A Fairbanks high school team took the top honor at the recently competed First Tech Challenge World Robotics Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. The kids, who have been competing together for the last four years, demonstrated the best mix of technical engineering, performance and sportsmanship.
The Fairbanks robotics team advanced through local, state and regional competitions to earn a spot at last month’s World Championship, where they bested 127 other qualifiers for the top honor: The Inspire Award.
Colleen Johnson is one of six kids on the Fairbanks team that goes by the name:“Shrodinger’s Hat,” a play on the famous physics experiment “Shrodinger’s Cat.” Members wear big black top hats during competitions that involves running a milk crate sized robot they build and program for a customized challenge.
Justin Hannah drives the battery powered wheeled robot during competitions that consist of numerous two-minute matches.
Beyond the game field, teams also must track the engineering that goes into their robot and are further judged on how they work with other teams, according to Colleen Johnson’s sister and teammate Katie.
The team has already mentored others in Alaska, the Lower 48 and in places as far away as Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Australia. Australian is the location of a competition the team has been invited to in July. They’re currently raising money for the trip.
First three, and now five, people have fallen ill or been taken under medical observation after two separate meals of fermented seal flipper in the Seward Peninsula community of Koyuk have been linked to the toxic bacteria that causes botulism.
According to state Department of Epidemiology officials, the first person fell ill after sharing a meal with six others in Koyuk last Friday [May 4]. That patient had mild symptoms—dry mouth and dizziness—and sought medical help in Nome. No one else from the meal felt sick—a stroke of luck that medical epidemiologist Dr. Michael Cooper says makes botulism so difficult to control.
“The toxin distributes itself very unevenly in the food, whether its seal oil, seal flipper, beaver tail, whatever. There may be a part of that meal that has a very high concentration, that will kill you or make you very sick, and there may be a part of that meal that has no toxin.”
The first patient received botulism anti-toxin at Nome’s Norton Sound hospital, and Dr. Cooper says health officials reached out to ensure no more of the tainted seal was eaten. But just five days later, a another tainted flipper was eaten.
“It was the same preparers involved with both meals. Two separate meals, two separate seals, prepared separately.”
That second meal was shared by four people—and left one person “severely ill” and led to three others being taken under medical evaluation. In all, three people—one from the first meal, and two from the second—were given the anti-toxin for botulism.
“The two others, upon further questioning, they didn’t have the correct symptoms, and on exam they had a normal exam, so they were deemed not to have botulism.”*
Leftovers from the second meal tested positive for the botulinum bacteria—the toxic spores of which cause botulism.
Epidemiologists says those who ate the first meal have finished a ten-day observation period; those from the second meal remain under observation.
Even when prepared carefully and using traditional practices, fermented foods can pose a risk. A batch of botulism-tainted seal oil sickened dozens of people in December in the Bristol Bay region, and early last year, one man died after eating a meal of fermented fish heads.
Health officials are urging residents in Koyuk—and anywhere else where fermented foods are consumed—to be on the lookout for symptoms of the disease, which includes shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth and blurry vision.
Supporters of Medicaid expansion have continued their efforts with rallies in downtown Anchorage this week.
An Anchorage based political group again called on the state Legislature to make changes in oil tax credits now.
Backbone is an activist group loosely made up of a former state lawmakers and community leaders who are opposed to current state policies regarding oil taxation.
Group members positioned themselves around a table downtown today to demand that state legislators get back to work.
Vic Fisher, himself a former state lawmaker and a signer of the state Constitution, says the current legislative impasse is unacceptable. Fisher says it’s a few key figures in the government who are blocking a decision on the budget:
“These decisions are being made by the legislative leadership — the chairs of committees, the speaker, the president, the Senate. So that’s where the responsibility lies. They are the ones who have to reach out to the governor, work with the governor… they’re the ones who have to work with the minority if that’s what it takes to serve the people of Alaska.”
The problem, former Anchorage mayor Jack Roderick says, is that the Legislature has lost control of the oil industry.
“The Legislature… I think most of this is way over their heads. Except for maybe a couple of people who work for the oil companies and are key members of the Legislature. And you can not serve two masters at the same time.”
Fisher says it is not a matter of changing current oil tax law, but at pinpointing the problems that exist within it to hammer out an equitable solution for both the oil companies and for the people of Alaska.
Expecting another poor king salmon run, the first fishing restrictions are expected to go into effect on May 21st. With the lessons learned from 2014, managers hope to bring enough king salmon to spawning grounds and allow for limited fishing along the way.
For the second year in a row, federal staff will manage day-to-day fishing on the Kuskokwim river from the mouth to Aniak. The first early season restrictions from the up to Tuluksak will go into effect May 21st. And whereas 4-inch whitefish nets were legal 24/7 last summer, this year a weekend schedule will be in place.
Neil LaLonde is the refuge manager and in-season manager during the chinook run. He says many people have bought their nets over the winter, and will be ready to fish.
“We feel that if we didn’t go to some type of schedule that harvest should be much greater with the sheer amount of additional 4-inch nets that are available on the river,” said LaLonde.
The schedule is expected to last five weekends, beginning Thursday, May 21st. Nets can go in at 6 a.m. Thursday and must be out by 6 a.m. on Sunday. Setnet fishing would be closed the remainder of the week. The closures will roll up the river, beginning May 28th from Tuluksak to the refuge boundary above Aniak.
LaLonde says the schedule came after visiting villages and talking with people this winter and spring and choosing the weekend rather than a more sporatic schedule.
“They would not have to pull nets in and out of the river every day. it leaves opportunity for honest people…boats can break down, family emergencies, things can happen. We think that will be easier on the users and be more fair,” said LaLonde.
Mangers will close fishing to all but federal qualified subsistence users – that is people who live in communities on or near the Kuskokwim, a provision that’s unique to federal management. Sport fishing will be closed.
A new set of gill net closures is anticipated for several tributaries. As of June 7th, there will be no gill net fishing on the Kwethluk, Kisaralik, Kasigluk, and Tuluksak rivers.
“Those tributaries have not done well specifically in this drainage over the last several years. that’s an additional measure that we think will help drainage wide escapement as well as those tributaries. We also took that into effect when we looked at all of the 4” opportunity,” said LaLonde.
LaLonde says subsistence fishing is open now with no restrictions on gear until the first closures begin on the lower river on May 21st. LaLonde says the plan for the first larger mesh openings in the latter part of June is will be determined once the run is in progress and they begin to see other species outnumber king salmon. He plans extensive engagement with the tribes and and the recently established Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fisheries Commission and continued work with the state, which runs many of the rivers’ monitoring projects.
The run is forecast to be slightly better than 2014, which saw the lowest subsistence take of king salmon on record, but conservation and making escapement will remain the top priority.
“Our view is it’s not a point estimate, but it’s the upper end of the escapement goal range and that’s what we hope to achieve in 2015,” said LaLonde.
Information on anticipated restrictions is available here.
This week, we’re hearing from Seth Landon, who also participated in the Clean Air Challenge. Landon moved to Alaska five years ago from the flat lands of Michigan and now calls Wasilla home.
Everywhere is bear country in Alaska, even the urban areas. From encounters on the trails and along fishing streams, to bears raiding trash cans and chicken coops, it’s spring and bears are awake and on the move. How do we keep ourselves and them safe?
HOST: Lori Townsend
- Sean Farley, biologist, ADFG
- Elizabeth Manning, education specialist, ADFG
- Callers statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a draft recovery plan for Cook Inlet beluga whales.
According to a release from NOAA, the plan will structure efforts to bring the whales back up to a healthy population size. Once there, the hope is to remove them from the federal endangered species list.
The plan includes a list of criteria that would have to be met to take the whales off the list and declare them a recovered species.
Jim Balsiger is the regional administrator for NOAA. He says the plan was made with the best available science.
It focuses on ten types of threats to the population and assesses the severity of each threat.
They include natural disasters, oil spills, mass strandings, noise pollution, and other stressors, both natural and human-caused.
Cook Inlet beluga whales have been on the endangered species list since 2008. Since 2011, the inlet has been designated a critical habitat for the species.
According to NOAA Fisheries, the population is estimated to be only 340 animals and there has been a steady decline in the species over the last decade.
Two of Klukwan School’s high school students are either graduating or moving after this year. The high school/junior high teacher is also leaving.
Some Klukwan teens choose to go to bigger schools in Haines, Sitka or Juneau. Kaitlyn Stevens and Joseph Lamberty chose to stay in the small, 13-student K-12 school. They’re the only students in their class this year.
Lamberty lives in Mosquito Lake, Stevens lives in Klukwan. She says when she first started school here, there were more kids. It’s slowly shrunk over the years.
“It’s pretty sad,” Stevens said. “The school has just always been here and not a lot of people have wanted to stay here because it was so small and it just kept getting smaller.”
“A lot of kids get to a point where they just want to have athletics and clubs and activities,” said Klukwan’s 6-12 grade teacher Carson Buck. “And as much as we try, we can’t offer everything a big school has to offer.”
Buck says last year, he had nine students. This year, it’s just these two. He says once students get older, a lot of them transfer from Klukwan to Haines School, Mt. Edgecumbe Boarding School in Sitka, or a Juneau school.
But Stevens and Lamberty stayed.
“It’s really relaxed, there’s like no stress involved,” Lamberty said about Klukwan School.
He says some days, if the weather is nice, he, Stevens and Mr. Buck will go skip rocks on the river, or just go on a walk. Or, if there’s something they need extra time on, they can shift around the schedule. With only two students, the teaching can be super individualized.
“There haven’t been many times where I wished I was in a big school, because I like it a lot here,” said Stevens. “I like having the one-on-one attention, and it’s easier to get work done.”
Stevens did try going to a bigger school her sophomore year. She went to Mt. Edgecumbe for a semester. But she says it was difficult to keep on track. She wasn’t learning the way she does here. So she came back her second semester.
Their teacher has also helped keep them here.
“I might’ve switched schools had Mr. Buck not been teaching here,” Lamberty said. “But he’s an awesome teacher, so that was a pretty big part of the decision.”
“That’s great to hear,” said Buck. “I see them in sixth grade, when they’re 12 years old. And I see them leave at 18, so you get pretty attached. They’re almost like your own kids after a while.”
Buck is from Haines, and he started teaching in Klukwan in 2008. He says it was a steep learning curve – teaching almost every subject to students in a six-year age range. The small number of students means he can really help them on a one-to-one level. But it’s not all good.
“It’s bad in that you see the same kids every day for six or seven years straight. And they need variety. And I think it’s good that they’re both moving on. I can only give them so much, they need to have other experiences besides just one teacher. So that’s the dark side of it.”
Buck says they try to expose the students to as much as possible outside of school walls and village boundaries. Stevens and Lamberty recently went on two field trips. One was a transition camp trip to Juneau, where they job shadowed at Sealaska, NOAA, the Coast Guard. Right after that, they traveled with Gustavus high school students on boat trip to Glacier Bay.
Stevens is a senior. She’s graduating and going to University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau to study biology. She hopes to become a physical therapist.
“My grandma, her shoulder was hurt and she needed help with her exercises one night,” Stevens explained. “I helped her, and I’ve been wanting to do that ever since, because I like helping people.
Lamberty is a junior, but he won’t be finishing high school in Klukwan next year. He’s moving to Oregon, where most of his family lives. He says the high school he’ll attend there has about 100 students, much more than he’s used to. But he says he’s not too worried about that.
As for Buck, his position at the school is being cut. Klukwan and Gustavus schools Principal Nancy Moon says the needs of the school will be mainly elementary students next year. Kathy Carl, who is qualified to teach special education, high school and elementary, will take over high school classes.
Buck says teaching at Klukwan School wasn’t always easy, but it was “a really good time.”
“There’s a sense of community here that I’ve never felt anywhere else,” Buck said. “Growing up in Haines, I didn’t really get to know the people of Klukwan well. But since teaching here it was a really, really good experience.”
The Klukwan School graduation and promotion ceremony is Friday at 5 p.m. in the ANS Hall. As the only senior, Stevens will be the graduate speaker.
In Sitka, raising the hydroelectric dam at Blue Lake has created not only a source of renewable energy, but an even larger reserve of fresh water. The bulk water presents a business opportunity.
With a contract deadline looming that could terminate its exclusive rights, Alaska Bulk Water hopes to deliver on long awaited promises to ship tankers of water and to make California its first customer.
In April, California Governor Jerry Brown gave a speech in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The formidable snowpack, which melts to provide ⅓ of California’s water supply, was nowhere to be seen. The earth was brown and bare.
Brown: People should realize we’re in a new era. The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day – that’s going to be a thing of the past.
The Governor goes on to impose the first mandatory water restrictions in state history, cutting urban use by 25%. Now compare the situation in California, to this…
(Blue Lake water stream)
“Water coming out of a temperate rain forest…frankly, I think our water is better tasting than anyplace else in the world,” said Garry White, the Executive Director of the Sitka Economic Development Association. “I’m kind of a water snob now.”
We’re driving through the Tongass Forest, which averages around 100 inches of rain a year. The bulk water (and emphasis on bulk) was enough to incentivize a short lived bottling venture, called True Alaska Bottling.
“It was on Alaska airlines. It got on cruise ships. It got into Hollywood movies,” said White. “If you look at the movie the Duplex, Ben Stiller’s got a bottle of it sitting next to his nightstand.”
And California is exactly where White hopes to send Sitka’s water again. Not bottled in plastic, but delivered in ships.
We hop out of his truck. Unfurled at our feet, like a glittering blue carpet, is Sawmill Creek, the freshwater outlet stream from Blue Lake, which provides hydropower and drinking water to the city of 9,000. The water from Blue Lake is so plentiful that household use is not metered and so clean that it’s not filtered before it goes to the tap. While it sounds like an Evian commercial, for White it’s a business opportunity.
“It’s a tough venture, but if people are thirsty enough and need the water enough and it makes fiscal sense, it can happen,” said White.
Sitka already built the infrastructure to draw the water from the lake to the shore. It’s behind us – a giant red nozzle poking up out of the ground. From there, a floating pipeline will carry the water into containers or bags loaded on big cargo ships. Just like oil. Sitka set the price point for water at 1 cent a gallon and can legally export 95 billion gallons a year. If you do the math, that’s quite a bit of money.
“If we move all 9.5 billion gallons a year, that’s 95 million dollars that could come into this community,” said White. “That’s huge.”
The challenge, of course, is actually getting the water to market.
Sitka’s vision of a bulk water business began 15 years ago, when the pulp mill closed. The city acquired rights to the land and to the water and in 2006, signed a 20-year contract with True Alaska Bottling, which is now called Alaska Bulk Water.
We put in performance criteria that said after 24 months from the beginning of the contract, they had to move a certain amount of water or the city at their option could terminate the contract.
The 24 months passed. And?
“No water was moved,” said White.
So, the city renewed the contract, but under the condition that Alaska Bulk Water pay a non-refundable fee for water credits.
The contract has been extended four times (in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012) and to keep it, Alaska Bulk Water spent $1.5 million and must ship 50 million gallons by December 8th. Still, no water has been moved. But White says that recent developments give him hope that water will finally leave the island this summer.
“I’ve always been ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’” said White. “But when I see our current partners putting real money down to go out and put in a mooring buoy system and hire engineers to design it and going out and getting their Army Corps permit, doing all the right things and continuing to invest in the venture, then it’s no longer a 30,000 view of it. It’s starting to get down to the details.
Terry Trapp, the Chief Executive with Alaska Bulk Water, declined to be interviewed in detail for this story. But over the phone with KCAW, he said the company hopes to have the operation up and running this July.
In the meantime, White says there is a lot of trouble shooting to be done. For instance:
“When you show up to a receiving port with 10, 20, 30 million gallons of water, what do you do with it? Right? You got to have a place to store it. You got to be able to recharge aquifers. That’s a huge part of this venture that needs to be figured out.”
In addition to storage on the California side, it’s unclear what kinds of ships will be used. If those ships aren’t flagged as American, their passage from Sitka to California violates the Jones Act, which prohibits the transport of goods by foreign vessels. White is looking to Alaska Bulk Water and several engineering firms to tackle these and other issues.
White also wonders if, even at 1 cent a gallon, water is too expensive to transport at a reasonable cost.
KCAW: What do you say to Sitkans who are like, ‘No way. No way is this actually gonna happen. This is crazy sounding.’
White: I’ve been in that boat. But as you see somebody work out any type of problem that’s a lofty goal, it’s encouraging to see those baby steps that get you closer down the path.
In order to hold onto this contract, Alaska Bulk Water pledged to ship $50 million gallons by December 8th of this year.
A legendary Western Alaska salvage vessel has reached the end of its life. Salvager Dan Magone is getting ready to sink his old tugboat, the Redeemer.
And it means he’s also getting ready for the next phase of his own storied career.
These days, even getting onto the Redeemer is a bit of an adventure. The tug is separated from the dock in Dutch Harbor by two other Dan Magone projects — old vessels in disrepair.
Magone: Oh, I guess the only place to cross is right here…
Magone is finding a tricky path out to the boat where he built his career. The Redeemer had its last mission in 2013, when the crab boat Arctic Hunter went aground outside Unalaska.
Now, the tug is past its prime. It’s littered with remnants of old jobs – wood pallets, rusty scrap metal, an old National Geographic in the wheelhouse – all waiting for a proper send-off.
“I spent a lot of the last 25 years on this boat,” Magone says up in the wheelhouse. “Lots of days and nights, lots of adventures.”
The Redeemer was built in WWII, then became an oil drilling mud-ship off the Gulf Coast. In the 1980s, Magone says a company heading to the Nome gold fields took it on. They wrecked it on the sand dunes there, and it stayed put for almost a decade.
“During that time, I saw it over there and people suggested it’d make a great boat for me,” Magone says. “I told them no — it would probably cost me $100-grand to get it off the sand dunes and get it to Dutch.”
Instead, he says the boat wound up with loggers from Sitka. They patched it up and headed south, but wound up abandoning the ship in Sand Point.
“And then it sank at the dock,” he says, laughing. “Everywhere it goes it’s leaving people with their head in their hands, right?”
Meanwhile, Magone had just paid millions to set up his floating Dutch Harbor office, and was losing local business to shorter fishing seasons. He saw a new opportunity in the stranded boat. He rebuilt it for cheap, with scraps from his own yard. The yellow-green hull was painted a bright blue, and Magone renamed the boat Redeemer.
He says its first job was hauling horses, dogs, hay and cowboys to the other side of Unalaska Island to start the Chernofski cattle ranch.
“And so we did all manner of anything, all over the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands, Alaska Peninsula, and we managed to survive,” he says. “We managed to find enough work to keep going.”
Over the next two decades, he says the Redeemer was part of “almost every significant salvage job in Western Alaska,” from the small, like stranded barges and fishing boats, to the huge: deadly groundings and oil spills on the M/V Kuroshima and Selendang cargo ships, and the capsizing of M/V Cougar Ace, a car carrier.
All those accidents – plus the Exxon Valdez spill – helped usher in new environmental protection and safety standards. By 2013, Magone says the Redeemer couldn’t keep up – and work on its replacement was just as pricey.
“It eventually cost so much that I just had to sell the company,” he says. That sale to Resolve Marine International went through last year. And the Redeemer has been taking up valuable space in their new shop.
Shipping it out as scrap isn’t cost-effective – so Magone is asking the federal government for permission to scuttle the boat. He says that’ll mean cleaning it out, setting up explosives and sinking it at mile-deep spot north of Unalaska Island, where he’s been allowed to sink ships in the past.
“See all this equipment, the winches and the cranes, all the hydraulic lines and stuff? That all comes off,” he says, pointing around the Redeemer’s deck. “There can’t be any loose debris in or on the boat. So there’s a great big bunch of work to do.”
Increasing regulations have made scuttling harder, too, but Magone is confident this one will happen in the next couple of months. He’s already taken the ship’s bell from the wheelhouse.
“Otherwise, it’s just another piece of metal that might be worth something to someone,” he says. “But that one – I don’t want to sell.”
His new work boat, the Makushin Bay, is visible outside the window — built for the future, but the same blue as the Redeemer. Magone says it marks the start of a new era, and the Redeemer’s scuttling will be the end of another.
“The old days, the seat-of-your-pants, the ‘just go out and git-er-done’ type of thing — those days are gone,” he says. “With all the regulations and oversight and everything, it’s not the world that we were able to operate in.
“That world is past now,” he says — the world where he was a cowboy, too, like the ones he once took for a ride on the Redeemer.
A Navy training exercise planned in the Gulf of Alaska has sparked heated opposition in a small Alaska fishing town whose residents say the drills are taking place in the critical habitat of breeding and migratory marine life.
Critics in Cordova are planning to protest the mid-June drills by surrounding the town’s fuel dock with their boats on Saturday.
Emily Stolarcyk is with the Eyak Preservation Council, a local nonprofit group organizing the protest. She says migrating salmon and other marine animals will be harmed by explosions, sonar and up to 352,000 pounds of debris that includes toxic materials like lead and cyanide.
Military officials with the Alaskan Command say the Navy has conducted training in the area for decades without major environmental harm.
The state health department is seeking consulting help to develop a proposal for a health care provider tax in Alaska.
The solicitation is in line with legislation from Gov. Bill Walker to expand and make changes to Alaska’s Medicaid program.
The bill includes a provision calling for the department to submit by late January a proposal to authorize a provider tax “up to the maximum extent allowed by federal law” to help offset Medicaid costs.
In material provided to the House Finance Committee, Walker’s office said Alaska is the only state without a provider tax and that Walker would not propose any tax that results in a loss of medical providers.
The deadline for responses to the solicitation is next Thursday. The budget for the work is estimated at $175,000.
A U.S. senator for Alaska has introduced legislation that would reverse a 2007 federal decision designating Saxman a nonrural community, making residents ineligible for subsistence hunting and fishing on federal land.
The Ketchikan Daily News reports that a bill from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, would reinstate the list of rural Alaska communities as it stood prior to 2007.
In that year, the Federal Subsistence Board’s rural determination criteria put Saxman within Ketchikan’s nonrural designation, sparking protest from the Saxman community.
Murkowski’s legislation would also bar the federal government from changing the status of Saxman or other Alaska communities unless done through an act of Congress.
It has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Murkowski chairs.
The National Winter Service says this past winter was unofficially the least snowy on record for Anchorage.
The Alaska Dispatch News reports that although the NWS continues to record snowfall through June 30, it does not expect to see any more measureable snowfall this season.
The NWS says it is “pretty confident” in its prediction that this year will be the city’s least snowy.
The agency recorded only 25.1 inches of snow during the 2014-2015 winter season, beating the previous low-snowfall record of 30.4 inches in 1957-1958.
Only a few years ago, in 2011-2012, Anchorage saw the heaviest snowfall on record when 134.5 inches were recorded.
NWS says the seasonal average is 74.5 inches of snow.
We’ve been hearing for months about Alaska’s fiscal crisis. The budget is being cut and we’ll have to dip into reserves. Some economists predict that the state will run out of savings in less than a decade. But is there an alternative? Can the state make money for the general fund from sources other than oil revenue? Some economists say yes.
HOST: Anne Hillman
- Joe Beedle, CEO, Northrim Bank
- Richard Monroe, managing director, PT Capital
KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 15 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 16 at 6:00 p.m.
Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 16 at 4:30 p.m.
House Finance Committee Chair Steve Thompson says the committee will not advance the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill. He made the announcement at the beginning of a scheduled hearing on the bill this afternoon at the Anchorage legislative information office:
“Hearings this week have made it very clear that Medicaid is a bigger problem than we knew; it is a highly complex system facing significant challenges. The legislation the governor has put before us does not address a plan to move forward; only an acceptance of twenty to forty thousand more people into a system that has been acknowledged as broken.”
The decision makes the passage of Medicaid expansion highly unlikely this special session. As Thompson gaveled out of the hearing, Anchorage Democrat Les Gara attempted to respond before his microphone was silenced.
Gara says he wanted to clarify that Democrats on the Finance Committee were not consulted on the action. He calls the decision an “insane trifecta:”
“We supported the $580 million in state budget savings it would have brought to us in next 6 years. In a time of budget deficits, turning away those savings is insane. We supported the 4,000 jobs it would of created. Turning away 4000 jobs is insane. And keeping health coverage from people who need it is insane.”
Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson says she was very disappointed by the committee’s action. She says all of the concerns Republican lawmakers had with Medicaid expansion were addressed by the administration. And she points out the legislature has had three years to consider the issue:
“So for folks to say now that they just haven’t had enough time to be able to consider the issue the issue and study the issue I think is disingenuous. They certainly have had the time, whether they have had the will is quite another matter.”
In a written statement, Governor Bill Walker said he will continue to work with the legislature to expand Medicaid.
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. It’s still not clear if much federal money will follow.
Marty Rogers, director of UAF’s unmanned aircraft program, says the coalition of universities has more unmanned aircraft than the U.S. Air Force. Rogers says UAF alone owns at least 120.
“We have a very active unmanned aircraft program. This is our 14th year of operations. We fly over 150 days a year. Much of it’s in Alaska. Some of it is out of Alaska.”
In 2013, UAF was chosen to run one of the national drone test ranges. Rogers says there’s an important difference between that and the new designation:
“The award now of the center of excellence is sort of a different animal in that unlike the test sites which were not funded by the federal government, this is actually a funded activity, so it’s on a one-to-one match.”
UAF has commercial clients, and is already bringing in the kind of non-federal revenues that can serve as the match. Rogers said he couldn’t name names, but among their customers are companies that want to use drones *to* sniff pipelines for methane leaks.
“Our real focus areas are typically the Arctic with an emphasis on low-altitude safety, beyond line of sight operations, and against that long-range Arctic work we do for science and research.”
In the Lower 48, privacy is a huge concern with drones.
And By the way, the people interested in expanding drone use in America dislike the word “drone,” which has military connotations. These days, they prefer UAS, for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
Some worry the aircraft will become Big Brother in the sky. Rogers says in Alaska they stick to unpopulated areas.
“Our big thing is actually when we’re flying marine mammal missions, is not disturbing the wildlife.”
Most of their unmanned aircraft weigh just a few pounds and have electric motors, so Rogers says they’re not too bothersome.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, at a press conference to announce the “center of excellence” designation, said the state’s wide open spaces are a selling point.
“You want to talk about your ability to engage in low-altitude flying? The landscape there on the North Slope and moving out onto the ocean there is about as flat as this floor. There’s no bumps. There’s no hills. There’s no nothing in the way. So you have a lot of room to test!”
How generous Congress will be with this “center of excellence” is … up in the air.
“Well, the bad news is we’re out of money,” says Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi. The comment earns him some laughs. He says it’s a worthy cause but couldn’t commit to any dollar amount of future funding.
So far, the “Center of Excellence” has $5 million, which doesn’t go far if it’s split among all six universities in the group.
By Karen Simmons, KUAC – Fairbanks
Repeated cases of actual or alleged police brutality, have spurred conversation about officer worn body cameras across the U.S.
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.
In its 108-year history, the two-story, wood-framed building at the corner of Front and Seward streets had gone by many names: The C.W. Young Building, Rusher’s Hardware, the Skinner Building, the Endicott Building and the Town Center Mall.
Opening ceremonies for the Walter Soboleff Building begin Friday at 8:30 a.m. The grand opening ceremony will be broadcast live on 360 North.
Oke and Robert Rodman were keeping shop at Percy’s Liquor across the street that Sunday afternoon in August 2004. They saw a couple of guys on top of the awning working with tar and a torch.
“I knew it’s bad idea.”
“Well, once they started running around looking for a fire extinguisher, it seemed like a bad day,” recalls Rich Etheridge, who was Juneau’s acting fire chief at the time.
When he arrived, he saw smoke rising from one corner of the building, but no open flames. The fire was burning inside the walls.
We sent crews in with chainsaws and axes to cut through walls to get to the fire. But they’d cut through one wall, then they’d find another wall, then layers of plywood to another wall, and so they couldn’t get to the spots where things were burning.
Because of the old construction, and things that had been added on, what happens is the smoke travels through all those void spaces, and the smoke actually ignites.
With a firefighting crew inside, the building filled with smoke floor to ceiling.
“And smoke explodes also. We had a smoke explosion. It was like a low volume explosion. It was more like a big ‘woof.'”
Fortunately, he says there were no serious injuries.
“It was a big, big wave of relief after they called back in on the radio, said they were fine.”
Etheridge put a crew on the roof, hoping to cut a hole in it to let the heat and smoke escape instead of spreading through the building. But that plan was foiled by multiple roofs, layered on over the years.
Meanwhile, the windless, dry weather kept much of the smoke at street level.
He says downtown Juneau reminded him that day of eerie scenes in New York City on 9/11… “…with just that real thick haze in the air and nobody in the streets? That’s kind of what it looked like.”
He shut down and evacuated several downtown blocks, and the cruise ships left early.
Hand tools weren’t cutting it. And it still wasn’t clear where the fire was in the building.
“There wasn’t a lot of active, open flame that you could see, it was just lots and lots of smoke, and all the flames were concealed where it was real difficult.”
So Etheridge brought in an excavator to peel the walls down and keep the fire from spreading to other buildings.
By the next morning, just about every firefighter in town had worked the blaze. When the smoke cleared, the second story was gone. Rubble from the 18 businesses that occupied the building was all over the streets.
By December that year, the site had been cleared, debris with asbestos in it had been scooped out to below street level, and a new eyesore was taking shape.
“Town hole: Prime lot sits idle since 2004 fire,” was the headline in the Juneau Empire 18 months later. Another two years passed. The headlines in 2008 were “The hole in the heart of downtown” and “Juneau’s biggest ashtray.”
Candice Bressler moved to Juneau in 2009.
“So when I arrived, it was already ‘the pit,'” she remembers. “It was filled with anything from beer cans to cigarette butts to old newspapers. A lot of things.”
In early 2010, Bressler and other United Way volunteers started a public advocacy campaign for a solution. They started a Facebook page called “Fix the Pit.” Almost overnight, it drew hundreds of fans.
About that same time, city officials threatened the lot’s owners with a six-figure lawsuit, not because of the eyesore, but because the pit was literally undermining the city’s surrounding sidewalks, curbs and streets.
Before it went to court, Sealaska Corp. stepped in paid $800,000 for the 9,500 square-foot lot, which is across the street from its headquarters. Sealaska filled the pit and addressed the city’s issues. When temporary landscaping went in, Bressler declared the pit fixed.
It’s been more than 10 years since the fire, and Sealaska Heritage Institute’s new cultural center is just opening at the corner of Front and Seward streets.
“I think it’s sad that such an eyesore existed for so long. And I think it’s sad that millions of tourists got to walk past it over the years and see, basically, what people called the ground zero of Juneau.”
But… she adds: “Just looking at this magnificent building. Just, it’s so spectacular to look at. And just to see that it’s filled! With beauty and with development and with culture. So exciting.”
Just down the street in another prime downtown spot, the husk of the Gastineau Apartments still stands since a 2012 fire. If the recovery timelines parallel, it’ll be about 2023 before something new opens its doors there.
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.