Alaska News

Early Tests Show B.C. Tailings Spill Water ‘Safe’

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-08 16:43

British Columbia’s Environment Ministrysays water that poured out of a massive mine-tailings pond Aug. 4 appears to be safe.

But local emergency officials continue towarn area residents against drinking, bathing or swimming in affected water.

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This aerial image from a British Columbia emergency office video shows the Mount Polley dam break and some of the damage downstream.

Some tribal and environmental groups on both sides of the border doubt the test results. They say polluted water could damage salmon runs on the Fraser River, which enters the ocean at Vancouver.

Some of those fish swim north to Alaska. And a smaller Fraser River run could change Pacific Salmon Treaty allocations, reducing Alaska’s catch.

The dam break took place at the Mount Polley Mine, about 400 miles southeast of Ketchikan. Officials say the escaped wastewater and silt could fill almost 6,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. That’s almost three times an earlier estimate.

The central British Columbia open-pit copper and gold mine is owned by Vancouver-basedImperial Metals. The corporation plans to open the similar Red Chris Mine this year near the Stikine River, which ends near Wrangell.

The Environment Ministry says early tests showed levels of dissolved metals and acid are within government standards. It says the levels are also within limits that protect fish and other aquatic life.

But ministry officials say further tests are needed. It also says the tests could not measure all dissolved metals.

Critics say the province’s water-quality standards are too weak. They also say metal concentrations that don’t kill salmon can still disrupt their senses, making it difficult to find their spawning grounds.

The area affected by the dam break is home to a large sockeye fishery. The run is just starting and will peak in several weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Westward Plant Workers Face Air Pollution Charges

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-08 16:42

The Westward Seafoods plant is tucked away on Captains Bay Road. But the factory — and two of its former employees — are drawing heat from federal regulators for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act.

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Westward makes its own electricity on-site using three generators. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis says the company has air permits that lay out what pollutants it can emit — and under what conditions.

“It was required to have pollution prevention equipment to reduce the nitrogen dioxide being emitted from the powerhouse,” Feldis says.

Nitrogen dioxide is a rusty-looking gas that can cause respiratory problems in humans. It also contributes to the formation of smog.

Feldis says the system designed to cut down on nitrogen dioxide emissions at the Westward plant was rarely used during a two-year period — from 2009 to 2011. The plant kept sending required reports to state and federal agencies during that time, but Feldis says the data was inaccurate.

Now, the former powerhouse supervisor is being charged with falsifying those emissions reports. Raul Morales faces up to two years in jail, on top of fines.

The former powerhouse operator is also facing federal charges. Bryan Beigh was on the job in July 2011, when he allegedly tampered with the meters on a water injection system. That’s a key component of the pollution control equipment.

“It’s alleged that he in fact used a magnet and a drill to physically change the readings on these flow meters,” Feldis says.

Feldis says the two former employees are planning to plead guilty in federal court. But the investigation isn’t complete.

According to Westward Seafoods vice president Mark Johahnson, at least one other worker was involved in the alleged violations.

“This was the actions of three individuals,” Johahnson says. “I don’t think it should color the other thousand or so that work up there for us. We have company values and policies to prevent this sort of thing from happening. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t detect it before we did.”

Johahnson says the company fired the employees who were allegedly responsible. And they also reported the violations to regulators as soon as they came to light in September 2011.

But that wasn’t the first time that the Westward plant landed in hot water over pollution.

About a decade ago, the Environmental Protection Agency accused Westward of burning fuel with excess sulfur. Westward didn’t cooperate with investigators in that instance — allegedly violating disclosure laws in the process. The company eventually paid $570,000 to settle the case.

Johahnson says Westward is trying to make improvements.

“We have redoubled our compliance efforts to ensure that it won’t happen again,” Johahnson says. “But outside of that, I can’t really say anything due to the ongoing investigation.”

Meanwhile, Westward’s sister company may be getting out of the power generation business in Unalaska.

Alyeska Seafoods — which is also owned by Maruha Nichiro of Japan — recently agreed to tie in to the municipal electric grid in Unalaska. The factory could be buying its power from the city of Unalaska by next summer.

Categories: Alaska News

New Geotags to Shed Light on Auklet Migrations

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-08 16:41

A pair of crested auklets nests on Buldir Island in 2012. (Photo courtesy Ian Jones)

Every summer, thousands of tiny auklets flock to the Aleutian Islands to nest. But scientists don’t know where the seabirds go in the winter.

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That’s about to change, thanks to a group of researchers who’ve just returned from Buldir Island, east of Attu, and Gareloi, near Adak. They’ve been camped on the uninhabited islands since late May, outfitting crested and parakeet auklets with tracking tags for the first time.

Steve Delehanty is the director of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

“Technology has just come into existence within the last couple of years, that little tiny tags on the birds — geolocators — are light enough now, and small enough, to safely put on these rather small birds,” he says.

Delehanty boarded the refuge ship Tiglax in Unalaska a little over a week ago and went to pick up the auklet researchers, about 700 miles down the chain in the Western Aleutians.

He says the new geotags will record where the auklets go over the next year. Then, the researchers will go back and check on them.

“The birds are very faithful not only to the island where they nest, but even to the same rock crevasse,” he says. So the researchers “will go and capture these same birds next year.”

This was also part of an annual trip for Delehanty — he takes the Tiglax every year to visit different parts of his uniquely far-flung refuge. And he says the Aleutians never disappoint.

“You’re looking out and you’re seeing tens of thousands of auklets — swarming around the colony and on the water and in the air, big ribbons, strings of thousands of auklets and puffins and murres and kittiwakes and so many other species,” he says. “It’s just a really special thing to be able to see that.”

And it happens, he says, because the Aleutians are a rich ecosystem without many native predators. Buldir is one of the only islands in the chain where rats and foxes were never introduced — which is why the auklets come back, year after year.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Filmmaker Rolls Forward on Yup’ik Movie

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-08 16:40

Screenwriter, Daniels Calvin from Fairbanks. Photo courtesy of Daniels Calvin.

A Fairbanks resident has a movie in the works featuring Alaska Native characters. She’s looking to cast Yup’ik, or Alaska Native people.

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Fairbanks resident Daniels Calvin wrote the screenplay for the movie, ‘Atellgun’ or ‘Namesake,’ with inspiration from wilderness survival and something closer to home.

“I was inspired by the story of plane crash survivors, and things that they do to save their lives and the lives of their children. And my daughter is Aleut, she is from Perryville, but there wasn’t anything like a musician for her on TV. Or it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of actors on TV that are Alaskan Native. So I wanted to create an outlet for her to have these role models she can look up to,” says Calvin.

She says she decided to make a Yup’ik-themed movie after looking back to her time, with Yup’ik people in Bethel, when she worked for 4-H. Though not a Yup’ik speaker, or Yup’ik herself, Calvin wrote the screenplay relying on an online resource from University of Alaska Fairbanks, “Alaskan Native Knowledge Network.” She also took responsibility for funding the movie.

“There really isn’t a lot of hand holding that goes on here in Fairbanks, uhh, this project is funded by me working three jobs. Being a filmmaker is all about passion, if you don’t have it you’ll never survive. There’s not really a lot of places to find money, you find people doing kick starters and things of that nature but for this particular project I am doing this all with borrowing resources, checking things from the library, peoples time they’re donating, and out of pocket from myself,” says Calvin.

The movie is in the preproduction phase, and Calvin says she’s scouting locations but will not be filming in Bethel due to cost. The movie will be filmed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

Auditions will be held this Sunday, August 10th, at the UAF Great Hall in Fairbanks, from noon to three.

Categories: Alaska News

Lieutenant Governor Primary Election

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-08 12:00

Lieutenant Governor candidate Hollis French.

He’s been a prosecutor and a state Senator, and now Hollis French is running for Lieutenant Governor. His opponent, Bob Williams, is campaigning on the issue of education. French on justice and taxation issues. And what else?

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Hollis French, candidate
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Port Lions

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-08-08 11:48

This week we’re heading to Port Lions, on the northern tip of Kodiak Island. Kathryn Adkins is a lodge owner and city clerk in Port Lions.

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My name is Kathryn Adkins, I’ve lived in Port Lions since 1990. Port Lions is a population, currently, of about 170, give or take. Our population swells in the summertime with fishermen and people that have summer homes here and it, of course, decreases when summer is at an end.

We’re about 18 air miles from Kodiak. We’re one of the five villages on Kodiak Island. We’ve got a lot of trees, a lot of mountains, a lot of water and, at times, a lot of rain – although this summer it’s been pretty dry.

Port Lions, I should say, doesn’t have a store here. We lost our barge service from Seattle quite a number of years ago and when that happened it was too costly for the store owner, so we lost our store. But we’re in the process of building a new ferry dock; it should be completed this fall. We’re hoping to try to reinstate some kind of a monthly barge service from Seattle.

The village is established as a result of the 1964 earthquake. The community of Afognak Village relocated here to Port Lions in December of 1964. The Lions  Club Kodiak chapter was instrumental in helping the village relocate – and that’s why it’s named Port Lions.

We just celebrated a big Fourth of July event, 50 year Anniversary, and we’re planning another special event in December.

It’s a beautiful place and it kinda gets under your skin; people love it here.

Categories: Alaska News

Litigation Blamed For Port MacKenzie Rail Spur Delays

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:47

Construction of the railroad link between the Matanuska-Susitna Borough city of Houston and Port MacKenzie is over budget and way behind schedule. Borough officials blame litigation for the delays.

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At Tuesday night’s Mat Su Borough Assembly meeting, Joe Perkins, the Borough’s executive for the rail extension project, updated earlier financial data on the cost overruns beyond the initial $272 million  pricetag.

“When you add all this up, it totals about $31 million. So if you take $ 272 .5 and add $31 (million) to it,  you get a total project cost now of  $303. 5. (million)”

 The project linking Port MacKenzie with the AK Railroad main line near Houston started in 2008, and Perkins said the way it has been funded, by legislative appropriations over the years, has not helped keep costs down.

 ”We had intended to have the train running by now, had we received sufficient funding to do that. So, we have had some impacts from delays in funding. Our construction management people are having to stay a considerable number of years past what we have anticipated, same thing with our engineering people. So, again, the way this thing has been funded with eight different appropriations and some more to come, has certainly increased our costs.”

 He told the Assembly that work on some of the six construction segments of the railroad spur are done or near completion. Segment 1 at Port MacKenzie, segment 3 in the middle and segment 6 near Houston are finished. Segment 4 should be done next year, but segment 5, which crosses privately owned land, is being put off until negotiations for a Right of Way are complete. The money appropriated for that segment will be put into producing “ballast” or rock bed material for the entire rail spur.

 Possibly a major cause of the cost overruns, according to Perkins, are delays caused by litigation against the spur’s construction by environmental organizations Cook Inletkeeper and Sierra Club. The lawsuits caused the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a stop work order on the spur, which added to the contractor and engineer costs.

 ”The number on the ongoing construction, which we can prove, is $5  million. The legal costs were somewhere around $1.5 million. We were represented by DC attorneys, and they’re expensive. “

 

The Ninth Circuit has since given the go-ahead for the project.

 Federal Surface Transportation Board regulations regarding the relocation of trails in the area added an additional one million dollars to costs, and a five percent Borough finance administration charge also upped the total  of building the railroad spur.

The additional costs will add about three and a half million dollars to the Borough’s request for a legislative appropriation of $116 million  for next year to complete work on the spur. Perkins told the body that nearly $120 million is needed to finish the project by late 2017.

 

I’m Ellen Lockyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly repeals AO-37, adopts new ordinance but Mayor considering a veto

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:46

The Anchorage Assembly voted 7 to 4 to repeal AO-37 on Tuesday night and replace it with a compromise ordinance negotiated by Assembly Members and union representatives. However, the mayor still has seven days to veto the new ordinance and the repeal.

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The new ordinance passed by the Assembly was based on member Jennifer Johnston’s adaptation of the municipality’s original labor law. After discussions with union members, Dick Traini amended Johnston’s version.

An Anchorage Assembly meeting in December 2012. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

The ordinance contained some elements favored by the unions, like giving them the ability to set their own schedules. Other provisions were requested by the administration, such as giving management the right to distribute overtime on a rotating basis in order to save money.

Chairman Patrick Flynn made the final comments.

“I think we’ve ended up with a unique piece of legislation in that probably everyone in the room has at least one thing they disagree with in here,” he told the Assembly and the packed auditorium. “And now is one of those very challenging votes where each of us has to decide whether it’s best to vote for what you absolutely believe in or vote for something that’s not perfect but maybe demonstrates some pragmatism and moves us forward.”

Both the repeal and the new ordinance passed but with only seven votes. Mayor Dan Sullivan said he will look over the new version with the municipality’s lawyer then make a decision whether or not to veto by the end of the week. He said he still stands by AO-37 and asserts its tenants were part of all seven union contracts that were negotiated this year.

“So I think really it boils down to there’s sometimes a bit of a power struggle between management and labor,” Sullivan said after the meeting. “They had a very comfy relationship with the previous administration and I think sometimes they don’t like that balance of power to shift. I think that’s what this is all about.”

Sullivan said his administration created AO-37 to save the taxpayers money. Municipal staff say negotiating contracts based on the tenants of the controversial law saved the city about $6 million.

Union representative Gerard Aslin said that with the mayor’s veto still a possibility, no one is celebrating yet.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we have stepped in the right direction both for the employees — you heard a lot of testimony, a lot of statements from Assembly members about how damaging this has been for the workforce here in Anchorage — and I’m cautiously optimistic that this is a step in the right direction to start that healing process.”

If the mayor vetoes the decision there will be a special meeting to reconsider and try to override the veto on August 12. The municipality needs to tell state election officials whether or not the repeal will be on the November ballot by August 18.

The Assembly also voted to use $350,000 of the funds originally budgeted for a special election on AO-37 to hire more paramedics for the fire department instead.

Categories: Alaska News

AFCA Responds to State’s Challenge of Setnet Ruling

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:45

In July, Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance president Joe Connors was very pleased that the group’s effort to get commercial setnetting banned in the state’s urban areas, was going to move forward.

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Categories: Alaska News

Children’s Home Featured at Bethel Cultural Center

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:44

The view of the Children’s Home near Kwethluk, as seen from the river earlier this summer.

A multimedia show on the Moravian Children’s Home near Kwethluk is on display at Bethel’s Cultural Center. The show profiles the demise of the orphanage which was home to many of the regions Native children after epidemics of the early and mid- 20th century and captures oral histories of the people who remember growing up there.

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The show profiles the demise of the orphanage which was home to many of the regions Native children after epidemics of the early and mid- 20th century and captures oral histories of the people who remember growing up there. Leaving Bethel and heading up the Kuskokwim River, we turn into the Kwethluk River and go several past Kwethluk. We pull up to the muddy curving bank below the falling down buildings with peeling paint and broken windows surrounded by chartreuse tundra bursting into summer.

The abandoned Moravian Children’s Home campus has become somewhat of an attraction, with local tour boats and occasional berry pickers stopping by. Dorms, classrooms and a church, served as a home for many of the regions orphaned children between 1926 and 1973. Founded by Moravian missionaries, the home provided care and education to children, most of whom were Alaska Native. Diane Chaney Coffman is one of them. She was here in the 50s.

“I was here twice. The first time my dad was in the National Guard and he got stationed in Texas so they put us here. And then later my mom had TB so they put her in Anchorage in the TB ward. And so my brother and I were here then,” said Coffman.

It’s a story that is all to familiar in the Y-K Delta, children separated from parents because of difficult circumstances, often related to epidemics that swept through the region for years after contact, even into the 1950s.

After the 30 minute boat ride, Coffman steps into one of the old buildings where she spent those early years. She notices things have changed.
“Wow a pool table,” said  Coffman.

Apparently visitors set up a makeshift game room in the abandoned building.

“So we’ve just entered … There’s a lot of broken glass on the floor,” said Eaton.

Clyde Pavel was at the home in the mid-50s when he was 11. He was born in Kongigigok and raised at Clark’s Point in Bristol Bay. His single mother drowned during fishing season he says and that’s how he ended up at Children’s home. He says he got into trouble a lot, which meant spending time at the woodpile.

“Being on the woodpile all the time. Haha. Do something wrong and you get to chop extra blocks of wood. Did you chop a lot of wood? Yeah. That’s why we were good on the baseball field, softball field. Hit a lot of homers,” Pavel.

He spent two years there. He eventually went to live with his sister in Bethel where he went to high school and became an airplane mechanic. He also remembers being quarantined with the measles in a room on second floor of the boys dorm. It was lonely and scary.

Katie Basile, a photographer who grew up in Bethel says she always wanted to know more about the mysterious place she’d grown up visiting.

“It’s kind of a remarkable place. It’s out literally in the middle of nowhere your know you’re driving down the river in your boat and all of the sudden these buildings just rise out from the Alders and it’s very mysterious. And I can remember going there as a kid – I think we camped out there a few times and there was just always something so intriguing and haunting about it,” said Basile.

And Basile’s photographs of the Home do capture that haunting feeling. Everyday things out of place, some destroyed by the elements – others remarkably in tact. A vintage vacuum

cleaner photographed in different places around the home now sits outside in a puddle … books on speaking good English and citizenship rest inside a window without mold or dust.

Before we take off Jeff ‘Buffy’ Pavel, Clyde’s son, says he thinks more people should know about the Children’s Home. Hopefully, he says, Basile’s projects brings light to a painful but important chapter of history that’s nearly losts. “I
would say, know where your heritage came from, that who lived up here – listen to what kind of stories they had to say,” said Pavel.

Photographs of the Children’s Home, portraits of former residents and recordings of their oral histories will be on display at the Bethel Cultural Center through the end of August.

Notes: The show will be on display at the Alaska Humanities Forum in Anchorage, which funded the project, in the new year. 

Katie Basile’s multimedia project on the Children’s Home also exists online at www.nunapitsinghak.com. Numapitsinghak is the Yup’ik name for the land that the Moravian Children’s Home was built on, it means great little land.

Categories: Alaska News

One Company Bids In Sealed Bid Lease Sale

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:43

Only one company bid for a single exploration lease this morning at a state division of oil and gas sale. Bill Barron, division director said the exploration area is on state land on the Iniskin Peninsula area of southwest Cook Inlet near Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. He said the first exploration of the area started in 1902 near Oil Bay and continued through the 1950s.

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Barron said the idea with this first ever sealed bid for competitive exploration was to encourage exploration outside of current state oil and gas lease sale areas.

“Far from existing infrastructure, with relatively low or unknown hydrocarbon potential and where there is a higher investment risk to the operator,” Barron said.

As he described the more than 168 thousand acre lease site, he opened the bid.

“Bidding company is Cook Inlet Energy LLC, minimum work commitment dollar amount, $1,501,000.”

Barron says the lease term is 4 years. The licensee will pay a one time fee of one dollar per acre.

Categories: Alaska News

RFP Released For Alaska Class Day Boat Construction

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:42

The Alaska Department of Transportation has released a Request for Proposals to the Ketchikan shipyard for construction of the Alaska Class day boat.

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Categories: Alaska News

Four-Day Southeast Troll Closure Starts This Weekend

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:41

Southeast Alaska’s commercial troll fishing fleet will have to stand down for a few days, starting this weekend.

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The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced today (8-5-19) that the Southeast troll fishery for all salmon will close for four days, starting at midnight on Saturday, August 9. It will reopen at 12:01 AM on Thursday, August 14.

The fishery typically shuts down for several days in August to allow coho salmon to escape back into their home streams to spawn.

Fish & Game also announced that trollers will get a second king salmon opener next week. Trolling for kings will re-open on August 14. The opening will last three days, and close at midnight on August 16.

Fish & Game estimates there are about 36,000 kings left to catch before the fleet reaches this year’s target harvest. Trollers caught nearly 200,000 fish during the first summer king opening, which ran from July 1st through the 7th.

Trollers may still target chum salmon in certain areas throughout the troll closure, including in much of Sitka Sound. Trolling for all species will also remain open in select terminal harvest areas, including Deep Inlet near Sitka, so that fishermen can target salmon returning to hatcheries.

Categories: Alaska News

Crew OK After Seiner Capsizes In Prince William Sound

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:40

The crew of a seiner is okay after their fishing vessel capsized in the Prince William Sound earlier this week. The Auriga was seeking at shelter from a storm at the time of the incident.

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Categories: Alaska News

Seldovia Tribe Awarded $40,000 For Cultural Preservation

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:39

The Seldovia Village Tribe was awarded a $40,000 grant from the National Park Service for cultural preservation.

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Categories: Alaska News

Autopsy Reveals No Answers In Sea Lion Death

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-08-06 17:38

A dead sea lion that washed up on the beach near Ketchikan was dissected last Thursday in hopes of finding out what caused the death. The necropsy took several hours, and attracted many observers. But it didn’t provide any clear answers.

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Categories: Alaska News

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