Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard began a week-long probe of the grounding of the drilling rig Kulluk last New Year’s Day on an island south of Kodiak. The rig was being towed to Seattle when it broke loose in bad weather and ended up going aground. APRN’s Steve Heimel was at the hearing today at the Anchorage Assembly chambers.
Residents of Circle are cleaning up after an ice jam on the Yukon River caused extensive flooded in the community on Sunday.
Circle First Chief Jessica Boyle says the ice started breaking up around 3 a.m. Sunday, jammed downstream and sent water over a 25 foot seawall along the Yukon River.
“Came over the seawall, came up onto the roads,” Boyle said. “It just totally engulfed the whole downtown area of Circle.”
Boyle says about 15 homes were flooded, some getting as much as 3 feet of water.
“Most of the houses in the downtown area did get water in it and then a couple came off the foundations and floated into the woods behind where their house originally was,” she said.
Boyle says a community hall on higher ground, is providing housing for some while others have taken refuge with friends whose homes were not flooded. She says the community of about 80 people is a mess.
“There’s ice chunks on the roads, it’s pretty muddy, pretty messy, there’s a strong smell of diesel and gas in the downtown area,” Boyle said. “Our church got flooded, our clinic got flooded. It looks pretty rough.”
Circle’s electric generator is working and Boyle says the community has a 5,000 gallon holding tank that’s providing fresh water, but there’s concern the city well may be contaminated. She says community leaders are communicating with agencies, including the Tanana Chiefs Conference, the Red Cross for recovery assistance.
A flood warning has also been issued downstream on at Fort Yukon.
National Weather service hydrologist Ed Plumb says aerial surveillance indicates the village will likely experience high water.
“We’re expecting the break up front to push past Fort Yukon sometime later today and with all this water coming down the river,” Plumb said. “Low lying areas of Fort Yukon will likely see water go over the bank.”
Plumb says the big concern is that strong ice below Ft. Yukon will result in a jam.
Pavlof Volcano continued to erupt over the weekend, spitting a plume of ash that reached 22,000 feet into the sky.
That’s not enough to affect international air traffic. But it was enough to cancel air service to the village of Sand Point. A PenAir representative confirms that planes haven’t made it to Sand Point since Thursday, but declined to say exactly why.
Ashfall in Sand Point airport is probably to blame, according to Rick Wessels. He’s a geophysicist for the Alaska Volcano Observatory, and he’s monitoring Pavlof, which has been sprinkling ash on Sand Point all weekend.
“Even if it doesn’t ruin the engine, it is hard on the air filters and so on,” Wessels says. “It requires a lot more maintenance.”
Sand Point resident David Osterback says he didn’t notice any ash until Sunday morning, when he woke up to an accumulation outside his house.
“Easiest place to see it was on the windshield of the vehicles — kind of a light brownish in color, so it kind of blended in with most everything,” says Osterback. “But it definitely was ash. It was a pretty good dusting — that’s for sure.”
Now the forecast calls for northerly winds, which means the southern-lying Sand Point may get some relief. But since Pavlof is still spewing steam and ash, that means the communities of Nelson Lagoon and Port Moller are now in the line of fire.
Merle Brandell is a water plant operator and wildlife guide in Nelson Lagoon. He saw the forecasts, and got on the community’s VHF radio band Sunday night to send out a warning about the volcano.
“A lot of people put fuel in their house and stocked up on water and groceries,” Brandell says. “They’re prepared to stay indoors the whole time if this does happen.”
Ash is expected to fall on Nelson Lagoon and Port Moller throughout Monday.
Nearly 50 fishermen were cited for illegal salmon fishing last June. Half of them pled not guilty and have been fighting it in court ever since.
In recent weeks, the fishermen had been waiting to hear a decision on whether they have the religious right to subsistence fish, even during state closures.
The trial resumed May 20 in Bethel and the fishermen packed into the courtroom with some people left standing in the hallway. It was a trial by judge and Judge Bruce Ward, in a gentle voice, said the court found that the state’s need to restrict King salmon supersedes the fishermen’s right to religious practice.
“The court wants all parties to know that this was a very difficult decision to make,” Ward said. “This was not easy.”
The fishermen were challenging the state based on a free exercise clause of the Alaska constitution, arguing that subsistence fishing is a religious practice and that when they fished last summer during closures, they were practicing their religion.
Judge Ward said he did a lot of research, including looking at an older case, Frank vs. the State, which was decided by the Alaska Supreme Court in 1979. That case shows that the free exercise clause may work when three things are met: 1) religion is involved; 2) the conduct is religiously based; 3) the person is sincere.
The judge found the defendants met the first two, no problem. It was obvious from the expert testimony the court heard on Yup’ik culture. The sincerity question would be addressed later by each individual trials.
The sticking point came when Western science entered into the argument. Based on the testimony given by state and federal fish biologists last month, the court decided that there is a compelling need to restrict the Kuskokwim King run based on recent data. Where in the Frank case, it was about the need to take one moose for a ceremonial potlatch, which wouldn’t have affected the population of moose, in this case the fishing could have had an adverse affect.
“Therefore, this court finds the need to police the Chinook run to ensure its continuity for future generations of Yup’ik fishermen and families overcomes the argued for free exercise exemption which would otherwise apply,” Ward said.
Although each case must be heard separately for the court to determine the fishermen’s sincerity, Judge Ward said those finding won’t sway his guilty verdicts.
That held true in the first trials against fishermen Felix Flynn and Peter Heinz. Both had their nets seized last summer and both got emotional on the stand. Felix Flynn wiped tears away saying that it had been hard answering questions from his young grandson.
“He asked me, when are we going to check the net,” Flynn said, “I couldn’t say nothing…because we didn’t have no net out there…because he witnessed me when we set the net. And that’s really painful.”
So far, the court is finding that all the fishermen were sincere in their religious beliefs but is finding them guilty anyway. Most are being sentenced $500 dollars with half of it suspended and put on probation for one year.
The defense, led by James Davis Jr. with the Northern Justice Project, plans to appeal, and the judge says the Alaska Supreme Court should review the Frank case.
“I think the Alaska Supreme Court needs to address some of the parameters that was outlined in Frank 40 years ago,” Ward said. “It’s been a long time and the situation in this case is very different for a number of reasons.”
At some point during the proceeding, the courtroom was infused with the smell of dry fish as someone in the gallery passed around a gallon baggie full of it, sharing it with everyone.
The individual trials will continue at the Bethel Court House until all remaining fishermen are heard.
Former Republican U.S. Senate nominee Joe Miller has not yet said if he will appeal an award of court costs to an internet news organization that sued to get his personnel records in 2010.
Judge Stephanie Joannides ruled that Miller should pay $85,000 and the Fairbanks North Star Borough twelve and a half thousand dollars to the Alaska Dispatch and its attorney, John McKay.
Miller has a federal campaign committee with a 425 thousand dollar war chest but has not declared any candidacy. In his 2010 Senate race he ran against Democrat Scott McAdams, but both were overwhelmed by a write-in victory by Lisa Murkowski, who had been defeated by Miller in
Governor Parnell said the state aims to do both wintertime exploration and 3-d seismic testing on the Coastal Plain of ANWR.
The $50 millions the state would pony up covers a third of the cost. The state is banking on the federal government and private industry to come up with the rest.
Governor Parnell said the federal government, under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, needs to survey the resource potential.
“The federal government can’t legitimately evaluate impact unless it knows the breadth of the oil and gas resources it stands to recover for Americans’ benefit,” he said in a Monday teleconference. “President Obama has also recognized the need to use comprehensive information in decision making in the Arctic. So let’s get the information.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, hosted the conference.
On hand in Washington, D.C. to make the pitch is Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. He said the Interior Department is preparing its ANWR management plan, and from what he hears, it will not include expanded oil and gas drilling.
“The six alternatives that are in their ANWR Management Plan? Not one of them mentions anything to do with assessing oil and gas on the coastal plain. Not one,” he complained.
Congress has repeatedly blocked drilling in ANWR. Last year the House passed a bill opening up a segment of the refuge, only to see it garner a slim 41 votes in the Senate.
Three Democrats, including Senator Mark Begich, voted for that amendment, but seven Republicans voted against it.
Commissioner Sullivan, a former state attorney general, said state lawyers don’t know whether it’s legal to proceed with seismic testing without Congressional okay.
“Whether a full exploration program would fit under ANILCA, or would require additional Congressional authority, we’re not sure,” he said. “That’s why we’re proposing this plan to both the Department of Interior and to Congress.”
He said the state told the Interior Department Friday it was releasing the plan. Sullivan will discuss the seismic testing with Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes this week.
“When we’ve had a discussion with the federal government on this issue, there’s a bit of a head in the sand, head in the tundra view, where they don’t want to know anymore,” Sullivan joked.
Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, didn’t find anything amusing.
“Talk about wasting taxpayers’ dollars,” she said Monday afternoon.
She called the state’s move pure politics.
And on top of that, Shogan said the federal government has made clear any development requires Congressional approval.
“It would take an act of Congress to do any exploration or leasing or development on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. So it’s illegal,” she said.
Also in D.C. promoting the plan are Alaska Native leaders, including North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower. Brower told the ausience the borough has consistently pushed for onshore development.
“We’d rather have onshore development because that’s more responsible than offshore. That’s important for us,” she said while seated next to the state’s Resources Commissioner.
ANWR is located in the borough. And Kaktovik is the only village in ANWR. For years residents have debated whether development in the refuge is a good thing.
Officials with the Department of Interior did not return calls for comment. But their management plan is rumored to be complete. There’s no set publication date.
And now for some breaking news. Record-breaking, that is.
Nearly 2,000 people turned out in Ketchikan Saturday afternoon to break the Guinness World Record for the largest rainboot race.
According to official U.S. Census records, Ketchikan’s population is just shy of 13,800 people. That’s the whole borough, not just the city. A couple hundred at a time will get together for plays or concerts, but it’s very rare – perhaps unprecedented in the community’s history – for nearly 2,000 people in Ketchikan to congregate in one place, at one time for a single purpose.
But, on a beautiful afternoon with just a sprinkling of rain to get people in the proper mood before the clouds lifted, it happened. A sea of people, all wearing rainboots, gathered, mingled, talked, laughed, sang and finally walked – a few ran – to break a record.
The previous record for what’s officially known as the largest Wellington boot race was held by the British county of Lincolnshire, which is about a two-hour drive from London. It’s known for its attractive coastlines, Lincoln Castle, its local recipe for stuffed chine – a brined pork dish – and, until recently, its world record.
That county broke the record in 2009, when 1,366 people marched a mile in their Wellies. Ketchikan’s race more than met that challenge. The number announced after the race, while not confirmed yet by Guinness, was 1,976.
As the crowd gathered at the starting line, the city’s mayor stood by, ready to kick off the race.
When asked how he was talked into participating, Lew Williams III answered, “They gave me a gun. “
It’s been said, and evidence seems to prove, that Ketchikan residents will use any excuse to dress in costume. So it seemed natural for a few superheroes to find their way into the crowd.
“We are breaking a world record, right?” said Tiffany Pickrell, dressed in a Wonder Woman costume. “And that’s something Wonder Woman does every day.”
And a couple of ducks — more specifically, Rotary members dressed like ducks to promote their raffle drive.
Adding to the festive atmosphere, a trumpet serenaded walkers at the halfway mark.
It wasn’t just local folks walking in the race. People came from neighboring islands to help break the record, and some came from much farther. Femke Boersma and Kelli Breemer are here from the Netherlands, visiting a friend.
Boersma said it was good timing.
“We were very excited that the race was during our time here,” she said. “We’re here for six days, and we feel like we traveled all the way from our own rainy country to help set this record.”
The two had to borrow rainboots for the race, and they say they’re impressed with the ubiquitous ExtraTufs boots that many local residents wear. However, they won’t be taking a pair back to Holland.
“We don’t have such a rough country,” Breemer said. “Our country is not extra tough.”
At the end of the short trek along Ketchikan’s Third Avenue, volunteers collected wristbands, proving that each participant officially completed the race. The bands, along with other evidence, will be shipped to Guinness headquarters in New York for confirmation of Ketchikan’s accomplishment.
But we know we did it.
Nuiqsut is both one of the newest communities on the North Slope and one of the oldest. The area was inhabited for centuries by the Iñupiat, and then abandoned for Barrow.
In 1973 former community members decided to resettle the area and build a village far from the bustle of the regional hub. But just 25 years later, the bustle came to them in the form of Alpine Oil field.
For our series on culture in Alaska, contributor Anne Hillman found out how the oil company and the community have learned to communicate with one another.
Elder Lydia Sovolik grew up in the Colville Delta, home to the modern day community of Nuiqsut.
“I always had my dog team. Had fun with my dog team hunting squirrel, hunting ptarmagin,” Sovolik said.
Her family was one of the last to leave the area in 1948 for Barrow, a larger town with schools. When they lived in Barrow she worked as a waitress in different restaurants, but eventually, it became too much.
“Eeeh, too much alcohol. That’s how come we want to move back here. Too much. Can’t stay dry over there,” Sovolik said.
So they joined a group that wanted to re-establish a settled community in the Delta. She arrived in Nuiqsut on the back of a snow machine in 1973 and moved into a tent with her children and the rest of the new settlers. They made it as comfortable as they could.
“Lot of people always make a lot of donuts. You could smell em from outside…. And we’d always get a plane. Lot a times the plane would land in the street. Or by the bank,” Sovolik said.
Now, Nuiqsut boasts perfectly straight streets lined with wooden houses, a school, a store, churches, an airport… And oil. Elder Joe Nukapigak says his ancestors knew about the oil in the region.
“The would come to the certain places where there’s an oil seep and in those years they would dig up the oil soaked tundra and use it to heat their sod houses and whatever,” Nukapigak said.
But Nukapigak says that’s not why people returned to the area. They came for the hunting and the fishing – the same things their ancestors sought in the region.
Within 25 years of the founding of Nuiqsut, in the 1990s, the subsistence-based community had to start thinking about oil development. James Taalak is the cultural coordinator for the city of Nuiqsut. He says when oil companies first came to the area, they didn’t bother to communicate with the local residents.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago they wouldn’t have even given a community like Nuiqsut a thought. They’d do their regular thing. They’d go to state agencies to get their permits, they’d go to the larger business and the regional corporations to get their okays, but come to a small community and do a meeting? Back then, they wouldn’t have given it a thought. But these days, it’s mandatory,” Taalak said.
Alpine oil field sits eight miles from the community of Nuiqsut. It was the first major development near the community and ConocoPhillips first started commercially producing oil *there* in 2001. They run three other sites in the Colville Delta. Other companies, like Pioneer Natural Resources, operate fields in the vicinity.*
Taalak, sitting in the bustling but tiny city office, says that when the oil companies began reaching out to the community, they were in for a surprise.
“I think it’s a culture shock to a lot of the outsiders. You know? They’re used to set times, given times, appointments, and making sure they’re either early or on time for these appointments and deadlines. Come to a community like Nuiqust or anywhere in rural Alaska, villages, they say you know, maybe you’re right, I should take it easy, soak in the days,” Taalak said.
He says they also had to learn about different mannerisms – eye contact is less important in Inupiat culture; people raise their eyebrows to say yes. And the Inupiat had to learn about the Outsiders and their fast ways and sometimes confusing body language.
But over time, and through cross cultural education by the city, both sides came up to speed.
“But I think on all sides, at least for Nuiqsut I can speak for, I think that bridge has been crossed. We can communicate as well with them as they can with us,” Taalak said.
To help maintain the bridge between the community and the oil companies, some businesses, such as Pioneer Natural Resources, attend the annual Naluqatak festivals each summer and dance with the community during the festival’s closing.
Pioneer, which operates a small oil field from a man-made island two and half miles off-shore, provides a barbeque at the event that celebrates the yearly whale harvest. Dale Hoff, a senior land manager with Pioneer, says they also require all of the workers to attend orientation sessions about the local culture, whaling, and sensitive parts of the Arctic environment.
“It’s important to our company because really the people of Nuiqsut are our closest neighbors. We’re about 25 miles away from their village, which seems far for other people but in the Arctic it’s pretty close. And we’d like to maintain the respect for the community here as well as help them understand what we do. We’ve had people come out to the island. We have a good working relationship with the village,” Hoff said.
And James Talaak, who helps coordinate some of the cross-cultural meetings, agrees that the companies are much more respectful than they used to be.
But that doesn’t mean that the entire community is completely happy with oil development in the area. Multiple elders said that the pipeline changes where the caribou herd travels. The animals don’t come as close to the community any more, making hunting harder. And the hunting grounds of their ancestors were the reason many of them came back.
More than 30 states across the country have gotten waivers from No Child Left Behind. That lets them judge schools with their own measures instead of the federal standards. Today, Alaska joined that bunch. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Last year, more than half of Alaska’s schools got a failing grade under No Child Left Behind. Next year would have been even worse, according to the state’s Department of Education and Early Development. Deputy Commissioner Les Morse says that not a single school in the state would have passed.
“Next year, every school had to have all their students — 100 percent of their students — at proficient. That includes every student who might be struggling in learning, a brand new student to the country who might not know English … All of the them would have to score proficient on the assessments. Otherwise, the school would be deemed as a failing school under the current law.”
On top of the black eye of getting a failing grade, schools would have had to tie up funding in federally mandated tutoring programs. And they would have had to put money toward letting kids transfer to passing schools. Morse says that would have been tricky if there weren’t any passing schools.
“If every school is failing, it’s at a point where that just doesn’t make sense.”
So, like a lot of states, Alaska applied for an exemption from the federal education law. What that means is that instead of being judged primarily on math and reading proficiency tests, things like attendance, the number of kids who take the SAT, and the annual improvement that students show will also be taken into account. And instead of passing or failing, schools will get star ratings, with five being the best — kind of like movie reviews.
Morse says that because the state will now be taking a more complex approach to gauging student achievement, some of the tests will even be harder. The difference is that schools won’t be faced with an automatic failing grade if some students don’t pass the standards test, and they’ll be given a chance to target specific areas of improvement.
“By no means is the waiver is the waiver saying that we think we ought to give up on any child,” says Morse. “Actually, we’ve raised the standards, but now instead of saying we want kids to meet a minimum, we’re actually going to build supports and targets to help make sure kids, when they graduate from high school are ready for college if they want to go to college or any post-secondary training opportunity.”
Opinion on the waiver has been generally positive. The Alaska Council of School Administrators says they’re embracing it, while the Alaska Association of School Boards calls it a step forward. But Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski did show some skepticism toward the waiver, suggesting that it could be a “half measure” that replaces federal regulations with a similar set of requirements.
Anchorage School District administrators are reacting to the U.S. Department of Education’s announcement that Alaska will receive a waiver from the ‘No Child Left Behind’ (NCLB) law.
Vernon Campbell is Executive Director of Federal Programs for the ASD. He says the district is pleased that the state got the waiver, mainly because, under NCLB, the district had to set aside money to help low-income students, even if they were highly proficient.
The waiver will allow the district the flexibility to concentrate those funds on the academically neediest, not just the poorest.
“There’s more flexibility for the district to utilize, I’m gonna say about 30 percent of its funds in ways that make better sense to the district. Following the previous formula we were required to say tutor students while they were low income they might have been highly proficient but under rule we had to tutor them. Under waiver we’ll have more flexibility of concentrating those funds on students that are the academic neediest,” Campbell said.
He says the district has been implementing changes, working up the waiver, for some time.
“The adoption of common core standards is part of the waiver package. The other thing is the new teacher and principal evaluation system, which will find student achievement being a feature of their evaluation. That’s been around since December of this past year. And so folks need to realize that those are features of the waivers. They’re assurances that the state gave in order to receive the flexibility waivers,” Campbell said.
Campbell says students will still be required to take the Alaska Standards Based Assessment test, but the waiver will eliminate some testing. The waivers go into effect at the beginning the school year next fall.
Alaska Pacific University is lowering their tuition more than 30 percent. The president of the Anchorage private liberal arts college says the change will make a college education more affordable for Alaskans, and hopefully, boost their enrollment.
Around the country, college tuition has been going up, outpacing the income growth of average Americans. Don Bantz, the President of Alaska Pacific University, says the APU Board decided to end that trend at their school.
“Affordability is the number one issue in higher education today. There’s a lot of talk about student debt and questioning the value of a higher education. We’re trying to make private, quality, liberal arts education affordable for Alaskans. And the $29,000 sticker price turned a lot of people off. They didn’t even wanna go any further,” Bantz said.
APU’s board decided at their regular meeting on May 16 to reduce tuition by nearly $10,000 per year– from $29,600 to $19,950. The 33 percent cut, Bantz says, makes APU more competitive with out-of-state colleges.
Bantz has been president at APU for three years. Before that he worked at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Bantz says APU has been giving students discounts on tuition for some time now, in order to make it affordable. Instead of continuing to discount, he says, the APU board decided to reduce tuition to what students were actually paying.
“If you want to send your kid outside to any of the big publics on the west coast – Washington, Oregon, all the way down. You’re gonna pay, out of state, about the same that you would pay here now for this private education. And you’re going to be in class sizes of 8, 9, 10 to 1 versus 300, 400, 500 to 1,” Bantz said.
The university has income from other sources, endowments and land holdings to off set the loss of tuition revenue.
Bantz says APU would like to grow, but emphasizes that the University intends to keep class sizes small.
Tuition at University of Alaska Anchorage is much cheaper, at around $4,000 for Alaska residents and around $14,000 for out-of-state students. Alaska Pacific University is four-year liberal arts college with around 600 students. The secular university, which is affiliated with the Methodist church, opened it’s doors in 1960. It offers two-year, four-year, master’s and doctorate level programs. The tuition cut only applies to undergraduate tuition. In-state and out-of-state tuition are the same at APU. The tuition cut goes into effect at the beginning of the 2014 school year.
A Homer flightseeing operator with visions of operating a heliport on the Homer Spit is one step closer to his goal. The Homer City Council narrowly defeated an effort to exclude heliports form a series of new zoning rules.
In front of the council Monday night was a pair of ordinances dealing with what types of businesses and structures are allowed in the city’s marine industrial and commercial zones, in keeping with the 2010 Homer Spit Comprehensive Plan.
The process to come up with the changes began a year ago with several city commissions taking part in its development.
The city Planning Commission original decided against the inclusion of heliports in the new zoning rules, citing concerns that the noise of helicopter operations might have on visitors and businesses, as well as the local bird population.
Public testimony on the matter also centered exclusively on heliports with some folks – like Homer Air owner Dave Rush – opposed.
“I think it would give the current operators a disadvantage,” said Rush.
Eric Lee is a pilot and manager of Bald Mountain Air, a floatplane flightseeing operation that takes off from Homer’s Beluga Lake. Lee said it was partly his idea to someday build a heliport out on the Spit.
“Homer wants more money (and) more participation from tourists … Homer wants cruise ships (and) tax revenue,” said Lee. “And to eliminate the possibility of further business activities seems to go against that idea.”
It was council member Beau Burgess who moved to strike the planning commission’s wording excluding heliports from the new zoning rules. He claimed responsibility Monday night for starting a ruckus over the issue.
“I feel the role of government should be limited so far as there is a clear public mandate and a discussion for addressing this,” said Burgess.
Council members went back and forth on the issue for the better part of an hour. They voted down a motion by David Lewis to allow helicopter take-offs and landings with certain restrictions and also struck down – by a tie vote – another motion to restore the original language that would have banned heliports.
When it came time to vote on the overall ordinance, the absence of Mayor Beth Wythe became a factor. Because Wythe was not there to exercise her right to break a tie vote, a 3 to 3 tie among council members meant that the whole ordinance tanked.
When council member Bryan Zak moved for immediate reconsideration of the vote, the debate intensified, with Burgess pointing out that the council was about to throw out months of work by the planning commission.
After rejecting a motion by council member James Dolma to postpone the matter, the council finally voted 5 to 1 – with Dolma the only holdout – to approve the zoning changes.
It’s important to note that heliports were already allowed on the Homer Spit, but only after their operators applied for and received a conditional use permit from the city. Those same rules are still in effect after the changes were passed Monday.
Alaska continues to add jobs to its seasonal economy.
The preliminary statewide unemployment rate for April is 6 percent, the lowest since mid-2007. It dropped a full percentage point from April 2012.
Nationally, unemployment last month was 7.5 percent.
Once again, Juneau and the North Slope Borough boast the lowest rate in Alaska, at 4-point-4 percent.
But it’s the actual numbers that tell the story, and in Southeast this time of year, jobs are being added in the seafood, construction, and tourism industries.
Caroline Schultz is an economist for the state labor department.
“Juneau added about 100 jobs in accommodation and food services and 400 in all of leisure and hospitality from March to April, so that’s pretty good growth over the month in leisure and hospitality, about 15 percent growth,” Schultz says. “And it will keep growing until it peaks in the mid-summer.”
She says 300 construction jobs were added between March and April, a 20 percent increase for that industry. And the Southeast seafood industry also grew by 300 jobs for the month.
The seasonal employment throughout the state may help lessen the blow of a statewide loss of federal jobs.
The federal jobs are tracked over the year rather than monthly. The loss in Southeast Alaska is slower than the rest of the state, according to Schultz.
She says Interior Alaska lost 500 federal jobs over the year.
“Fairbanks has the bases and there are also a lot of natural resource-oriented federal jobs up there too, like Park Service and Denali, those kinds of jobs,” she says. “But definitely the military bases are probably the biggest driver.”
Schultz says it’s still too early in the tourism season to know the extent of job loss of federal jobs in Alaska’s national parks and preserves.
Bill Hanson is the Field Supervisor of the Juneau Field Office for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Southeast Alaska. His office is responsible for recovery efforts and restoration programs in Southeast Alaska.
“Sometimes we look at species and we think ‘well does it make a difference if one disappears or another one disappears’ and the main thing to remember this is that each of those species represents some portion of that ecological network. So if you look at one species disappearing it’s not just one species disappearing it’s actually all the interactions that relate to it.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife manages some marine mammals including the polar bear, walrus and sea otters. They also manage almost all of the endangered terrestrial species of animals and plants as well as freshwater fish. They work in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Servicewhich also has a field office in Juneau. (Here’s a full list of endangered, threatened and candidate species in Alaska)
Marine Fisheries manages all of the other endangered marine mammals including whales, sea lions, seals, saltwater fish, and turtles.
Hanson says that Southeast Alaska doesn’t have very many endangered species compared to other parts of the country or Alaska, but a there are number of species including the Short-tailed Albatross, sea otters and a variety of whales that are monitored.
“A species doesn’t become listed unless it’s in real trouble. Once it’s listed, we go into the next phase which is recovery. Recovery doesn’t just mean getting it above the line which would be it’s either threatened or not threatened. It’s getting it back to healthy populations. That can take a long time and in some cases maybe it’s not possible. We don’t ever know the full answer to that. Success can be measured in a lot of different ways. Ideally, complete recovery is the measure of success and in other cases it maybe that we simply prevent it from becoming extinct.”
The specific reasons that a species becomes endangered can vary widely but most fall into one of two categories: either the species has lost its habitat for some reason or something has caused the species to not be able to function normally such as pesticides or pollution.
There have been success stories. In the Lower 48, the Bald Eagle was once on the edge of extinction due to pesticides, but after it was added to the Endangered Species List and pesticides were more carefully cleaned up and regulated, the birds bounced back.
In Alaska, the Arctic Peregrine Falcon and the Aleutian Canada goose were both successfully recovered.
Hanson says the most important thing to remember is that it’s never just one species that’s in danger because everything in an ecosystem in connected. When one species is endangered, they often represent a broader range of species than just themselves.
The Coast Guard opens an investigative hearing into January’s grounding of the drilling rig Kulluk off Kodiak Island today.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, formerly part of the Minerals Management Service, will also participate, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board, all wanting to know how come a powerful tug lost power in the Gulf of Alaska and the huge rig repeatedly broke its tow.
First up today will be Shell, followed by teleconference testimony from Offshore Rig Movers, International.
Ice on the Yukon River at Eagle began to move early Friday morning resulting in the second worst flood on record since a devastating flood wiped out the community’s waterfront and a nearby Alaska Native village in 2009. Damage this year was minimal in comparison and residents are relieved.
Giant chunks of ice and silt-rich water overflowed the banks of the Yukon River at Eagle near dawn Friday morning, but by mid-day, the water had receded.
National Weather Service Hydrologist Scott Lindsey was on the scene to survey the damage. He says this year’s is the second worst flood in recorded history.
“I’ve been coming here for 12 years,” he said, “and it’s by far the worst, other than 2009 that I have seen.”
Water bubbled from the ground, creating an eerie boiling sound along the floodplain.
“Yeah, this is pretty substantial!” called Claude Denver, the Response Manager for Alaska’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “Well, what we’re seeing here is large pans of ice that have been lifted by the high water and deposited on Mission Road here,” he explained. “This is the only road between Eagle Village and the City of Eagle, so it’s a primary conduit and it’s really important that we can maintain it so it stays open.”
At least six homes, a number of wood and tool sheds, vehicles and heavy machinery were damaged by truck and trailer sized blocks of ice. A handful of telephone poles were knocked over or snapped in half as well.
David Helmer works for Alaska Power and Telephone in Eagle.
“There’s some poles that we have to take care of, cut the wires down and keep it safe for the people in the area,” said Helmer. “Other than that, it will take homeowners rebuilding their homes before we can reconnect to them.”
Helmer was helping Falcon Inn Bed and Breakfast owner Marlys House clean up after nearly three feet of mucky water filled the bottom floor of her business. The B&B was moved off its foundation and heavily damaged in the largest flood on record back in 2009.
“We were sitting out there thinking it was gonna be a replay of 2009,” she smiled. “But it came up and came up and we hauled everything out of the bedroom. We got about three feet of water. And Charlie’s working on the boiler and we’re just drying things out.”
The Falcon Inn stands at the river’s edge above a retaining wall along Eagle’s historic Front Street. Marlys’s husband, Charlie House has since raised the building by four feet. Despite the high water this year, he was in good spirits.
“We had to open the doors to let the water out, but we’re gonna have it all going here in a few days, so it isn’t anything like last time,” he said with a sigh of relief.
No personal injuries have been reported in either the City of Eagle or Eagle Village, 12 miles down the road. The village did report high water, but no serious damage. Emergency Response Manager Claude Denver says it’s unlikely the state will provide individual financial disaster assistance to those affected because damage is not widespread.
There are a lot of rules if you want to gather signatures to get a question on the ballot. You have to be at least 18. You can’t share your petition booklet with other people. And you have to be a resident of the state of Alaska. Now, a man from Wisconsin wants that last part of the law struck down, and he’s taking his case to court. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Meet Robert Raymond. He’s in his late fifties. He lives in a picturesque Milwaukee suburb. And in his spare time, he runs for office.
RAYMOND: They call me a perennial candidate. *laughs*
Raymond has never been to Alaska. But he’s suing the Division of Elections for the right to circulate petitions in the state.
Because he’s not an Alaska resident, any booklet he distributed would be tossed out, even if all of the signatures in it came from Alaskans. Part of the logic behind that policy is that you want people influencing laws to have a stake in the process. It’s to help keep outside groups from promoting their causes by flooding the state with signature gatherers in order to get on the ballot.
But for Raymond, that’s not a good justification.
“Are people probably going to probably maybe use this in a disingenuous way? I don’t know. But I shouldn’t be deprived of my rights because of other people and what they do.”
Raymond filed his lawsuit last September. Because higher courts have already found similar laws in states like Arizona to be unconstitutional, he figured he would have a good case. He’s even using the same lawyer who won that Arizona case, who was representing third party presidential candidate Ralph Nader at the time. But because Raymond didn’t have a specific initiative that he wanted to collect signatures for, the District Court dismissed his case this spring.
Libby Bakalar is the assistant attorney general handling the case for the state. She says they’re only looking at the issue of legal standing, and that for now, they’re refraining from taking up the substance of the case.
“The idea is before you get to be a plaintiff, you have to have an injury. You have to perfect a claim. What he did is write a letter to the Division and say ‘I might circulate a petition some day.’ And that’s not enough in our view, and that was not enough in the judge’s view.”
Raymond is fighting that decision, and the Ninth Circuit Court is expected to consider that appeal this summer. Raymond argues that even though he lives in Wisconsin and even though he’s not trying to promote any specific cause at the moment, he might want to come to Alaska some day and volunteer on something like the recreational marijuana initiative or the referendum to repeal the state’s new oil tax system.
But with the residency law on the books, Raymond says he having to censor himself, and that violates his First Amendment rights.
“They said, ‘Well, you can’t sue us. We haven’t hurt you yet.’ Well, you know, screw you. You know, if I come up there and it’s important to me, and I want to participate in a ballot initiative or help a candidate get on the ballot, I don’t need to get hurt or harmed first so that I have a cause of action before I sue you. Because you’ve already told me you’re going to harm me.”
For their part, the organizers behind the “Repeal the Giveaway” referendum are only using Alaska residents to circulate their booklets, and they’re not really following Raymond’s case.
But other people in the initiative world are watching it closely. Ken Jacobus is an Anchorage attorney involved with the recreational marijuana initiative. He’s also worked on a number of other initiatives through the years.
JACOBUS: Oh my gosh, I’d probably forget a lot of them. Official English for Government. Anchorage Tax Cap. The latest one, which allows the municipal government the right to raise the individual property tax exemptions on residential property … There have been a lot of them.
Jacobus says the residency provision exposes initiative movements to the risk that their books could be tossed out if they unwittingly used an out-of-state circulator. And in his opinion, the circulators shouldn’t matter because in the end, only Alaska signatures count and only Alaskans get to vote on the issue.
Jacobus says that even if Raymond’s case fails because of lack of standing, there are Alaskans who would take up the cause.
“The constitutional issue is going to be reached at some point, whether or not Raymond does it or not, or whether or not we have to do it.”
It could take months, a year, or longer before that happens. Lt. Gov Mead Treadwell says that the state does plan to enforce the residency requirement in the meantime.
Break up is starting to happen on Interior rivers. The Yukon River ice began moving early this morning at Eagle. It jammed and caused some flooding of low lying homes and roads. Six homes and a handful of sheds have been hit by truck size chunks of ice.
At least three homes have been picked up and moved off of their foundations. 15 miles downriver from Eagle a cabin and a summer home have been completely destroyed, sandwiched between enormous chunks of ice. The water levels receded quickly this morning and the immediate threat to homes appears to be over.
It’s the second largest flood on record after the devastating 2009 river break up. And the National Weather Service is worried snow melt in the mountains could increase the flooding potential again in the coming days.
National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb says additional problems are expected as the break up front progresses downstream.
“The problem now we have is the water is coming down the Yukon and it’s gonna be moving towards the west, where it’s actually been colder, and the ice is a lot stronger because it hasn’t been as warm out west. We got a call from Fort Yukon from our observer this morning, and said the ice is strong, there’s still some snow on the ice and there’s actually some people still riding down in Fort Yukon, and the farther west you go, the stronger the ice is down towards Tanana, Galena and even farther downriver,” Plumb said.
Plumb says colder air moving across the region will slow break up over the weekend, but an expected warm up into the 60’s next week could cause rapid melting and raise the potential for ice jams and flooding. There’s been ice jam flooding on the Tanana River at Salcha, pushing water into a flood prone neighborhood along the Old Richardson Highway.
A new report from the FBI’s “Internet Crime Complaint Center” shows an increase in the number of cybercrimes in Alaska.
Bike to Work Day in Anchorage was soggy and cold this morning. But that didn’t stop hundreds of hearty Alaskans from participating.
Those who did hit the trail were rewarded with several “treat” stations at key bike commuter spots around the city. APRN intern Evan Erickson staked out a spot at the popular “bacon station” at the intersection of the Seward Highway and the Chester Creek Trail.