In the campaign for the U.S. Senate, the Republican primary has taken a turn for the negative. Dan Sullivan has sent mailers to voters in Anchorage and Fairbanks bashing rival Republican Mead Treadwell.
The flyers say Treadwell is a hypocrite because he criticizes the Obama stimulus bill but previously owned a million-dollar stake in a Baltimore-based company that won stimulus contracts.
Sullivan campaign spokesman Mike Anderson says Treadwell attacked first.
“The final straw for us occurred last month at the debate in Homer, when Mead used the same false attacks that Mark Begich and his liberal allies have been spouting on the airwaves,” Anderson said in a written statement.
At that debate, Treadwell said Sen. Mark Begich could win re-election if Sullivan wins the primary, because Begich had “successfully tagged” Sullivan as a “carpet-bagger.” Treadwell also told the Homer audience Alaskans are concerned about Sullivan’s lack of experience and his support for HB77, an unpopular bill to speed natural resource permitting.
“Quite frankly, once Treadwell started using the Democrats’ playbook, Dan had no choice but to respond,” Anderson said.
The mailers Sullivan sent say Treadwell benefitted from stimulus money through his stake in a Baltimore company called Ellicott Dredges. The company received nearly $6 million in stimulus funds. Treadwell was a board member of the company until 2009, when he resigned and sold most of his stock. CEO Peter Bowe says the allegation against Treadwell is off-base because most of the stimulus money — $4 million — was for a dredge the government bought, and Ellicott didn’t get that award until mid-2010, after Treadwell resigned from the board. The company also got nearly $2 million in stimulus funds as a grant to upgrade machinery in 2009, while Treadwell was on the board, Bowe says. He says that was a management decision and Treadwell had objected to the federal spending.
Treadwell, in his candidate disclosure statement, say he still owns shares in Ellicott worth over $100,000 (up to $250,000) and receives dividends of at least $15,000. He remains on an advisory board for the company, for which he was paid more than $3,000. Bowe, the CEO, was Treadwell’s roommate at Yale and has contributed to his campaign.
Two male inmates at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center overdosed on drugs last week. Both men survived and are still in custody.
Now, the Department of Corrections and the Alaska State Troopers are investigating what happened.
A prison officer discovered the inmates, who authorities aren’t naming, on July 24 at 3 p.m.
“The inmates were initially discovered by a corrections officer that was monitoring security cameras. The officers do routine checks on inmates every 30 to 40 minutes, but this officer was monitoring the security cameras, noticed that there was something that wasn’t quite right and went to go check on the situation,” says Sherri Daigle, deputy director of the Department of Corrections.
Daigle says she couldn’t specify exactly what the officer saw, nor could she say if the security cameras had caught events leading up to the overdose. She says that’s part of the investigation.
The two inmates were transported by ambulance to Bartlett Regional Hospital 30 minutes after they were found. One inmate was treated and returned to Lemon Creek Correctional Center that same day.
The other was medevaced to Anchorage Regional Hospital for further treatment two days later. On July 29, he was brought to the Anchorage Correctional Complex.
The two inmates had been found in separate cells of the 24-bed segregation unit. Daigle does not know how long they had been there before they overdosed.
DOC reported the incident to the Alaska State Troopers four days after it happened. Daigle says DOC doesn’t ordinarily involve the troopers when an inmate is transported to the hospital.
“The institution would have done their own investigation and then if it was deemed necessary to call the Troopers, they would do so after the fact,” Daigle says.
For this situation, troopers were called in because contraband was found. Daigle says contraband is an issue that prisons across the nation deal with on a daily basis, and Juneau’s prison is no different.
On the other hand, inmates overdosing is not common. Daigle says the last time it happened at Lemon Creek Correctional Center was in 2007.
The troopers responded to the overdose report on July 29. At the same time, they also responded to a different report of a male inmate that introduced drugs into the prison.
“As far as what kind of drugs, that needs to be tested to determine. And same with the controlled substance that the two overdosed on the 24th,” says trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.
Ipsen says the two incidents are not related and no charges have been made in either case.
A former executive of the now-defunct Alaska Creamery has been found guilty by a federal jury of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Karin Olson was convicted Wednesday on two felony counts involving federally backed state loans to Valley Dairy, Inc. in Palmer.
Prosecutors say Olson submitted false statements to the USDA’s Rural Development Program.
Prosecutors say Olson also failed to alert the government that she knew her business partner, Kyle Beus, was diverting federal grant money from the dairy to a failing restaurant.
Beus pleaded guilty last year to charges associated with misusing federal grants.
Olson remains free on bail until her Oct. 24 sentencing. She faces more than 30 years in prison.
A search is underway for an Alaska man missing in the jungles of Costa Rica. Cody Dial, 27 years old, the son of outdoorsman and Alaska Pacific University professor Roman Dial, hasn’t been seen for two weeks. According to Lynn Paulson, a spokesperson for APU, Cody Dial went missing while on a kayaking trip in Costa Rica’s Corcovado [core co VAY do] National Park.
“I know the Red Cross is involved and the authorities in Costa Rica, I believe the police, I’m not sure if that is the full extent of the search but I know that it’s got both the Red Cross and the folks in Costa Rica searching, and of course, Roman has joined the search as well.”
APU’s Environmental Science Professor Roman Dial is in Costa Rica now to help search for his son. Cody Dial was reportedly doing research in the remote jungle of the Park, located along the southwestern coast of Costa Rica. The younger Dial had enrolled in APU’s environmental masters program in January of this year.
“But he was on hiatus from the program. So, this was just an adventure he had undertaken on his own, it wasn’t directly related to his studies here, that I know of.”
His father, Roman Dial, has spent considerable time conducting research and leading student groupsin the Costa Rican jungle over the years.
Search and rescue efforts for a young man in Brevig Mission have ended.
“Last night Troopers in Nome were notified that a body–the human remains–were found about three miles west of Brevig Mission—it’s an area called Point Jackson. And the remains are believed to be Clarence Olanna,” said Elizabeth Ipsen, a public information officer with the Alaska State Troopers.
Olanna was reported missing by the VPSO office in Brevig Mission on July 15th. Clothes similar to the ones he was last seen wearing were discovered shortly afterwards by the shore.
Following Olanna’s disappearance search and rescue crews from Brevig Mission were assisted by volunteers from several different communities, coming from as far as Shishmaref to help out. Those volunteers continued working after State Troopers suspended their search on July 21st.
“A trooper is going to fly today to pick up his body, and bring it back to Nome where it’s going to be flown to the State Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage for an autopsy,” Ipsen said.
Though the investigation is open, the Troopers report there are no “obvious signs of foul play.”
While salmon is still the main species that pollock fishermen are trying to avoid taking as bycatch this summer, there’s another creature that’s been causing problems in the Bering Sea.
Along with their pollock, fishermen have pulled up about 1,100 metric tons of slimy, pink squid this summer. That’s more than four times their catch limit, according to Krista Milani. She’s a biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“The squid TAC or quota is supposed to last us for the whole year,” Milani says. “So it’s quite a bit to be taken already.”
Milani says there’s still some wiggle room before fishery managers get worried. A few hundred tons of squid are sitting in reserve, and they can be taken as bycatch.
It’s been a while since the fleet had to dig into those reserves, though. Back in 2006, pollock fishermen accidentally caught half their annual limit of squid in a single week. There were concernsthat the pollock harvest might get shut down.
So fishermen signed an agreement to stay out of the zone with the heaviest concentrations of squid — or face fines.
Now that squid are back in force, John Gruver has been dusting off the old agreement. He’s with United Catcher Boats. Gruver says he’s trying to craft a formal squid response plan for his vessels.
“We want something that’s on hand and available from one year to the next, that has a trigger mechanism that the fleet is comfortable with — without having to take a really deep introspective on the current squid conditions each year,” Gruver says.
Even that “introspective” exam is tough to pull off, according to Karl Haflinger. He tracks squid and other fisheries bycatch for a company called Sea State. And he says scientists don’t know a lot about squid.
“We don’t have any reliable assessment for how much squid there really is,” Haflinger says. “But whenever researchers look at the diets of animals all over the Bering Sea, they find squid in a huge variety of stomachs. They can backcalculate and make some guesstimates of how much squid there must be, and it’s a very large number.”
Until the pollock fleet starts fishing, Haflinger says they’re never really sure how many squid they’ll find.
One specific corner of the Bering Sea looked to be the source of the problem this month.
It’s a prime fishing location — close to Unalaska, and usually full of good-sized pollock. But squid were hanging around the same depth where most vessels were trying to put their trawl nets.
In the end, the squid won the turf war. Gruver says the United Catcher Boats moved north for the most part a few weeks ago. Since then, squid bycatch numbers have dropped dramatically.
But Gruver says that’s not the end of it: “When you start to have multiple species you’re trying to avoid, it gets to be more difficult.”
Those other species are salmon. Later in the fall, Chinook will start moving onto the fishing grounds. But for now, Gruver says chum salmon are the ones to look out for.
“There’s this squeeze of avoiding chums and staying away from squid,” Gruver says. “You know, reduced grounds.”
As of this week, about 2,100 square miles of the Bering Sea are shut down to pollock fishing to avoid chum salmon.
It’s part of a rolling hotspot closure program, run by Sea State — the monitoring group. They shut down areas where there’s a lot of salmon being taken as bycatch, before the problem gets worse.
Karl Haflinger, with Sea State, says it’s a little early for chum salmon to be triggering such big closures.
“If we get trips or individual hauls with hundreds of chums in them this early, then we are nervous because this honestly isn’t the time when you expect most of the chums,” Haflinger says. “We’re definitely worried about what we’re going to see in August.”
They’re not the only ones. As subsistence fishermen face major restrictions in the western part of the state this summer, there’s a lot of pressure on the Bering Sea pollock fleet to fish cleanly — and keep all their bycatch to a minimum.
A chef from Homer will be representing Alaska at the 2014 Great American Seafood Cook-Off Saturday. 19 chefs from around the country are heading to New Orleans to compete.
La Baleine Café is a small, unassuming building near the end of the Homer Spit. It’s painted stormy sea-blue with a whale surrounded by bubbles. But inside, the culinary talent is obvious.
Mandy Dixon is the owner and chef of La Baleine. She and her employee and competition partner, Lucas Schneider, are in the kitchen, chopping, frying, stirring. They’re practicing cooking the dish they’ll prepare at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off.
It’s homemade ramen noodles and broth with smoked salmon, salmon bacon, seaweed, sautéed vegetables, pan-seared sockeye salmon, fireweed honey, chili-marinated spot shrimp, alder-smoked sablefish, a king crab beignet and an herb salad on the side.
The seafood elements of this dish stand out. Vibrant pink fish, dark smokey fish, a curl of shrimp- all on delicately piled noodles immersed in a steaming broth. The presentation and supporting ingredients are deliberate.
“It’s a seafood cook-off. That’s what they’re focusing on,” says Schneider. “They don’t really care about the vegetables or the smaller things. So, what we’re really trying to focus on is build up to the seafood because it’s the biggest part. So, we’re trying to pick things that will complement it without overshadowing it.”
They’re both surprisingly cool and collected despite the fact they’ll soon be preparing this detailed menu in front of cameras, an audience, and celebrity judges.
Dixon says she never even expected to have her own restaurant. Let alone be hand-picked for a national competition by Governor Sean Parnell. She says she’s come a long way since she first opened the doors to La Baleine years ago.
“We just kind of turned on the open sign and waited for people to come in,” says Dixon. “It took a couple hours and then our first guest worked for Channel 2 news. They were doing a story on the bird festival. And he walked in and just casually ordered something and we were like…okay.”
It’s no surprise he’s come back every summer since. The café has an interesting menu. At first glance, the dishes seem fairly ordinary. A deli sandwich, a breakfast skillet, a bowl of oats.
But the oats come with fireweed honey, the sandwich features rhubarb chutney and fromage blanc, and the breakfast skillet is spiced with coriander, cardamom and caramelized onions. Nearly every item on the menu has the word local.
“We’re passionate about sourcing local food,” says Dixon. “I feel like everyone should know where their food is coming from. It’s so easy for us in Homer with the seafood being dropped at our back door from the fishermen and so many local farms. We have very fresh and mostly organic cuisine here.”
She tries to keep it simple and let the food speak for itself.
“We really take care of the ingredients, respect the seafood and really take care of it well and not add a lot of additional things to it,” says Dixon. “We don’t need to.”
That’s the approach she’s taking in the cook-off. She says she wants to bring attention to the natural beauty of Alaskan seafood. And she hopes to educate people about sustainable fisheries while she’s at it.
“And I’m just really proud to represent Alaska,” says Dixon. “I’m from Alaska. I’m looking forward to teaching people about Alaska and Alaska seafood. I’m also looking forward to Bourbon Street and checking out New Orleans. I’ve never been down there. And trying crawfish.”
As the final touch, she and Schneider plan to garnish the dish with unforgettable Alaskan flair: popping shrimp roe, fresh fireweed blossoms and appropriately, forget-me-not.
The director of the largest refugee assistance program in Alaska is leaving after more than a decade, just as the program is being threatened by a federal budget crisis in Washington.
Karen Ferguson has spent the final weeks of her job sending out urgent e-mails. She’s worried about what federal cuts will mean for the refugee assistance program in Alaska—a program she’s worked very hard to build.
“Obviously that could be devastating,” she said. “We will be faced with the challenge of whether we accept human beings who are fleeing from their countries or whether we say this is a bad idea and we can’t accept them.”
For nearly 11 years, Ferguson has served as the program director and state refugee coordinator for Catholic Social Services in Alaska. Ferguson was key to getting the refugee program at Catholic Social Services started in 2003. Since then, she’s helped refugees from the former Soviet Union to Bhutan to Somalia find new lives in Alaska.
She happens to be leaving as the federal government struggles to find funding for tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing from drug-related gang violence by crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.
The border crisis could lead to cuts of about $450,000 to refugee services in Alaska. Ferguson says the cuts, which start to take effect Aug. 15, would cripple medical, educational, and elderly support, as well as employment services for all new arrivals.
“In my view, you can’t take one crisis and solve it by taking away funds from another program, creating then two crises,” Ferguson said.
The cuts would mean a huge setback for a program Ferguson helped grow from a small group assisting Hmong refugees to a staff of 20, plus volunteers. Over time, she’s helped develop several programs, including a youth soccer team and a vegetable garden in Mountain View.
Bhaskar Kafle has been coming to the refugee garden every summer for four years. He wears a gray suit-jacket and slacks that are surprisingly clean given that he’s tilling potatoes.
Kafle takes a break to talk about his old farm in Bhutan. Those were the days before the Bhutanese government ejected him and more than 100,000 other ethnic Nepalis in the 1990s as part of its “one-nation-one-people” policy. Kafle says the garden here in Anchorage reminds him of the land he lost.
The Bhutanese, along with refugees from the former Soviet Union and Somalia are among the larger refugee populations in Alaska. Catholic Social Services meets new arrivals at the airport, finds apartments for them and provides basic furniture and household goods, like spatulas and knives.
“We’ve, you know, transformed into this program that can take 120 people a year from all over the globe so it’s been really quite an incredible transformation,” Ferguson said.
She is especially proud of the cultural orientation program, which won an award as a model for refugee programs in other states. Some of the refugees have lived in camps their whole lives and arrive never having used electricity. The program teaches them how to live independently in the U.S.: how to enroll kids in school, how to call 911, use the bus and get a job – and of course, what to do when encountering a moose.
“I watched people be really lost and I also watched the community wrap themselves around people, just as volunteers, with no program, and help them to end up being actually quite successful,” Ferguson said. “When we started the refugee program, it was a relief to see that people didn’t have to be lost.”
Ferguson, who already has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, will be heading to a master’s program in Israel to study peace and conflict management at the University of Haifa.
She says she wants to go from taking care of refugees to preventing the very conflicts that force people to become refugees in the first place.