraduate Writing at Walden University in Minneapolis, Minnesota since 2009.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan man remains missing after 6 months

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 09:24

The family of a Ketchikan man who has been missing for six months has filed a presumptive death petition.

The Ketchikan Daily News reports that 38-year-old Roy Banhart went missing either Dec. 28 or Dec. 29 after trying to get into a taxi near a bar.

Ketchikan Police Chief Alan Bengaard said in January that Banhart did not leave the city by commercial transportation, but that the department has had missing person cases that last several years in the past.

In an interview Tuesday Deputy Police Chief Josh Dossett said the case is still open but that there have been no new developments.

Banhart’s cousin MaryAnn Bright, of Anchorage, filed a presumptive death petition in Ketchikan District Court. A jury will be called to look into the disappearance.

Categories: Alaska News

Ethan Berkowitz takes over as Anchorage’s mayor

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 09:20

Ethan Berkowitz formally became the new Mayor of Anchorage on Wednesday. The celebration downtown was a marked departure from past inaugurations, with a heavy emphasis on changing directions at city hall.

Berkowitz’s swearing in was an informal affair. Frankly, it felt more like a block party than a government event. Supporters, local politicians, kids, curious passersby – Town Square Park filled with hundreds of people while the Vinyl Floors, a band from West High School, played on stage.

“Hey Rick we still have virtually no guitar up here.” “Can I get a little more guitar up here in the monitors? Just a little.”

The ceremony itself was short and sweet. It was also diverse, something speakers as well as audience members noted. The event opened with a Dena’ina prayer, and eventually yielded to a Yupik dance group and hip-hop performance. Rhetoric throughout drew on language from community activism emphasizing Anchorage’s multiculturalism, as well as subtle nods towards progressive values. It’s the same tone Berkowitz used on the campaign trail, and throughout his transition into office the last two months.

“We are, in many ways, liberated from the way things have been done before,” he said. “And we have the responsibility, and the ability, to take care of things ourselves. It’s our time to make a new Anchorage.”

The mayor’s office in Anchorage is technically nonpartisan. And while there were no overt jabs at the conservative outgoing Sullivan Administration, there was a decidedly liberal flavor to the festivities, with Downtown Democratic legislators smiling beside prominent community activists. For attendee David Landry in the audience, the openness of the event set a tone unlike any past inaugurations.

“Just very excited to have a new generation of mayor in town. And it’s about time,” Landry said.

As for specifics in Berkowitz’s policy agenda, details are scant, but the focus remains on issues highlighted in his campaign.

“Working on public safety issues, we’ve been working on economic development issues. And we’re also getting the early stages of preparing the next budget,” Berkowitz said. “So, we’ve been hard at work, even before we moved into the office.”

But the remainder of the afternoon was for celebration, music, and a very long line for free cupcakes.

Categories: Alaska News

Sunshine affects Ketchikan’s tourism industry

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 09:15

Ketchikan’s summer tourism season is well underway. Record low rainfall in May and warmer-than-usual temperatures had a lot OF tourists smiling. But in a place known for rain, is sunshine bad for business?

Chuck Slagle walks the dock where a few of his charter fishing boats are coming in from a morning on the water. “How was your trip?” “Great, thanks for asking.”

Tourists eat at the Fish House on June 23, 2015.

One customer noticed Slagle had changed out of the shorts he was wearing earlier in the day. He changed into pants to go fishing. He said a sunny day doesn’t always make for the best fishing, but it does make for a better experience.

“Sunshine makes a big difference in our business.With what we do, people going fishing. They not only have a better time when it’s not pouring down rain, they’ll also look out the cruise ship windows and fishing is more appealing to them when it’s not pouring down rain.”

Slagle also owns the Fish House, a seafood restaurant just above his fleet of charter fishing boats. He said weather affects sales at the restaurant, too. Generally, people aren’t willing to wait in line in the rain.

On a recent sunny day, the line was trailing onto the pavement.  Blake Runkel and his family from Houston were happily waiting in line for their crab lunch. “Yeah I was surprised this is a beautiful day. We lucked out. Short sleeve shirts in Alaska, that’s pretty amazing.”

The Fish House in Ketchikan.

His mother, Pat, booked the trip after hearing rave reviews from friends, and she was strategic about booking it this week after some reading. “It said that was the best time to come. If you could plan your trip They said May to September,  but they said the best time would be from June 15 to July 15.Weather wise I think it was basically.”

She heard a lot about the rain in Southeast and packed accordingly, but was happy to keep the ponchos aboard the Ruby Princess.

The sunshine isn’t an economic boon for everyone though.

“I’ll tell you one thing our business does increase if it’s raining.”

Karl Biggerstaff at Tongass Trading says retail sales can go up about 25 percent on a rainy day, when people are more inclined to stay indoors. Even on a sunny day though, people still shop. Tongass General Manager Chris Parks says the best weather for business is changing weather, a mix of sun and rain.

Parks adds that while weather has a noticeable effect on sales in the short term, the industry is influenced more by the overall economy in the long term.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker makes appointment to Marijuana Control Board

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-02 09:09

Gov. Bill Walker has appointed members to a new board charged with developing regulations for the cultivation and sale of legal marijuana in Alaska.

A voter initiative to legalize recreational pot for those 21 and older delegated regulatory responsibilities to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board but allowed the Legislature to create a Marijuana Control Board to assume those duties.

The director of the ABC Board will serve as director of the Marijuana Control Board and paid staff of the ABC board will serve as staff for the new board.

Walker appointed Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik to the public safety seat; Juneau assembly member Loren Jones to the public health seat; Mark Springer of Bethel to the rural seat; and Bruce Schulte and Brandon Emmett to the industry seats.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, July 1, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-01 17:40

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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Walker Delays Payment on Oil Tax Credits

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker is delaying payment of $200 million worth of oil tax credits. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the veto is the most significant change the governor made to the state budget.

$8.5M In Cuts to Troopers Spread a Thin Force Even Thinner

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Rural residents already complain that state troopers are slow to respond to serious crimes and dangerous situations. But as of July first, 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated. With more lay-offs coming, it’s going to get worse — in both urban and rural Alaska.

Shell Gets Federal Approval to Head North, With Some Stipulations

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

Billions of dollars worth of drilling equipment and support vessels operated by Royal Dutch Shell are sitting out in the Bay in front of Dutch Harbor this week. Many of the local businesses are benefiting from the oil giant’s presence.

Sand Point Post Office Burglars Sentenced

Emily Schwing, KUCB – Unalaska

Two men have been sentenced in U.S. District Court to serve 21 months in federal prison for burglarizing the post office in Sand Point.

Citizens Asked To Weigh In On A Proposed Liquor Store in Bethel

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

An application for Bethel’s first liquor store in four decades is still alive.

Marriage Equality and Mourning: Mildred Boesser Fought Until the End

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

When the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage nationwide last week, President Obama called the ruling “a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up.” Mildred Boesser stood 5 feet tall, and she was one of those people. On the day of the ruling, Boesser was on her deathbed at home in Juneau, surrounded by family.


A Psychologist Follows His Slow-Roasted, Highly Caffeinated Dream

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Tucked among the summer crop of food trucks in Anchorage is a vintage bus, a frying pan, and an exceptionally mellow public school psychologist following a highly-caffeinated dream.

Flying Karamazovs and Friends Bring Chautauqua Spirit to Juneau

Annie Bartholomew, KTOO – Juneau

When the New Old Time Chautauqua marched into a TEDx talk in Seattle in 2012, there were jugglers, marching band musicians with mismatched uniforms, a saxophonist with a fez and a mustachioed ringmaster in a kilt. Now, the motley troupe of almost 60 performers and educators is in Juneau for three days of workshops, shows and activities that start Thursday.


Categories: Alaska News

$8.5M In Cuts to Troopers Spread A Thin Force Event Thinner

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-01 17:38

Rural residents already complain that state troopers are slow to respond to serious crimes and dangerous situations. But as of July first, 30 state trooper positions have been eliminated. With more lay-offs coming, it’s going to get worse — in both urban and rural Alaska.

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Public safety director Col. James Cockrell says the department had to find $8.5 million to cut. It’s mothballing two search-and-rescue helicopters, losing some support positions, and tightening its belt in other ways. Cockrell says it’s been hard to cut trooper positions – it’s hard to find good recruits, and troopers fulfill the agency’s mission to fight crime, enforce the law, and protect life and property. Plus, he says the force has always been spread thin.

“Statewide, the population that we serve, we certainly don’t meet the national standards  of providing the number of police officers to the population, and we really never have because we’re  so spread out and the difficulties of getting into some of the areas that we deal with.”

Of the dozen communities losing troopers, eight are losing one or two each. Fairbanks is losing six, and Soldotna five. Wasilla is losing the most — nine state trooper positons. Cockrell says that’s going to make a bad situation worse.

“When you look at specifically the Mat-Su valley, our troopers are, some of them are 30, 40 cases behind on their case load right now. We’re just not keep up with the volume of activity we have out there and that’s pretty much statewide.”

Cockrell says another area that will feel the change is the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, which he says is experiencing an epidemic of sexual assault and domestic violence crime. And he noted the loss of a drug investigations trooper in the Bristol Bay region. But he says urban residents will also see a change.

“We’ll have to prioritize our services and certainly when we have less troopers property crime goes even further down on the list. People crimes, assaults, burglaries in process, robberies and domestic violence and sexual assaults. Certainly our responses to some property crimes will be practically non-existent.”

Cockrell says he saw the cuts coming so kept several positions vacant. As a result he says only one permanent employee was actually laid off, along with six non-permanent positions — four troopers who handled cold case murder investigations, and two who did background checks. Now, he says, the department has to cut another $2.6 million to cover state employee pay raises.

Categories: Alaska News

Polar Pioneer: An Economic Boon For Dutch Harbor

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-01 17:37

Billions of dollars worth of drilling equipment and support vessels operated by Royal Dutch Shell are sitting out in the Bay in front of Dutch Harbor this week. The company has plans to take most of that equipment north for exploratory drilling operations later this summer. Many of the local businesses are benefiting from the oil giant’s presence.

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Dutch Harbor is a busy place this time of year.

“The flights are all full, the hotel is full, vehicles – trucks for rent – companies that rent vehicles – they’re all rented.”

City Mayor Shirley Marquardt says the bustle isn’t unusual. She compares it to the uptick in business the community last saw when the pollock fishery took off in the 1980s and 90s.

“… and you had the big at-sea processor fleet show up, these big boats participating in this massive fishery and they’re all coming into town and said ‘we need everything.’”

But this year, much of that business can be attributed to oil giant, Shell. Over the next two years, Dutch Harbor will serve as a logistics hub as the company carries out its exploratory drilling plans further north in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

Spokeswoman Megan Baldino says 15 company personnel have been in Dutch Harbor for at least the last two weeks. Now that one of the company’s drill rigs is moored in the bay just out front of town, Baldino says up to 35 people will arrive daily.

“…on any given day the numbers could be lower or higher.”

Because flights to and from the island are limited, the company has chartered flights with Anchorage-based Ravn Alaska. Charlotte Siegreen is Ravn’s spokeswoman.

“It’s usually around one or two a day for the next couple of weeks.”

Currently, only one commercial carrier provides regular service into Dutch Harbor. Siegreen says it’s not yet clear if Ravn will also consider regularly scheduled flights after its contract with Shell ends.

“we don’t have an immediate plans to make any scheduled service changes, but we’re always looking. I can say that.”

With the influx of so many people, Shell has booked a block of rooms at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.

“We are full.”

Lori Smith is the General Manger of Hospitality for Unisea, the seafood producer that owns two hotels in town. She says the oil company has been careful to relinquish rooms it is not using to free up space in a community where temporary housing is extremely limited. Mayor Shirley Marquardt says her administration has worked closely with Shell on that issue.

“We’ve been very up front and very honest with Shell from day one, of ‘if people are going to live here full time, if you’re not going to hire people who live her to do the work, do not come into town and jack up prices and kick people out of their homes.”

Marquardt says so far, housing prices have remained stable. She says it’s unclear how the job market might change.

“It’s too early to tell. When they were here the last time they did hire a lot of local folks for security and logistics and running around.”

Megan Baldino says Shell hasn’t yet made any direct local hires, but they have contracted with a number of local businesses.

“Thee are some areas where we bring in people who we have trained to really specific competency requirements, but in the future there are plans to train and utilize local staffing so we can meet those needs locally.” 00:13

The city doesn’t have a system to attribute tax revenue directly to the oil company’s presence, but city officials say they expect an uptick in revenue collected from both bed and fuel taxes.

Categories: Alaska News

Citizens Asked To Weigh In On A Proposed Liquor Store in Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-01 17:35

An application for Bethel’s first liquor store in four decades is still alive.

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The board tabled the final decision and wants to hold a meeting to hear directly from Bethel residents. It dealt the Bethel Native Corporation a victory in shooting down the city’s formal request to stop the license, but the board can still reject their application.

The board is required to honor protests and reject licenses unless the protests are quote “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable,” which is what three of five voting members found in their quarterly meeting held in Fairbanks.

Ana Hoffman, President and CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation said the city’s reasoning relied on bad information.

“The protest is not based on any facts of any kind. It’s based on data from a 5.5 year old advisory vote and the reluctance of the city council to take any other position until they can ‘feel good’ about where the equilibrium of the community is regarding alcohol sales. The equilibrium for Bethel is that the community is wet and to make one that is responsible, defensible, and consistent with the law.”

Bethel Native Corporation is the local corporation established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Alaska Commercial Company store had also applied for a license but dropped their request until citizens vote again. Bethel voted out of local option status in 2009, paving the way for legal sales and unlimited imports of alcohol. The new application is the first in five years.

Bethel Vice Mayor Leif Albertson was surprised at the board’s action.

“I feel like it’s an affront to our city council who put a lot of time into deciding this issue to be told we’re arbitrary and capricious about this. It should be an affront to anyone who lives in this community who feels we should have a local opportunity to make decisions for ourselves.”

BNC has been pushing hard for the store as they have been without a tenant at their multimillion dollar new retail complex since it was vacated by Swanson’s grocery store this spring.  They collected 500 letters of support and brought on a prominent lawyer to support their case, Phil Blumstein, who argued the city was evading the state’s liquor laws.

“The legal issue at the center of this protest is whether the city can properly base its protest on its belief that liquor sales should be illegal in Bethel, or its belief that the public believes liquor sales should be allowed in Bethel, where the votes have in deciding the issue the only way the law allows,  have repeatedly voted for sales to be legal.”

Several community groups have formally opposed the application, like the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and the Lower Kuskokwim School District. They cite the region’s high rates of alcoholism and the disproportionate number of alcohol-related crimes and domestic violence. The city’s had a rocky past with bars and liquor stores prior to the 1970s when Bethel banned them.

Categories: Alaska News

Psychologist Follows Slow Roasted, Highly Caffeinated Dream

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-01 17:25

Uncle Leroy’s Coffee parked at the Muldoon Farmers Market. Hillman/KSKA

Tucked among the summer crop of food trucks in Anchorage is a vintage bus, a frying pan, and an exceptionally mellow public school psychologist following a highly-caffeinated dream.

The inside of the bus is open and simple. A few of the original 1960s era benches flank the sides of a coffee counter where a teakettle sits on one corner. A two-burner propane stove stands against a wall.

Austin Schwartz pours green coffee beans into a pan and sets a timer. For the next 8 minutes, he slowly shuffles them around.

“Never try to rush the roast,” he says as he slowly swirls his wooden spoon. “It will all happen. In the eight minutes for the first crack. And then just a few extra minutes.”

From his demeanor, it’s unclear if Schwartz has ever actually tasted coffee. “I think people usually regard me as an easy-going person who has a lot of patience,” he says. “I work in the schools with teachers and kids, so I have a lot of practice with patience.”

But he didn’t exhibit that quality when jumping into his new summer venture – Uncle Leroy’s Coffee. Schwartz says he’s always loved a good cup of joe. Then, last December, he had his first cup of small batch roasted coffee, and his adoration bumped up a notch. He bought some green beans and started roasting at home. Less than a month later he saw an old bus on Craigslist, and by June, he had opened up his new mobile coffee roasting shop.

“I’m a day dreamer, so I have ideas. And when I have an idea, sometimes I like to see if I can actualize it. Kind of follow through on it,” he pauses, looking down at the pan. “Because I don’t want to live with regret.”

Now, he drives his aging bus slowly around the city, hoping not to stall in traffic. He pulls into farmers markets, parking lots and food carnivals, roasting and serving simple, black pour-over coffee. No espresso, no lattes.

Austin Schwartz roasts coffee in the back of his vintage bus. Hillman/KSKA

“The bus is actually really nice for roasting because there’s so many windows,” he explains as the bus begins to fill with smoke, coffee smell filling the air.

The beans start to turn different shades of brown, bouncing about the pan like low-key popcorn.

Schwartz says he can roast about four pounds per hour, then he grinds it up, one cup at a time, serving it like was done 150 years ago. Slowly, patiently, yet still buzzing.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Delays Payment On Oil Tax Credits

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-01 17:05

Gov. Bill Walker discusses a tax credit veto with the press, July 1, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Gov. Bill Walker is delaying payment of $200 million worth of oil tax credits. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the veto is the most significant change the governor made to the state budget.

Signing his first budget, Walker was, for the most part, light with the red pen. The capital budget the Legislature sent him had already been cut from about $600 million to a little more than $100 million, so there were few projects to target. And after two special sessions and a compromise between Republicans and Democrats, Walker decided to mostly leave the worked-over operating budget alone.

The only big adjustment Walker made was on oil tax credits. Walker put off payment of $200 million in oil tax credits to send a message.

“We have to have that discussion about what can we afford — what can we afford in the way of paying companies to go out and do exploration work in our state. That’s really what it comes down to,” Walker said at a Wednesday press conference.

Walker added that the action was a way of sharing the pain among Alaskan people and interests at a time when the state is looking at years of budget deficits.

The payment delay only affects companies who are exploring for oil — not actually producing it. The state will still issue about half a billion in credits to companies that are extracting the resource.

And as far as the delay goes, it’s just that. All of the credits will still have to be paid out eventually, even if they don’t count against this year’s budget. Walker said there isn’t a legal avenue for striking them from the books.

“I’m not aware of any,” said Walker. “We haven’t looked for any, and that’s not the goal.”

The payment of oil tax credits was a major part of Democrats’ agenda this legislative session. The minority party regularly offered amendments that would have cut them from the budget, but all of them were unsuccessful.

Walker told reporters that his move on the budget should push the issue to the forefront when legislators reconvene.

“As we see this growing to the point that it could potentially be the largest expenditure we have in the state — these payments for exploration — that we have to get a handle on,” said Walker.

Including the oil credit delay, the budget Walker signed spends just under $5 billion in state dollars.

Categories: Alaska News

Flying Karamazovs and friends bring Chautauqua spirit to Juneau

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-01 15:31

When the New Old Time Chautauqua marched into a TEDx talk in Seattle in 2012, there were jugglers, marching band musicians with mismatched uniforms, a saxophonist with a fez and a mustachioed ringmaster in a kilt.

A selfie shot while the New Old Time Chautauqua band marches through a Wrangell supermarket, June 25, 2015. (Photo courtesy Eben Sprinsock/New Old Time Chautauqua)

Now, the motley troupe of almost 60 performers and educators is in Juneau for three days of workshops, shows and activities that start Thursday.

The traveling Chautauqua movement began on Lake Chautauqua in New York in the late 1800s. They brought lectures, theater and music to rural communities but it mostly died out after the rise of radio and motion pictures.

“School Children’s ‘Chautauqua’ Demonstration” in Juneau, Sept. 21, 1921. (Alaska State Library, David & Mary Waggoner Photographs & Papers, 1900-1940, Winter & Pond, ASL-PCA-492)

In 1981, Patch Adams — yup, the one Robin Williams played — and the Flying Karamazov Brothers revived the movement. Natalee Rothaus was with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council in 1992 when the New Old Time Chautauqua first visited Juneau.

“It’s so much fun and it’s so much goodwill, spirited. You know, you’re working with people who are doing this for the love of it. They’re not coming in just to do a show. It’s not just a gig, it’s a Chautauquan family,” Rothaus says.

The New Old Time Chautauqua is a nonprofit whose members volunteer their time and fund their own travel during their month-long tour each summer. It’s Chautauquan tradition to share knowledge, partner with local organizations and build community through laughter, entertainment and education.

“The last time we did do a parade, it was quite wonderful. I myself wanted to run away with the circus,” says Rothaus.

One Juneauite actually did. Valerie Snyder, owner of Douglas’ BrownBoots Costume Company, joined the Chautauqua in Bellingham last month for a crammed week of rehearsals before they hopped the ferry up to Ketchikan. During their parades, Snyder says, “People are genuinely surprised and we get community members to march with us. In Ketchikan, I ran up the sidewalk and I did a little face painting to all the little kids waiting on the side of the street. ”

So far on this jaunt, the group has performed in Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg.

A New Old Time Chautauqua performer in the streets of Wrangell, June 26.
(Photo courtesy Zachary “Skip” Waddell/New Old Time Chautauqua)

Snyder is the only Alaskan from Southeast in the troupe. She plays violin, juggles, hula hoops, and contributes a little singing and dancing.

“Just expect fun and warmth and friendship. We’re just here to entertain and put a smile on your face,” Snyder says.

Their three-day routine begins with an open potluck Thursday at the Douglas library. Think of it as a Chautauqua launch party with a chalk drawing competition and community music jam.

Friday is the workshop day at Centennial Hall, where the Chautauquans and community members will teach circus skills, how to build a fire using friction, the Chinese meditative art of Qigong, how to fold a fitted sheet, and lecture on health.

There will also be pop-up performances downtown. The only ticketed part of their visit is their headlining vaudeville show Friday evening, which features music, aerialists, the Flying Karamazov Brothers and lots of shtick.

On the Fourth of July, they’ll march in both the downtown Juneau and Douglas parades.

New Old Time Chautauqua founder and original Flying Karamazov Brother Paul Magid hopes to inspire change person to person. The troupe will perform at the Johnson Youth Center and the Juneau Pioneer Home, too, as part of their service mission.

Magid describes the spirit behind their group in his 2012 TEDx talk:

“And it’s a our love of music, play, laughter and for each other that bridges all religious and political differences whether it’s on a baseball field, in a grocery store, or at a maximum security prison.”

After Juneau, they’re headed to Hoonah, Haines and Sitka.

Full disclosure: All proceeds from Friday’s ticket sales benefit KTOO Public Media. 

Categories: Alaska News

Opening of Houston fireworks stands ‘highly unlikely’

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-01 15:23

The Sockeye Fire is nearly contained, and fires continue to burn throughout the state.  Now, many are questioning whether or not fireworks will be available and legal for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.  The state has lifted its fireworks ban, with the exception of Western Alaska.  Many municipal and borough restrictions are still in place, however.

Robert Hall is the owner of Gorilla Fireworks, which operates stands in Houston and North Pole.  He says it is almost certain that the North Pole stand will not open, and doubtful that the city of Houston will lift its ban on the sale of fireworks.

“[It is] very unlikely that we’ll open in Houston. They’ll make a final decision on Thursday based on a lot of different factors, not just weather.”

Hall says one of those factors is the strain that the Sockeye and other fires have placed on fire departments in the Mat-Su Borough.  He also says consideration for the victims of the Sockeye Fire will play a role.

“These people in Willow are friends of ours.  Our kids went to school with their kids.  They’ve been through an awful lot, and that’s a consideration, too.”

Currently, the sale of fireworks is banned in the City of Houston.  A final decision from the city is expected on Thursday.  Robert Hall says the city consults with the state’s Division of Forestry and local fire departments to make its decisions regarding fireworks.

“I’m very comfortable that the City of Houston will make the right decision, and that, if they made the decision today, it would be not to open firework stands.”

Hall says that, if the Houston stands do open, that they will only be selling sparklers, fountains, and other fireworks that are not designed to leave the ground.

Whether or not fireworks are available for sale this week, the Mat-Su Borough has placed a ban on use of fireworks, and borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan says code enforcement officers will be patrolling over the course of the weekend.

Categories: Alaska News