Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 14, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 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 alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

 

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House Finance Committee Blocks Medicaid Expansion Bill

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

House Finance Committee Chair Steve Thompson says the committee will not advance the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill.

UAF Gets A Federal Boost for Unmanned Aircraft

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The FAA last week named University of Alaska Fairbanks a “Center of Excellence” for research on unmanned aircraft. Actually, UAF is part of a group of universities, led by Mississippi State, that make up the Center of Excellence. They’re charged with helping the FAA figure out how to integrate the unmanned machines in the national airspace.

Death of 4 Believed to Be of Domestic Violence Incident

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The death of four people, two small children and their parents, in a South Anchorage residence appears to be a domestic violence incident.

Body of Argentine Climber Found High on Denali

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

The National Park Service reports that the remains of an Argentinian climber have been found at a camp high on Denali.

Fairbanks Police Experiment with Body Cams

Karen Simmons, KUAC – Fairbanks

Repeated cases of actual or alleged police brutality, have spurred conversations across the country about officer worn body cameras.

Historially Low Hooligan Run On the Chilkoot Is a Mystery

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Hooligan fishing is a tradition for many people in the Upper Lynn Canal. But this spring, those who fish in the Chilkoot River had disappointing results. Researchers say the mysterious fish seem to have turned right instead of left into the Taiya River, near Skagway, instead of the Chilkoot.

Eyesore to Eye Candy: Juneau Rebuilds A Historic Treasure

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

In 2004, an awning patch-job went bad and led to a fire that razed a historic commercial building in the heart of downtown Juneau, where the grand opening of Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building will happen Friday.

‘Republic of the Arctic’ Proponent And Native Rights Activist Charles Etok Edwardsen Dies

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A life devoted to whaling and land rights has come to an end. Charles Etok Edwardsen passed away in the place he loved best, a whale camp. Edwardsen was an outspoken activist who fought against the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act because he believed the Inupiaq people of the north should control the land and resources of the arctic.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Republic of the Arctic’ Proponent And Native Rights Activist Charles Etok Edwardsen Dies

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 17:39

A life devoted to whaling and land rights has come to an end. Charles Etok Edwardsen passed away in the place he loved best, a whale camp.

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Edwardsen was an outspoken activist who fought against the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act because he believed the Inupiaq people of the north should control the land and resources of the arctic. He was born in Barrow and was the oldest of 14 children. His sister Beverly Hugo says he fought for modern services for his people after seeing running water and flush toilets at boarding school. She says, even as a child, he was strong willed, stowing away on his grandfather’s whaling boat when he was only 5 years old.

“He did hide… [laughing]… and got into Grandpa’s boat. And when Grandpa realized that his son was not going to be denied, he gave him the task of throwing the float after the shoulder person has shot the whale and the harpooner has sent the harpoon off, and Etok’s job as a little boy was to throw the float out.”

Beverly says her mother loved to sew traditional clothing for her oldest son. She says when her mom was dying, her brother got his parka wet on a hunting trip and her mom worried about who would care for him after she was gone.

Beverly Hugo is a younger sister of the late Charles Etok Edwardsen, who died on May 8th. She says as he requested, there will be a political rally instead of a memorial service in his honor. That rally will happen on Saturday in Barrow.

Categories: Alaska News

Pre-Historic Shark Fossil Comes Home

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:47

A unique fossil rock from Atigun Gorge is back in the state after a 29 year detour in Washington, D.C. The rock bears the imprint of teeth from an animal that has not been seen on Earth for about 250 million years.  But the  the story behind the rock and it’s current status as centerpiece of a Seward art exhibit is almost as fascinating as the prehistoric creature which imprinted it.

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Scientists call the animal a Helicoprion but some call it a buzz saw shark. That’s because of the odd placement of teeth in the animal’s lower jaw. They are in the middle of the animal’s mouth, in a single line, curved like the edge of a scimitar.

“This is a real monster, and there’s nothing alive like it today, that has this crazy grouping of teeth that it keeps its whole life. But it was successful, it lived for 8 million years, as a species.”

That’s Leif Tapanila, an expert in the workings of the dental gear on animals that flourished millennia ago. Tapanila says there’s about 151 fossils of this kind in the world. The helicoprion may have gone extinct 250 million years ago, but one day in 1986, grad student Richard Glenn stumbled upon a strange rock on a mapping expedition to the Brooks Range.

“I didn’t know what it was. And I didn’t know if it was important enough that it should be found, recorded, saved, preserved, or if we’d find more. So I left it up there where I found it, for a day, and then I went back up after my advisor came and told me that maybe I should go back and get it. ”

The young Glenn gave the rock to his instructor.

“He’d never seen one before either, so he sent it away to a paleontologist colleague of his, and that’s how it got identified, and then he sent it away and it never came home. ”

It would be almost 30 years before Glenn saw his fossil find again.  The fossil rock ended up at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, where it was mislabled, then stored away. The original curator of the fossil later died, and the fossil rock was forgotten.

Enter artist Ray Troll, long known for his imaginative paintings of sea life, and, it turns out, an ancient shark enthusiast. Troll and the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward have partnered on an art exhibit, featuring Troll’s depictions of ancient sharks, and in February of this year, Troll and Richard Glenn crossed paths at a Sea Life Center event. The subject of buzz saw sharks came up, Troll says, and he heard about Glenn’s  fossil find.

“I was pretty excited though. maybe I better follow this up. It would be pretty wonderful to have one from Alaska, especially since this Buzz saw shark show was coming.”

And that triggered a chain of events that brought the fossil home.

“I knew a few folks back at the Smithsonian. I’d met Dave Bohoska, the collections manager before, so I made a special plea with him to find it.”

It took weeks, but finally, a FedEx package showed up with the precious rock inside. Now, gathered around a table, Glenn, Troll and Tapanila look lovingly at the rock in the center.  Definite tooth patterns in a whorl like pattern are set in the rock, and the over head light sets tiny glints of sparkle from it’s surface.

Glenn, who now works for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and Tapanila, with the University of Idaho, spoke Wednesday at a Geological Society of America meeting at UA Anchorage. Troll joined them for a special presentation of the fossil rock, which now heads to Seward on loan until September. But Glenn says, he’d like the rock to stay in Alaska.

“My dream is to put it on a loan, semi permanent in nature that brings it as close to home as where I found it. And there’s a nice museum about forty miles w est of where this was found that would be a great exhibit for a rocks, fossils of the Brooks Range, in Anaktuvuk Pass, Glenn says.  Troll adds,  “So stay tuned.”

Glenn says the Simon Paneak Museum in Anaktuvuk Pass would be just the place for the only helicoprion fossil ever found in Alaska.

Ray Troll’s art exhibit “Buzz Saw Sharks of Long Ago” will be at the Alaska Sea Life Center through September 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Remains of Argentinian Climber Found High on Denali

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:11

The National Park Service reports that the remains of an Argentinian climber have been found at a camp high on Denali.

According to a statement on Thursday, the body of 39-year-old Heraldo Javier Callupan was discovered shortly before midnight on Sunday, May 10th.

The Park Service says Callupan began climbing on May 1st, and was last seen leaving the camp at 14,200 feet to continue his climb. He was discovered four days later by another climbing team.

No other teams were reported in the area between May 6th and May 10th.

The National Park Service says Callupan was discovered lying in the snow, and had no apparent signs of trauma.

Thursday’s statement says he appears to have died from “unknown medical issues.”

Positive identification of Callupan’s remains took several days and coordination with the Argentine Consulate.  The Consulate notified his next of kin on Wednesday.

This is the first death on Denali in the 2015 climbing season.

Categories: Alaska News

Death of 4 in Anchorage Believed To Be Domestic Violence, No Suspect

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 11:55

The Anchorage Police Department has directed substantial resources towards investigating the deaths, according to Sgt. Mike Couturier.

 

The death of four people, two small children and their parents, in a South Anchorage residence appears to be a domestic incident, with no outstanding suspects.

Evidence from the Anchorage Police Department suggests one of the parents is responsible for the deaths, but just a day into the investigation detectives are not yet able to say conclusively what took place.

All four occupants of the rental unit at E. 74th Avenue suffered gunshot wounds, and a firearm was recovered at the crime scene.

“At this point of the investigation we believe this is an isolated domestic violence-related incident, and are not looking for any additional suspects,” Sargent Mike Couturier told reporters during a briefing Thursday.

Detectives don’t yet have a motive in the case, but collected electronic devices to look for clues about what might have taken place.

The family was discovered by the father of one of the victims, Desiree Leandra Gonzales, 27, during a welfare check Wednesday morning after the children’s father, 24-year-old Curtis Young III, did not drop them off as planned earlier in the day.

Couturier said that during police follow-ups in the neighborhood multiple neighbors reported hearing shots during the night between 1:37am and 4am, but no call was made to APD.

The other two victims were identified as Zaiden and Zarielle Young, both under the age of five.

This is a developing story and will be updated as details become available.

Categories: Alaska News

Three People Ill After Eating Fermented Seal Flipper

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 09:49

Three people have contracted botulism after eating separate batches of fermented seal flipper in Koyuk over the weekend.

Alaska’s Division of Public Health says the first case presented signs of the illness on Friday, with two more becoming sick by Monday afternoon. All three have been transported to Anchorage for emergency medical treatment, and officials say an investigation to “identify and monitor” others who may be at risk is currently underway.

Botulism is a life-threatening disease caused by bacteria that can incubate in some traditional Alaska Native foods — including fermented seal flipper and fermented fish heads.

The cases in Koyuk come after a botulism outbreak last fall that killed one and sickened two others near Lower Kalskag in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region. The Alaska Dispatch News reportedthat death was the first to be caused by botulism in Alaska for over a decade.

Officials are urging health care providers to immediately report suspected cases so that they can be treated quickly, and others can be prevented from eating contaminated food. Symptoms of the illness include a dry mouth, blurry vision, dizziness, stomach pain, nausea or difficulty breathing.

Categories: Alaska News

Katmai staff take closer look at F/V Northern Pride

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 09:46

The F/V Northern Pride ended up on Katmai’s Shelikok Strait coastline. It was spotted May 7, and NPS staff were on the scene May 11.
Credit National Park Service

Staff from Katmai National Park and Preserve were on the scene of the wrecked fishing vessel Northern Pride Monday.

According to KMXT, the 82-foot fishing tender Northern Pride was enroute from Seward to Kodiak on April 21 when it caught fire and capsized northeast of Marmot Island. The three crew abandoned ship and were rescued by the Coast Guard, and theNorthern Pride was believed to have sunk.  The Coast Guard spotted it drifting about a week later, and then it appeared hard aground on Katmai’s Shelikof Strait coastline last Thursday.

Katmai’s Chief of Resource Management Troy Hamon was at the scene of the wreck Monday:

“The Northern Pride is reduced basically just the hull, upside down, stranded on the beach. The structure above the hull, the superstructure, appears to be, in part, in the water. The tops of it are visible at low tide,” said Hamon.

To Hamon’s eye the ship looks like it came further apart after it beached. He says the nearby beach is littered with debris, mainly lumber and other parts from the wooden vessel. There were also some five gallon buckets of oil washed ashore:

“Most of them still sealed,” he said. “I think we only found two buckets that had holes punched in them, and one of them had its lid off and was empty.”

The Northern Pride had a maximum capacity of 4900 gallons of diesel, 200 gallons of hydraulic fluid, and 200 gallons of lube oil, but it’s unclear how much fuel remained on board by the time it beached on Katmai’s coast. According to NPS, an initial aerial survey spotted a small sheen emanating from the vessel. But from the assessment on the site Monday, Hamon says they only found a few traces of spilled oil, and little if no further harm:

“There was some sand that clearly smelled of petroleum and was strongly saturated with it,” said Hamon. “But we didn’t find any animal carcasses that had been oiled. We found one crab in the tide line that was dead, but there was no smell of oil, and no oil on it.”

The Northern Pride’s owner is required to see that it is salvaged, and a company has been hired to get it done. Several agencies, including Katmai and the Coast Guard, will assist in and oversee salvage operations.

Categories: Alaska News

KPBSD Schools Receive Threatening Automated Phone Calls

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 09:24

Two Kenai Peninsula Borough schools received threatening phone calls the afternoon of Wednesday, May 13th, which were later determined not to be credible. That’s according to a release from the district.

The school district sent out the release at about 3:30 p.m. It stated that both Skyview Middle School and K-Beach Elementary School received automated telephone calls with threatening messages just after 1 p.m.

According to the district, the schools went into “stay-put” mode under advisement from Alaska State Troopers while the nature of the threats was determined.

That means all exterior doors are locked, students were brought into the buildings, and classes continue as usual. The “stay-put” mode lasted less than an hour.

Troopers responded to Skyview while Soldotna Police went to K-Beach.

The district says it sent an automated message to parents and guardians just after 2 p.m. with information about the threats and the schools’ response. The messages went out to families in Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling, and Nikiski.

The district says law enforcement later determined the two calls were not credible threats.

This comes on the heels of similar threats two weeks ago to central peninsula schools. That time, the district waited until school was out the day of the threat to contact parents. They did so via their Facebook page and did not release much information about either the threat or the school’s response. Parents took to social media to criticize what they considered a slow, incomplete, and confusing public notice from the district.

In an interview last week with KBBI, school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said she was out of town during that incident and coordinated the public information response remotely. She said then that in retrospect, she wouldn’t have used Facebook, but would have gotten in touch with families directly.

“I would have conveyed it directly from the district office and used our voice-activated system to let parents know that this was happening,” said Erkeneff.

Unfortunately, the district got that opportunity. They did use the voice system and got the message out much faster than before.

The district notes that there may be an increased law enforcement presence at schools for a while and parents are asked to contact school principals with any questions.

Categories: Alaska News

Bobby Andrew, leading voice in anti-Pebble fight, died Tuesday

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 09:22

Credit Anders Gustafson

Bristol Bay elder Bobby Andrew, who has been a leading voice in the fight against Pebble Mine, passed away Tuesday in Aleknagik at the age of 73. State troopers say Andrew died of natural causes, and was found at his cabin on Lake Aleknagik Tuesday afternoon.

“He went up there to get whitefish and pike,” said longtime friend and Nunamta Aulukestai coworker Kim Williams Wednesday. “He was supposed to come home Sunday or Monday morning, and when he didn’t, his wife Ingrid asked someone to check in on him. He passed away in his sleep, in a place he loved and cherished. It’s a sad day for Bristol Bay, but it’s a happy day, too.”

For a decade or more, Bobby Andrew has been outspoken on protecting Bristol Bay. He has been featured in films, written articles, spoken at public meetings, and taken his message around the country and overseas.

“I was looking at the photos this morning, and I think he’s been to London five or six times carrying the message to the large mining companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American to say, ‘You know Bristol Bay is not a place to develop a large, open-pit mine,'” said Williams. “He’s gone to Juneau, to D.C., to Nevada … anywhere he was needed, he would go.”

Others recall the gentle, unassuming, elder with a soft voice as a powerful advocate for Bristol Bay.

“I’ve been in meetings with him where the whole darn room was against us, and he didn’t back down an inch,” said Robin Samuelson.

Samuelson added that Andrew was always well-prepared for meetings and presentations, represented his region well, and believed till the end that the fight against Pebble would be won.

“He was unique too in that he never asked for anything for his efforts,” he said.

According to Earthworks website, Andrew was born in Aleknagik and attended the B.I.A. territorial school there as a child, then Dillingham High School. Andrew earned an accounting degree from Dyke Spencerian Business College, which is now Chancellor University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Andrew lived at the end of Wood River Road in Dillingham, but the cabin on Aleknagik was a favored retreat, according to friends. They speak of a man tied intimately to the lands, waters, and people of Bristol Bay.

“He loved fish, he loved his family, and was especially proud of his grandchildren,” said Kim Williams. “As an Uppa, he wanted to make sure that whatever he did today would benefit his grandchildren, and the fish that they had today, he wanted to make sure they had in the future.”

Andrew was also a strong Russian Orthodox believer, and was a reader and choir member at church. Family and friends were still planning services Wednesday, but indicated a funeral and burial were tentatively scheduled for Saturday.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Borough Budget Still A Work In Progress

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 00:28

The Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly was handed a letter Wednesday  night from the Borough manager, outlining a dire revenue forecast for the coming four years. The bad news further dampened budget discussions.

The Mat Su Borough Assembly has failed to pass next year’s Borough budget, opting instead to postpone votes on key amendments that would add appropriations to a budget already stretched thin. The body did approve an amendment adding more than $900,000 to the areawide fund to increase wages and benefits for emergency services personnel while providing for additional full time EMS positions. But the Assembly postponed until next week a bid to increase Borough fees for services, and put on hold until the end of budget deliberations a move to carry over one hundred percent of the Mat Su School District’s 2015 fund balance to next year. The panel also amended, and approved, and then reconsidered and then postponed, a move by Assemblyman Dick Mayfield to provide money to refurbish four of the Borough’s ailing ambulance fleet.

Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss complained that the Assembly was getting too close to a mil rate not to his liking.

“We have done nothing but nickle and dime around and add plus signs,” he said in seeming exasperation.

DeVilbiss says he’ll get out the veto pen if the mil rate reaches over ten, but without the $500,000 for ambulance refits, the mil rate is just shy of that at 9 point 981, according to Borough finance director Tammy Clayton.

Borough manager John Moosey threw cold water on the Assembly with a letter outlining just how much Borough revenues will be down through FY2019. Moosey says for next years, the Borough’s state revenue share is down four percent to under 4 million dollars, and losses from Borough tax exemptions and decreases in other areawide fund revenues are more than one point 5 million dollars.

The Borough Assembly takes up budget discusssions again on May 20.  

Categories: Alaska News

4 Found Dead In South Anchorage Home

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 17:48

Anchorage police say they consider the deaths of four people found inside a home in South Anchorage as suspicious.

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Police say a relative conducting a welfare check at the home Wednesday found the four people dead inside and called police about 12:30 p.m.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro tells KTUU the deaths appear suspicious, but wouldn’t discuss the causes of death. She also would not say if the bodies were of adults, children or a mix.

Castro says the bodies have not yet been identified.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Survives More Than An Hour Adrift After Skiff Capsizes

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 17:44

Ronald Johansen was out camping with his brother and cousin in Chagvan last week.

After some successful geese hunting, Johanson set out alone by skiff Friday afternoon to return home to Goodnews Bay. His cousin and brother were to follow in their own boat later. The trip should’ve been an hour and half ride back, and the waters outside the sand bars were calm, at first.

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“But then out of nowhere the west wind hit the outgoing tide and it started making swells out there. These were 8 to 10 foot swells,” said Johansen.

In his 14 foot skiff, Johansen took one of those waves head on.

Ron Johansen on his skiff. Photo: KDLG.

“And I was going straight up and down on the back side of the wave and by the time I got to the bottom there was another bigger wave that hit the bow of the boat and shot me straight underwater and then the boat shot back out the water and I was still holding on,” said Johansen.

Johansen was wearing a life jacket, but didn’t think that was going to be enough. He grabbed a bundle of logs in the skiff, threw it overboard, and jumped in after it.

“And as soon as I jumped overboard into the water and held onto the stump and the wood, I looked back at the boat and another wave hit the skiff and did a barrel roll. So I jumped off just in time,” said Johansen.

The 22 year old says he was scared, alone in the water, no one knew where he was, and passersby were unlikely.  As he started to drift further towards open ocean, he began calling for help on his emergency radio.

“Twenty minutes of being in the water my legs went numb. And then about thirty minutes my arms went numb. And I tied myself to the log and told myself if I die I am going to die tied to this log so they can find me,” said Johansen.

As his strength failed him, he panicked, and for a brief moment Johansen started swimming away from his makeshift raft. Thoughts of his family sent him back to the safety of the logs.

“And during this whole time there was a school of sea lions that were out there so I was six feet away from the sea lions who were just watching me the whole time. They just grut around and watch me,” said Johansen.

His radio calls were being received, but that didn’t mean a rescue was guaranteed. Those back in the village notified boats, the Coast Guard, and others … phone calls, text messages, and VHF traffic were flying out of Goodnews Bay Friday.  The Coast Guard says one good Samaritan vessel made an effort but was turned around by the rough conditions. Now late into the evening and unsure about rescue efforts, Johansen was trying to make himself as visible as possible.

“Once I seen a big swell coming, as soon as I got to the top of the swell I would push myself up with one log to try and reach my hand as high as I could,” said Johansen.

Bethel based Yute Air was among those notified of the situation, and was able to direct pilot Ernie Turentine to detour from his route and join the search.  Turentine says the big seas made for a tough search.

“I kept thinking I saw a lot of stuff in the water because it was rough out there,” said Turentine.

By air, Turentine spotted the swamped boat, and directed Johansen’s brother in law and cousin towards that spot. But Johansen wasn’t with the boat, and the tide was going out, so the pilot flew sea-ward, looking for Johansen and his bundle of logs. He didn’t spot him, but Johansen’s relatives on the water, given the swamped boat’s location, soon did. They hauled Johansen out after what he thinks may have been an hour and a half in the cold, choppy water.

“My wife and my kids are the only thing that made me hang on,” said Johansen.

Johansen says elders told him the sea lions he saw had been there to protect him.  He doesn’t know if that’s true or not. But he does believe he is lucky to be alive this week.

And he also believes it’s a very good idea to wear a life jacket. Johansen has received reports his boat has washed up on shore. He’s hoping to get back out there soon to recover what’s left.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka Parks Feel the Strain of Fiscal Belt Tightening

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 17:43

State officials have rolled out their plan to terminate direct management of state parks in Sitka, including two of the most historic sites in Alaska.

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At a meeting of the Parks Citizen Advisory Board in Sitka on Tuesday morning, regional directors outlined their plan to find new management for the area parks and if no one steps forward, to put the parks into so-called “passive management.”

With the elimination of the position for Park Specialist, it’s unclear who will be responsible for the care and keeping of Sitka’s state parks. Which is why Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation had to come up with a plan. It goes like this. Option 1: Develop requests for proposals, or RFPS.

“Particularly for Halibut Point State Recreation Site, for an individual or a business to submit to the state a proposal to operate the park and receive the revenues that are currently charged there for the picnic shelters.”

Clair LeClair is the Division’s Operations Manager. She says the state is also seeking new managers for Old Sitka, Caste Hill, and the boat launch. And if no one steps forward? There’s option 2.

“So if we’re not able to attract viable proposals, particularly for Halibut Point, but any of the other sites as well, then we’re definitely going to look to other government agencies or nonprofits in the Sitka area.”

And for those areas without takers? They will go into passive management.

“Close the outhouses, so shutter them or board up the doors, so people can’t use them, because obviously if no one is there to maintain them, they’re not really safe or sanitary for the public to use.”

She stresses the public will still be able to access the lands. Municipal Administrator Mark Gorman said the city has not been formally approached by the state to take over Halibut Point.

When asked by KCAW whether the city would submit an RFP, Gorman said, “I don’t think we have a mandate from the citizens to expand services in this area right now. If anything, they want city hall to tighten it’s belt.”

“I think under the circumstances that we’re going to try to do the best we can.”

Board member AnneMarie LePalm was at the meeting and hopes that whatever the arrangement, it’s temporary.

“At some point if funding does improve statewide, then we would hope that state parks would hire again to have someone locally to manage the parks.”

The closure is written into the budget before the Governor, which reduces funding for state parks by half a million dollars.

Instead of spreading that cut evenly around the state, the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation proposed in March to end operations in Sitka and Valdez, and also eliminate one ranger position in the Wood-Tikchik Park near Dillingham.

If approved, these changes would go into affect July 1st of this year.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, May 13, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 17:41

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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Anchorage Hospitals Compete for New ER Beds

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The state will only allow a limited number of new emergency room beds in Anchorage in the next decade. And two big hospitals in the city are competing for the right to build them with very different visions for the best way to expand emergency care.

Marijuana OK’d At State’s First Pot Convention, But Only for Display

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage has cleared the way for Alaska’s first large-scale marijuana convention this weekend. But not without strings attached.

4 Found Dead In South Anchorage Home

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage police say they consider the deaths of four people found inside a home in South Anchorage as suspicious.

Man Survives More Than An Hour Adrift After Skiff Capsizes

Matt Martin, KDLG – Dillingham

A 22-year-old man from Goodnews Bay was rescued Friday night after what may have been more than an hour alone in the open water. Rough seas swamped his skiff on a solo trip home from camping, and he says he’s lucky to be alive.

Sitka Parks Feel the Strain of Fiscal Belt Tightening

Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka

State officials have rolled out their plan to terminate direct management of state parks in Sitka, including two of the most historic sites in Alaska.

Budget Cuts Sideline Taku Ferry July Through Sept.

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Most state ferries will sail their scheduled routes this summer. That means thousands of passengers will not need to be rebooked- or sent refunds. But one ship is getting sidelined.

Sow With 3 Cubs Stands Her Ground On Juneau Trail

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

U.S. Forest Service officials are concerned about a stressed out mama bear near the Mendenhall Glacier.

Re-Introduced Wood Bison Faring Well 

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Wood Bison transplanted by the state to the western interior this spring appear to be adapting to the wild. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game flew a group of Canadian stock bison cows and young animals to the village of Shageluk in March. To date, most of the animals have fared well.

Ancient Buzz Saw Shark Fossil Returns to Alaska

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A  unique fossil rock from Atigun Gorge is back in the state after a 29-year detour in Washington, D.C.  The rock bears the imprint of teeth from an animal  that has not been seen on Earth for about 250 million years.

Categories: Alaska News

Sow With 3 Cubs Stands Her Ground On Juneau Trail

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 17:41

U.S. Forest Service officials are concerned about a stressed out mama bear near the Mendenhall Glacier.

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John Neary, director of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, says the sow is becoming more aggressive toward hikers, mountain bikers and off-leash dogs.

“She doesn’t move off. She’ll stand her ground on the trail. She’ll even approach hikers, wanting them to move back away from her,” he says.

Neary says the black bear and her three cubs have been seen most often on East Glacier Trail, which is being closed temporarily to give the animals some space. He says the cubs are a little more than a year old, and could strike off on their own soon.

In 2013, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game tagged the mother bear, called “Bear 103″ by wildlife officials.

“The radio collar data plus our own observations show her using much of this area – Dredge Lakes, the backside of the Steep Creek area, the Steep Creek Trail by the meadows, the Trail of Time. She could be sighted anywhere along this zone.”

He says the Forest Service will look at reopening the East Glacier Trail in about a week. In the meantime, Neary says trail users should be extra cautious, and keep those dogs on a leash.

Categories: Alaska News

Re-Introduced Wood Bison Faring Well

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 17:40

Wood Bison in Portage game facility.
Credit: Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Wood bison transplanted by the state to the western interior this spring appear to be adapting to the wild. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game flew a group of Canadian stock bison cows and young animals to the village of Shageluk in March. To date, most of the animals have fared well.

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For the first time since Wood bison went extinct in Alaska over a century ago, the big furry animals are back. The herd of 100 bison flown into Shageluk and released into the surrounding Yukon and Innoko River country are being closely monitored by state biologists.

Department of Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms says that means breaking into smaller groups and spreading out, eating wild grasses and giving birth to calves.

Meanwhile, 14 other bison have died including 9 that fell through rotting river ice in recent weeks. The animals were transplanted prior to calving, as way to anchor the species to the area, and Harms says some ice casualties were expected.

Harms says another five bison perished due to unknown causes.

The state is preparing to move a group of full grown bull bison to the Shageluk area this summer.

Wood bison are the largest land mammals in the western hemisphere and Harms says moving the 2 thousand pound bulls may require anesticizing or otherwise drugging the animals. The move is scheduled for later this month or early June, just prior to the summer breeding season. The Wood Bison reintroduction in the Shageluk area is the culmination of a long running effort to restore the animals to Interior Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Ancient Buzz Saw Shark Fossil Returns to Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 17:39

A unique fossil rock from Atigun Gorge is back in the state after a 29-year detour in Washington, DC. The rock bears the imprint of teeth from an animal that has not been seen on Earth for about 250 million years. The story behind the rock and it’s current status as centerpiece of a Seward art exhibit is almost as fascinating as the prehistoric creature who imprinted it.

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Photo by Ellen Lockyer-KSKA.

Scientists call it a Helocoprion, but some call it a buzz saw shark. That’s because of the odd placement of teeth in the animal’s lower jaw. They’re in the middle of the animal’s mouth, in a single line, curved like the edge of a scimitar.

“This is a real monster, and there’s nothing alive like it today, that has this crazy grouping of teeth that it keeps its whole life. But it was successful, it lived for 8 million years, as a species,” explains Leif Tapanila, an expert in the workings of the dental gear on (the long-gone) animals that flourished millennia ago. The helocoprion may have gone extinct 250 million years ago, but one day in 1986, grad student Richard Glenn stumbled upon a strange rock on a mapping expedition to the Brooks Range.

“I didn’t know what it was. And I didn’t know if it was important enough that it should be found, recorded, saved, preserved, or if we’d find more. So I left it up there where I found it, for a day, and then I went back up after my advisor came and told me that maybe I should go back and get it.”

The young Glenn gave the rock to his instructor.

“He’d never seen one before either, so he sent it away to a paleontologist colleague of his, and that’s how it got identified, and then he sent it away and it never came home. ”

It would be almost 30 years before Glenn saw his fossil find again.

Enter artist Ray Troll, long known for his imaginative paintings of sea life, and, it turns out, an ancient shark enthusiast. Troll and the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward have partnered on an art exhibit, featuring Troll’s depictions of ancient sharks, and in February of this year, Troll and Richard Glenn crossed paths at a Sea Life Center event. The subject of buzz saw sharks came up, Troll says, and he heard about the fossil find.

“I was pretty excited though. maybe I better follow this up. It would be pretty wonderful to have one from Alaska, especially since this buzz saw shark show was coming.”

And that triggered a chain of events that brought the fossil home.

“I knew a few folks back at the Smithsonian. I’d met Dave Bohoska, the collections manager before, so I made a special plea with him to find it.”

It took weeks, but finally, a FedEx package showed up with the precious rock inside. Now, gathered around a table, Glenn, Troll and Tapanilla look lovingly at the centerpiece

Glenn, who now works for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and Tapanilla, with the University of Idaho, spoke Wednesday [today] at a Geological Society of America meeting at UA Anchorage. Troll joined them for a special presentation of the fossil rock, which now heads to Seward on loan until September. But Glenn says, he’d like the rock to stay in Alaska.

“My dream is to put it on a loan, semi permanent in nature that brings it as close to home as where I found it. And there’s a nice museum about 40 miles west of where this was found that would be a great exhibit for a rocks, fossils of the Brooks Range.”

“So stay tuned,” he laughs.

Ray Troll’s art exhibit “Buzz Saw Sharks of Long Ago” will be at the Alaska Sea Life Center through September 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Hooligan Run Lowest in Years on the Chilkoot

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 14:09

Hooligan fishing is a tradition for many people in the Upper Lynn Canal. But this spring, those who fish in the Chilkoot had disappointing results. Researchers say the mysterious fish seem to have turned right instead of left into the Taiya, near Skagway, instead of the Chilkoot. And there’s no way to know exactly why.

Dead hooligan on the shores of the Taiya. (Emily Files)

“I didn’t catch any on the Chilkoot side, but I caught some at Jones Point,” said lifelong Haines resident Sonny Williams. “I caught ten gallons and that was it.”

Williams says he usually catches 20 to 30 gallons of hooligan each spring. The small herring-like fish is traditionally used for oil and smoking. He says the only other times he’s seen the run this low in the Chilkoot is when the lake has been frozen.

“It was a lot lower than the previous four years that we have data on,” said Meredith Pochardt, executive director of Takshanuk Watershed Council.

Takshanuk is the only group that monitors hooligan in the Upper Lynn Canal. They’ve monitored the runs in the Chilkoot from 2010-2012 and in 2014. This year, they estimate the run was about 300,000. Last year, it was between three and four million. In 2011, it was about 12 million.

“There was a lot of excitement in Lutak Inlet, predators, whales, eagles, the like. But they never really materialized up in the [Chilkoot] River, the predators didn’t even,” said Brad Ryan, director for Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition. He and Pochardt say it seems like the Chilkat ran hard, but Chilkoot was quiet.

Despite the low run, they aren’t worried hooligan are declining.

“The hypothesis of hooligan in Northern Lynn Canal is they’re one population, and they just pick a river to run to based on some environmental cue that we don’t understand at this point,” Ryan said. “So they may run to Berner’s Bay, they may run to the Chilkat, they may run to the Chilkoot. Or on occasion, they run to the Taiya.”

That’s what Ryan and Pochardt think happened this year.

Rachel Ford is program manager of the Taiya Watershed Council in Skagway. On May 5th, she drives out to Dyea to check on the hooligan run.

“We’re just looking out at the flats for the Taiya River here,” she says. “The tide’s pretty low. And we can see a ton of seagulls out on the flats. Last week they were all over the place, just because the hooligan run was so big.”

Now it looks like it’s mostly dead ones washed up on the shore. But then, as we head back to the car, the gulls that were sitting on the shore dive into the water in a great big flock, snapping up hooligan.

Skagway residents say this is the biggest run they’ve seen in the Taiya in at least ten years. Some say it’s the largest run in 40 years.

So why did the hooligan cross to the other side? Why a big run in the Taiya, and not the Chilkoot? Williams, the hooligan fisherman, thinks he knows. He says he was watching the hooligan as they swam north.

“I watched them come around Battery Point and get right in the river there. And we’re like ok, they’re gonna show up,” Williams said. “They started trickling off and all of a sudden, the pounding at the ferry terminal had a definite effect on them moving out of here.”

Williams says he watched the hooligan turn around near the ferry terminal. A new ferry dock has been under construction since April. The State Department of Transportation says they have not heard any complaints.

Gulls feeding on hooligan in the Taiya River. (Emily Files)

Ryan, one of the watershed hooligan monitors, isn’t sure about that theory.

“I understand that there was some talk about the ferry dock, I kind of doubt that,” Ryan said. “I mean they came into Lutak, they came into the Ferebee, the Taiyasanka pretty heavy as well this year.”

But nobody knows for sure. Hooligan are not well-researched like salmon and halibut. Ryan says Alaska Fish and Game doesn’t monitor hooligan because they’re not as economically important as other fish. But they are traditionally important to subsistence fishermen in the Upper Lynn Canal.

Since there’s so little research on hooligan, it’s hard to predict what the little fish will do next spring. Haines locals hope the Chilkoot will see a stronger run. And Skagway locals hope their hooligan luck continues.

Categories: Alaska News

Budget cuts sideline Taku ferry July-September

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 12:25

Craig Renkert and his wife Barb planned a three-week tour of Southeast Alaska for this summer.

They were looking forward to ferrying through the Inside Passage, celebrating the Fourth of July in Sitka and staying at bed-and-breakfasts along the way.

Then, the couple from Ohio got some bad news.

“When I got the email last Friday, I was very frustrated in that here they were, at the last minute, changing the ferry schedule. Because many of those places I made reservations have 60-day cancellation policies. Now, the trip is less than 60 days away.

The ferry Taku sails into the Wrangell Narrows on its way south in 2013. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Renkert spoke with a reservations agent and was able to change his itinerary, though he’s still juggling shore-side details.

He’d heard of ferry breakdowns and spending cuts affecting the schedule. But the agent didn’t give a reason for the change while rebooking.

“Just because the budget wasn’t planned further in advance seems to be utterly inconsiderate of the locals in the communities, their businesses and the tourists,” he says.

Legislative budget cuts were expected to deeply reduce sailings this summer, especially in Southeast.

Officials estimated the reductions would cancel reservations already booked by about 10,000 people.

But the Walker administration was able to shift $5.5 million in unused money from this year’s fuel fund to next year’s operating budget.

Alaska Marine Highway System spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says that allows other ferries to go ahead with scheduled service.

“The only ship that will be [affected] will be the Taku coming out. The other ships will be sailing as scheduled,” he says.

With the Taku out, sailings to and from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, will be cut from four to two a week. Those sailings also stop in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Kake and Juneau.

Before July, the Taku is filling in on routes of other ferries that need extra time for repairs.

Woodrow says the ship’s time off will be used, in part, for work that’s been delayed.

“Every ship is required to have an overhaul, which is where we do an inspection to make sure it gets its recertification so it’s safe for passenger service. So you have to do that annually. You can’t push it back several months,” he says.

He says reservations staffers are contacting those who booked travel on the Taku beginning in July.

Democratic Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan says cuts leading to the ship’s cancellation show bad budgeting by the Legislature’s Republican majority.

He says Alaskans make up almost a third of those sailing Taku routes. And visitors contribute revenue to the ferry system and port-city businesses.

“The ferry system is the highway for Southeast and coastal Alaska and passenger and vehicle fees are its lifeblood. Because we lack a completed budget, this decision will cost the State of Alaska more than $400,000 of revenue,” he says, in a press release.

Majority budget-writers have said the ferry system is too expensive and something the state cannot afford to maintain at its current service levels.

Renkert, who lived in Anchorage for 18 years, says he’s now one of those visitors.

“I’m spending my money with local B&Bs, not with cruise ships, because I want a local experience. If it’s not available that’s going to make it much more difficult for me to do this trip again in the future and make it difficult for me to recommend it to others,” he says.

His trip is the sort promoted by the ferry system and port communities.

While most of the summer schedule will remain intact, other reductions are likely come October, the start of the winter schedule.

Categories: Alaska News

AK, B.C. promise more input into mine decisions

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-05-13 12:22

The Walker-Mallott administration will include transboundary mine critics’ concerns in its negotiations with British Columbia.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott made that announcement after returning from a week of meetings with government, industry and aboriginal leaders in the nearby province.

Southeast environmental, fishing and tribal groups say they’ve been left out of opportunities to question the safety of B.C. mines near Alaska’s border.

Mallott said that will change.

Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott discusses the Xat’sull people’s traditional fishing on the Fraser River with tribal council official Jacinda Mack on May 6, 2015. The Xat’sull live in the area damaged by August’s Mount Polley Mine tailings dam collapse. They’re concerned about reopening plans. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

“I would hope we have the most open and transparent processes and involvements with the public possible,” he said, in a teleconferenced press conference.

He said his trip opened doors and increased opportunities to learn about the mines.

At least a half-dozen are planned in watersheds that feed salmon-producing rivers important to Southeast fishermen.

“It’s important for us not just to understand how the government does its business over there, but the involvement and interests and the concerns of stakeholders in British Columbia and the mining industry itself,” Mallott said.

The lieutenant governor met last week with provincial agencies overseeing mining and the environment.

Afterward, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said he wanted to open more of B.C.’s permitting process to Alaska officials. The state can already comment on environmental certificates and Bennett said that could be expanded.

“We would propose to have Alaska also have access into the second part of a development of a mine, which involves my ministry and the Mines Act here in British Columbia and the permitting for the actual construction of the mine and how water treatment is built,” he said after the meeting.

Mallott said the talks were cordial and officials seemed sincere. But he let them know Alaska is serious about protecting water quality.

“Large mine development along those transboundary watersheds cannot be taken casually by the state of Alaska. And any engagement we have with British Columbia cannot be out of courtesy on their part,” he said.

Gov. Bill Walker earlier this year asked Mallott to lead an internal transboundary waters working group.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is among organizations critical of B.C.’s mine plans and the state’s response. Communications Director Daven Hafey said Mallott’s trip is a sign of progress.

“It’s movement. It’s movement in the right direction. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure that what’s happening in B.C. respects Alaska waters and Alaska fish and that there’s very close participation between Alaska and B.C. on any development that occurs in the headwaters of our major salmon rivers,” he said.

During his visit, Mallott invited British Columbia officials to visit Southeast Alaska. Mines Minister Bennett accepted, though details are yet to be worked out.

He made a similar promise earlier this year, but never made the trip.

Categories: Alaska News

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