U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.6 billion pounds of seafood in 2012, valued at $5.1 billion. That averages out across all fisheries to about 53-cents per pound. Those figures were released by NOAA Fisheries on Wednesday.
The figures for 2012 represent a 2.3-percent decrease in poundage and a 3.2-percent decrease in value over 2011, which saw the highest figures ever. However, poundage and value continue to remain higher than the 10-year average.
Alaska led all states in volume of seafood landings, with 5.3-billion pounds, and in dockside value at $1.7-billion.
Louisiana, Virginia, Washington State and California followed in volume, while Massachusetts, Maine, Louisiana and Washington State followed in value.
For the 16th year in a row, Dutch Harbor led the nation in seafood volume, at 752-million pounds landed, with pollock making up 86-percent of that poundage.
Kodiak’s seafood landings, at 393-million pounds, ranked fourth in the nation, behind Dutch Harbor, Empire-Venice, Louisiana, and all of the Aleutian Islands combined.
New Bedford, Massachusetts’ $411-million led the nation in seafood value at the dock, followed by Dutch Harbor’s $214-million and Kodiak’s $170-million.
Other figures in the report show Americans consumed 4.5-billion pounds of seafood in 2012, which averages 14.4-pounds per person. Despite catching twice as much seafood as Americans eat, over 90-percent of the seafood Americans consume is imported.
The retired U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Storis, which spent 50 years stationed in Kodiak, is now in Mexican waters, on its way to an Ensenada scrap yard.
Supporters of the Storis, marine historians, organizers of the Storis Museum, and former crewmembers, have all been trying to find some way to reverse its sale at auction this summer and keep it from being exported. Over the weekend and Monday, embassies, government agencies and U.S. Senators were contacted after documents surfaced indicating it might be illegal to export the Storis for the purpose of breaking up for scrap metal.
Jon Ottman, a maritime historian who has taken the point on attempts to save the ship, told supporters on the Storis Facebook page that legal remedies may have been exhausted. The transport of the Storis was signed off on by the General Services Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, which Ottman says makes it unlikely a federal judge would block the tow.
The issue is that the Storis may have more contaminants on board than what is allowed to be exported.
Ottman says Alaska Senator Mark Begich’s office continues to work on stopping the transport through diplomatic means.
In another announcement to Storis supporters though, Ottman conceded it would take an “unforeseen miracle or unanticipated intervention” to stop the breaking up of the Storis at this point.
The venerable ship was launched in 1942, decommissioned in 2007 and sold at auction this summer for little more than $70,000.
A handful of residents on the Kenai Peninsula have been battling surface and groundwater flooding for more than a month.
On Tuesday, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre issued a disaster declaration for the area just south of Kenai, a quarter mile inland from Cook Inlet.
The impacted area is roughly 6,000 acres of mostly swamp and wetlands. Governor Sean Parnell took a brief tour of the damage Monday while he was in Kenai for unrelated business.
In 2012, the Flood Insurance Reform Act was passed in order to cut the costs of running the National Flood Insurance Program.
It increases premiums and removes subsidies for residents under certain circumstances, including those who have multiple flood claims. There’s one very clear reason why Congress felt they had to act.
“The National Flood Insurance Program is literally billions of dollars in the hole,” Alaska Senator Mark Begich said. He chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees FEMA, and says that while the flood insurance program needs to be more solvent, there is a balance to be struck.
“We have to figure out how to financially get it sound, [while] at the same time making sure that residents, individual homeowners and businesses, aren’t burdened with a huge premium,” Begich said. “Our challenge now is, as FEMA is working through this, it’s come clearly to our attention that the premiums in some areas, Alaska obviously could be one of them, but across the country, are starting to see that these insurance rates could be pretty extensive.”
Senator Begich says that while the law was passed by the legislature, it was up to FEMA to come up with the actual rate structure. The changes in that structure are sending ripples around the country.
One Alaskan homeowner who is being affected is Marne Gunderson, a resident of Talkeetna. She says that she looked up what her new premiums could be after being told by the Mat-Su Borough that they were withholding a building permit until the property was raised to the revised flood level. She says what she found on the National Flood Insurance Program website was shocking.
“If you’re below the base flood elevation, you’re looking at premium hikes of a hundred percent, maybe a thousand percent, from, say, the tune of about $1,000 a year to $10,000 a year,” she said.
Marne Gunderson says that she believes a substantial portion of her neighborhood now lies below the official flood plane, which was amended within the past few years.
She’s worried not only about higher premiums and mortgage payments, but what a major increase in flood insurance costs could mean for market property values.
She says that would hit residents who do not have flood insurance because they are not paying a mortgage. Selling that property with the knowledge that the buyer could pay thousands of extra dollars a year could be quite difficult.
“I understand the dangers of living in a flood zone, and perhaps that’s not wise, but it’s not incredibly helpful to put people in a situation where they have to vacate their homes,” Gunderson said. “There’s perhaps a better solution that could be more gradual.”
Senator Begich says he agrees, and that he and other Senators want FEMA to conduct an affordability study. While FEMA is crunching numbers, Senator Begich believes that the rate increases should held back.
“There’s debate, even though we’re in a closed period here for a couple of days, that’s trying to get a two-year delay on the law that passed, which was to reform it, so we can get this affordability study,” Begich said. “From there, we may then have to make changes to the law we actually passed.”
In a time where Congress is embroiled in a number of partisan disputes, Senator Begich believes that the proposal to delay flood insurance reform should still get traction in both parties.
“This is one of those items where there’s some really good bipartisan support, because floods don’t determine if you’re Republican or Democrat, they just determine if you’re in the lowlands,” Begich said.
Senator Begich plans to hold a meeting of the Senate subcommittee that oversees FEMA in November to hammer out the details, and he hopes that they can reach a proposal that will gain unanimous consent.
The landslide that came down on the road into Denali National Park last week has been largely cleared.
The slide covered a 200-foot stretch of the road near mile 37 in rock, mud and vegetation up to 35 feet deep.
Park Service spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri says bulldozers finished working the site Monday night.
“All of the debris was moved out of the park roadway, so that will give us a good start in the spring,” Gualtieri said. “Definitely need to do some more debris removal and check for stability, but for now, I think most of the heavy lifting has been done for this fall.”
Gualtieri says the job was completed just as the temperature began to drop, threatening to freeze up the slide debris.
Park geologist Denny Capps is investigating the slide. Capps says a 3-4 meter thick matt of permafrost appears to have slid on an underlying layer of clay, movement that may have resulted from warming.
“We do not know at this point that this is related to climate change,” Capps said. “However, it is consistent permafrost degradation that we’ve seen in other areas in the region.”
Capps says aerial photos of the slide area show cracks in the slope that may have allowed water to seep in and destabilize the soil.
Last Thursday, an employee at Denali National Park made a disturbing discovery while driving to the site of the landslide on the Park Road.
He saw trash scattered near a turnout at Mile 7 and stopped to investigate. What he found has Park staff baffled, including Park spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri.
“There was evidence that a visitor had a small campfire,” Gualtieri said. “On investigation and looking into it, they found a few boxes from Petco and found that multiple small pets had been cooked in that campfire.”
Gualtieri says that remains of a snake and rodents were found near the fire, along with a box containing a turtle. The turtle had been exposed to freezing temperatures overnight, and was believed to have died.
Boxes and a receipt indicated that the animals had been purchased at Petco in Fairbanks. The National Park Service has been working with Petco to try to identify the person who bought the animals, but Maureen Gualtieri says no leads have turned up, yet.
“When you buy pets at a store like Petco, you fill out pet ownership paperwork, and the names on that were all fictitious names,” Gualtieri said. “There was some surveillance tape, but [it's] very difficult to make out what the individual looks like.”
Staff at the Fairbanks Petco say that they are not authorized to release information, since the investigation is ongoing.
Maureen Gualtieri says that the National Park Service is conducting an investigation, and anyone with information is encouraged to contact them.
There is at least one bright spot to the story, however.
The turtle that was discovered did not die from the cold, as was originally thought. Park rangers were able to warm it up and revive it. It now lives with a family in Healy who have named it Lucky.
The Alaska Federation of Natives convention that just concluded in Fairbanks had a theme of traditional values this year.
Protection became a big component of that. The perennial call to ensure that subsistence rights are not diminished was strong, but even stronger this year was the outpouring of support for young people, who opened up with gut wrenching stories of pain from the fall out of addiction, suicide and abuse.
The kids were with the Tanana 4H group and their words were filled with emotion.
“I’m here to help those who hurt, like I hurt.”
Geneva spoke out about molestation.
“Male, female, young, old, gay or straight, we all hurt. No more. I’m not here because I hate my family. I love my family to the moon and back. That’s why I’m here, here for the future, of my little cousins and the children I will have in the future. Break the silence, no more violence – emotional, mental or physical. Rape and molestation stops today,” Geneva said.
The kids held cards with statements and words that were important to them. Patrick wrote about the connection between drugs, alcohol and suicide. He’d lost an uncle.
“Every time me and my brothers seen him when we were younger, he seemed joyful and happy, but he wasn’t. He got hurt, he got depressed – because of alcohol. The last time I seen him he was driving away in his buddy’s truck. I waved at him, but I didn’t know that was the last time I was gonna see him. I want to give him one last hug, but it’s too late now,” Patrick said.
Natawnee started by saying she hates alcohol.
“I hate it. I hate it in my family. I hate it in my village,” she said.
She told a story that is too common in families suffering from substance abuse, she had to be responsible for others. Rather than playing basketball as she wanted, she stayed home to protect her sisters when her parents were partying.
“Something bad happened to me when I was younger and I didn’t want it to happen to them, so I would stay home and send my sisters out to spend the night with friends whenever they were drinking. Sometimes I would wake up to drunk people laughing, or sometimes I would wake up to a zero below house. Nobody wants to feel alone,” Natawnee said.
Seven young people spoke, the last was a very young girl who urged people to spend time with their children and eat meals together.
Adults responded immediately by standing and taking a pledge to protect themselves and their families and stand together to stop suicide in Alaska. And during the resolution process, amendments were offered to strengthen language to combat abuse.
To applause, Rob Sanderson from Hydaburg said tribal leaders should not wait for funding from DC, they should stand up and act.
“We cannot keep coming up here year after year continuing to say that the numbers are rising. We must draw a line in the sand at the local level. People, please, for those of you that live in our communities, call out the people that hurt our women and children. Don’t be afraid, step up to the plate,” Sanderson said.
PJ Simon, from Alakaket said the root cause of problems in rural Alaska is substance abuse.
“At the very local level we need to turn in our bootleggers and the dope peddlers because we all know who they are,” Simon said. “So that takes courage, that’s what we need to do to protect our young boys and girls.”
Others called for working with rural air carriers and fish processing companies to help stop trafficking of drugs and alcohol to villages.
If you visited Fairbanks International Airport over the weekend, you may have noticed a small construction project near one of the baggage carousels.
A local group has been working for six years to restore a biplane that once belonged to Carl Ben Eielson. The plane has a new set of wings, a fresh coat of paint it’s now hanging once more from the ceiling of the Airport terminal.
“There’s over almost 600 feet of cable in this airplane,” Rick Kreofsy, a volunteer with the Farthest North Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, said while standing midway up a latter, tightening a cable attached to the bottom side of an airplane wing overhead.
Kreofsky is a volunteer with the Farthest North Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Back in 2007, the group took on a project to restore a biplane that once belonged to aviator and explorer Carl Ben Eielson.
Kreofsky uses pliers to twist at a cable. It’s one of many that crisscross between an upper and lower set of wings.
“Different wires do different things,” Kreofsky said. “These ones here are supporting the wings in flight from the bottom; the ones coming up from the top hold the wings up when it’s sitting on the ground.”
This is a Curtiss JN-4D, but people call it a “Jenny” for short.
It came to Fairbanks in 1923, after Ben Eielson convinced a group of businessmen to buy it for $2,400 dollars.
Eielson flew the first mail flight between Fairbanks and McGrath in 1924. He didn’t use this plane for mail delivery, but he did fly the Jenny all over Interior Alaska.
“It had enough gas for 150 miles I guess,” Roger Weggel, an Instructor with the UAF Community and Technical College’s Aviation Maintenance Technology Program, said. “So it went Central, Circle I think, Wisemen and Livengood for sure, Nenana and McGrath. So, kind of in that circle, that was one tank worth of gas and then and then you’d have to refill to come back.”
The plane itself took a beating. Without runways, it landed on gravel bars. During takeoff, it plowed through alders and brush. But only a few years later, the plane was grounded.
Angela Linn is the Collections Manager for Ethnology and History at UAF’s Museum of the North. She says no one quite knows how it ended up in the Museum’s collection.
“You know, we’re not really exactly sure who gave it us,” she said. “Our files indicate it came to us in 1945 and that it was basically in a warehouse with no wings, just the fuselage.”
In 1981, a group of Air Force mechanics fit the Jenny with wings from a different kind of biplane, before they hung it from the ceiling of Fairbanks International Airport, but it never looked right, so volunteers raised nearly $27,000 to build new ones.
“Yeah, we built the wings from nothing,” Bruce Dunkel, a volunteer with the project, said. “They started with a couple of pieces of wood on the table and then we made the ribs, cut the ribs by hand. It’s amazing, built from scratch. The disappointing part is putting the skin on because it’s this beautiful structure underneath there and it’s all varnished. It’s just gorgeous.”
Bright yellow polyester fabric covers the wings. They span more than 46 feet. Originally, they would have been covered in linen fabric.
When Ben Eielson flew the Jenny, it was painted dark green, but the fuselage is original. The original wicker seats and wooden foot pedals rest inside and the propeller is also original.
Roger Weggel says he’s confident the plane could fly again, were it not for a few missing parts.
“It’s missing a water pump and a set of magneto, but if we had another couple parts, we could run that engine,” Weggel said. “It’s just they’re very hard to get, almost unattainable.”
“I actually found a guy who would loan is some parts if we wanted to actually fly it.”
Weggel is convinced this is one of the oldest airplanes in the state.
Anyone coming or going from the Golden Heart City can catch a glimpse if they look up. With help from the Department of Transportation and officials at Fairbanks International, the plane hangs once more from the airport ceiling.
Some high temperature records were set in the Interior on Monday, as the latest Chinook channeled more southerly air across the region.
Delta Junction peaked at 62 degrees, a daily record and the warmest it’s ever been there so late in the season. Eielson reached 58, and it got up to 51 in Fairbanks, all records for Oct. 28.
The air is cooling today and rain showers have given way to snow at higher elevations, where a few inches of accumulation are possible, but precipitation is likely to remain rain on lower terrain in town.
National Weather Service Climate Sciences and Services manager Rick Thoman says the late October rain is unusual.
“This is the latest in the season that we’ve ever had both plain rain and no snow on the ground,” Thoman said. “Of course there’s been rain later in the fall and in the winter when there’s snow on the ground, but this is the latest that it’s been, if you will, this September-like.”
Fairbanks is likely to experience its second snowless Halloween since official snow depth records began being kept locally back in 1930.
Thoman says the lack of snow is helping keep temperatures above the normal high of 21 and low of 6, but more winter like conditions are on the horizon.
“This is kind of the last big push of deep flow from the south across the mountain ranges and into the Interior,” Thoman said. “It does look like that as we go beyond this week that a somewhat more normal pattern with weather systems moving along from west to east.”
Thoman says there’s a chance a storm expected on the west coast later this week could send some more warm air into the Interior, but it would be short lived.
Nearly one month after the federally run health insurance marketplace launched, just 35 Alaskans have been able to sign up for plans.
That’s according to the two insurers offering plans on the marketplace, Premera Alaska and Moda Health.
Significant technical problems have plagued the healthcare.gov site since it went live on Oct. 1. An Obama administration contractor says it hopes to have it working smoothly by the end of November.
Premera Alaska President Jeff Davis says his company had 14 marketplace enrollees as of last Friday, just a trickle compared to what the company was prepared for.
“We expect tens of thousands, that was our projection coming into this,” Davis said. “So that kind of pent up demand, we hope will come through, but it’s going to be quite a rush at the last minute and we’re concerned about the customer service experience that that provides and our ability to get ID cards out and just to have such a compressed time frame.”
Insurer Moda Health was reporting 21 enrollees as of last Wednesday.
Enroll Alaska, the group of insurance agents working to sign Alaskans up for Affordable Care Act plans successfully guided three people through the process before suspending enrollments. Joshua Weinstein who is a benefits consultant with the group, says the technical problems have been frustrating:
“Those challenges have really impeded our ability to land people in the final product which is quality, affordable health care,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein says the marketplace isn’t correctly calculating the subsidies many Alaskans qualify for to help pay for health insurance. He says Enroll Alaska has gone to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department for answers.
“Director Susan Johnson who’s a regional director for Health and Human Services at the federal level is aware that there is an error and she’s indicated that she’s pushing it up the stream to Washington folks, so they’re in the know,” Weinstein said.
Enroll Alaska hopes to have the subsidy problem fixed soon. Weinstein says the group has a list of 2000 Alaskans who are interested in finding out more about enrolling in health insurance on the marketplace.
Back in the 1950s, Alaska’s bid for statehood was spurred in part by a fight over fish traps.
The behemoth contraptions were placed at the mouths of salmon streams from Ketchikan to Dillingham, resulting in waste of the resource while drastically diminishing the salmon runs.
Now, a new book details the history of the fish traps, and their impact on the soon to be new state.
“Fish traps were the principal, truly the principal public policy issue, that was driving the fight for statehood,” Alaska’s elder statesman Vic Fischer said.
He was around to hear the fish trap fight first hand. He says when the Alaska constitution came up for a vote, it passed 3-1, while another referendum proposed by the constitutional convention on the same ballot – to ban fish traps on statehood – passed 10-1.
“And one reason was, that the fish traps were the ultimate symbol of control of Alaska resources by Alaska owners,” Fischer said.
Nowhere but in Alaska could salmon have inspired such passion. The fish traps were built, owned and operated mostly by Seattle based fishing interests. Now James Mackovjak, a Gustavus historian and author, has written a book on salmon traps.
“Why would you have a salmon trap?,” Mackovjak asked. “Well, for the first thing was, they caught a lot of fish. Some traps, in good years, T caught as many as a million fish in a season. And that is a lot.”
Alaska Salmon Traps, Their History and Impact on Alaska, is a self published work. Mackovjak says the traps took little maintenance, but for a watchman or two, and they cut fishermen out of the equation entirely
“They held fish live, so when the cannery needed 30,000 fish to operate, they’d go out to the trap, get 30,000 live fish, take them to the cannery and put ‘em in cans. But also, it avoided the issue of having fishermen involved. You know, boats break down, fishermen go on strike, fishermen get sick, they demand more for their fish, they take their fish elsewhere to sell them. Those were all issues that were involved,” Mackovjak said.
The exclusion of local fishermen enraged Alaskans as much as the waste of the captured fish which the cannery owners decided not to can if they didn’t need to,
Mackovjak’s book is filled with photos of the traps and their builders. The design for the fish traps was borrowed from Great Lakes traps built as early as 1870. They were constructed from logs and chicken wire and placed in inter-tidal areas.
The first fish traps in Alaska appeared in Cook Inlet in 1885. The traps funneled salmon into chutes, then into holding bins. But they were built in public waters, and federal officials with the Bureau of Fisheries early on considered them barriers, and called for ending their use.
“A Congressman, William Selzer, who was the first Congressman, he claimed, to visit Alaska, called them the most murderous and iniquitous instrumentalities that were ever devised by the human brain to destroy natural life,” Mackovjak said.
Ketchikan entrepreneurs came up with the floating fish trap in 1907, which allowed traps to be located in deeper water, using floating logs held in place by anchors.
“I mean, some of the anchors weighted nine tons,” Mackovjak said,
By 1926 there were 799 fish traps in the Alaska Territory.
It was Howard Ickes, Secretary of the Interior under Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the effort to get rid of them. He worked with the FBI investigating corruption within the federal Bureau of Fisheries, which had oversight over the traps.
“I mean, there was one trap that was called the Commissioner’s trap, and the Commissioner had, allegedly, allowed this trap to be placed in a certain location, and he got a penny a fish for every fish that came through it,” Mackovjak said.
The federal government finally abolished fish traps in public waters in 1959, just before Alaska became a state.
Interestingly enough, that rule did not affect Metlakatla, Alaska’s sole Indian reservation. Metlakatla used fish traps until 1991.
Several communities on the Lower Kuskokwim River are involved in a search for two men: Nick Cooke of Bethel and Jim Lee Napoka of Tuluksak.
The two were traveling together by boat to a funeral in Tuntutuliak Oct. 23 but they never showed up. They were reported missing Friday.
Alaska State Trooper Michael Wilson says they were searching over 100 miles of the river by airplane and boat from Tuluksak all the way down to the Bering Sea Coast.
“We didn’t have any real leads,” Wilson says.
That changed Sunday afternoon. Close to 3 p.m. they found Napoka’s boat about 10 miles North of Tuntutuliak in the mouth of the Kialik River. The boat was submerged but it was the lead searchers needed.
“With the finding of that boat, we’ve been able to now direct all of our resources to that area,” Wilson says.
Searchers also spotted footprints on the nearby river bank. Now, boaters are concentrating on the shoreline with the hopes that the men are alive and well. Wilson says several villages are involved. They started efforts this morning at 8.
“Anywhere between six and 10 boats between Napaskiak, Napakiak, Kwethluk, and Tuntutuliak and they’re going to be headed down to the mouth of the river and starting a shore search,” Wilson says.
Troopers have used two airplanes for daily aerial searches since Friday.
They are asking anyone who has seen the two missing men to contact their Bethel post at 543-2294.
Climate change is causing Arctic sea ice to melt rapidly and recede, opening up vast stretches of Arctic waters for shipping and resource development. In response, a group of state legislators and others is working on a policy they hope will help shape Alaska’s policy for managing those changes – and influence the federal government’s broader national Arctic policy.
An estimated 1,500 World War II veterans live in Alaska. The generation that fought the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army are now in their 80s and 90s, battling the devastations of old age. A group dedicated to honoring these Alaskans just completed its first mission. The Last Frontier Honor Flight flew two dozen veterans to Washington, D.C. last week to visit the World War II Memorial.
Most of the 25 vets arrived at the memorial wearing blue and yellow windbreakers, with “Alaska” emblazoned on the back. But not Mike Hunt. The 91-year-old aviator stood out in his original Air Corps uniform and leather bomber jacket
“This jacket was issued to me in Long Beach, California in 1942,” Hunt said. “And the reason I still got it is I hung it in my chicken house after the war and my son retrieved it and wiped the mold off it and put bear grease on it and here it is. It still fits!”
During the war, Hunt flew aircraft to Russian pilots at Ladd Field in Fairbanks, hauled supplies over “The Hump” in the Himalayas, and delivered troops to occupy Japan. Then he homesteaded in East Anchorage.
Like most of the others on the trip, he toured the memorial in a borrowed wheelchair. As they rolled toward the central fountain for a group photo, a passing jogger stopped to shake hands and thank them for their service.
When Hunt thinks back on the war, he thinks of how the whole country pulled together to win it, and of those who never made it home.
“All these heroes sacrificed so that we’re all free,” he says. “I feel fortunate that I’m still here, a survivor. Could have been the other way around.”
Most of the Alaska honorees came with a family member — In Hunt’s case, his son, Howard. Together they looked at one of the memorial’s more subtle features: a series of panels running around the perimeter that depict scenes of the war and of the home front
“What’s that they’re listening to?” Howard asks his dad in front of a panel showing a family gathered around a radio.
“The war report, I guess,” Hunt says.
“It’s probably the bombing of Pearl Harbor. See, this is the beginning of the War and it goes down each relief has a different image: enlistment to training to service, to shipping out, and then fighting the war and coming home. It goes from the beginning to the end,” Howard explains.
Among the Alaska vets were two elders from Metlakatla, and two women.
“It’s a real thrill to come here with this group. It’s a real honor,” says Ellen Jean White, of Anchorage. She spent more than two decades in the Air Force. She joined the war effort in 1944, hoping to serve her country as a pilot.
“I tried to get in WASPS (Women Air Force Services Pilots), but they wouldn’t let me in because I was a quarter inch too short,” White recalls. “And I had a pilot’s license and was fully qualified otherwise. So I joined the Air Force. And I wanted to do something with aviation and they made me an admin clerk and finally I got into aircraft maintenance, … and they wouldn’t let us do that very long because they said that wasn’t lady-like. So then I went into supply, and I was in supply and logistics from then on.”
After the war she was twice stationed at Elmendorf, and she retired in Anchorage in the 1970s. Still agile at 92, she popped in and out of her wheelchair to pose for pictures with her granddaughter.
Last Frontier Honor Flight, along with its Fairbanks sister organization, raised money to fly the veterans and their guardians to Washington. Founder and president Ron Travis of Big Lake is himself a Vietnam War veteran.
“Well the real value is just what you see here: families interacting,” Travis says. “They’re seeing this for the first time, the families, or hearing stories for the first time. I think it’s kind of a closure somewhat to some of the veterans when they look around, and it’s kind of an ending thing for them. It’s kind of shutting the door because it never really got shut. To me, that’s really what it’s about.”
Travis says he hopes this is the first tour of many.
The annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention wrapped up Saturday in Fairbanks. AFN board co-chairs were elected in the morning.
Ana Hoffman garnered the most votes. Hoffman is the President and CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation. She will serve with Arctic Slope Regional Corporation External Affairs Vice President Tara Sweeney.
In thanking the AFN delegates for their votes, Hoffman noted the significance of the election results.
“I look forward to serving as co-chair with Tara Sweeney,” Hoffman said. “A fellow ANCSA afterborn and the first time AFN has two women co-chairs.”
Sweeney will serve a one-year term and Hoffman will serve for two years.
Resolutions dealing with a wide range of issues from health and safety to land rights and subsistence protection took up the afternoon.
Special recognition resolutions honoring Katie John and Native actor Ray Mala were also passed.
A group of people assembled for the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Fairbanks rallied Saturday in support of four Native men they believe are wrongly imprisoned for murder.
George Freese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease are serving long sentences for the 1997 beating of Fairbanks teen John Hartman.
The so called “Fairbanks Four” case jumped to center stage last month, when the Alaska Innocence Project filed requests for post conviction relief based on new information showing others are responsible.
The call for their exoneration took on a broader voice at the weekend rally.
Dozens waved signs, banged drums and sang in solidarity with the Fairbanks Four. Native American rock star Robbie Romero of New Mexico joined Alaska Natives in support of the jailed men.
“I’m honored to be here with you today, and I’m honored to stand up and speak out for these 4 men who have been falsely incarcerated,” Romero said.
Romero encouraged a peaceful approach, a sentiment echoed by Athabascan David Solomon, who warned ralliers not to let anger about what’s happened dictate their actions.
“We have to do it in a good way. Don’t let the white man make you go off the wrong track, and be ___off and end up in jail. We have to do it in loving way and a good way,” Solomon said.
Another speaker, David Harrison of the village of Chickaloon called on Alaska tribes and villages to come together to free the Fairbanks Four.
“If we continue to struggle as one village or one tribe, we’re not going to go anywhere,” Harrison said. “But if we assert as nations, things will change.”
Saturday’s rally was staged outside the Carlson Center, where Alaska Federation of Natives Convention delegates unanimously passed a resolution in support of re-examination of evidence in the Fairbanks Four case, to see that justice is done.
The resolution was submitted by the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which has offered a reward for information leading exoneration of the men.
Two Sitkans suffered symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning after eating clams harvested in the Starrigavan Creek area, not far from the community’s ferry terminal.
State health official Louisa Castrodale says a man and a woman had to seek treatment at a hospital emergency room after consuming the clams Oct. 18th.
She says they ate two clams each and developed typical symptoms for limited exposure.
“Tingling around the mouth, and tingling in the fingers, the lips and things like that. Sometimes they can have gastrointestinal systems, like nausea and vomiting. This is just in general,” Castrodale says.
“Folks who are more severely affected can have muscle weakness or issues breathing.”
Both patients were treated and released.
The state Environmental Health Laboratory analyzed leftover clams. Testing found the PSP toxin.
You’ve heard this before. But Castrodale stresses there’s no way of knowing what shellfish is safe to eat.
“There’s no broad testing program for recreationally harvested shellfish. So you can’t tell if there is toxin or paralytic shellfish poising in shellfish by just looking at it,” she says.
Commercially sold shellfish are tested and only sold if they’re safe.
Clams, mussels, oysters, geoducks and scallops can contain the poison. Crabmeat is not known to hold the toxin, but crab guts can.
Fans of the retired U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Storis have been holding their collective breath all weekend, hoping there might be a way to prevent the scrapping of the ship in Mexico.
Documents were forwarded to members of the Storis Museum Saturday morning indicating the ship might contain too much hazardous material to be exported under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.
Jon Ottman is a historic preservation consultant and marine historian based in Michigan. He authored the successful application to place the Storis on the National Register of Historic Places.
He says that while some PCBs were removed from the ship, more may be contained in parts of the ship that would only be exposed and made dangerous if the Storis were broken up.
“The information that we have received indicated that the report that was used to clear the vessel for export for scrapping was flawed in that while the report had indicated the un-encapsulated PCBs on-board the vessel was removed the report does not indicate the other PCBs that would have been contained on the vessel in various locations throughout the ship, such as paint, gasket material, rubber insulation and various types of wire insulation aboard the vessel, that’s all still on board the ship,” Ottman said.
Because of that, Ottman says the Storis should not be exported to another country that might not have as strict environmental laws as the U.S.
“It’s an unfortunate situation but it would appear the EPA, the Unite States Coast Guard, the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. General Services Administration should have been aware of all this, and they’re basically complicit in releasing a ship that should not be going to a foreign ship breaker. They let her go,” Ottman said.
PCBs, or poly-chlorinated biphenyls, were once widely used in electrical systems, paint and heat shielding until being banned in 1979 because of their persistent environmental toxicity and link to cancer.
Ottman says supporters of the Storis have contacted Alaska Senator Mark Begich for assistance.
“At this point, Senator Begich’s staff are trying to reach out to the EPA to see where the process went wrong and what the situation is from that perspective,” Ottman said. ”They’re also reaching out to the Mexican authorities through the Mexican Embassy to let them know the vessel is actually en route at this point so that they can be aware that there is a contaminated vessel that is en route to their country. They may have the opportunity, the Mexican authorities, to turn the ship away because of what she contains on board.”
Ottman says if the Storis can be kept from leaving the country and the federal government can be convinced that the disposal was flawed, the process could go back to square one.
“Because the GSA listed the vessel as a repairable ship and did not indicate in their original listing for her on the GSA auction site that she contained hazardous materials that would have to be handled in a special fashion, or that should she be desired by someone for ship-breaking, that it would have to be done domestically,” Ottman said. ”Those are all very serious shortcomings in the original General Services auction listing.”
The current owners of the Storis are Mark Jurisich and John Bryan, co-owners of US Metals Recovery of San Diego. They bought the 71-year-old ship at auction this summer for $70,100. The Storis was taken under tow late Friday near San Francisco.
The Storis was commissioned in September 1942 and served until February 2007. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places last December.
The young black bear cub called Little Smokey has a new home.
The cub orphaned earlier this month near Seward will be a resident of Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear.
The non-profit educational center has featured only brown bears, but to give Smokey some company, the Fortress has agreed to adopt a second orphaned black bear to be donated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
In a news release, Sitka Wildlife Biologist Phil Mooney said the cub arrived at his new home at 5 o’clock Friday morning.
The cub has become a social media sensation as people around the world monitored the animal’s capture.
His predicament started on Oct. 12 when law enforcement responded to reports of an adult black bear breaking into a vehicle outside Spring Creek Correctional Facility near Seward. The bear was wounded by police and disappeared into the forest.
Then authorities started receiving reports of two to three unaccompanied young black bear cubs in the Spring Creek area. A lone cub also was reported and captured by Alaska State Troopers, who asked Seward Animal Control to hold the cub until a home could be found.
Fortress of the Bear volunteered.
When Little Smokey arrived at the Fortress, Mooney said he was coaxed out of the shipping kennel with an apple slice. He ate several slices, drank some water and curled up on a mound of straw, Mooney said.
“It certainly appears to me that the cub has good care in Seward, given its disposition and condition, so kudos to the facility there,” he said.
Fish and Game estimates more than 100,000 black bears live in Alaska, with many more found in Canada. Black bears also live in about 45 of the Lower 48 states. Black bears have life spans of 15 to 20 years.
The nine men who were arrested this week in Unalaska and charged with felony drug offenses have made their first appearances in court.
On Friday afternoon, police led Lua Aiava, 28, Allan Bautista, 44, Neuthon Costantini, 28, Ioane Faasavalu, 25, Tofa Matautia, 28, Ernie Oxinio, 30, Brandon Rosa, 21, Tyson Rosa, 24, and Stephen A. Rosa, 49, into the Unalaska courthouse.
The court gallery was packed with more than 20 friends, family, and members of the public.
Magistrate judge Kay Adams reviewed the cases by phone from Cordova. Based on charging documents filed by the Unalaska police department, Adams found probable cause to allow all of the cases to proceed.
Adams set bail for all nine defendants with input from assistant district attorney Aaron Peterson, who also participated in the hearing by phone.
The lowest bail was $10,000 for Oxinio, who is charged with one count of a class B felony for allegedly possessing methamphetamine with intent to sell it. Several defendants’ bail was set at $50,000, with a required third-party custodian.
But the highest bail requirements by far were those for Stephen A. Rosa. Rosa faces the most serious charges of the group. He’s accused of operating ”a continuing criminal enterprise” involving the sale of meth.
The state alleges that in the course of six weeks, Costantini, Faasavalu, Bautista, Rosa, and his sons — Brandon and Tyson — all sold meth to a confidential police informant.
Stephen A. Rosa is accused of supplying the meth for those sales, which were valued at about $3,000. Police say they recovered about $40,000 in cash from Stephen A. Rosa’s home and workplace, along with several firearms.
The state combined all those offenses into the unclassified felony charge, which carries a sentence of up to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. Stephen A. Rosa is being charged with 13 additional felonies for associated offenses ranging from allegedly selling meth, to illegally possessing guns despite being a convicted felon.
Like many of the other defendents, Rosa requested a court-appointed attorney at the hearings on Friday.
“I don’t think I can afford an attorney now,” Rosa said. “I’m not this bigshot you guys think I am.”
Rosa was employed as a property manager at Tradewinds Apartments and a as truck driver for Radiant Heating Fuel Services before he was arrested. Rosa declared his annual income at around $35,000, which exceeds the state’s usual threshold for public defender services.
Peterson, the state attorney, encouraged the judge to assign an attorney anyways. He said Rosa requires immediate legal counsel.
The magistrate ultimately agreed. Adams told Rosa that his unclassified felony charge is “one of the maximum ranges of crimes that can be committed in Alaska. This is right below murder, to be honest with you.”
Adams signed off on the request for a public defender and set Rosa’s bail at $100,000 with a mandatory third-party custodian.
All nine defendants are scheduled to appear in court again on October 31 at 10 a.m. for pre-indictment hearings.
In the meantime, Unalaska police are still serving search warrants in connection with the investigation. By the end of the week, the department had served 20 warrants and expected to execute more in the coming days.
Public safety director Jamie Sunderland says he expects additional charges — and possibly arrests — to result from those searches.
Sundlerland encourages anyone with information about drug sales in Unalaska to contact police.