Outside money is expected to pour into the race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Mark Begich, and the first of it is making a splash across Alaska’s TV sets.
Last month, it was an anti-Begich ad from Americans for Prosperity, a group linked to conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch. Now a pro-Begich super PAC is weighing in with an ad of its own. Alaskans can expect a lot more in the months to come.
The anti-Begich ad featured an unnamed woman with long reddish hair in a kitchen, tying Begich to the Affordable Care Act.
“Sen. Begich didn’t listen. How can I ever trust him again? It just isn’t fair,” the woman said.
The new TV spot also features a woman with long reddish hair, also in a kitchen, but her name appears on screen. She’s Megan Collie, of Anchorage.
“That ad, attacking Sen. Begich? It turns out she’s an actress, from Washington, DC, pretending to be from Alaska. I’m not an actress. I live here and I trust Mark Begich. He’s trying to fix the healthcare law,” she said in the new TV spot.
The message is the first public appearance of a Super PAC called Put Alaska First, which spent nearly $100,000 on it. Its treasurer is Anchorage lobbyist Jim Lottsfeldt.
“ Honestly we weren’t planning to come out this early but it’s clear in 2014 politics across the nation, the Koch brothers are on the attack and we thought it was smart to start our defense sooner rather than later,” Lottsfeldt said.
While his ad emphasizes its Alaska bona fides, Lottsfeldt acknowledges he’s paying for it with out-of-state money.
“I am seeking people who are giving big dollar amounts to do this because it’s the only way effectively it works,” Lottsfeldt said. “I’m not holding bake sales. I’m going to people who can donate large amounts of money and asking them to donate.”
He says he’ll disclose the donor list when he’s required to in January. But he says the six-figure spending he’s reported so far came from just a few people.
Super PACs like his, along with so called “dark money” groups that don’t have to name their donors, are sure to be a multi-million force in Alaska’s Senate race.
Unlike a candidate’s campaign, these groups can raise unlimited amounts of money, from anybody: corporations, unions or just rich people who want to influence the makeup of the U.S. Senate. But they can’t contribute to candidates and they can’t coordinate their strategy with a candidate’s campaign.
SuperPACs have formed to support Republican Senate candidates Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan, too, put they haven’t reported any of their spending yet.
To get an idea of how much money these sort of groups can inject in a race, take a look at Montana. Two years ago, about $55 million was spent on the U.S. Senate contest there, more than half of it by outside groups.
Montana Political Science professor David Parker says the Alaska race is likely to attract a flood of outside money for the same reasons Montana did. To start with, Parker says, they both have small populations, so TV time is cheaper than in big-city media markets.
“So No. 1 is the cost of advertising. A lot of bang for your buck,” Parker said.
Also, Parker says, the Senate’s political landscape is much the same this time. It’s closely divided between the parties, and nationwide, Parker sees only 5 or 6 seats on the ballot that could go either way, to a Republican or a Democrat.
“So if you’re trying to swing the balance of power nationally, you go to the competitive seats and guess what, Alaska’s one of them,” Parker said. “Why do these outside groups care? It’s not so much about Alaska issues but the broader national implications of the balance of power in the United States Senate.”
Professor Parker says the ads Alaskans are starting to see are only the most visible of the political spending. Outside groups spent millions in Montana on the ground war. These weren’t your standard door-knocking, get-out-the-vote campaigns. Parker says they used, among other tools, statistical modeling, crossing – for example – poll results with consumer purchase histories to micro-target.
“And they’ll look for trends out of their sample and they’ll say, ‘hey, I notice that these people who drink Folger’s Crystals – whatever – are more likely to have this argument about Mitt Romney resonate with them,’” he said. “So they find all the people who drink Folger’s Crystals and they send targeted messaging and people to the doors to give them that message in person.”
Alaskans, he says, can expect much the same. If the spending in the Alaska race reaches Montana proportions, it would amount to more than $200 per likely voter.
Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew and Dr. Troy Payne with the University of Anchorage Alaska Justice Center presented findings from a study about police shootings at UAA’s Gorsuch Commons today.
Chief Mew clarified how the demographics involved in shootings changed from the first decade of study to the second.
“The number of African Americans that we engage in and shoot at are going down, first half to the second half. Pacific Islanders coming up the first half to the second half. Hispanics, Natives are going down first half to the second half,” Mew said. “It seems to me that the data is all over the place, but the numbers are pretty small.”
The study of Anchorage police shootings over the past 20 years has produced conflicting data. Although minority citizens are disproportionately involved in police shootings the majority shot by officers were white. The study attempts to show the recipe for officer-involved shootings and says vehicles are used as weapons in many cases.
Although minority citizens are disproportionately involved in police shootings, the majority shot by officers were white.
The study attempts to show the recipe for officer-involved shootings and says vehicles are used as weapons in many cases.
After two years of high profile officer-involved shootings in Anchorage, including one of a Pacific Islander man armed only with a stick, the Anchorage Police Department commissioned the study from the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center.
Researchers caution the study deals with small numbers, just 45 shootings in two decades, and that much of the data is contradictory.
“We were looking at situational characteristics, officer characteristics and characteristics of the citizens that were involved in these,” Assistant Professor Dr. Troy Payne, who reviewed the cases, said.
Payne says minorities, particularly African Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately represented in officer-involved shootings over the 20 year period. And he says that’s not a surprise because minorities tend to be over represented when it comes to just about every aspect of the criminal justice system from arrest rates to the ability to get bail.
“I don’t see that as something that is suggestive that APD is racist or has any kind of racial animus, but it is a question and we should probably be looking at that,” Payne said. “It may very well be that people from these communities react different to the police and it may be that the police department can engage in training and outreach that could help address that; it may be that these communities need to think carefully about how they’re reacting to police officers operating in their neighborhood.”
Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew says the department commissioned the study because of public outcry regarding the spike in officer involved shootings in recent years. There were five in 2012 and five more in 2013.
“Those two events back-to-back got the police department and the public and the media all talking about what, if anything, has changed in this town; what if anything is changed with the police department – and we committed to doing a number of things,” Mew said. “One of those things is to take a good hard look into what we think is going into these officer involved shootings: what we could learn, what kind of changes we could make, what kind of changes the public needs to make.”
Last spring, the police decided to stop firing at vehicles and to institute new tactics for dealing with cars when they’re being used as weapons. Mew says the study confirms that was the right choice, showing that in 40 percent of officer-involved shootings the weapon was a car.
A fact sheet recently produced by the UAA Justice center says assault on officers has gone up over the past decade in Alaska. And the shift in tactics at APD, he says, is an effort to address that. But Mew says, in general, it’s hard to get much clarity from the study.
“The data on one hand says that certain minorities are over represented. There’s other data that would suggest that minority officers shoot more. There’s other data that says that most of the people we shoot are white,” Mew said. “I mean the data is conflicting and the numbers are tiny and I think to try and draw sweeping conclusions based on that is taking issues out of context and I don’t want to see the community divided over that.”
Dr. Payne researched which minorities were shot most often during the first decade and found most were black males, but over the past 10 years that group has been replaced by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander males.
The family of Shane Tasi, the Pacific Islander man who was shot and killed while wielding a stick last year is suing the Anchorage Police Department. His is the only case over the 20-year period where someone was shot for using a blunt object as a deadly weapon.
Mew says another study is in the works that will look at cases in which officer-involved shootings did not happen. Both studies will be updated annually and eventually the APD will use the information to create further prevention strategies.
About one third of officer-involved shootings in the study resulted in citizen fatalities. A report by the Police Minority Task Force on police shootings is scheduled for publication later this month. The APD plans to, for the first time, to publish their policies, including those concerning officer-involved shootings, in 2014.
The Department of Administration has a new acting commissioner. Curtis Thayer has been promoted from his deputy position, and he will be taking over for Becky Hultberg, who left the position for a job with the state hospital association.
In the past, Thayer has worked for the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, and for the utility ENSTAR. While at the Department of Administration, Thayer has helped implement a policy of “universal space standards,” which put most state workers in 6′ by 8′ cubicles.
A coalition of fisheries related business is holding a public forum in Anchorage tonight on House Bill 77. The controversial legislation would streamline permitting for the Department of Natural Resources. Earlier this week, people packed into the borough assembly chambers in Soldotna for a meeting on the issue. Not one member of the public testified in favor of the bill.
Testimony went on for more than two hours. Everyone who stepped up to the mic was opposed to the bill. A level of agreement rarely seen in this room. Two major issues surfaced as sticking points. One was raising the legal standard for challenging a Department of Natural Resources ruling.
“It’s controversial,” said Deputy DNR Commissioner Ed Fogels. “We’re looking at these appeals, and quite frankly a lot of them really don’t have a lot of merit. People just don’t like the decision, the may not even live in Alaska. We’re trying to make it so that people have a good reason to appeal a decision.”
Fogels was joined on the panel with Senator Micciche and Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell. He says the current qualification for challenging a decision is too broad. Under HB 77, that would change.
“This makes it so you have to write down why the decision will hurt you, will harm you. I know a lot of people out there don’t fundamentally agree that we should be raising that bar, but it’s a way for us to reduce the administrative burden on appeals that don’t have merit.”
The decisions the panel referred to were decisions about water reservation permits, called instream flow reservations. What has people worried is losing their ability to save water for fish, where it might potentially be used for something else, like a mining project.
Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell tried to ease the concern that individuals will lose their standing to apply for or challenge those permits and that government agencies would instead represent those interests.
“Fish and Game has always been very receptive to partnering with people who are interested in securing water reservations to protect fish habitat. We would still be committed to working with interested groups and ensuring that groups that share our interest in instream flow reservations still have every opportunity to partner with us in obtaining these reservations.”
Campbell said the department has already taken 35 applications under its wing that would be disregarded should HB 77 pass.
But that wasn’t the kind of reassurance the public was after.
Dr. David Wartinbee, a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College, told the panel HB 77 is about trust. But he’s not buying the administrative argument that HB 77 will somehow lessen the workload for reviewing permits, or that there’s even a problem at all.
“Show me that abuse. I don’t believe. I don’t believe that it’s going to happen,” Wartinbee said. Nor was he convinced that a backlog of permits up for review was big enough to justify passage of HB 77.
“I have a problem with that when you tell me at the beginning of the meeting that you have resolved more than 70 percent of the backlog. It seems to me that internal efficiencies have solved the problem that this entire bill is all about. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Marilyn Cornell of Soldotna put it even more plainly.
“I’m an Alaskan, from the tip of my hair to the bottom of my toes. And no one should be able to tell me that I don’t have a right to put input into anything the state government is going to decide.”
Senator Micciche said he had a lot to take back to Juneau after the meeting. HB 77 has already passed the house. It currently sits with the Senate Rules Committee, which will take up the issue again in January.
Normally in December, the Bethel area is covered in snow and ice but it’s been unseasonable warm so far. In fact, Bethel broke a record Dec. 6 reaching 48 degrees. The Y-K Delta is known for winter warm ups but the amount of them lately has some folks scratching their heads.
By now, the Kuskokwim is often a frozen highway of activity for Kwethluk residents like Max Olick, who enjoys making the 15-mile trip downriver to Bethel.
“You know this time of the year, we’re going back and forth with trucks,” Olick says. “But this year, it’s kind of depressing.”
Olick, who has been a Yup’ik subsistence fishermen and hunter his whole life, says he’s never seen it like this before.
Last week, temperatures were above freezing for six days straight reaching into the 40s four of those days. It’s enough to melt the snow and turn everything brown, which is not a safe landscape for guys out checking their nets or traps under the ice.
“The open leads are hard to see right now and if you go down to the river, it’s all the same, you won’t be [able to] even notice open waters,” Olick says.
Olick has been the village’s Public Safety Officer for 31 years and hasn’t crossed the Kuskokwim to check his own net in a week. However, others others are risking it; those who have beaver traps or black fish traps set or white fishnets under the ice.
“They’re trying to put food on the table for their family and they’re risking their lives out there taking chances,” Olick says.
About 160 miles away on the Bering Sea coast, Brandon Aguchak works as Scammon Bay’s Tribal Council Director. He says a bunch of boats went out to go seal hunting recently. Subsistence seal hunting in December is pretty much unheard of. The season usually wraps up in late October… but everything has melted back to brown tundra.
“Like a fall, early fall,” Aguchak says.
A lot of hunters in Scammon Bay would normally be out checking their traps and nets this time of year but Aguchak says they can’t. He doesn’t know of anyone going hungry–most have stored salmon and moose and the freshly caught seal—but he says it’s still a hardship.
“A lot of people rely on white fish and black fish,” Aguchak says. “They can’t go out and get these things here for their families so I think some people do have a hard time without checking their traps.”
It is getting colder. Although there’s no snow in the forecast, freezing temperatures are. Until conditions improve, Max Olick advises against traveling on the river near Bethel. . .but if you have to he says don’t go alone and bring extra rope.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking for input from the public on how best to deal with about 1,000 head of cattle on two islands in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
About 200 of the animals are on Wosnesenski Island, between Sand Point and King Cove, and another 800 are on Chirikof Island, southwest of Kodiak.
The cattle were first introduced to the islands to provide food by a family on Wosnesenski in 1938, and for fox ranchers on Chirikof in the 1880s. Neither island currently has permanent human residents.
Steve Delehanty is the manager of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, based in Homer. He announced the start of a “scoping” process to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act before the cattle are removed or eradicated.
“Not that they’re malicious creatures or anything. We need cattle in the world for sure. But in this case, they’re consuming the vegetation, altering the vegetation, trampling, compacting the soil. It causes problems for nesting birds, salmon streams, for archeological sites that get degraded by the trampling and the vegetation removal,” Delehanty said. “So it’s isn’t really a steady state – it’s not that they did something back 100 years ago and now everything is fine. The biological potential of the island is at a low level, and will remain at a low level until we can bring it up through some sort of action we want to consider.”
Though the cattle presence far predates wildlife refuges in Alaska, the animals are still considered invasive and not compatible with their environment in the eyes of the federal government.
“Any time we’re dealing with a species that don’t belong on a place, they generally tend to have unintended and undesirable ecological effects,” Delehanty said. “And again you have to remember that Hagemeister along with the two islands we’re talking about now, Chirikof and Wosnesenki, Congress set them aside and said ‘these places are special and should be managed for wildlife,’ and so we have an obligation to try and make them available and make them places where wildlife can thrive and people can go out and enjoy that wildlife.”
Delahanty’s reference to Hagemeister Island was an instance in the early 1990s when a large heard of reindeer was to be eradicated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the island near Togiak. It caused quite a bit of controversy and the refuge was forced to allow some of the animals to be rounded up and flown out to join a herd near Nome. The rest were shot.
Delehanty says the scoping process for the Wosnesenski and Chirikof cattle will determine how they are dealt with, though allowing them to remain seems like a long shot.
“We don’t have a preferred solution – we have a preferred outcome, which is healthy refuge islands where wildlife can thrive. But by all means, if people want to say the best possible outcome is just leave things as they are now, that is a totally legitimate point of view. And if grazing were to continue, for example, there’s law that requires uses like that to be found, to be determined to be compatible with the purposes for which the refuges was created,” Delehanty said. “So as part of this whole planning process, that is one other thing I need to be looking at is to say, ‘Okay, is that an option?’ Would that scenario comply with this standard of compatibility with refuge purposes.”
The scoping process will include meetings with interested federal, state, and local agencies, federally recognized tribes, stakeholders and the general public.
Russian tea cookies, white chocolate coconut clusters, and star-shaped butter cookies are just a small sampling of what was available Tuesday afternoon at the Governor’s Annual Christmas and Holiday Open House.
Doors to the Governor’s Mansion opened to the public at 3 o’clock, “and then they’re greeted to the governor, first lady, lieutenant governor,” explains Erika Fagerstrom, manager of the Governor’s Mansion. She’s been organizing the Governor’s Annual Christmas and Holiday Open House for eight years. This year, though, is a little more special than others.
“They started constructing the house May, 1912, and by December the family had already moved in and they had their very first open house New Year’s 1913, so this is the 100th open house,” Fagerstrom says.
After the greetings, guests walk into the dining room where there is a large table with trays and trays of cookies and fudge. For 4-year-old Ella Malaby, this is what she’s been waiting for.
“She loves it. That was her favorite part was seeing that whole table full of cookies and candy,” says Staci Malaby.
She brings her daughter to the governor’s open house every year. “She knows this house is the cookie house, not the Governor’s House, and she loves seeing the gingerbread houses and the train.”
Veronica Salter, 14, is with her classmates from Faith Community School. They’re performing songs from the musical “Christmas in Black & White.” Salter can’t remember a year she hasn’t been at the governor’s open house. “I like how everybody is really friendly and how people are singing also and they play beautiful music and I like meeting the governor, too. I got to shake his hand and say hello,” Salter says.
Roland Eim is from Germany and is visiting Juneau for the first time. He heard about the open house from his daughter who recently moved to town.
“We actually walked for about half a mile to come here and got very wet as you can see and I got a really nice conversation with the governor,” Eim says.
Eim says he’s surprised with the notion of a governor opening up his house to the public, “In Germany or like in France or like any other country, you’d likely have lots of police protecting the governor, so I think it’s a very awesome thing. It’s very close to the people and I appreciate that much, really.”
For Gov. Sean Parnell, continuing the open house tradition is important.
“It really says that our government, our house, the people’s house is accessible. And it’s our chance to be accessible in a pretty big way and for people to really enjoy the house that belongs to them,” Parnell says.
Along with continuing the tradition of the open house, the Parnell family will practice another tradition as they spend the holidays at home in Juneau – opening one gift on Christmas Eve.
Popular footwear brand XtraTuf is on a mission to prove to their disappointed loyal customers that the iconic boots are not just “Sort-of-Tough.”
Two years ago, parent-company Honeywell transferred production of XtraTuf from Illinois, to a factory in China, and the product that rolled off the line was nowhere near what Alaskans had come to expect. XtraTuf says the quality is back and they want to replace any pairs purchased that didn’t hold up, no questions asked.
The Alaska Department of Transportation has a new tool in the war on icy roads.
A Fairbanks green technology advocate is trying to muster interest in an alternative model for financing energy and other projects. Fairbanks resident Robert Shields runs the local non-profit Alliance for Reason and Knowledge.
The Alaska State Museum in Juneau is getting a lot of help from other Alaska museums ahead of its move to a new facility in 2016.
As the staff works to pack up the more than 32,000 artifacts in its collection, museum professionals from around the state are lending a hand, and learning what it takes to safely store and transport priceless historical objects.
In the basement of the Alaska State Museum, Eva Malvich uses a box cutter to slice a thin piece of gray cardboard into a small rectangle. Mounted on the cardboard, supported by four pieces of foam, is a makeup brush with an ornately carved metal handle. Malvich doesn’t know much about the brush, except that it came from a woman who collected items for her vanity.
“But then, you know, with objects you have to preserve them forever,” she says.
Malvich is director of the tribally owned Yupiit Piciryarait Museum in Bethel. The name means “The people’s way of living.”
“We’re the only museum in the [Yukon Kuskowkwim] Delta,” she proudly declares.
After a career in public administration, Malvich started working at the museum about a year ago. She had no practical experience, so she’s learning the best way to handle and preserve objects. She points to a piece of cardboard, like the one on which she just mounted the makeup brush.
“I used to wonder what the heck this was, because we have boxes of this,” she says. “I used to think, why do I have so much cardboard? Now I know it’s called blue board and it’s useful for making containers for my objects.”
Malvich is learning under the direction of husband and wife team Scott and Ellen Carlee. Ellen is the Alaska State Museum conservator. Scott is curator of museum services. His job is to assist and advise other museums and historical societies throughout the state.
“I help them with projects that they are working on. I help them get grants,” he says. “I actually have a small grant that I can give out to help them do projects. I can do assessments.”
During his travels, Carlee says other Alaska museum professionals wanted to know how the state museum was going to move its collection to a new State Library Archives and Museum building, scheduled to open in 2016. That’s how he got the idea to bring them to Juneau to see the project firsthand.
“I thought, well, it would be really nice to have them help me. But I would feel bad if it was, you know, on their own nickel,” Carlee says. “So I thought we should at least try to pay for their travel expenses. So I wrote this grant to the Institute for Museums and Library Services to help fund this travel down here as a professional development opportunity for these museum professionals throughout Alaska.”
The grant is for $83,000, which the state museum is matching. Carlee says each museum professional will get to visit Juneau twice – once during the packing and planning phase and again during the actual move.
“We’re calling them XOs, because ‘outside museum professionals’ is a little hard to say all the time and to write down,” Carlee says. “So XOs, just, we kind of think of it as like external operative or something. Somebody from the outside is coming in to help us.”
Anjuli Grantham is Curator of Collections at the Baranov Museum in Kodiak. Located inside the Russian American Magazin – a two-story log structure built in 1808 – it houses a treasure trove of colonial Alaska history. The museum’s not moving anytime soon, but Grantham says the staff is redesigning all of its exhibits.
“That’s going to mean that a lot of the objects that are currently in collection storage are going to be on exhibit,” says Grantham. “So, it’s going to require a lot of shuffling of things. It’s a perfect opportunity to implement some of these new solutions.”
Grantham had some experience preserving and caring for objects prior to working for the Baranof Museum. Still, she says the opportunity to learn from the staff at the Alaska State Museum is unique.
“This is what they do,” she says. “They conserve objects and they create these really amazing storage solutions for fragile objects of many different types of materials. It’s kind of like, now I’m here under the tutelage of masters.”
Grantham and Malvich were the fourth group of XOs to visit Juneau as part of the project. The grant is providing travel for 27 museum professionals from 12 Alaska institutions. Carlee says he works with between 60 and 70 museums around the state.
For more than a year, getting in and out of Akutan has meant taking a hovercraft. The vessel ferries passengers to and from the island’s airport. But high costs and inconsistent service have sent the Aleutians East Borough looking for a better solution. Now, they think they’ve found one.
Akutan’s airport isn’t on Akutan. It sits on neighboring Akun island, across about six miles of choppy straits.
Last year, the Aleutians East borough started using a hovercraft to get people to and from the airport. But borough manager Rick Gifford says the vessel’s expenses have gotten out of hand.
Gifford: “Most of the crew is brought up from Seattle. It’s four or five people at a time that have to be on the hovercraft. It was costing the borough over $3 million a year, and it’s just not sustainable.”
He’s hoping to cut those costs by replacing the hovercraft with a helicopter. The borough is going to lease the aircraft from a company in Homer.
Gifford: “It looks like could save upwards of a million dollars and maybe more depending on how it goes.”
Marty Robbins is the general manager of HoverLink, the Seattle company that’s managed the hovercraft for the borough. He says the partnership is ending on good terms, and he’s happy with the service they’ve provided.
Robbins says the hovercraft has been able to operate about 70 percent of the time since it started running.
Robbins: “And that’s, you know, about what we thought it would be going into it, was we would have that sort of weather and sea condition limitations.”
Gifford says the helicopter will definitely have days where bad weather keeps it grounded, too. But he’s hoping those will coincide with closures and groundings at the airport.
That hasn’t been the case with the hovercraft.
Gifford: “There were days when the airplane could come over and the hovercraft couldn’t operate because of sea conditions. And there were days when it was foggy and the hovercraft could run and the airplane couldn’t run. But with the helicopter, it’ll be more consistent with what the airplane can do.”
The helicopter only holds six passengers, as compared to 40 on the hovercraft. Gifford says they’ll make up the difference in speed. It takes the helicopter six minutes to get to Akun, while the hovercraft took 30 or 40 minutes.
The helicopter does have weight limitations, and it won’t be able to haul fuel or vehicles like the hovercraft could. Akutan’s mayor Joe Bereskin says they’re still deciding what to do about that.
But Gifford says the rest of the service should stay the same. That includes the fees that passengers will have to pay to get to the airport. A one-way ticket will still be $100.
Gifford says even the helicopter isn’t a permanent solution. Eventually, they’d like to return to the water to connect Akutan to its airport.
Gifford: “We feel the ultimate solution is that someday we need to have a dock and a breakwater on the Akun Island where the airport is, and then run a conventional vessel back and forth.”
That could take three to five years to set up — to say nothing of funding. Meanwhile, the helicopter is due to start flying alongside the hovercraft in February.
They’ll overlap service for about two weeks before the hovercraft goes into storage, and the helicopter becomes a full-time airport taxi.
The state Department of Transportation is considering a highway project that would route the Parks Highway around Wasilla, instead of through it. The small Matanuska – Susitna Borough community has long been at the center of Parks Highway congestion, since vehicles have to pass through traffic signals at local intersections while traveling through the city.
Officials and court records have revealed new arrests and information in Friday’s shooting and bogus kidnapping in Juneau, now tying it to drugs and an early morning highway gunfight that no one had reported to police. The case involves heroin, which has become extremely profitable in the capitol city in the last few years.
When police shutdown the outbound lanes of Egan Drive late Friday morning, they now say they were searching for evidence from a highway gunfight stemming from a drug deal.
Friday’s shooting at the Coho Park Apartments after midnight was followed by an early morning exchange of gunfire from two moving vehicles on Egan Drive between “the parties” involved in the first shooting. That’s according to a press release the Juneau Police Department put out Monday.
Police say there were no injuries in the second shooting and that it went unreported.
Police had shut down the outbound lanes of Juneau’s main road artery by 10:22 a.m. Friday to collect evidence.
So far in the alleged drug deal turned shooting turned highway gunfight turned faux kidnapping, police say they’ve arrested three people, all Juneau residents:
- 44-year-old James Depasquale, aka James De Pasquale III. Police say Depasquale was shot twice at the Coho Park Apartments and was taken to the hospital from the scene. The latest police statement says “the parties” involved in the initial shooting were also in the highway shooting; it’s not clear how, if at all, Depasquale could be involved in the second shooting after he’d been hospitalized. Police could not be reached to clarify.
Court records show charges for seven felonies and one misdemeanor pending against Depasquale that are consistent with drug dealing, gunplay and tampering with evidence. They also show that about 11 hours before he was shot, the courts had issued a warrant for his arrest – he’d been on probation for an assault in July.
- Second, 24-year-old Jerall Torres. Court records show he’s facing two felony charges. One is for drugs. The other is for gunplay specifically from a moving vehicle. The vehicle hunt that police solicited the public’s help with Friday was for a truck that Torres reportedly left the initial shooting in. However, officials picked him up around 8:12 a.m. Friday in a sedan with…
- 26-year old Amanda Phillips. Phillips is facing a felony charge for tampering with evidence. Police accuse her of hiding the handgun that Depasquale used.
All three are due in court today.
Police have mentioned two more people somehow involved, but haven’t identified them by name:
- A 22-year-old woman who reported her kidnapping and escape from a man involved in the initial shooting Friday. Police now say she was “voluntarily involved” with Depasquale and Torres and that the kidnapping was likely a fabrication.
- Finally, police mentioned an unidentified third man involved in the highway shooting. Police did not elaborate on his role.
A police spokesman said Friday up to 6 search warrants were pending.
(Click here for a full screen version of this interactive timeline of Friday’s events.)
Amid an economic disaster and food shortage, Savoonga, a community on Saint Lawrence Island, harvested a 57-foot bowhead whale on Friday, the second whale for the community last week.
For eight hours on Friday, Isaac Kulowiyi, President of the Savoonga Whaling Captain Association, says whaling crews fought 13 miles of opposing tides and currents to tow the giant bowhead to land. Then most of Savoonga— men, women, children, and elders— gathered on the beach to help haul the animal ashore.
“Every time Savoonga gets a whale, especially this time of year, it’s a real blessing for the community,” Kulowiyi said. ”Everybody gets together and works as one person.”
Kulowiyi says, after dividing the meat among the whaling captains, the captains divided the portions among the crew, and from there, passed the meat throughout the community and then onto Gambell, the other village on the island.
These two whales come amid an island-wide food shortage. After gathering one-third of its yearly walrus harvest, Saint Lawrence Island, declared an economic disaster in August.
Perry Pungowiyi, Alternate Commissioner for the Savoonga Whaling Captain Association, says though not walrus meat, these whales substitute for a sizable portion of this year’s lost subsistence intake. He said this while standing on the beach on Saturday, carving the bowhead.
“This replaced a lot of our walrus meat, and there are a lot of happy stomachs out there,” Pungowiyi said. ”It can’t compare with walrus, but these two whales are a substantial portion of what we don’t have in our homes as food.”
Though the whales substitute some of this year’s lost walrus protein, the whales do not replace the walruses’ lost ivory, a important cash source for many of the island’s residents and their families. Kulowiyi says whales are not as profitable as walruses. Besides baleen, the bowheads do not provide much cash opportunity for the community.
Even with the island’s food shortage, both Kulowiyi and Pungowiyi say residents will send parcels of the bowheads to relatives, friends, and former community members on the mainland. Adeline Pungowiyi, office clerk for the Savoonga Whaling Commission, calls this sharing a tradition.
“So we try to share everything with our family that moved out,” Pungowiyi said. ”We cannot forget the people who moved from Savoonga. I know they want some. So we continue doing that.”
These whales were Savoonga’s two final strikes of the year, an annual quota set by the Alaska Whaling Commission. The community will have to wait until spring to harvest another one of these animals.
For over 80 years, hundreds of polar bear skulls from St. Lawrence Island have been sitting in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Now, under NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the artifacts may be returning to the tribe that buried them.
Between the 1930’s and 1950’s Dr. Otto Geist—who was at the time affiliated with the University of Alaska Fairbanks— excavated hundreds of animal bones, mostly polar bear skulls, from human burial sites on St. Lawrence Island.
The oldest artifacts, according to a notice by the National Park Service, date from about 200 B.C. to 500 A.D and derive from the Old Bering Sea culture of the island. Many bones were taken from the grave of the hunter and whaler Kawarin. The remaining bones were extracted from the Kukulik Eskimo burial mound.
Because the items were removed from burial sites, they classify as funerary objects. And though their extraction at the time was legal, the 1990 passage of NAGPRA gives the tribes and lineal decedents associated with the items the right to claim ownership of the objects. And this week, after several years of historical, genealogical, and oral history research by the Bureau of Land Management and the American Natural History Museum, the BLM is contacting the objects’ associated entities—descendents and the Native Village of Gambell and the Native Village of Savoonga— with the option of repatriating the artifacts.
Robert King, BLM Alaska State NAGPRA Coordinator, says about a dozen similar repatriations have occurred in Alaska under NAGPRA. And this process, King say, is not only “respectful,” but “healing.”
“It’s a recognition that tribes and individuals, they connect to a specific sets of either human remains or burial objects or sacred items or items of cultural patrimony,” King said.
According to a National Park Service notice, no human remains were removed during these excavations.
Canada’s Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said today that Canada will make a claim to the North Pole, but has not finished the science around its Arctic seabed.
Baird and Canadian environment minister Leona Aglukkaq, who also chairs the Arctic Council, made public Canada’s claim to the extended continental shelf in the Arctic, in a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons.
“We have asked our officials and scientists to do additional work and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada’s claim to the North Pole,” said Baird.
The ministers explained the country’s scientific submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
This submission includes claims to both the Atlantic and Arctic seabeds. There is no extended continental shelf Canada can claim in the Pacific Ocean.
While the science on the Atlantic is complete, the government is only presenting “preliminary information” on its Arctic claim.
The findings outline Canada’s claim to the seabed and undersea bed beyond the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, which would extend Canada’s ownership of natural resources in the area.
“Fundamentally, we are drawing the last lines of Canada. We are defending our sovereignty,” explained Aglukkaq.
The submission is part of Canada’s responsibilities as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Canada’s western Arctic is rich in resources and communities keen to participate in responsible development.
But tapping into the economic potential of the region, which includes the Yukon and Northwest Territories, remains a challenge. Particularly when it comes to transportation and infrastructure.
The independent Canadian think-tank The Centre for International Governance Innovation (or CIGI) , recently held a workshop in Canada’s Northwest Territories to explore some of these questions.
Titled “Western Canadian Arctic Marine Transport and Governance Roundtable,” the workshop explored some of the shipping challenges Canada faces its northwestern-most regions.
“If I look at the bottle half full, you’ll see the enormous human resources that we have up in the Arctic,” says CIGI’s John Higginbotham.
“You’ll see some promising signs of work in the federal government in this area in some projects. You’ll see the vigor of the private sector in the surprising and welcome transit by the Nordic Orion of the Northwest Passage… So that’s the bottle half full.”
However, Canada has a lot of work left to do if it wants to compete with other circumpolar countries, he says.
“The bottle half empty is when you compare the scale and speed and resources and programs and policy direction that you see in Norway and Russia in terms of very large national efforts they’re putting into Arctic development. We really are not in that league at the moment.”
Recently, Alaska’s Board of Fisheries set up an experimental harvest in the Aleutian Islands that they thought might benefit small communities like Adak. But, Adak had their eyes on a much bigger prize.
A slide that sent rocks crashing onto frozen Mendenhall Lake in late November actually caused a small tsunami. It also posed a scientific question as well as concern that rock slides are another unpredictable hazard for people exploring the frozen lake this winter.
A slide that sent rocks crashing onto frozen Mendenhall Lake in late November actually caused a small tsunami.
Apparently no one witnessed the rock slide, but Thanksgiving Day hikers on Nugget Falls Trail reported seeing jumbled piles of ice tossed by waves onto the beach. Refrozen ice plates 6 to 8 inches thick can still be seen on the lake.
“The first thing I noticed was that there was broken lake ice on one side and then there was broken lake ice on another side,” said Laurie Craig, a naturalist at Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center.
With no evidence of glacier calving, Craig said trying to figure out what happened was like “geologic forensics.”
A spotting scope trained on Bullard Mountain showed evidence of a rockslide. Tree limbs also were seen in the rubble ice.
“We could clearly see evidence of where this narrow band of rock cascaded down off the mountainside and broke the lake ice that was right up against it,” Craig said. “And then it reverberated under the lake and hit against rock on the other side, which broke there as well.”
How does that happen?
If the rocks had hit water, there would be a big splash and a wave would travel across the lake. That’s simple enough, she thought, but Mendenhall Lake was covered with ice.
Craig posed the question on Friday to Joel Curtis, Warning and Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Juneau.
“How does the water pop up on the other side of the lake under the ice? Let’s say the ice is thicker out in the middle. It’s a very, very interesting physics problem and I am asking people who are geekier than I am to look at this,” Curtis said.
One of the scientists he consulted was Dr. Eran Hood at the University of Alaska Southeast, a hydrologist and glaciologist. The two came up with this:
“The wave that was formed propagated right along with the ice, although the wave was dampened because it had to lift the ice. But it still was enough to get across Mendenhall Lake and have water squirt out on the other side.”
Technically, Curtis said, it was like a small tsunami under the ice.
The take away?
Ice is not as rigid as most people think. While the ice on Mendenhall Lake may look stable, it is not, Curtis said. Definitely avoid the face of the glacier, ice caves, creeks, icebergs and the area where the lake flows into Mendenhall River.
“And of course, the freeze/thaw cycle can cause rock slides on any of the steep slopes,” he said. “We all really love the lake and love going out there, but you have to be safe when you do.”
On Jan. 11th, the U.S. Forest Service and Capital City Fire and Rescue will hold ice safety training and demonstrations at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center.