Alaska News

Juneau SEARHC opens its doors to non-Natives seeking mental health services

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:05

Pyper Powell straightens a picture at SEARHC’s new behavioral health location. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

About 15 new patients are scheduled for behavioral health services at a tribal health consortium in Southeast Alaska. SEARHC recently its practice in Juneau to offer services to non-Native people.

It’s estimated that more than 4,700 people in Juneau suffer from a mental health condition. But if you’re seeking counseling from a private practice, you might have to wait.

“Services in our community are limited and access to them is limited. We just thought it was time to open our doors and make ourselves available to others,” says Pyper Powell, a behavioral health clinician at SEARHC.

She says she’s heard of patients being waitlisted up to a month or longer. So when the behavioral health division moved into a larger building in Juneau, it seemed like the perfect time to expand. Before, the service was only available to Alaska Natives and American Indians.

“And now we’re able to serve anybody that wants to walk through the door.”

That includes non-Natives with health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid coverage. She says they’re working on a sliding scale option for people without insurance. SEARHC is the tribal health care organization serving Alaska Natives in Southeast. It’s funded with federal dollars from the Indian Health Service and grants.

The organization has seen both Native and non-Native people in Sitka for decades.

“We know that it can work,” she says. “We know that it does work and that is a great support for the community.”

Powell hopes, with more people in Juneau, they will be able to expand group therapy.

“You have a chance to work out your problems in a safe confidential environment with people who maybe remind you of somebody and can give you great feedback rather than jumping in full bore,” she says.

Groups include mental health support and chemical dependency. Some offer art therapy or mindfulness exercises. There’s one for grief management that uses Tlingit storytelling and drumming.

SEARHC’s vice president, Leatha Merculieff, says it’s mutually beneficial to include non-Natives. She’s Aleut from St. Paul Island.

“From an Alaska Native perspective, any type of expansion, it’s great for us as Alaska Native people because it adds additional resources to our services. That’s how we expand,” she says.

SEARHC will also accept patients for one-on-one counseling, but another community behavioral health provider says there’s no need. They already provide similar services without a wait.

“I don’t think we fully realized that there is a perception that so many people didn’t have immediate access to behavioral health services,” says Pamela Watts, the executive director at the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health.

JAMHI provides counseling, among other services, and offers a sliding scale policy for its uninsured clients. Watts says SEARHC is “duplicating” what’s already available.

“When duplication occurs that can draw resources away or clientele away from organizations that are well established,” she says.

SEARHC’s revenue is 20 times larger than JAMHI’s. But something both providers agree on is the lack of psychiatric care in Juneau — particularly for kids. Pyper Powell says that’s one thing SEARHC’s new patients may not receive right away. Alaska Native children already have about a four month wait for that.

“One of the things that we need to make sure that we do is honor the beneficiaries, the Alaska Natives, who would like to receive service as priority when there is a waitlist,” she says.

Powell says there are no immediate plans to hire more staff. SEARHC will reassess in the next few months.

Categories: Alaska News

NTSB releases preliminary report on Talkeetna mid-air crash

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:03

The National Transportation Safety Board has released the preliminary report on a midair collision at the Talkeetna Airport on May 31.

The collision, which occurred around 5:20 pm on the 31st, involved a Cessna 172 piloted by Cole Hagge of Eagle River and a Cessna 185 piloted by Antonio Benavides of Anchorage.  The NTSB report describes Hagge as a student pilot who was alone in the smaller plane.  Four passengers on a flightseeing tour were aboard the Cessna 185 along with Benavides. The two planes collided as they were descending to land at the Talkeetna Airport.  Hagge suffered what the NTSB describes as “serious” injuries and was hospitalized.  No other serious injuries were reported.

According to the NTSB, a preliminary review of recorded radio traffic shows that both planes broadcast position reports while in the traffic pattern. The investigation is ongoing, and a full report will be released at a future date by the NTSB.  It is not uncommon for full reports to take a year or more to complete.

Categories: Alaska News

International Group Grants Formal Approval of Aleutian Shipping ‘Buffer Zones’

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-09 13:00

The International Maritime Organization’s Marine Safety Committee is in the middle of its 95th session in London this week.  Included on the committee’s agenda is the adoption of five recommended “areas to be avoided” in the Aleutian Chain. The shipping buffer zones come in anticipation of increased mariner shipping traffic in the region.

The new zones apply to ships 400 gross tons and heavier – the kind of ships that make trans-oceanic voyages through the Bering Sea and the North Pacific.

Leslie Pearson is a project manager for the Aleutian Islands risk Assessment and a management consultant. She said the zones are meant to dampen environmental damage in the event of an accident or spill.

“Well certainly the projection of future development in Alaska and long the west coast helped as far as being a driver for these, but also past accidents,” said Pearson. “I mean we learn from history perhaps it’s better to be offshore than close into shore.”

The zones come from recommendations made by the US Coast Guard. They are based on similar “Areas To Be Avoided” established around the Northern Hawaiian Islands.

Those in the Aleutians extend 50 nautical miles from shore on islands at the tip of the Alaska Peninsula as well as Unalaska, Unimak, Adak, Atka, Kiska and Attu islands. But there are also passages outlined in-between each zone.

“One of the things that probably wasn’t taken into affect in Hawaii was when you get the winter storms, many mariners need to seek refuge in Bering straits where you have calmer weather than what you would see in the Pacific ocean and that was the reason for keeping the passage ways open so that way mariners can use them for storm avoidance,” explained PEarson.

In March, the International Maritime Organization approved the designations, but final approval falls to the IMO’s Marine Safety Committee.

“One of the things about going through the IMO process is it will actually put these ar eas to be avoided on charts – both international and domestic charts,” said Pearson.

Even though the areas will show up on maps and charts, they are only voluntary.

“Whether its voluntary or mandatory, people tend to adhere to them and insurance companies recognize these as well,” said PEarson. “So, if an operator is deviating from something that’s on the books, whether it’s recommended or mandatory, they do take notice.”

Under the IMO, the Coast Guard can still make the buffer zones mandatory. Once the IMO’s Marine Safety Committee gives their final approval, NOAA has six months to add the areas to charts.


Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Survey Ships Depart For Arctic

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-09 12:59

Chief Bosun Jim Kruger (front) works with Jason Kinyon and Lindsey Houska on the NOAA ship Rainier to prepare for the summer’s first Arctic survey project, in Kotzebue Sound. (Photo: Courtesy of NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officially launched its Arctic survey season in Alaska yesterday. Two research ships, Ranierand Fairweather, will set out from Kodiak to chart the underwater and shoreline topography of the Arctic Ocean.

NOAA communications specialist Dawn Forsythe says the mission is part of an ongoing effort to improve navigation in an area already experiencing increases in marine traffic.

“They collect data over the summer,” she said. “Then they’ll send it on to the cartographers who will build new nautical charts, or update old ones.”

The updates are, in some cases, long overdue — recorded by Arctic explorers over one hundred years ago.

“It’s said some of it dates back to Captain Cook’s time,” said Forsythe.

Accurately mapping the Arctic is no easy task. She said it could take a century or more to chart every inch of Arctic water in U.S. territory. So the ships will focus on “priority areas” for the 2015 season, including Point Clarence, Kotzebue Sound and Point Hope.

The research crews will use echo beams and under-water sonar to measure ocean depth and record navigational dangers. Those recordings will then be used to update existing charts, or create new ones altogether.

Forsythe said data gathered this summer could be incorporated into public charts and electronic navigational software as early as 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Don Young Turns 82, Walks Down Aisle

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2015-06-09 10:31

Alaska Congressman Don Young tied the knot today, on his 82nd birthday. Young married 76-year-old Anne Garland Walton, a flight nurse from Fairbanks, in a small civil ceremony at the chapel of the U.S. Capitol.

Young, in a written statement, noted that they both have two adult children and several grandchildren, and they were both widowed after happy marriages.

“In many ways, neither of us ever thought we would find love again,” he wrote, “but sometimes life surprises you.”

They’d been engaged nearly a year. The bride will keep her last name.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, June 8, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 17:48

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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North Pacific Council Cuts Bycatch Caps; Critics Say It’s Not Enough

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

After several days of emotional testimony, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted on Sunday afternoon (5-7-15) to reduce limits on halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea — by 21-percent overall.

Governor’s Weekend Think Tank Hits on PFD, Tax Structure

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Governor Bill Walker gathered Alaska leaders from around the state in Fairbanks over the weekend to talk about state services and how to pay for them.

Sen. Sullivan Moves D.C. Office to Hart Building

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Sen. Dan Sullivan is out of the basement. His staff announced today that they’ve moved to their new office location in the nation’s capital.

Army Combat Camp Focuses on New-School Techniques

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Last week, 109 members of the military gathered at Fort Richardson for two days of unsanctioned fighting.

Innovative Program Brings Dental Care to Underserved Alaskans

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Ten years ago, the American Dental Association unsuccessfully sued to get the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to halt its Alaska Dental Health Therapist (DHAT) program. Now the program has won a national award for its innovative approach to providing Alaska Natives with dental care.

Homeless Teens Find Help at ‘My House’

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

An innovative Wasilla plan has helped homeless teens get off the street and into housing.

Juneau Symphony Names Troy Quinn its Newest Conductor

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau Symphony has named Troy Quinn its newest conductor. He has an advanced degree in conduction, but he’s also game to bring pop culture to the orchestra.

Categories: Alaska News

Innovative Program Brings Dental Care to Underserved Alaskans

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 17:41

Ten years ago, the American Dental Association unsuccessfully sued to get the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to halt its Alaska Dental Health Therapist (DHAT) program. Now the program has won a national award for its innovative approach to providing Alaska Natives with dental care. And the idea is expanding to other states.

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The head of the Dental Health Aide Therapist program, Dr. Mary Williard, accepted the Indian Health Service’s Director’s award last week [May 20] on behalf of the team she says has changed dental health in Alaska:

“Forty thousand people now have access to direct patient care by a dental provider living in their community, where there probably wasn’t ever one that lived in these smaller communities before. So it’s new access.”

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium launched the dental health therapist program ten years ago because tribal health organizations across the state were continually recruiting but always short of dentists. And Alaska Native children had cavity rates 2.5 times higher than kids in the Lower 48.

Dental therapists get two years training, including a hands-on practicum. They can do fillings, extract baby teeth, and apply fluoride treatments and sealants. Williard says they also focus on patient education:

“One of the DHAT, Aurora Johnson, reported that in a school where she typically saw eight or so kids with with no cavities out of the sixty in the school, this year she had 34 with no cavities. That’s a huge increase and exactly what we’re looking for. Our Alaska Native children around the state can and should be cavity free.”

Williard says the regional hub providers say they’re now seeing fewer emergency flights from the villages that have dental therapists, who catch problems early.

“Especially in the model in Alaska, which is the model that we think is frankly the best model that should be exported to other parts of the country.”

Al Yee is a senior project adviser for Community Catalyst, a national consumer health advocacy organization. He says Minnesota and Maine have adopted legislation authorizing dental therapists to provide care. And New Mexico and Vermont have pushed legislation through one house in their legislatures. Yee says organizations in some 15 other states are working to launch pilot projects as a first step toward authorization of dental therapists. Yee says one of the selling points is better dental care:

“People just may not have access to dentists because for instance they may not have insurance or they may have medicaid in their particular geography there may be not a lot of providers that take Medicaid patients. So it’s more than just the geographic distance of highly rural areas like obviously in Alaska, there are access issues even in the cities as well.”

The dental therapists work under the supervision of a dentist and do some of the general services of dentists—freeing them up for more complex cases . Yee says dental therapists are also cost effective.

“Because they generally get paid less than a dentist, they can really be a cost effective member of the team.”

The American Dental Association has attacked the program since it began, saying therapists are not qualified to do fillings and extractions.

However, supporters says several studies have shown dental therapists provide quality care equal to or exceeding that of dentists. The ADA has fought the authorization of dental therapists in several other states. Minnesota and Maine legislatures have approved the program, and some 15 other states are developing legislation or pilot projects.

Categories: Alaska News

Homeless Teens Find Help At ‘My House’

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 17:40

In Wasilla, a three part program to help homeless teenagers operates out of a modest building not far from the city’s busy malls.

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On  a typical day at Gathering Grounds. The cafe shares a one story building on a quiet street with a thrift store, and a casual drop- in center for homeless teens who are looking for help.

A young man works the espresso machine and takes lunch orders at the two or three modest tables open to the public. What’s different about Gathering Grounds is that it is part of a three piece plan to get homeless, and hopeless, teens into a productive life. My House  founder Michelle Overstreet says clients are expected to work

“Because it is not a place to hang out. They can come here do volunteer work or the food bank or somewhere else. But the housing piece really stablizes them to be able to show up to work on time and be prepared to learn.”

Michelle Overstreet is a former teacher.  She started the organization 5 years ago, when she realized just how many 14 – 24 year olds were living in Valley streets.

My House has sort of a full service concept. The drop-in center a step away from the cafe is staffed with educational, health and employment services. A public health nurse and a case manager are on hand. A desk in the center is heaped high with bagels and donuts,  a nod to the casual, welcoming atmosphere.

Ask Zach Simpson.

“I was living under a tree over there behind Carrs. And I came in just to see what it was about, and they eventually gave me a job in the cafe and it all went uphill from there.”

Zach walked into My House a couple of winters ago with a garbage bag of belongings over his shoulder and two 10 thousand dollar warrants on his back

“They helped me squash my two 10 thousand dollar felony warrants that I had out for my arrests. They helped me with all my court stuff. I ended up doing some time for my stuff, and got that done, and when I came back I had my job waiting for me.”

Since then, Zach has completed carpentry training, moved into his own apartment, and scored a full time job. He’s off drugs now and says he has a much better relationship with his family. Overstreet says that the transitional housing tenants are expected to stay focused on moving toward independence.

“We don’t have someone there supervising the kids at our housing. They’re responsible, they develop a rental history. They pay rent, and we expect them to follow the rules and police each other and they do a great job.”

Another young man, Jason Brayach tells me that starting at age 5, he bounced from foster homes in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Wisconsin, before being adopted and moving to Alaska. Then things soured.

“Cause living with my parents was out of the question. Because they pretty much spelled it out that they didn’t care. They dropped me off here in town at the Meta Rose center. I was pretty much hanging out at Carr’s for about three weeks after that.”

It was February when he found himself on the streets. He lived in shopping malls by day, outside by night before he found housing, and a hand at My House.

“But they had me in at ten in the morning, and by 11:30 I had my housing taken care of, I already had doctor’s appointments set up, to get everything checked out to make sure that everything was alright, and I pretty much had a job by that point.”

He’s got his own place now, is working, and planning his own landscaping business.

But behind the success stories, there is a backdrop of despair, Overstreet says.

“We have a dozen young people in transitional housing, age 18 – 24, and one hundred percent of them are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence.”

She says that’s why so many teens run away to live on the streets.

“We have several young women in case management, who’s mothers sold their virginity for drugs. And one of them, I stayed very close with for a long time, and I asked her ‘did you ever talk to her about that?’ And she said, “yeah, she said I was just going to lose it anyway, so she might as well get something out of it.'”

And, in the Valley,  former prisoners living in homeless camps pose another threat to teens, Overstreet says.

“But what we had last summer, was a group of 25 to40 year old men, who ran camps and recruited twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen year old children.  A lot of them young women, to go into those camps and they wourld share drugs with them, and then we started hearing reports about them being in tents with 30 and 40 year old men, and they were making their own home movies.  And they are guys that have been in jail for crimes against chilfren, who maybe are finding it difficult to find a place to live because of their background.”

Overstreet says that the drop – in center helps the state save the 60 thousand dollars a year per prisoner cost of incarceration.

“There’s no comparison. If we are keeping three kids out of jail, it pays for our entire case management program.”

She says the homeless teens just need a place to go where they have access to help.  The drop – in center is that place.

“And when you walk in the door, you can feel the love. It feels good in here, because that’s the environment that they wanted to create.”

So far, 230 teens have come through the drop – in center door. Many have stayed in transitional housing, and moved on to their own places.

At present, there is housing for five boys and six girls. Overstreet says rents paid by My House tenants are paying for a second girls’ house that opens this month.


Categories: Alaska News

Juneau Symphony Names Troy Quinn its Newest Conductor

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 17:39

The Juneau Symphony has named Troy Quinn its newest conductor. While Quinn has an advanced degree in conducting, he’s also game to bring pop culture to the orchestra.

Quinn has sung backup for The Rolling Stones and has even been on the popular TV show “Glee.” Growing up in Connecticut, he says he was influenced by his parents’ taste in music, everything from Barry Manilow to Motown.

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Conductor Troy Quinn leads the Juneau Symphony during rehearsal at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“And my brother and I would do a little show with combs as microphones, set up in the living room and perform for our friends,” he says.

Quinn lives in Los Angeles and plans to split his time between there and Juneau. He says as a kid he loved learning new songs, but his background is different from most of his colleagues.

“I didn’t start taking formal training in music and formal lessons until I was in college,” he says. “That’s kind of a well-kept secret.”

He calls his piano playing skills “proficient” and has been a longtime member of the choir but he didn’t think of music as a viable career. That is, until a professor at Providence College called on him to conduct in class.

“And I had no idea what I was doing but I was just feeling the music,” he says. “You know, I’m of the belief conducting is innate. You either have it or you don’t.”

Quinn had it and his career took off from there. He would go on to earn a doctorate in conducting at the University of California’s Thornton School of Music. Juneau Symphony board President Bev Smith says Quinn’s charisma stood out on stage.

“I just love watching his hands and his graceful way he conducted. He was very engaging with everyone that he met,” she says.

In that performance, Quinn conducted the orchestra without a score — no sheet music to guide him, only the feel. Executive Director Sara Radke Brown says that’s something the audience remembers.

“Not only was it impressive, but it allowed him to be expressive,” she says. “And he may not do that for every concert. He was certainly able to make a more impactful connection with them for that reason.”

After the last conductor, Kyle Wiley Pickett, left for a new job, the Juneau Symphony received about 70 applications for the position. Three of those were selected to perform their own concert in Juneau, including Quinn. Radke Brown says they were looking for a conductor who could appeal to a diverse audience.

“So many people say that classical music is dying,” she says. “Opera is dying, orchestras are dying. I think people like Troy are going to remind people that it’s still alive and there’s a lot to offer.”

At 31, Quinn says he’s comfortable navigating social media, like Facebook, to bring new appreciation to the music.

“Because I think that’s what’s going to reach new audiences so that’s vital to the survival of orchestras in the 21st century and beyond,” he says.

He hopes to introduce a new audience to the symphony by taking an interdisciplinary approach. In the classical world, there’s a movement to shake things up.

“The music of Led Zeppelin in an orchestral setting,” he says. “You know, that’s all great because people come in and we offer them a Beethoven symphony as well and that’s how they may get involved.”

Quinn says he’s interested in incorporating film clips or having dancers perform to the symphony’s music. Whenever possible, he wants the arts community in Juneau to be a part of that.

And if his iTunes playlist is any indication, what he’ll bring is eclectic.

“Beethoven five is on my iPod, Usher and Alicia Keys. It’s all music, it’s all good. We just need a common denominator so people can be exposed to the classics,” he says.

Quinn starts the new season as conductor with the Juneau symphony in October.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Sullivan Moves D.C. Office to Hart Building

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 15:40

Sen. Dan Sullivan is out of the basement. His staff announced today that they’ve moved to their new office location in the nation’s capital.  Their new suite is on the 7th floor of the Hart Building, just down the hall and around the corner from Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The move means Sullivan and his staff leave behind their temporary rooms, off a basement tunnel between the Hart and Dirksen office buildings. The move took five months, because in the Senate, office choice depends on seniority. Sullivan, as a freshman who hadn’t held an elected position before, has the lowest seniority, No. 100 out of a hundred. That meant he had to wait for the outgoing lawmakers to pack up and leave. Then he had to wait out a series of other moves as, rung by rung,  higher-ranking senators upgraded.

The new Sullivan offices have freshly painted slate-blue walls, new carpet and very high ceilings. The senator’s actual office is spacious, with its own balcony. It overlooks the historic Thompson-Markward Hall, a ladies’ dorm dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Anderson says the best thing about the new office is they have more room. Sullivan plans to hire additional aides to round out the staff, now that they have enough desk space for everybody.

Categories: Alaska News

PFD earning, taxes highlight governor’s fiscal discussion

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 11:47

Governor Bill Walker gathered Alaska leaders from around the state in Fairbanks over the weekend to talk about state services and how to pay for them.

The event called: “Building a Sustainable Future: Conversations With Alaskans” resulted in some clear and predictable messages, but it’s uncertain when or if they will result in legislative action.


Speaking for one of the many working groups who shared feedback at the end of the gathering, Joe Geldhof of Juneau summed up the consensus of many participants charged with solving the state’s revenue shortfall.

“It’s gonna require going into the Permanent Fund earnings; there’s no way around that,” Geldhof said. “It’s gonna require, probably, some sort of income tax.”

In closing remarks at the conference Governor Bill Walker also referred to the “T” word.

“There’s actually two ‘T’ words,” Walker said. “One’s the truth, we’re gonna tell the truth, and the other is taxes, there’s gonna be taxes; we’re gonna have to do something.”

There was an abundant praise for Governor Walker taking on the budget issue in such a bold public way. Independent oil industry analysts Richard Fineberg of Fairbanks says he appreciates the governor’s effort, but contends there was one key piece missing from the conversation.

“North Slope profitability and our failure to audit and get that data in a timely manner and get it at all sometimes,” Fineberg said.

Democratic State Representative David Guttenberg of Fairbanks agrees that oil tax issues were underplayed, adding there continues to be legislative resistance to all new revenue solutions.

“A lot of people think they were foregone conclusions,” Guttenberg said. “Some people just don’t want to talk about oil taxes, or income tax, or revenue in any forum, in any context, whether it’s good or bad. “

“The political question is, ‘Will you participate?’” Republican State Senator John Coghill, of North Pole, says.

He agrees new revenue isn’t a hot topic among legislators, who remain focused on spending, and credits Governor Walker for taking on political taboo like taxes and Permanent Fund earnings use.

“It’s easier for the main leader of Alaska to go out and do that than it is for an individual legislator who paints a big target on themselves and can’t sustain it,” Coghill said. “The governor said he’s gonna do it; he is doing it; you know, good on him.”

Coghill, Guttenberg and others at the conference spoke well of a new state online model that allows users to tweak various aspects of state spending and revenue, and view the result, a tool they hope will make the budget situation more real to the public and spur action.

Governor Walker plans to continue the budget conversation at other locations around the state in coming months.


Categories: Alaska News

F/V Northern Pride now salvaged, area clean

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 10:14

The F/V Northern Pride was found hard aground along Katmai National Park’s Shelikof Strait coastline May 7.

But as of Friday, park staff, part of the team effort to oversee salvage operations, say the vessel has been removed and the area cleaned.

The Northern Pride caught fire and capsized on April 21 northeast of Marmot Island (57 miles from Kodiak). The three crew onboard abandoned ship and were rescued from a raft by a US Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter. The ship capsized and was believed to have sunk, but reappeared once before it turned up hard aground on Katmai’s coast.

There was some concern that the vessel might leak oil or fuel, but initial site visits by park staff found few, if any, signs of spill.

The wooden vessel had come apart, however, and Katmai’s Chief of Resource Management Troy Hamon said the debris needed to be cleaned up.

“There were a lot of wood pieces that had nails sticking out of it, stuff like that, that our wildlife don’t normally encounter. One of our concerns was just making sure that there wasn’t some of that lumber there that could’ve caused harm to an animal.”

But Hamon said a two-day salvage effort by Kodiak-based Global Diving and Salvage was successful, and the beach and surrounding area have been cleaned.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Mystery sheen’ off Shishmaref coast returns, identified as fuel mixture

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 10:13

A gasoline sheen along the Shishmaref shoreline. (Photo: Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

An oil spill of unknown origin is for the third time in the last year seeping off of Shishmaref’s western coast, but now the state Department of Environmental Conservation says they may have identified the source.

The oily sheen was first discovered last June, on the northern coast of Sarichef Island along the Chukchi Sea. Shishmaref’s Village Public Safety Officer first found the sheen on the nearshore icepack and said at the time it smelled like gasoline.

State DEC and the U.S. Coast Guard officials responded to investigate—and begin cleanup efforts—removing 30 bags of oily waste and recovering about 100 gallons of the fuel-like substance. But the sheen reappeared in December, and even after additional cleanup efforts, exactly what kind of petroleum substance—and where it ultimately came from—remained unknown.

Samples of the sheen, as well as from community’s fuel tanks, were collected from both the June and December visits and tested at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Lab in Connecticut.

On May 26, the sheen returned, and again the community VPSO called it in, again noting a gasoline odor.

Now DEC officials say an analysis of those samples reveal the substance is a mix of “weathered gasoline and diesel.” During a site visit on Thursday, June 4, DEC and Coast Guard accessed an area along the shoreline identified as the “outlet” of the sheen’s seepage. A release from DEC says responders also observed the oily sheen on gravel that was visibly stained by gasoline.

Just how much of the gas and diesel has been released is unknown. Responders say cleanup is ongoing. So far, officials say only the land and water around the Shishmaref Native Store has been impacted. As of the visit this month there have been no reports of affected wildlife as a result of the sheen.

Categories: Alaska News

Slow oil leak discovered on trans-Alaska pipeline

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 10:09

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and state authorities are responding to a slow leak of crude oil discovered in a buried section of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that a Friday incident report from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says a joint near Pump Station 10 between Glennallen and Delta Junction has spilled an estimated 10 or so gallons of oil.

The leak was discovered during standard maintenance last Friday. The state says Alyeska will work with regulators to identify the cause.

Alyeska Director of Corporate Communication Michelle Egan says the pipeline is not in danger of shutting down.

She says the pipeline operator has recovered contaminated gravel from the area and the company is monitoring the site around the clock, prepared for any necessary oil removal.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska residents rank 3 state services as low priority

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 10:08

State services like the pioneers’ home, the aerospace corporation and the agriculture division should be Alaska’s lowest priorities, according to participants in a budget conference held by Gov. Bill Walker.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that those three services were the only ones identified as low priorities Saturday during the three-day conference at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Participants were asked to rank operations as critical, medium or low and review their current funding levels.

Nearly every other state service was considered critical by the groups at Saturday’s sessions. Conversations considered how the state could afford to continue to offer services after oil revenue took a free fall.

Department of Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck says the exercise resulted in about $20 million worth of cuts.

Categories: Alaska News

Special session costs of at least $430K so far

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 10:07

The two special legislative sessions so far have cost the state at least $430,000, with costs still being tallied.

Jessica Geary is finance manager for the Legislative Affairs Agency.

She says past special sessions have typically cost around $30,000 a day. But she said this year has been different. The first special session was marked by an 11-day recess in floor sessions that sent lawmakers scattering from Juneau, the session’s location. She says legislators weren’t meeting every day and many weren’t claiming a daily allowance, known as per diem, unless they were on a committee that was meeting.

She also says it’s unprecedented to have a special session in Anchorage that lasts longer than a day.

Categories: Alaska News

Climate change destroying Natives’ relics

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 10:03

Climate change is destroying the historical record of Arctic peoples.

Josh Reuther opens the heavy door to the artifact repository at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s Museum of the North. Reuther is a professor of archaeology and a curator at the museum, where most of the artifacts excavated in Alaska are preserved.

Josh Reuther at an archeological dig in Alaska. (CREDIT UAF)

“Everything’s climate-controlled – temperature and humidity,” he says as he thumbs through a drawer of plastic bags filled with artifacts excavated from St. Lawrence Island in the 1920s.

“Let’s see,” he said, “harpoon heads; you can see toggles; you can see drilling implements…”

Reuther says over the past few years the museum has been getting more artifacts that are more deteriorated than those excavated decades ago. He says that’s mostly due to climate change.

“It’s something that’s now a concern really around the entire circumpolar north,” says Max Friesen, an archeologist with the University of Toronto.

Friesen is working on a dig near the MacKenzie River Delta, in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

“It’s kind of a whole series of problems coming together at the same time to sort of create a perfect storm,” he said. “You have the potential melting of the permafrost, you have sea level rise, you have in some cases changing weather patterns.”

Anne Jensen examines artifacts in her lab.

Friesen and other archeologists are alarmed by the rapid deterioration of organic artifacts excavated in the Arctic. Those artifacts, made of materials like wood or animal hides, were until recently abundant at digs around the region, because they’d been preserved in permafrost or silty soils.

“It’s a very rich data base that’s being lost all across the Arctic,” he said.

Rick Knecht, a professor of archeology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, agrees. He’s been working a dig near Quinhagak , in southwestern Alaska.

“There’s so much information there that’s far away and beyond a conventional archaeological site, which is just stones and bones,” Knecht said.

Anne Jensen is an archeologist and senior scientist for Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. who’s working at sites near Barrow, Alaska.

She says the threat to artifacts is growing, and that time is short for archaeologists to recover them.

“We probably only have 20, 30 years to get this data, or it’s gone,” Jensen said.

The archeologists say more funding is needed to get as much work done as possible in the time remaining.


Categories: Alaska News

Homer’s long-lived Coast Guard Cutter retires

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 09:59

The Roanoke Island’s crew, their families, legislative representatives, and Coast Guardsmen from sectors Anchorage and Seward came out to the Homer Elks Lodge for the decommissioning ceremony.

Commander Shawn Decker of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage presided over the ceremony. Decker said the Roanoke Island was first commissioned in Louisiana in February 1992 before she made the long transit to Homer.

Crew of the Roanoke Island. (Photo by Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer)

“Over the course of the past 23 years she’s one of the longest tenured cutters to stay in the same home port her entire career. It’s very common for cutters to move around and to change home ports, but for the Roanoke Island she’s been here [in Homer] ever since she was commissioned and that is definitely not common,” says Decker.

Commander Decker expounded on the duties carried out by the cutter and its crews over the years including: search and rescue missions, law enforcement operations, and community service projects.

“Over the past 23 years Roanoke Island has accumulated over 40,000 hours underway, they’ve completed over 1,000 law enforcement boardings, and they’ve executed over 100 search and rescue cases,” says Decker.

He called those stats a testament to the crews of the Roanoke Island, past and present. Lieutenant Michael Clell Thomas also spoke to the merits of the cutter. He is the ship’s commanding officer and in preparation for the decommissioning he was assigned the job of safeguarding the Roanoke Island’s history.

“It’s interesting how you get focused on yourself and your own crew and what you do with the cutter. You forget the legacy of that cutter and what the cutter has done with past crews. Reading through a lot of the history it’s kind of mind blowing to see all that has been accomplished,” says Thomas.

Thomas has also been consumed with preparations for the trip to the cutter’s new home. The crew will have to travel south to pass through the Panama Canal before heading to port in Baltimore, Maryland. The trip will be 7,000 nautical miles.

“We try to plan it as best we can before the trip but there are always some variables in there such as weather and delays with coming into a country and some of your port of calls that are always on my mind. And then safety from a C.O.’s perspective,” says Thomas.

Thomas and his crew are projecting the trip to take two months.

“That’s probably one of our biggest challenges. As a crew that operates a couple of weeks out at a time, doing a full two months is quite an evolution for us. The families are really what make this possible for us and without their help a two month deployment can be challenging,” explains Thomas.

After the cutter makes it safely to Baltimore the Roanoke Island’s crew will fly back to Homer to meet their new vessel, the US Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo. Here’s Commander Decker.

“The Sapelo is leaving next week from Puerto Rico and they’re probably going to cross somewhere with the Roanoke Island on the Panama Canal. The Sapelo is going to be here in the beginning of August,” says Decker.

Lieutenant Thomas says only one member of his crew will be transferred after the trek to Baltimore and the rest will be reunited aboard the Sapelo in August. The crew and the cutter are expected to be ready for full duty operations by September.

Categories: Alaska News

North Pacific Council cuts bycatch caps; critics say it’s not enough

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 09:57

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Sunday evening to lower caps on halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea — by 21-percent overall.

But Bering Sea halibut fishermen say the cut isn’t big enough to save their communities.

The vote came after impassioned public testimony stretching over three days. Halibut biomass has declined over the past decade, and fishermen in communities like St. Paul, in the Pribilof Islands, face the possibility of being shut down entirely. They hoped that reducing bycatch would make more halibut available to fish.

Councilmember Duncan Fields said the final vote didn’t go nearly far enough.

“I acknowledge on a personal basis my identity with the folks living in Western Alaska,” he said, choking up. “And their loss of economic opportunity, personal identity, and cultural legacy. I get it.”

Alaska Fish & Game Commissioner Sam Cotten originally proposed a larger cut, of about 29-percent. He called it “the bare minimum” to protect Bering Sea fishermen.

But the Council adopted a smaller cut proposed by Bill Tweit of Washington State. Tweit said anything larger would be too steep for industry to absorb.

The numbers are tricky: While the final vote reduces the cap by about 21-percent, the affected fleets have been well under their caps in recent years. So the new cap is actually slightly higher than the total amount of bycatch taken last year.

But the cut varies among different groups. Big flatfish trawlers, who are responsible for most of the bycatch, will take the biggest cut. They must reduce the amount of halibut they catch by about 15-percent from last year’s numbers.

Chris Woodley is director of the Groundfish Forum, which represents many of those trawlers. He said that’s a big hit.

“We’re extremely concerned about job loss in our fishery right now, about tying up vessels,” he said. “We need to sit down and assess the extent that this is going to damage our sector.”

The cut passed 6 to 3. Two Alaska members were forced to recuse themselves, in a controversial ruling by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Categories: Alaska News

Mendenhall Glacier fees to go up in 2016

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-06-08 09:55

Visitors at the Mendenhall Glacier can watch the sockeye make their way upstream at the viewing platforms along Steep Creek.

Starting next summer, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau will increase its entry fee and start charging for use of nearby trails and amenities.

The U.S. Forest Service announced the change today after taking public comments on the proposal this winter.

Visitor center director John Neary says it’ll be the first increase since they first started charging fees 16 years ago. Back then, the center got about 200,000 visitors annually. This year, he says they expect to top 500,000.

“That’s really what it comes down to,” Neary says. “We don’t have an increasing budget scenario, yet we do have very much an increasing number of people who want to see the Mendenhall Glacier and the whole recreation area use has increased dramatically.”

The increase takes effect May 1, 2016. Fees are only charged during tourist season, May through September. For the rest of the year the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and nearby facilities are free.

The fee to get into the center will go from $3 to $5 a day for people age 16 and older. That $5 also will cover the cost of using the pavilion between the parking lot and Mendenhall Lake, the Photo Point Trail, the Steep Creek trail, bus shelters, and bathrooms near the visitor center. Currently those facilities are free year-round.

Neary says the increase will be used to improve services for visitors. He says traffic congestion is a big issue both in the bus parking area and on trails near the visitor center.

“Which is great,” says Neary. “We really want to connect people to their national forests, right? But there’s lots of costs associated with the platforms themselves, the maintenance of our trails, the staffing to ensure good safety.”

The cost of a season pass also will go up next year, from $10 to $15. Neary recommends frequent visitors take advantage of the passes, as well as various National Park Service and Forest Service programs that cover access to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

Categories: Alaska News