Alaska News

Olympic Aspirations: Training At The Alaska Boxing Academy

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 14:33

Nino Delgado spars with a partner at the Alaska Boxing Academy in April. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Alaska isn’t exactly known as a hotspot for boxing talent, but an Olympic caliber coach is hoping to change that. He started the Alaska Boxing Academy two years ago and already has a few athletes who are dreaming big about competing nationally and internationally.

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Arthur Tauilili practices punch combinations. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Arthur Tauilili hops lightly on the balls of his feet, jumping rope – warming up for today’s training session.

He’s in the Fairview Rec Center in Anchorage with about 20 other boxers who are mostly beginners. Once the warm-up is over, Arthur breaks off from the rest of the class with the more experienced boxers, and starts throwing punch combinations as he circles a punching bag.

Arthur is only 12-years-old, but he’s been boxing half of his life. His first fight was about two years ago.

“It felt like a video game,” he said. “Like, there was no one outside, it’s just me and him inside a little ring, and I forgot about everybody out there cheering, crying.”

“It’s a great experience for me.”

Getting to the level where he could fight took a lot of time, but Arthur says it was worth it.

Coach Michael Carey helps a young boxer with his gloves. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“When you first come here, you don’t spar yet, you just do basic stuff,” Arthur said. “It’s kinda boring when you start because all you do is jab and all that, but once you keep boxing it’ll get really fun.”

Arthur’s coach is David Carey, the founder of the Alaska Boxing Academy. He moves between the beginners and the

“Set….box! No playing patty cake, let’s go. Work the jab,” Carey said, moving between the experienced and new boxers, running them through drills and offering advice.

Carey was a member of the U.S. Olympic team that competed in the 2008 Games in Beijing. After boxing in the Olympics, his plan was to turn pro. But, those plans were altered when a bicep tear sidelined him for a year. While he was recovering, he spent some time training at a gym in Anchorage, where a young boxer introduced himself.

Nino Delgado wraps up his hands and wrists while preparing to spar. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“There was this kid that came in with his cousin, his name was Nino Delgado, and he came in with his cousin, Ricardo, and they said they wanted to box,” Carey said. “They had seen my newspaper clippings on the wall, they seen my pictures in Russia and on the Great Wall of China and stuff like that. They were like, ‘I want to go to the Olympics one day; I want to win the Golden Gloves; I want to train, I want to box.’”

“And I said, ‘OK, it’s not gonna be easy, but if you’re willing to listen to what I’m gonna have you do and go through all the training, I’ll train you.”

After training Nino for a couple months, they went to the Junior Golden Gloves Tournament in Tacoma, Washington. Nino won the tournament.

Rows of headgear and gloves are set out prior to practice. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

That was almost six years ago. And Nino – who is now 18-years-old – hopes to make the U.S. National Team next year. Even though he hasn’t been fighting for very long compared to many of his competitors, he believes he can earn a spot.

“We try to make up for inexperience with hard work,” Nino said.

If Nino makes the team, he’ll have a chance to go to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Nino’s success is something Carey wants to make more common. He would like to see amateur boxing draw more attention around the state.

Arthur Tauilili circles the heavy bag. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“What people really, in Alaska, what they need to realize is that we have talent up here,” Carey said. “Not just in hockey, not just in the winter sports, we have talent in mixed martial arts, boxing, football, basketball.”

“But for fighting, we have really good fighters up here.”

Nino has helped Carey prove that claim. And as Nino prepares to move onto the next level, Arthur says he has some lofty aspirations of his own.

“My dream is to go in the Olympics and then win and become a professional boxer,” he said.

Carey says with enough motivation and dedication, it could happen. And he believes there are more Alaskans like Arthur and Nino who can compete at the world’s highest levels.

Categories: Alaska News

Clearwater Lodge Burns Down

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 13:24

The Clearwater Lodge near Delta Junction burned to the ground this morning. The rustic lodge was a popular gathering place for fishermen, birders and others who come to the Clearwater River.

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The fire was reported around 3 a.m. and all that was left at about 10:00 this morning was a pile of smoldering rubble.

There were no injuries. But Clearwater Lodge co-owner Patsy Ewing was clearly exhausted after a nearly sleepless night.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said.

Ewing was fielding questions from the local fire chief while entering phone numbers and other data into her cell phone, which was constantly buzzing in her pocket with texts and Facebook posts from friends and well-wishers.

“I’m still spinning but it’s … People contacting me has been amazing,” Ewing said. “I’ve felt a lot of care and concern. My phone is blowing up with people saying, y’know, ‘Are you OK? We’re so sorry.’ It’s just amazing.”

The lodge was a total loss. Rural Deltana Fire Chief Tim Castleberry  estimated damages totaling about a million dollars. He’s just begun investigating, so he can’t say what sparked the fire.

“We’re not sure,” Castleberry said. “It looks like it started in the basement, but once things cool down, we’ll be able to get (in) and look a little bit more.”

But it’s not just a dollar-and-cents loss. An important piece of Delta-area history also went up in smoke this morning.

The lodge was built back in the late 1950s by Al Remington, who along with a half-dozen others settled in the Clearwater area around then and developed it. Patsy and her husband Kevin bought it in 2001 from Remington’s grandson.

The lodge was known far and wide over the years as a headquarters for local snowmachine races. It’s even more widely known by folks from all over who come here for a meal and a cold one after a day fishing on the Clearwater.

Categories: Alaska News

Sealaska Reports $35 Million Net Loss Last Year

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 11:11

Southeast Alaska’s regional Native corporation says it had a net loss of $35 million last year.

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Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

Sealaska’s 2013 annual report says three-quarters of the loss came from its construction subsidiary. It badly underestimated the cost of two building projects in Hawaii.

The report says the subsidiary’s managers are gone and bidding on such projects has stopped.

Sealaska says another $25 million was lost as the corporation adjusted its accounting practices. Earnings from investments, profitable ventures and resource revenues from other regional Native corporations shrunk the overall loss.

Sealaska CEO Chris McNeil says the corporation remains healthy and is positioned to grow.

The corporation is headquartered in Juneau and has close to 22,000 Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian shareholders. More than half live outside Southeast.

Shareholder and longtime critic Brad Fluetsch says actual, unadjusted losses are twice the $35 million figure.

The Juneau financial adviser says the losses are a sign of poor management.

Categories: Alaska News

Skagway Man In Custody After Slashing Police Car Tires

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-05-15 11:08

A Skagway man is in custody after allegedly on a vandalism spree and slashing the tires of most of the squad vehicles on the town’s police force and setting a police dispatcher’s car on fire.

Twenty-one-year old Casey Collom was arrested early Wednesday after a witness allegedly saw him slashing tires of the vehicles parked at the home of Skagway police chief Ray Leggett. The witness called 911, and then the dispatcher called the chief at home. According to court documents, the chief went outside to find tires slashed on his patrol vehicle, his personal vehicle and a third vehicle parked in his driveway.

The witness told police he saw Collom take a bike from another residence and peddle away. A short time later a police officer located Collom and after a struggle, arrested him. The officer writes in court documents that Collom had three steak knives and a box cutter on him. He also had with him two cans of beer and appeared intoxicated.

As police continued investigating, they discovered several other vehicles in the neighborhood with slashed tires, including three more police patrol vehicles parked at officers’ homes. Around the same time, the police dispatcher on duty discovered her personal vehicle was on fire and all four tires slashed.

As of Wednesday afternoon, police had discovered a total of 28 slashed tires they attributed to the spree.

Deb Potter was one of the residents who discovered the tires on her vehicle destroyed Wednesday morning. She had just woken up when she received a text message about the spree. Then she checked Facebook for scuttlebutt.

“After that I was lying in bed and thinking ‘Well, maybe I should go look at my car,’” Potter said. “That’s when I went outside and saw that two tires on the left hand side we slashed and then right around the corner my neighbor’s tires were slashed as well.”

Collom, a seasonal resident originally from Idaho, was arraigned in Skagway on Wednesday to face a total of 12 charges, including several for felony mischief. Lesser charges include theft and resisting arrest. Collom was also arrested in Skagway one week ago for drunken driving.

Chief Leggett said there were two squad cars not affected in the spree; one at home with another officer and the other on patrol. He said the department was able to have tires flown up from Juneau and all the patrol cars were operational again by the end of the day Wednesday.

But as for replacing the tires on personal vehicles, that task is not so easy. Normally, large items can be order from Juneau and sent via the ferry. But as Potter points out, with Skagway’s ferry dock still undergoing repairs from recently sinking, and is not scheduled to reopen until May 11.

“I know, right? What do I do?” Potter said. “It’s not like I can catch somebody getting on the ferry to come back up from Juneau to bring me tires.”

Potter said some residents are talking about placing a joint order for tires and having them shipped on the weekly barge, or traveling to Whitehorse to buy them.

Leggett said he wasn’t as upset about the incident seemingly targeted at his police force as he was impressed by the amount of people willing to help. He said several people volunteered their time and tools to help replace tires. And someone volunteered their car for the police dispatcher whose car was set on fire.

“We’re just grateful for the support of the community,” Leggett said.

Collom has been transported to Lemon Creek Correctional facility in Juneau and is being held on $3,000 cash bail.

Categories: Alaska News

Copper River Commercial Salmon Fishing Kicks Off Thursday

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:38

The Copper River commercial fishing season kicks off Thursday morning.

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Categories: Alaska News

Diesel Fuel Spilled Into Nushagak River

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:38

A vessel transiting the Nushagak River apparently hit something overnight that punctured a fuel tank. An estimated 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked from the vessel.

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Categories: Alaska News

Old And Bold Pilots: Chuck Sassara

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:38

Alaska is celebrating a century of aviation. As part of an occasional series on Alaska aviators, we’re gathering stories of flying. Chuck Sassara came to Alaska in 1955 after graduating from UCLA. He and his wife Ann drove the Alaska Highway in a VW bus. He got a job the day they got to Anchorage with Pacific Northern Airlines.

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Categories: Alaska News

With Wedding On The Line, Plaintiffs Prep For Same-Sex Marriage Challenge

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:30

Five gay couples are behind the lawsuit challenging Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage. The suit was filed Monday in federal court. And in this case, the political is especially personal.

Courtney Lamb is in the early stages of planning her wedding.

“I’ve asked people to be like, you know, bridesmaids. And I have my veil and my shoes.”

She has ideas for a dress, too. For a location, she’s thinking Girdwood. And when it comes to the reception, Lamb wants it to be more fun than traditional.

(Courtesy Stephanie Pearson)

“Like I want a cupcake tower, not like a big eight-tier cake,” says Lamb.

There’s just one big wrinkle: Lamb doesn’t know if the state will allow her to marry her fiancée by their wedding date.

She and her partner Stephanie Pearson are one of five gay couples fighting an Alaska ban on same-sex marriage. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal government must recognize gay marriages, judges all across the country have decided state-level bans are unconstitutional. On Wednesday, Idaho’s ban was struck down. The same thing happened last week in Arkansas. Oklahoma, Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, and Texas have all seen similar decisions from the federal courts this year.

Lamb thinks there’s a good shot that gay marriage could be legal in Alaska — and even nationwide — by next May.

“We’re planning our wedding, and if this goes through and it’s legal by the time we have all of our plans finalized, then that’s wonderful,” says Lamb. “And if not, then we will have a big party with our friends and still celebrate ourselves and our relationship.”

Fellow plaintiffs Matt Hamby and Chris Shelden are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. They’ve already been married — twice.

The first time was in 2008, in Canada, where same-sex marriage has been legal for nearly a decade.

“We were married outdoors, and that time of year it was raining a lot, so we took a lot of umbrellas with us,” says Shelden.

Matthew Hamby and Chris Shelden in 2012. (Photo by Chris Hamby)

They read their vows again this Christmas Eve, this time in Utah. A judge had ruled against the state’s marriage ban that week, and the couple was already there visiting family. So, they took advantage of the moment.

“Of course, when you fill out the license, you have to state that you’re not married,” says Hamby. “So, of course I said, ‘Well, we are married. We’ve been married since 2006 in Canada.’ And she says, ‘Well, as long as you’re marrying the same person, it’s okay.’”

That’s when they realized the possibility for Alaska.

“I think that we saw that if Utah could see that change, that Alaska’s constitutional amendment was probably unconstitutional before the United States Constitution, too,” says Shelden. “It really did give us hope.”

Hamby and Shelden have been a couple for nearly a decade, and they’ve lived in Alaska longer than that. Shelden moved here in 1994. Hamby came up in 1997, right before voters adopted the first gay marriage ban in the country.

HAMBY: I thought it was almost devastating. It seemed like I was moving to a place that was creating a different tier of status for gay people.

SHELDEN: Yeah, you feel like do you even want to stay, but we love Alaska and we don’t really have any desire to be anywhere else. And yet we don’t feel like we’re protected. We don’t feel like we have the same rights as other people. We don’t feel like we can take care of each other properly.

It’s more than just a social stigma, they say. They wanted to get a specific title on their house for legal purposes, but they can’t because their marriage is not recognized.

Hamby says there’s just a greater burden placed on them when dealing with state government.

“Straight couples just have to check a box and put a name and social security number on there and say they’re married,” says Hamby.

Gay couples have to provide an affidavit and have a handful of legal documents like vehicle registrations and wills ready to go to prove they’re together.

Shelden says if their legal challenge is successful, that would be a thing of the past. And he thinks having legal recognition matters for the gay community, especially its younger members.

“For the security of our relationship, it’s not that important. For our ability to take care of each other, it is important,” says Shelden. “But I think this is more important than us.”

The State of Alaska is expected to defend the marriage ban in court.

Opinion in Alaska has recently been shifting toward gay marriage. According to a survey released by Public Policy Polling on Wednesday, 52 percent of Alaskans favor gay marriage, while 43 percent oppose it. Last year, the numbers were essentially flipped.

Categories: Alaska News

East High grads reflect on diversity

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:28

Seniors from most of Anchorage’s high schools are graduating this week and next. The district’s high schools rank among the most diverse in the nation. East high tops that list with more than 2000 kids from every corner of the world.

Inside the Sullivan arena, students lined up to receive their diplomas. Outside, a few tables were set up with a selection of classic graduation presents like flowers and teddy bears, but the leis are clearly the most popular.

East High graduates celebrate after flipping their tassels.

Pepe Ahkui sat at a booth surrounded by candy strung together and leaves woven into necklaces. She said giving a graduate a lei is a way to show love and honor—it’s a way of life.

“And if we’re able to do that here – you know, cause there’s so much different nationalities, and with the mixture of people sharing their cultures, I think it’s a way of making the world a better place to live,” she said.

Graduate Nichole Child arrived at East from private school and said the transition opened her eyes. “I’ve learned to accept more cultures, actually. Like, I dunno, like my family background—I believed more what they said but as I met other kids and their cultures, it wasn’t bad.”

Valerie Thao said she took time during high school to learn about other cultures, and fellow students asked about her Hmong culture too. But she admited her circle of friends is probably less diverse.

“They’re Hmong. Mostly their Hmong, but I also have a couple of friends who are from other cultures, too.”

Friday Thor, who graduated from Bartlett two years ago, was with her friend who just graduated. They both agreed that in their experiences, diversity didn’t always equate to integration. Thor said people often hung out together because they connected through language.

“Us, we speak another language,” she said, referring to her native Nuer. “Like I’d be more comfortable going to my people, going up and hanging out with my people who speak my language rather than hanging out with people who speak English. I feel like African-Americans and Caucasian kids mix around because they don’t have that comfort group that they’re with.”

UAA sociology professor Chad Farrell, who ran the numbers for Anchorage, said diversity doesn’t necessarily lead to cross cultural friendships. He used Department of Education data to see how the city’s schools compared to others in the nation. Just like many Anchorage neighborhoods, they’re all significantly more diverse than average. But East, Bartlett, and West take the top spots.

“Another way to think about it is that your average Anchorage resident has more localized diversity surrounding him or her than your average American. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people are hanging out or striking up friendships with their neighbors who are from a different ethno-racial group but it certainly speaks to the exposure to localized diversity is higher here than you would see in other metropolitan areas.”

After the graduation ceremony wraps up, Presley Piliati emerged from the arena. His face peeked out from a mound of leis made from Cheetos, candy bars, and small pink flowers. He was surrounded by family and friends who shout to him as he tried to explain how the leis reflect his culture and his family’s love.

Piliati said at East, the students from different backgrounds do hang out with each other.

Presley Piliati poses with signs made by family and friends.

“I mean everyone sits together. It’s not just Polynesians on one side and Dominicans on one side. It’s mixed,” he said. “We just make friends with each other.”

And share their leis, which hang around hundreds of graduates’ necks.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 14, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 17:10

Individual news 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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Couples’ Decision To Fight Alaska’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban A Personal One

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Five gay couples are behind the lawsuit challenging Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage. The suit was filed Monday in federal court. And in this case, the political is especially personal.

Diesel Fuel Spilled Into Nushagak River

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

A vessel transiting the Nushagak River apparently hit something overnight that punctured a fuel tank.  An estimated 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked from the vessel.

East High School Most Diverse In Nation

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Seniors from most of Anchorage’s high schools are graduating this week and next. The district’s high schools rank among the most diverse in the nation. East high tops that list with more than 2,000 kids from every corner of the world.

APICDA Tries to Draw Graduate Students Back Home

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Community development quota, or CDQ groups, are supposed to harness some of the wealth from western Alaska’s booming fisheries. They all invest in education, by handing out scholarships to coastal residents.

But, one CDQ group is changing the way it invests in graduate students, to get the returns it wants.

Unalaska Tallies Cost of Blasting Issues at Wastewater Plant, Landfill

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

It’s been a year since Unalaska started uncovering big problems with a major construction project in town. Work is moving forward on the city’s wastewater treatment plant. But, the city is still trying to put a price on the damage done.

Copper River Salmon Fishing Kicks Off Thursday

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Copper River commercial fishing season kicks off Thursday morning.

Old And Bold Pilots: Chuck Sassara

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska is celebrating a century of aviation. As part of an occasional series on Alaska aviators, we’re gathering stories of flying. Chuck Sassara came to Alaska in 1955 after graduating from UCLA. He and his wife Ann drove the Alaska Highway in a VW bus. He got a job the day they got to Anchorage with Pacific Northern Airlines.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Novelist Wins Rasmuson Grant

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:26

Don Rearden has won a Rasmuson Project Award grant of $7,500 to turn his novel, The Raven’s Gift, into a screenplay.

Rearden says he painstakingly filled out paperwork for a handful of applications and survived years of rejection before he finally won the Rasmuson grant.

Don Rearden.

“It’s a huge honor to be amongst so many of my peers and to know that my work has been validated a little bit by the Rasmuson Foundation. And hopefully, it’s just kickstarting off a project that will culminate in a film being shot in Bethel and he Y-K Delta, at some point.”

Rearden grew up in Bethel and is now an Associate Professor at University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, The Raven’s Gift, published in the U.S. in 2013, is a post-apocalyptic love story set in Bethel and the Y-K Delta region. It was a 2013 Washington Post Notable book and has won several awards including 2012 Alaska Professional communications novel of the year. Rearden says he passed on a Hollywood offer to buy the rights to make his book into film because he wanted to make sure the film was made at home.

RELATED: Talk of Alaska – “The Raven’s Gift” - with author Don Rearden.

“I didn’t want to just give up control of it when I knew there was a chance that we could actually have it made in Bethel, on the Kuskokwim and have local people in the movie and as a part of it. And so that was important to me and I’ve always wanted to bring movies out there I just didn’t think that this was the one and now I think maybe this will be how I’ll get started.”

Rearden says he encourages other artists to not let rejection get them down.

“People should keep trying, not give up, not get discouraged from the comments. I’ve had some friends get some comments and feedback from the process that were really kind of discouraging to them. Never let criticism like that stop you from what you want to do.”

The Rasmuson grant puts him one step closer to sharing the culture and landscape he loves through film, Rearden says, and he hopes it will inspire others from the region to use the arts to highlight the important lessons that the Yup’ik Culture and people have to share with the world.

“Reading and writing are one way and the arts and film and music is one way to fill that void of boredom that people have and also one way to help capture the culture and save what’s there and bring the other stuff back, before we lose it.”

Rearden is one of about two-dozen Alaskans who Rasmuson awarded grants for projects in 2014. Rasmuson Foundation was created in May 1955. This is the eleventh year of the Individual Artist Awards program. The program has awarded 338 grants, totaling more than $2.7 million, directly to Alaska artists.

Categories: Alaska News

After Growing to 50,000 Acres, Officials May Recharacterize Prescribed Burn As Wildfire

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:21

A fire weather map from the National Weather Service shows Red Flag Warnings for much of the southern half of the state.
(Image by National Weather Service)

A prescribed burn on the Oklahoma Range in the Donnelly Training near Delta Junction has grown to more than 50,000 acres.

The burn was ignited in dry grass last Saturday. Alaska Fire Service Spokesman Mel Slater says officials are considering whether to change its characterization from a prescribed burn to a wildfire.

“The reason for doing that is it allows for additional resources to be put in place,” Slater said.

The fire has made for hazy, brown skies from Delta Junction north to Fairbanks, but Slater says the blaze is still under control.

“Well right now, it’s not problematic,” Slater said. “It’s a fire that is burning in grass and so it’s putting out some smoke, but right now, the resources that we have on it aren’t treating it like it’s a fire that’s out of control, so at this point there’s no cause for people to be overly concerned.”

Slater says there are no other prescribed burns scheduled for the remainder of the summer.

“Actually the prescribed fire season is coming to a close,” Slater said. “So, once we get a hold of this Oklahoma Range Fire, that will be end of the prescribed fire season.”

As of Tuesday, 95 wildfires have burned more than 150acres statewide.  The Alaska Fire Service says 94 of those fires are human caused, but Mel Slater says it’s not only due to negligence.

“Some of those human caused fires are related to like a tree might fall on the power line,” Slater said. “But with that being said it’s always a good thing to be mindful of your surroundings.”

No red flag warnings had been issued for the Deltana and Tanana Flats region where the Oklahoma Range Fire was ignited on Saturday, but the National Weather Service has since issued Red Flag Warnings for a large swath of the state. Regions including Fairbanks south to Anchorage and from King Salmon near Bristol Bay, east to the Canadian border are red on the weather map.

Forecaster Bob Fisher says things are likely to stay dry, but strong winds will die down over the next few days.

“That means conditions won’t be quite severe enough to issue a red flag warning, but people probably shouldn’t go out and light camp fires, because humidities are still going to be low in the afternoons and evenings,” Fisher said.

Fisher says the air quality in the Fairbanks area is likely to remain smoky until the weekend.

“We’re expecting another upper disturbance to come in Saturday night or Sunday,” he said. “That could give us cooler temperatures and some rain and that might help clean out the air a bit.”

Categories: Alaska News

Spotted Seal Pup Found Near Clarks Point Taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:17

This spotted seal pup was found on April 30 near Clark’s Point and taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. (Photo courtesy Alaska SeaLife Center)

The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward has taken in the first stranded marine mammal of the year.

The one-week-old spotted seal pup was picked up on April 30th in Clarks Point and flown by Grant Aviation and PenAir to Anchorage. From there the pup was taken to the SeaLife Center in Seward.

The pup weighed in at 21-pounds and is currently being fed 5-times a day. The SeaLife is listing the seal pup in “good but guarded” condition. The pup is being cared for in the I.Sea.U. Critical care unit and the pup can been viewed by visitors to the SeaLife Center.

NOAA does not allow rehabilitated ice seals to be released back into the wild so the new pup will be cared for at the Alaska SeaLife Center until a long-term placement facility is identified.

The Center is the only permanent marine rehabilitation center in Alaska and it operates a 24-hour hotline to report stranded marine mammals. The hotline number is 1-888-774-SEAL.

Categories: Alaska News

As State Advances Unprecedented Mining Road to Ambler, Local Support in Question

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-05-14 10:15

Two potential routes for the the prosed Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road, (Photo by AIDEA)

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, AIDEA, meets in Kotzebue today with a game management group to discuss a proposed 220-mile road to a copper deposit in the Northwest Arctic Borough that’s potentially valuable.

If built, the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road (AMDIAR) would head west off the Dalton Highway near Evansville, pass through Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, and end in a remote area near three Upper Kobuk Valley communities.

“We’re already approaching 10 billion pounds of copper. That’s a major mine. So we don’t have a mine yet–but we certainly are getting something that has the size and potential to be a major mine,” said Ric van Nieuwenhuyse, head of the privately owned NovaCopper company.

“But, you won’t have a mining district without out road to it. So, that’s where AIDEA steps in,” Nieuwenhuyse told the Resource Development Council. He addressed them last April in Anchorage on the mining district, as well as the economic viability of a large-scale open-pit copper mine in the area.

AIDEA is spearheading the state’s push for the project. The road would be unprecedented in many ways, requiring construction of 15 long bridges over waterways in some of the state’s most remote wilderness. Though the project could take years, AIDEA is moving swiftly—a timetable one official called “daunting.”

In April, the agency began the long process of determining what the environmental impact of the road would be. $8.5 million for that study was set aside by lawmakers last month in the capital budget that passed in the Legislature, and will be part of what AIDEA sends to the feds if they apply for permits to begin work.

Karsten Rodvik is AIDEA’s director of external affairs. He says construction is still years away, and the process relies on input from those living where the road would pass by.

“We continue to work on the permit application process and are continually focused on a very active community involvement program,” Rodvik said. “We’re getting dates set in June for the Upper Kobuk communities and then throughout the summer we’re looking at establishing meeting dates for communities on the Koyukuk River.”

Feedback is important for AIDEA because under state law they’re required to have community support before developing projects.

But what exactly constitutes community support is not fully clear.

“The state does not have a good way to receive public comment,” said John Gaedeke, owner of a wilderness lodge close to the proposed road. Gaedeke started a petition opposing the road that’s gathered over 1,600 signatures online. He’s also the head of the Brooks Range Council, a group of business owners who charge that AIDEA and the state haven’t been open with the people who stand to be most affected by the project.

“The agencies have not connected [with] me at all, even though the road would pass within about eight miles of my family’s business,” Gaedeke said. “So, huge impact to the area the lodge is in–and the state has made no attempt to contact businesses affected in the area. That I’ve seen.”

But both AIDEA and NovaCopper tout local support for the road. They cite backing from NANA, the borough’s Regional Corporation, for the  forthcoming AIDEA EIS process. NANA owns part of the Red Dog zinc mine 90 miles north of Kotzebue that’s often mentioned as a template for profitable mining projects in the state.

But Gaedeke and others opposed to the road say NANA doesn’t speak for them, and that their voices aren’t being heard. It’s a sentiment echoed by John Horner and the others on the Kobuk Traditional Council.

“We felt that they weren’t giving us much information to begin with,” Horner said in March after Kobuk passed a resolution against the AMDIAR.  “As far as I am concerned, the Native Village of Kobuk is opposing the road.”

In Kobuk, opposition is tied to subsistence, with concerns the road will disrupt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd’s migration. After years of decline, the worry is more activity in the area will further diminish the herd, and upend its migratory patterns in the region.

Representing 42 Interior communities, the Tanana Chiefs Conference in March also formally opposed the project after all six communities along the proposed route drafted their own statements against it. But coming from a regional non-profit in an unorganized borough (as opposed to the Northwest Arctic Borough, which is organized–a distinction with legal bearing under state mandates) it’s unclear how AIDEA will weigh that opposition.

Today’s Unit 23 Working Group meeting will have state and federal, regional, and local representatives to hear AIDEA’s plan for the road ahead.

Categories: Alaska News
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