Alaska News

NOAA Seeks Public Comment on Beluga Whale Recovery Plan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 11:21

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Klukwan high schoolers prepare for next steps

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 11:07

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Thirsty California a potential market for bulk water

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:59

Garry White came to Sitka in 2008 and has ridden the wave of the bulk water venture. But new developments in infrastructure and capital are giving him hope that bulk water shipments to California will happen this year. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

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.

The bulk water ships are too large to dock, so the plan is to anchor them to mooring buoys in Sawmill Cove and run a floating pipeline that will carry the water from the shoreline system. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

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.

Categories: Alaska News

M/V Redeemer Heads for Scuttling, After Decades of Salvage Work

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:45

Dan Magone stands in the wheelhouse of the salvage vessel Redeemer. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

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 at sea during the salvaging of the M/V Cougar Ace in 2006. (Charles Homans/KUCB)

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.

Dan Magone crosses the deck of the salvage vessel Redeemer. (Annie Ropeik/KUCB)

“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.

Categories: Alaska News

Upcoming Alaska Navy training exercises prompt protest plans

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:07

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Department seeks consultant on health care provider tax

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:06

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski wants to change federal ‘rural’ label process

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:05

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.

Categories: Alaska News

This winter may be Anchorage’s least snowy on record

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 10:02

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.

Categories: Alaska News

How can Alaska solve its fiscal crisis?

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-05-15 08:00

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

GUESTS:

  • 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.

Categories: Alaska News

House Finance Committee Blocks Medicaid Expansion Bill

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 17:46

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.”

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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.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Gets a Federal Boost for Unmanned Aircraft

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 17:45

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.

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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.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Police Experiment With Body Cams

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 17:42

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.

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Categories: Alaska News

Eyesore to Eye Candy: Juneau Rebuilds A Historic Treasure

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 17:41

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.

Listen now:

Haida artist Robert Davidson’s metal panel “Greatest Echo” adorns the front of the Walter Soboleff building in Juneau. Photo: Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO

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.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 14, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 17:40

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

 

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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.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Republic of the Arctic’ Proponent And Native Rights Activist Charles Etok Edwardsen Dies

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 17:39

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.

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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. He was born in Barrow and was the oldest of 14 children. His sister Beverly Hugo says he fought for modern services for his people after seeing running water and flush toilets at boarding school. She says, even as a child, he was strong willed, stowing away on his grandfather’s whaling boat when he was only 5 years old.

“He did hide… [laughing]… and got into Grandpa’s boat. And when Grandpa realized that his son was not going to be denied, he gave him the task of throwing the float after the shoulder person has shot the whale and the harpooner has sent the harpoon off, and Etok’s job as a little boy was to throw the float out.”

Beverly says her mother loved to sew traditional clothing for her oldest son. She says when her mom was dying, her brother got his parka wet on a hunting trip and her mom worried about who would care for him after she was gone.

Beverly Hugo is a younger sister of the late Charles Etok Edwardsen, who died on May 8th. She says as he requested, there will be a political rally instead of a memorial service in his honor. That rally will happen on Saturday in Barrow.

Categories: Alaska News

Pre-Historic Shark Fossil Comes Home

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:47

A unique fossil rock from Atigun Gorge is back in the state after a 29 year detour in Washington, D.C. The rock bears the imprint of teeth from an animal that has not been seen on Earth for about 250 million years.  But the  the story behind the rock and it’s current status as centerpiece of a Seward art exhibit is almost as fascinating as the prehistoric creature which imprinted it.

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Scientists call the animal a Helicoprion but some call it a buzz saw shark. That’s because of the odd placement of teeth in the animal’s lower jaw. They are in the middle of the animal’s mouth, in a single line, curved like the edge of a scimitar.

“This is a real monster, and there’s nothing alive like it today, that has this crazy grouping of teeth that it keeps its whole life. But it was successful, it lived for 8 million years, as a species.”

That’s Leif Tapanila, an expert in the workings of the dental gear on animals that flourished millennia ago. Tapanila says there’s about 151 fossils of this kind in the world. The helicoprion may have gone extinct 250 million years ago, but one day in 1986, grad student Richard Glenn stumbled upon a strange rock on a mapping expedition to the Brooks Range.

“I didn’t know what it was. And I didn’t know if it was important enough that it should be found, recorded, saved, preserved, or if we’d find more. So I left it up there where I found it, for a day, and then I went back up after my advisor came and told me that maybe I should go back and get it. ”

The young Glenn gave the rock to his instructor.

“He’d never seen one before either, so he sent it away to a paleontologist colleague of his, and that’s how it got identified, and then he sent it away and it never came home. ”

It would be almost 30 years before Glenn saw his fossil find again.  The fossil rock ended up at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, where it was mislabled, then stored away. The original curator of the fossil later died, and the fossil rock was forgotten.

Enter artist Ray Troll, long known for his imaginative paintings of sea life, and, it turns out, an ancient shark enthusiast. Troll and the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward have partnered on an art exhibit, featuring Troll’s depictions of ancient sharks, and in February of this year, Troll and Richard Glenn crossed paths at a Sea Life Center event. The subject of buzz saw sharks came up, Troll says, and he heard about Glenn’s  fossil find.

“I was pretty excited though. maybe I better follow this up. It would be pretty wonderful to have one from Alaska, especially since this Buzz saw shark show was coming.”

And that triggered a chain of events that brought the fossil home.

“I knew a few folks back at the Smithsonian. I’d met Dave Bohoska, the collections manager before, so I made a special plea with him to find it.”

It took weeks, but finally, a FedEx package showed up with the precious rock inside. Now, gathered around a table, Glenn, Troll and Tapanila look lovingly at the rock in the center.  Definite tooth patterns in a whorl like pattern are set in the rock, and the over head light sets tiny glints of sparkle from it’s surface.

Glenn, who now works for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and Tapanila, with the University of Idaho, spoke Wednesday at a Geological Society of America meeting at UA Anchorage. Troll joined them for a special presentation of the fossil rock, which now heads to Seward on loan until September. But Glenn says, he’d like the rock to stay in Alaska.

“My dream is to put it on a loan, semi permanent in nature that brings it as close to home as where I found it. And there’s a nice museum about forty miles w est of where this was found that would be a great exhibit for a rocks, fossils of the Brooks Range, in Anaktuvuk Pass, Glenn says.  Troll adds,  “So stay tuned.”

Glenn says the Simon Paneak Museum in Anaktuvuk Pass would be just the place for the only helicoprion fossil ever found in Alaska.

Ray Troll’s art exhibit “Buzz Saw Sharks of Long Ago” will be at the Alaska Sea Life Center through September 7.

Categories: Alaska News

Remains of Argentinian Climber Found High on Denali

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:11

The National Park Service reports that the remains of an Argentinian climber have been found at a camp high on Denali.

According to a statement on Thursday, the body of 39-year-old Heraldo Javier Callupan was discovered shortly before midnight on Sunday, May 10th.

The Park Service says Callupan began climbing on May 1st, and was last seen leaving the camp at 14,200 feet to continue his climb. He was discovered four days later by another climbing team.

No other teams were reported in the area between May 6th and May 10th.

The National Park Service says Callupan was discovered lying in the snow, and had no apparent signs of trauma.

Thursday’s statement says he appears to have died from “unknown medical issues.”

Positive identification of Callupan’s remains took several days and coordination with the Argentine Consulate.  The Consulate notified his next of kin on Wednesday.

This is the first death on Denali in the 2015 climbing season.

Categories: Alaska News

Death of 4 in Anchorage Believed To Be Domestic Violence, No Suspect

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 11:55

The Anchorage Police Department has directed substantial resources towards investigating the deaths, according to Sgt. Mike Couturier.

 

The death of four people, two small children and their parents, in a South Anchorage residence appears to be a domestic incident, with no outstanding suspects.

Evidence from the Anchorage Police Department suggests one of the parents is responsible for the deaths, but just a day into the investigation detectives are not yet able to say conclusively what took place.

All four occupants of the rental unit at E. 74th Avenue suffered gunshot wounds, and a firearm was recovered at the crime scene.

“At this point of the investigation we believe this is an isolated domestic violence-related incident, and are not looking for any additional suspects,” Sargent Mike Couturier told reporters during a briefing Thursday.

Detectives don’t yet have a motive in the case, but collected electronic devices to look for clues about what might have taken place.

The family was discovered by the father of one of the victims, Desiree Leandra Gonzales, 27, during a welfare check Wednesday morning after the children’s father, 24-year-old Curtis Young III, did not drop them off as planned earlier in the day.

Couturier said that during police follow-ups in the neighborhood multiple neighbors reported hearing shots during the night between 1:37am and 4am, but no call was made to APD.

The other two victims were identified as Zaiden and Zarielle Young, both under the age of five.

This is a developing story and will be updated as details become available.

Categories: Alaska News

Three People Ill After Eating Fermented Seal Flipper

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 09:49

Three people have contracted botulism after eating separate batches of fermented seal flipper in Koyuk over the weekend.

Alaska’s Division of Public Health says the first case presented signs of the illness on Friday, with two more becoming sick by Monday afternoon. All three have been transported to Anchorage for emergency medical treatment, and officials say an investigation to “identify and monitor” others who may be at risk is currently underway.

Botulism is a life-threatening disease caused by bacteria that can incubate in some traditional Alaska Native foods — including fermented seal flipper and fermented fish heads.

The cases in Koyuk come after a botulism outbreak last fall that killed one and sickened two others near Lower Kalskag in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region. The Alaska Dispatch News reportedthat death was the first to be caused by botulism in Alaska for over a decade.

Officials are urging health care providers to immediately report suspected cases so that they can be treated quickly, and others can be prevented from eating contaminated food. Symptoms of the illness include a dry mouth, blurry vision, dizziness, stomach pain, nausea or difficulty breathing.

Categories: Alaska News

Katmai staff take closer look at F/V Northern Pride

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-05-14 09:46

The F/V Northern Pride ended up on Katmai’s Shelikok Strait coastline. It was spotted May 7, and NPS staff were on the scene May 11.
Credit National Park Service

Staff from Katmai National Park and Preserve were on the scene of the wrecked fishing vessel Northern Pride Monday.

According to KMXT, the 82-foot fishing tender Northern Pride was enroute from Seward to Kodiak on April 21 when it caught fire and capsized northeast of Marmot Island. The three crew abandoned ship and were rescued by the Coast Guard, and theNorthern Pride was believed to have sunk.  The Coast Guard spotted it drifting about a week later, and then it appeared hard aground on Katmai’s Shelikof Strait coastline last Thursday.

Katmai’s Chief of Resource Management Troy Hamon was at the scene of the wreck Monday:

“The Northern Pride is reduced basically just the hull, upside down, stranded on the beach. The structure above the hull, the superstructure, appears to be, in part, in the water. The tops of it are visible at low tide,” said Hamon.

To Hamon’s eye the ship looks like it came further apart after it beached. He says the nearby beach is littered with debris, mainly lumber and other parts from the wooden vessel. There were also some five gallon buckets of oil washed ashore:

“Most of them still sealed,” he said. “I think we only found two buckets that had holes punched in them, and one of them had its lid off and was empty.”

The Northern Pride had a maximum capacity of 4900 gallons of diesel, 200 gallons of hydraulic fluid, and 200 gallons of lube oil, but it’s unclear how much fuel remained on board by the time it beached on Katmai’s coast. According to NPS, an initial aerial survey spotted a small sheen emanating from the vessel. But from the assessment on the site Monday, Hamon says they only found a few traces of spilled oil, and little if no further harm:

“There was some sand that clearly smelled of petroleum and was strongly saturated with it,” said Hamon. “But we didn’t find any animal carcasses that had been oiled. We found one crab in the tide line that was dead, but there was no smell of oil, and no oil on it.”

The Northern Pride’s owner is required to see that it is salvaged, and a company has been hired to get it done. Several agencies, including Katmai and the Coast Guard, will assist in and oversee salvage operations.

Categories: Alaska News

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