APRN Alaska News
Alaska Senators No Fans of Iran Deal
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
The Obama administration faced a tough crowd this morning as it defended its nuclear agreement with Iran in Congress. Both of Alaska’s senators are among the chorus of lawmakers who say the deal is bad for the U.S.
Psychiatric Facility For Vets Opens In Anchorage
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
The state’s first and only facility offering acute and long-term psychiatric care for the military held it’s official opening ceremony in Anchorage on Tuesday.
Conservationists Declare Victory in Court’s Tongass Road Ruling
Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2003 exemption today that would have made it possible to build roads through the Tongass National Forest.
Jim Johnsen Named New University of Alaska President
Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage
The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Tuesday appointed Jim Johnsen as the next university president.
Wrangell Doc Found Guilty of Sharing Child Porn
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
Former Wrangell doctor Greg Salard has been found guilty of distributing and receiving child pornography. After closing arguments in the trial in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, the twelve person jury returned with a verdict after only an hour and a half of deliberations.
Saxman Regains Rural Status
Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan
The Organized Village of Saxman is now officially rural again. The Federal Subsistence Board voted during a work session Tuesday in Anchorage to return communities to the status they held before 2007.
Dalton Highway Gets A Post-Flood Facelift
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A contractor is expected to begin work soon building up a portion of the Dalton Highway severely damaged earlier this year by overflow ice and flooding from the Sag River.
Report: Alaska Falls Short on Curbing LBGT Discrimination In The Workplace
Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau
The University of California, Los Angeles, published a report last week on employment discrimination in Alaska based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
On Love, Adoption and Raising 3 Kids With FASD
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Not many people wish to raise a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. Diane Lohrey is no different. But when she and her husband adopted three children, all later diagnosed with an FASD, they accepted the hardships and the rewards.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2003 exemption today that would have made it possible to build roads through the Tongass National Forest.
Malena Marvin, Director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, says this decision underscores management that’s already happening.
“The Forest Service is already not planning sales in roadless areas and proceeding in the same direction as the rest of the country in preserving these areas for future generations. So we’re really seeing the final legal decision just guaranteeing that direction.”
“Roadless areas” are habitat for endangered species, subsistence hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation, and sacred sites.
In 2001, the Department of Agriculture created the “Roadless Rule,” limiting road construction and logging on nearly 50 million acres of wilderness. But the Tongass National Forest was exempted two years later when George W. Bush was in office. “Economic hardship” for timber-dependent Southeast communities was given as the reason.
Earthjustice attorney Eric Jorgensen says a coalition of conservation groups and Alaska Native tribes challenged that ruling.
“And argued that the agency hadn’t adequately explained its rationale for reversing course and deciding to exempt the Tongass from the protection.”
Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association believes the Forest Service has “monopoly supply” over the timber industry in the region.
“They won’t allow enough timber sales to keep our industry alive and we’re dying… It’s hindering all kinds of development for no good reason other than pacifying environmental groups but we hope to get it overturned eventually.”
The state can petition the Supreme Court to exempt the Tongass from the roadless rule.
Last Wednesday, the University of California, Los Angeles, published a report on employment discrimination in Alaska based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Alaska is home to more than 19,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults, according to a Gallup poll.
The report, published by UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 17 out of Alaska’s 25 largest employers have corporate policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. At least 11 of them list gender identity as a protected class. Some of these employers include Providence Health and Services, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.
The report also cites a 2012 web survey on LGBT discrimination in Anchorage.
According to the Anchorage survey, 44 percent of the respondents had experienced harassment and nearly a fifth had been turned down for a job or promotion. The survey found that transgender people are more at risk for housing and employment discrimination.
The report found that straight male workers’ income was 30 percent higher than gay male workers.
Christy Mallory co-authored the report, and says it took about a month to compile.
The report predicts that if non-discrimination laws were expanded, approximately six complaints of sexual orientation or gender identity employment discrimination would be filed annually in Alaska.
“So, six complaints is pretty low,” Mallory said, “that’s mostly because there’s a smaller population in Alaska than many other states.”
Mallory says their reports focus on the 28 states that don’t offer LGBT legal protection in the workplace.
In a 2011 poll, nearly 80 percent of Alaskans said Congress should pass a law to prohibit LGBT employment discrimination.
In 2002, Gov. Tony Knowles issued an administrative order protecting state employees from employment discrimination and harassment. There are no restrictions on the private sector.
Neither the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights or the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission processes discrimination claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But the Williams Institute says that this discrimination does take place, citing legislative testimony.
Juneau Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl is drafting a city ordinance that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the private sector, including public accommodations and housing. He says he decided to work on the ordinance after local residents discussed the issue with him.
“The recent recognition of marriage equality in all 50 states is a wonderful step forward,” Kiehl said,” but some of these folks were particularly worried that a person could get married on Saturday and show off the photos and be fired on Monday.”
Kiehl thinks broader discrimination protection would be better for everyone involved.
“Those items being included would help us to make Juneau both a welcoming and prosperous community, as folks can live and work here based on their contributions.”
Juneau Rep. Cathy Munoz, a Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, requiring the state commission to handle those complaints. Similar bills have failed twice before.
Not many people wish to raise a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. Diane Lohrey is no different. But when she and her husband adopted three children, all later diagnosed with an FASD, they accepted the hardships and the rewards.
When you walk into the Lohrey household, kids seem to materialize out of thin air.
“We have five of our own and one foster, so six kids right now,” says the mom, Diane Lohrey.
Two are biological, three are adopted and the foster child is through the state Office of Children’s Services.
“And they just called us a few minutes ago to see if we would take an 8-year-old boy, but we have no room right now,” Lohrey says.
They’ve already converted their garage into a comfortable bedroom. At least a dozen foster children have passed through the four-bedroom house since 2005, staying anywhere from one night to 18 months.
The Lohreys’ first adoption was Elena from Russia in 2004.
“Within two days, I knew something was wrong,” she says.
Elena was 21 months old. Lohrey says she was different than the other Russian infants getting adopted.
“She would stare at things. She didn’t know how to play with toys. She would play with a little piece of lint more than she would a toy,” Lohrey explains.
Years later, the Lohreys adopted biological sisters Kylie and Kristyanna from Juneau through OCS.
They receive a stipend from the state for the two girls, who are now ages 5 and 6, and any foster children that pass through. Lohrey is a stay-at-home mom and her husband is a highway engineer.
All three adopted kids were diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders at the FASD clinic in Juneau. Medical professionals at the clinic require some kind of evidence that the biological mother drank during pregnancy in order to do the diagnosis.
That was hard for Lohrey. She pleaded with Kylie and Kristyanna’s biological mom, “‘Go to OCS and write down that you drank or that you drank before you knew you were pregnant. That is the greatest gift you can give these children,’ and she did it,” says Lohrey, crying.
Emilyanne, 21, is one of Lohrey’s biological children. She says the diagnosis opens the doors for getting help, “and for, like, other people to understand, they’re not just bad kids. There’s a logical explanation for why they are the way they are, and how to give more ideas how to help them and not discard them like trash.”
FASD is an umbrella term that’s used to describe a range of disabilities, minor to severe. Lohrey says each of her three adopted kids falls in different areas. Issues include short attention spans, disorganization and being overly trusting. One of her kids has a tendency to lie and steal.
Elena, who’s also been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, doesn’t communicate her own needs.
“She won’t voluntarily say, ‘I need something,’ or ‘I need help,’ or ‘I’m lost.’ So one of the things they told us is that she might need long-term care, that she might not be able to live on her own. And that was like – that hurt,” Lohrey says.
It’s tough to accept that your child has a lifetime disability for which there’s no cure, Lohrey says. In most cases, you can’t tell by looking that someone has an FASD.
“A lot of times, you’re out in the community and your kids are doing something stupid and you’re embarrassed and some people will say really rude things to you, like ‘You need to control your child,’ and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m doing the best I can. You have no idea.’ And sometimes I would love to wear a shirt that says, ‘My child has FASD. Don’t judge us,’” Lohrey says.
The Lohreys did not set out to adopt three kids with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
“And there are days when I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I had never adopted.’ I think that’s with your typical family, too. I think there are days where parents say, ‘I wish I didn’t have any kids.’ I think that’s normal,” Lohrey says.
She admits she may say it more than other parents, but there are times when she can’t imagine not adopting.
“Each little child that you adopt, each little child that you foster, hopefully you’re giving them something that will make this world a better place and better understanding and teach more empathy,” Lohrey says.
Lohrey sometimes blames the biological parents, but she knows that’s pointless. She says you can’t change the past. You can only focus on the here and now, and the future.
The Obama administration faced a tough crowd this morning as it defended its nuclear agreement with Iran in Congress. Both of Alaska’s senators are among the chorus of lawmakers who say the deal is bad for the U.S. and the region.
In the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican members were ready to pounce. Chairman John McCain of Arizona said the agreement would pave the way to a nuclear Iran and allow it to go on “shopping spree” for other weapons. Four Cabinet secretaries and the chairman of the joint chiefs defended the deal, saying it would restrict Iran and let the world know if it were cheating. If so, they said, the U.S. would snap economic sanctions back in place, and, through the U.N., trigger automatic international sanctions, too.
Three hours into the hearing, it was Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan’s turn to question the witnesses. Sullivan challenged Secretary of State John Kerry on a term “snap-back” sanctions.
D.S.: Is there a term called the snap-back provision in the agreement?
J.K.: I don’t think it’s specifically —
— No there isn’t. the word ‘snap back’ is not in the agreement …
–No but it’s created by —
— Let me make my point. I have a lot of questions and I don’t have a lot of time.
Sullivan says the term “snap back” is somewhat deceitful. He says he knows from his service in the George W. Bush Administration, isolating Iran economically wasn’t easy.
“That was a slog,” Sullivan said. “That wasn’t a snap. That took years to get countries to divest out of the Iranian economy. It’ll take years to do it again.”
Sullivan also suggested the deal leaves the U.S. impotent to punish Iran with sanctions for non-nuclear aggression it might commit.
“An act of terrorism happens. It’s big,” Sullivan said, setting up a hypotherical. “They kill more American troops. They blow up a consulate. It’s likely, I think it’s likely, that they’re going to do that in the next 10 years. … We impose sanctions … . This is our power!”
But, Sullivan told Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the agreement says Iran will treat the reimposition of sanctions as grounds to stop holding up its end of the bargain.
–If we ever, ever impose so-called snap-back sanctions, isn’t the deal over? Where am I wrong on that question?
–Well, Senator, we would snap sanctions back once they violated the agreement …
Sullivan cut him off. He said he wasn’t talking about Iran violating the nuclear agreement, but other bad acts by Iran.
“Answer the question!” Sullivan insisted. “You didn’t answer it in the closed setting. You’re not answering it now!”
Secretary Lew’s take is that not all sanctions would end the agreement. Lew says the U.S. could still punish Iran for non-nuclear terrorism while leaving the deal in place.
Sullivan’s approach was in keeping with the tone of the hearing. It ended with pointed questions from two Republican candidates for president – Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz was especially testy in asking Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz about a certain type of nuclear assault.
“It could kill tens of millions of Americans. Do you agree with that?” Cruz asked.
“It would depend obviously on the specifics,” Moniz said.
Cruz tried to pin him down, then called him out for equivocating.
“You’re refusing to answer the question,” he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski doesn’t serve on committees that have taken up the Iran nuclear agreement. She’s been busy crafting a national energy bill, but she’s been briefed on the Iran deal and says she intends to read it for herself. So far, Murkowski is highly skeptical.
“What I am hearing, what I am reading is giving me no greater assurance about the soundness of this agreement,” she said.
Murkowski says an alternative might be expanded sanctions.
“The president is trying to suggest that it is this or war. I reject that,” she said.
Congress has until late September to review the deal. Opponents seem to have the votes to pass a resolution of disapproval, but it’s less likely they can override a presidential veto.
A divided federal appeals court has affirmed a lower-court decision that would reinstate prohibitions on road-building and timber harvests in roadless areas of the nation’s largest national forest.
In a 6-5 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not give a reasoned explanation for reversing course and creating a special exemption to the so-called “Roadless Rule” for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The majority opinion ruled the Tongass exemption invalid.
In a dissent, 9th Circuit Judge Milan Smith Jr. wrote that elections have legal consequences. In this case, Smith wrote, the department followed President George W. Bush’s policy instructions in amending the Clinton-era Roadless Rule in 2003. Smith argued the department was not “arbitrary and capricious” in making the decision.
The Bethel City Council last night took one step towards a possible return to local option status. By a 4-to-3 vote, they introduced an ordinance, which, if passed by council next month would let voters would decide in October whether to allow local alcohol sales solely through a city-run liquor store.
A possible vote on local option comes as the city appeals the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s rejection of their formal protest of Bethel Native Corporation’s liquor store application. The surprise move by the ABC board led Council Member Chuck Herman to propose having the city be the only liquor seller in town.
“It put our status as a community into question, it’s unclear if now we’re going to be able to protest anything at all. It’s unclear if the advisory vote is going to matter. Those are the reasons. And secondary to that, we’ll be able to fund more police if necessary, we’ll have extra revenue to work with,” said Herman.
Local option includes provisions for additional local control, like limiting sales to residents of Bethel, that aren’t possible under private sales. The state liquor board will be here in October for a public hearing, following a new alcohol advisory vote expected to influence whether the council protests future liquor license. But that’s not guaranteed as four council seats are up for election.
Bethel resident Dave Trantham spoke out against the council advancing local option.
“If the people of Bethel want to go back into local option, they can start the same type of initiative that we had to get out of local option. It should be coming from us peasants, the grassroots, it should not be coming from you,” said Trantham.
Council Member Heather Pike reminded the council of what drove citizens out of of local option including the limits on importation and a database tracking purchases.
“I myself, I was tired of being treated like a criminal. I felt like I was a criminal when we were under local option, like ‘Momma can I go to the store?,’” said Pike.
Bethel left local option in 2009 and citizens voted again in 2010 to stay out while still rejecting local sales. That developed a liquor status that allows for unlimited importations and no local sales. It’s a middle ground that some call a compromise and others say creates a bootleggers paradise. A local option vote would change that reality. The path to the Bethels future status remaines uncharted.
Vice Mayor Leif Albertson was concerned about a very complicated ballot on October 6th.
“If someone’s first choice is to stay the way we are now, I’m not sure how they should they vote on this in the election. Should they vote no, no, no, no, yes local option or no, no, no, no, no local option and then possibly end up with private sales which are less restrictive?” said Albertson.
Gearing up for October, Council Member Zach Fansler has lost faith in in the board that has the final word on liquor licenses.
“Will they allow us to keep that status? We don’t know, they are judge, jury and executioner. They’re going to come out in October and they’re going to be the arbiter of what is best for Bethel. They have overstepped their bounds, they have put us as a community at odds with one another. They should never, ever, ever, have thought that was ok,” said Fansler.
A public hearing is scheduled for August 11th. The council can decide then whether to send the local option question to voters.
The Organized Village of Saxman is now officially rural again.
The Federal Subsistence Board voted during a work session Tuesday in Anchorage to return communities to the status they held before 2007. That’s the year the board decided to make Saxman non-rural, an action that Saxman residents and other Native leaders have fought against ever since.
Theo Matuskowitz works for the Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage. He says the board took three actions yesterday (Tuesday) related to rural determination.
The first adopted a proposed rule that simplifies the rural-determination review process. The third action starts the ball rolling on options for determining communities’ rural statuses in the future.
The middle action is the one that makes an immediate difference to Saxman.
“They decided to go back to the pre-2007 final rule. Because, basically, everyone seemed pretty happy with the non-rural determinations there. It was after the 2007 final rule that people expressed unahappiness with their action. So, by the board deciding to go back to the pre-2007 rule, this makes Saxman rural once again.”
Matuskowitz says there are still some administrative actions that need to be taken before the action is published, but Tuesday’s vote makes it official.
Rural status for an Alaska Native community allows residents to subsistence hunt, fish and gather traditional foods and other materials.
A contractor is expected to begin work soon building up a portion of the Dalton Highway severely damaged earlier this year by overflow ice and flooding from the Sag River. It’s part of plan to armor the major North Slope oil field supply conduit against future ice and flood impacts.
Flooding and resulting washouts made the norther section of the Dalton Highway impassable for over 2 weeks in late May and early June before emergency repairs enabled the road to re-open. Now the State department of transportation is making upgrades, like elevating the road to prevent future damage, by adding a lot material to the road bed. DOT project manager Michael Lund says it’s taken much of the summer just to mine gravel for the work south of Deadhorse.
Dalton Gravel: Q:”…
Lund calculates that the work will require about one hundred thousand truckloads of gravel. All the material is needed for a project that’s been extended 4 miles and raised an additional 7 feet in the worst ice and flood impacted area.
Dalton Extend: Q:”…
The changes have upped the cost of the project from 27 million dollars to 43 million. Lund says the investment will protect the hardest hit section from future trouble, but other areas could suffer the same fate.
Dalton Unclear: Q:”…
Lund adds that the DOT will stockpile riprap and gravel for readily access to make future flood repairs quickly. Upgrade work on the next section of the Dalton, from milepost 405 to 414 is scheduled for next summer. Longer term projects are aimed at upgrading and paving the entire last 50 miles of the Dalton Highway.
Former Wrangell doctor Greg Salard has been found guilty of distributing and receiving child pornography. The 12-person jury returned Tuesday with a verdict in U.S. District Court after an hour and a half of deliberations.
A third, lesser charge for possession was set aside, because receipt and possession of child pornography would essentially amount to double jeopardy, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Reardon said. Consideration of the “lesser-included” possession charge was dependent on a not guilty verdict on receipt.
Reardon said they were happy with the verdict. He said they felt they had a strong case with overwhelming evidence of Salard’s file sharing.
He said it’s not unusual for such cases to be built on circumstantial evidence rather than catching the perpetrator red-handed with the images still on their computer.
“We’re seeing more cases in which people download, view and delete,” Reardon said afterward. “High speed internet makes it practical along with the ubiquitousness of the images. They’re not hard to find.”
“We use fragments and footprints to build cases,” said Reardon, explaining how investigators dive deeper into a computer’s operating system to find a circumstantial trail of pornography sharing over peer-to peer networks.
Over the course of the trial that started last week, jurors received a crash course in peer-to-peer file sharing, data files, hash values, IP addresses, jump lists, program registries, temporary files, the resilience of deleted files and unallocated space on a hard drive. Jurors last week were briefly shown child pornography images that corresponded with video hash values found on Salard’s computer.
Jurors began deliberations after closing arguments at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday and returned with a verdict at 1:15 p.m.
Salard will be extradited to Louisiana to face a charge of aggravated rape after his sentencing in Juneau on Oct. 9. He faces a sentence of 5 to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each child pornography charge. He could be on supervised release the rest of his life or for as little as 5 years.Closing arguments
Salard was arrested Oct. 15, 2014, after officers searched his Wrangell home and seized his laptop computer. Investigators never found child porn in the form of videos or images on his computer. Salard started a program to wipe the computer’s hard drive when agents arrived at his house.
Instead, federal prosecutors said there’s an extensive digital trail showing how Salard downloaded child porn through various peer-to-peer file sharing programs like Ares, and played them within Ares, Windows or VLC media players before deleting the files. He also used various disk wiping programs like CCleaner multiple times to erase all traces of those deleted files.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Reardon said during closing arguments Tuesday that the evidence is overwhelming. He pointed to a series of important digital breadcrumbs that chronicle hundreds of pieces of pornography that Salard downloaded or shared between February and October of last year, or show how some of the files were interrupted during download. They even indicate the very last video that he played on his computer, less than two hours before agents executed a search warrant at his house.
“Be careful not to get run over by the freight train of evidence,” Reardon told the jury. “Be careful to not get to steamrolled by PTHC,” he said, referring to the pre-teen hard core acronym found in a key Ares data listing of downloaded files.
Reardon started his closing arguments in absolute silence that lasted three and a half minutes. He started the timer on his phone, gathered his notes, got up and slowly walked to turn off courtroom lights and then to the podium to put on a microphone. He then deleted some stock photos on a laptop he’d been using for the trial, shut down a trial presentation program and then started up a PowerPoint presentation for his closing argument.
He finally broke his silence by saying if he could do all that in less than 4 minutes, then it’s not unreasonable to think that Greg Salard spent 8 minutes destroying evidence and purging his computer before opening the door to federal agents on the day he was arrested.
During her closing argument, Assistant Federal Public Defender Cara McNamara never explicitly denied that there was ever pornography on Salard’s computer. However, she did emphasize that no pornography of any kind was ever found on Salard’s computer when it was seized by the FBI.
Instead, McNamara continued with her theme made during opening statements that questioned the qualifications of the case’s principal investigator, FBI Special Agent Anthony Peterson. She said he had no previous knowledge or experience in the interpretation of information.
McNamara believed that Peterson failed to follow best practices by immediately stopping the hard drive wipe and beginning an on-site examination of the computer, possibly altering the data. McNamara also said Peterson failed to properly document his human role in the investigation, such as not getting screenshots of a largely automated file sharing program and losing an important report from a forensic examination of Salard’s computer after a thumbdrive was corrupted.
“The Government is asking: ‘Well, just trust us,’” McNamara said. “That’s not good enough.”
It’s the last week in July and in Haines, that means time for the Southeast Alaska State Fair. The annual event draws crowds and entries from around the state and beyond.
Colorado-based band the Motet is one of nine headliners at the 47th annual fair. It runs Thursday through Sunday and the Motet hit the main stage on Saturday night. Vocalist Jans Ingber says this is the band’s first time playing the fair, and they are up for an adventure.
“Word got out that we were going to be up in Alaska. Because you know for some of us – it’s a journey to get up there. We play Salmonfest the night before we fly on three different planes to get to Haines,” said Ingber, adding that fair goers can expect some seriously funky dance music from the band.
Live music is a key feature of the fair – over 35 acts will play on three stages. They include local Haines and Skagway performers, and artists from Southeast and the Lower 48.
Fair Executive Director Jessica Edwards says one of the new offerings this year is a Sunday morning garden tour.
“We’re trying to dig in a little bit to the agricultural mission of our organizations. So getting people into people’s gardens and seeing what they’re doing, how they’re growing…there will be presentations by the growers…and an opportunity for people to see what other people are doing and what other methods are successful for them,” Edwards said.
Another new event is the Singer-Songwriter Showcase on Saturday. This is the chance for musicians to show off their talent in a less competitive setting than the juried Singer-Songwriter Competition held on Friday. The Southeast’s Got Talent show happens Thursday evening, with grand prizes of $400 for both the adult and youth categories. Edwards says that show is a fair highlight.
“I think our limitations are no dangerous acts, no animals and no fire. But beyond that…just anything goes. That’s been a super popular,” said Edwards.
Other fair contests include the Unleash Your Beast Adventure Run, the Wearable Art Review, the Haines Hustle 5K, 10K and Trail Half-Marathon, the Logging Show and the Fisherman’s Rodeo. There will be separate tournaments involving horseshoes, volleyballs and disc golf…and contests for the most loveable dog and best fiddle players.
And of course, you can’t have a state fair without exhibits of animals, vegetables, foods, arts and crafts.
“We’re really excited that we have some entries from around Southeast that we haven’t had before,” said Judy Heinmiller, who oversees the home arts exhibits. Entries for the beer and wine and preserved foods are already submitted and judged, but the baked goods entries don’t arrive until Wednesday to ensure maximum freshness. So far, she’s excited by the variety of preserved foods….
“We’ve got pickled beach asparagus…bull kelp pickles…a lot of dehydrated herbs,” Heinmiller said.
Ruth Headley is the Fair’s town representative for Whitehorse. She says entries from Yukon quilters make the fair an international event this year.
“We have really never entered before. Someone came and invited us and said why don’t you enter and we went, we don’t know why we don’t enter. And so this is our first year and we managed to 23 I think entries. And next year we’re going to do even better,” said Headley.
Cyni Waddington is the town representative for Wrangell.
“Well, it’s kind of exciting because we just recently started doing our own fair to try to get more interest and we got some really cool exhibits this year…and then we will just box them all up from there and get them shipped to Haines…so we try to make it as easy as possible to get a good showing there,” said Waddington.
Sarah Lawrie from Sitka says she’s pleased with her town’s submissions, which include two wearable art dresses. One is made entirely of candy and the other is a 1920s-style outfit fashioned from wooden clothespins.
The exhibits will be displayed in the fairground’s Harriett Hall.
“During the fair, it’s super fun to go into the hall and just see everything. Some people are interested in seeing what won, some people are just interested in looking at what people create…it’s a nice way to get away from the hubbub action of the rides, the music – you can go in and be quiet and look at people’s art and creations,” said Edwards.
The hubbub arrives on Thursday, July 30th, starting at noon. Admission for all four days is $40 for adults. Senior and youth get in at half price. A shuttle for out-of-towners will be running from the ferry dock to the fairgrounds throughout each day.
Developers of a mine on a Taku River tributary have stopped work after an on-site protest by a British Columbia tribal government. The Taku enters the ocean near Juneau.
The Hat gold and copper mining prospect is near the Sheslay River, a little more than 100 miles east of Alaska’s capital city. The Sheslay feeds into the Taku, a salmon-rich river used by commercial, sports and subsistence fishermen on the Alaska side of the border.
Vancouver-based Doubleview Capital Corp. has conducted exploratory drilling at the site for about two years. This summer, it ran into opposition.
“It’s just a very important place to our people,” says Chad Day, president of the Tahltan Central Council, which represents about 1,800 people in or from northwest British Columbia.
He says Tahltans have lived in the Sheslay area and some are buried there. He says it’s also an important place for hunting and fishing.
“That’s why we’re taking the position that we won’t be supporting any kind of exploration or mining activities in that area now or into the future,” he says.
Day and a group of Tahltan elders visited Doubleview’s Hat prospect drilling site earlier this summer. They spoke to workers, including tribal members, as well as company officials, about their objections.
“Thereafter the president and CEO made a commitment that the Tahltan workers would pack up and leave and that the camp would be demobilized and that he would aim to work with us more moving forward,” he says.
Doubleview officials did not immediately respond to interview requests. But a company press release acknowledges the meeting, as well as the shutdown, which it calls temporary.
In the release CEO Farshad Shirvani says, quote, “Our aim is to resume drilling as quickly as possible. … We are consulting with our legal counsel to determine the best steps to take to allow drilling to resume.”
Plans for the mine, plus at least two others in the Sheslay area, have caught the attention of critics downstream.
“The mines themselves create the usual worries of acid-mine drainage into a major and very productive Taku tributary,” says Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.
He says that could damage the river’s fisheries, especially sockeye salmon, which spawn and hatch in the area. He also points to plans to reopen an old access road.
“It’s this issue of the road becoming a can-opener for the region and leading to very, aggressive fast-paced development in an area that’s very critical for salmon habitat and First Nations traditional hunting and fishing as well,” Zimmer says.
The Tahltans are not the only tribal group with claims to the area. The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has an extensive land-use plan negotiated with the provincial government that includes the Sheslay river and valley.
That plan shows at least part of the area open to some development. Taku Tlingit leaders could not be immediately reached for comment.
The British Columbia’s Ministry of Mines issued Doubleview an exploration permit about three years ago. The agency says that came after consulting with the Tahltan and Taku First Nations.
Tahltan Central Council President Chad Day says that’s not the case.
He says Tahltan leaders are not opposed to all resource development. They negotiated an agreement this year with Imperial Metals’ Red Chris Mine, in the Stikine River watershed.
“It’s a controversial project for some people. But at the end of the day, we put all the terms past the Tahltan Nation and 87 percent of the nation supported the Red Chris co-management agreement,” Day says.
The mine began full production recently. Day says Tahltans are working at the mine site.
Imperial Metals also owns the Mount Polley Mine in central British Columbia, where a tailings dam collapsed last August. That sent billions of gallons of water and silt into nearby waterways. The Red Chris dam follows a similar design, though there are differences.
The University of Alaska Board of Regents has named a new university president after a months-long search for the right candidate.
The Alaska Dispatch News reports the university announced Tuesday that Jim Johnsen would replace retiring University of Alaska President Pat Gamble. Johnsen, who serves as senior vice president of Alaska Communications, will take over as president on Sept. 1.
Johnsen was selected as the sole candidate for the university’s top position in June. The board spent a month meeting with various groups across the state as they accepted public comment on Johnsen.
Earlier this month, Johnsen said he would focus on strengthening existing programs at the university.
UA said in a release that Johnsen’s five-year contract will earn him an annual salary of $325,000.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey earthquake site, the quake occurred just after 6:35 p.m.
Some of the most intense shaking was felt on the Kenai Peninsula…about a half hour into the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting.
It was still rocking almost a minute later.
“Just guessing here- it was probably felt by a majority of Alaskans, so that makes it notable,” says Michael West, a state seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake Center. “It occurred fairly deep in the earth, about 75 miles below the surface and because of that, it was felt over a very wide area. On the flip side, because it was deep, that means that nobody was right next to the earthquake. That is, even if you were right on top of it, you were still 75 miles away.”
As a result, the shaking wasn’t nearly as strong as it would have been had it been shallower.
The epicenter was 44 miles south-southwest of Redoubt Volcano on the west side of Cook Inlet. It was almost due west of Anchor Point, near Pedro and Chinitna Bays.
West says it’s not directly related to the recent magnitude 6.9 quake in the Aleutians. That one was shallow and has had vigorous aftershocks. This quake has had few aftershocks and none were very significant.
He says this is a fairly normal type of quake for Alaska, though it was larger than usual, which makes it notable.
“From a plate tectonics perspective, the Pacific plate, that is the area of earth that is the Pacific Ocean is converging on Alaska,” says West. “The two are moving together a couple of inches per year. In this competition between the mainland of Alaska and the Pacific plate, Alaska wins and the Pacific plate is being thrust down into the earth in a process that we refer to as subduction.”
The stress caused by that thrusting manifests itself as an earthquake.
One aspect of this particular quake that had social media abuzz was its length. It was felt for more than 45 seconds in some places, which puts it at the upper end for many common seismic events.
West says the actual rupture in the earth was over and done with in just a few seconds. But the resulting seismic waves bounce around and reverberate.
“An analogy we’ve used this evening is like a crowd in a stadium, echoes that bounce around and around and around. And the seismic waves do the same thing. Typically, the further away you are, the longer you may feel that shaking,” says West.
West says his office received reports of dishes falling off of shelves and lots of shaking, but hadn’t heard any reports of injuries or serious damage.
So, while it was an evening surprise for much of the state, its effects luckily weren’t severe.
A woman is dead after shooting herself in front of a Kenai Peninsula correctional facility on Monday.
The woman has been identified as 31-year old Amanda Bee of North Pole.
She died Monday just after 9 p.m. at Providence Medical Center in Seward.
Alaska State Troopers from Crown Point on the Kenai Peninsula were dispatched at about 5 p.m. Monday in response to a woman with a gun outside the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward.
“The woman pulled up around the first traffic blockade and onto an area right next to the parking lot. She called 911 essentially saying, if you don’t release the convicted killers, I’m going to kill myself,” says Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.
Peters says less than 10 minutes after the call went through, Bee shot herself in the head. Troopers say there were several correctional officers who witnessed the incident. The officers and correctional facility nurses reportedly initiated CPR immediately.
“Unfortunately, they were not able to revive her. Our Troopers were not even able to make it on scene yet before it unfolded,” says Peters.
She was transported to Providence Seward Medical Center. She was still breathing at the time of transport and died later that evening at the hospital.
Next of kin has been notified. The State Medical Examiner was notified and requested an autopsy. An investigation is underway.
Nome’s role in the future of Arctic shipping was the main topic of discussion at the most recent meeting of the Nome Port Commission. With the summer shipping season in full swing, harbormaster Lucas Stotts said the port had a busy July, emphasizing that, “both docks are completely jam-packed full until August 2.”
And vessel traffic is only expected to rise. A report published by the US Army Corps of Engineers in March of this year tentatively selected Nome as the site of a proposed deep-draft port, the first Arctic port of its kind in the country. The project is estimated to cost nearly $211 million in total, with the city on the hook for a possible $113 million.
City officials say much depends on the Port’s capacity to attract funding partners who have a vested interest in Arctic development. But securing those potential partners is easier said than done. With ongoing plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, petroleum giant Shell Oil would have been an attractive partner for Nome, though the company took its business elsewhere this summer.
“It struck me right in the face that Shell Oil is doing logistics out of Kotzebue and not Nome,” said Commissioner Charlie Lean.
Lean was disappointed that Shell passed over Nome in its planning for this year’s drilling season. He cited Nome’s transportation infrastructure and longer shipping season as major selling points for the port and urged the city to market itself more aggressively in the future.
Port project manager Joy Baker said, despite this year’s disappointment, the door with Shell isn’t shut completely. “We’re still on their radar,” Baker stressed, “but they’re going to run their small crew changes out of Kotzebue… taking advantage of the closer airport to their working location.”
Meanwhile, the Port of Nome is focusing its energy on expanding local services, with construction of the Middle Dock already underway. The project will add another 200-foot dock, allowing the port to accommodate two to three additional mid-sized vessels.
Baker updated the commission at the recent meeting, explaining that, “things are going real well, real smooth, mother nature’s been very cooperative.” She said progress overall is rapid, adding the look of the dock “changes every day, considerably.”
Baker also introduced plans for a possible boatlift at the mouth of the Snake River. Because Nome does not currently have the capacity to remove larger vessels from the water, they’re forced to travel south to ice-free harbors such as Juneau or Seattle for the winter. Baker debuted two concept drawings for a possible lift, with initial bids ranging from $4.3 to $4.5 million. While she emphasized that the concept is still abstract, she said it’s never too early to think about Nome’s future.
“I think it’s another piece of infrastructure that is on the horizon for Nome,” suggested Baker, “I just don’t know when that magical time is to build it.”
When it comes to future planning, outgoing commissioner Iura Leahu commended Baker for keeping her “eye to the future.” In his final comments, Leahu thanked his fellow commissioners for their continuing work and expressed his hope of seeing those efforts pay off down the road. “I think that there is a future here for the city of Nome,” Leahu insisted, “and I think we might be able see a port here that is going to make a difference in this region.”
Much of this hope rests on the US Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to move forward with a deep-draft Arctic port in Nome. After reviewing all inter-agency and public comments on the “tentatively selected” plan, a final decision is anticipated by December 2015.
A Cathay Pacific flight en route from Hong Kong to Los Angeles Wednesday morning has made an emergency landing at an Aleutian Islands military airport.
Airlines officials say smoke detected in the aircraft caused the Boeing 777 to divert to the Eareckson Air Station on the island of Shemya.
Officials say the aircraft is now safely on the ground and all passengers and crew are safe.
Messages to Eareckson have not been returned as of Wednesday morning.
The airline says preliminary information shows that 276 passengers and 18 crew were on-board the airline’s Flight 884. The flight was operated jointly with American Airlines and South America’s LAN Airlines.
Defendants in the Sockeye wildfire case were no-shows in state court in Palmer Tuesday morning. The state is seeking a conviction against Greg Imig and Amy DeWitt, who are charged with eight misdemeanor counts ranging from illegal burning to reckless endangerment as a result of the fire that consumed more than 50 homes in the Willow area. Imig and DeWill waived arraignment late Monday. Their attorneys filed not guilty pleas for both.
No victims of the fire appeared in court Tueaday, although Sherese Miller, a paralegal with the Palmer District Attorney’s office, says the state is trying to locate them.
“Anyone affected by the fire, I need them to be contacting the District Attorney’s office. So that they can give us their information. We are obviously reaching out, but it is very hard. We have been reaching out by sending letters. We are through about thirty of them. But this takes immense research, because a lot of the properties were just rec properties. There were no buildings on them.”
Miller says restitution for victims can be ordered by the court up to ninety days after the end of the trial. The next proceeding is a pre-trial hearing set for Imig and DeWitt on August 21 in Palmer.
Sockeye Fire Defendants Plead Not Guilty
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Defendants in the Sockeye wildfire case were no-shows in state court in Palmer on Tuesday morning. The state is seeking a conviction against Greg Imig and Amy DeWitt, who are charged with eight misdemeanor counts ranging from illegal burning to reckless endangerment as a result of the fire that consumed more than 50 homes in the Willow area.
Matanuska River Erosion Continues to Threaten Homes
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The dramatic surge of the Matanuska River during the past few days has pushed families from some homes and is continuing to threaten others. As KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer reports, although a few remaining homeowners are in a wait and see mode, one venerable homesteading couple says, they won’t budge.
Without Troopers, Girdwood Looks For New Law Enforcement
Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage
At the end of the year, Alaska State Troopers say they will close their post in Girdwood. The town’s quest to court a new source of law enforcement is off to a rocky start.
Anchorage’s Homeless Community Endures 6th Death in 2 Weeks
Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage
Another member of Anchorage’s homeless community died early Tuesday morning. It’s the sixth such death in the last two weeks.
Murkowski Fends Off Thorny Add-Ons To Energy Bill
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s big energy policy bill, if it passes, would be the first since 2007. Several national energy bills have washed up on the rocks since then. Murkowski’s strategy is to keep controversies out of the package, and it was tested at a Senate Energy Committee meeting this morning.
Wet Weather Gives Firefighters The Edge
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The statewide wildfire response that’s been operating at peak for more than a month is ramping down. Wet weather over areas of the interior has calmed many fires.
As Subsistence Foods Become More Scarce, Kivalina Welcomes A New Store
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
It’s been a festive day in the northwest Arctic community of Kivalina today as residents celebrate the grand opening of a new store. It’s an end to eight months of struggle with limited supplies after Kivalina’s store burned to the ground December 5th.
Teachers’ Field Trip: Lessons from the Mendenhall Glacier
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
“Teacher training” usually means spending time in a library with textbooks and PowerPoints. But for 13 Alaska educators earlier this month, it meant hopping on a helicopter, donning crampons and toting an ice axe on top of the Mendenhall Glacier as part of Discovery Southeast’s Teacher Expedition.
Watzituya: Naknek’s One-Stop Shop for Nets, Coffee, Counseling
Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham
Each of the hundreds of vessels in the Bristol Bay fleet burns through several nets catching sockeye each summer. Many rely on net hanging shops to assemble their sturdy gillnets.
The dramatic surge of the Matanuska River during the past few days has pushed families from some homes and is continuing to threaten others. Although a few remaining homeowners are in a wait and see mode, one venerable homesteading couple says, they won’t budge. Meanwhile, down the road, water pushes up against the back deck of a little yellow house. The woman inside won’t talk to a reporter, but she is obviously planning to move her things into a trailer waiting at the front door.
Department of Transportation trucks are scattered along the Glenn Highway North of Sutton, while surveyors pull equipment out to the roadside and inspectors walk the right of way. Late Monday, DOT agreed to send in emergency crews to the area, to start immediate work to protect the Glenn from the spreading waters of the Matanuska River.
Three homes have been abandoned, one has tumbled in, and the waters have reached the back porches of three others.
Mike Pearson lives in a barn style green house close to the highway. But the blue grey water is puddling up in his back yard. I wade across to where he stands looking toward the river.
“You’re not evacuating, I take it?”
“No, not yet. But my four neighbors have just been devastated.”
Pearson says he’s hanging tough for a while, at least. He looks at the water rushing through trees on the property, and points to where the river bank used to be.
“You can see how the pressure is pushing the water up. That’s the river water behind us, right here. Look how far down the river is there. So you can see the amount of pressure that is being pushed into this.”
“Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
“Not this bad. I’ve seen a little water, seen the river come up, but nothing this high.”
Pearson has lived on his property for 35 years. He says the braided river is looking for a natural place to go, and glacial melt is feeding the waters.
Pearson says when he moved in, his house was about a mile from the river, and that erosion has slowly eaten the land away. He blames both Mother Nature and the dykes that the Matanuska Susitna Borough built in the river years ago to try to control its flow. He says he’s still got twenty feet of ground left, and that give him time to think about it.
Further up the highway, Ed Musial ,92, and wife Val, 88, are calmly eating breakfast when I knock on the door. Their well kept home looks high and dry from the road, but on closer inspection, there is very little dry ground between their back door and the edge of the bank.
They have lived in the area since the nineteen fifties, and in the home they built in 1982 since then. They invite me in. “I’ve still got three feet of land, so I’m not going anywhere,” Val says.
“Tell me, what your plan is, are you going to stay here?” I ask.
“We plan to die here,we built this house.” Val answers.
“We are not going no place.” Ed adds.
“We are going to die here.” Val asserts.
“How much land do think is between that door and the cliff?”
“Three feet.” Val says again.
“So you still have three feet of land? Doesn’t that bother you?”
“No. This house ain’t going nowhere.” Ed is confident the house will stand.
Ed Musial used to work construction. He says his concrete block basement is so heavy the river won’t budge it. He shows me the immaculately kept basement, blue cinder block walls and a furnace room that’s tidier than most people’s living rooms. But the Musials, too, say dykes put in by the Borough in the nineteen eighties could have caused the current problem. Val says the river’s rampage is nothing new.
“It’s been happening for years,” she says.
“Since ’86.” Ed adds.
“Ever since they blew out those dykes, the river has been coming in and coming in and coming in. The last couple of days, those people down there (at mile 64) really got it. But we have been fighting this river since ’86.”
“You don’t have a whole lot to fight from. I mean, I can see the river through the back door,” I say.
“Well, we used to, we used to.” Val says.
“How far was it?”
” I used to have a fifty foot close line in the back yard, and then we had a one lane road back there, and then there was an embankment, and then the yellow creek, the salmon spawning stream, then there was woods and the river was way the hell over there.”
Val says, they will hang on to the three feet of land between their house and the river. Neighbors have offered them shelter. They have daughter in Eagle River. But they plan to tough it out.
Borough officials announced today that those affected by the river erosion still have time to file for a federal buyout program that could pay them for their property.