December first was World AIDS Day. The annual observance started in 1988 to increase awareness and prevention of the disease.
The United Nations estimates that more than 35 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2012. About 70 percent were in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 4 percent in North America.
A misjudgement of just a few dozen yards in the placement of a small house on a remote part of Kodiak Island over 30 years ago will likely result in a family’s hopes, dreams and history literally going up in smoke. The family doesn’t live on their homestead on Dry Spruce Bay full time anymore, but they’re heartbroken at the prospect of losing it.
It’s expensive to travel in and out of Alaska. And for Puni Timu, that price tag has kept her from seeing her parents for more than a year and a half. Puni went to Kodiak High School where she was a star player on the girls’ basketball team. When she graduated, she signed with the University of Jamestown’s basketball team in North Dakota. It’s been a long time since Puni last saw her parents and her teammates recently decided to something extraordinary for her.
A plane crash near the remote western Alaska village of Saint Marys killed four of the 10 people aboard, including an infant boy, an Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman said Saturday.
The pilot and three passengers died in the Friday night crash, spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
Peters said she had no immediate word on the six survivors’ condition but an airline spokeswoman said she understood they were injured.
The single-engine, turboprop Cessna 208 was a Hageland Aviation flight from Bethel to Mountain Village and Saint Marys, said Kathy Roser, a spokeswoman for Era Alaska airline. Hageland is part of Era Alaska, Roser said.
Jim Hickerson, president of Hageland Aviation, also told the Anchorage Daily News the six survivors were injured.
The wreckage was found about 4 miles east of Saint Marys.
Troopers and an air ambulance service responded to the scene, Peters said.
The dead were identified as pilot Terry Hansen, Rose Polty and Richard Polty and the infant, Wyatt Coffee.
The survivors included Melanie Coffee, Pauline Johnson, Kylan Johnson, Tonya Lawrence, Garrett Moses and Shannon Lawrence.
No ages or hometowns were immediately available, Peters said.
An emergency locator beacon signal helped pinpoint the crash site, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson said.
There was no immediate word on what might have cause the crash. The NTSB planned to send two investigators to the scene Saturday. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting crash information.
The temperature in the area Friday night was about 18 degrees.
Saint Marys, with a population of about 500, is roughly 470 miles from Anchorage.
Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich of Alaska are co-sponsoring an amendment to move forward building four heavy icebreakers. The amendment is attached to the Defense Reauthorization Bill in the senate. It would allow the Navy to begin shopping contracts for bids on all the components necessary to build the costly boats.
Congress is so stuck in partisan mire it hardly passes any bills these days. So it would seem unlikely it could pass anything as controversial as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Still, two campaigns, Arctic Power and Alaska Wilderness League, remain on the job in Washington, D.C. One has been fighting for 20 years to allow oil development on the coastal plain of the refuge, the other working just as long to ensure that day never comes.
These days, Arctic Power operates out of a hotel-like building in the fashionable Penn Quarter area of Washington, known for its proximity to galleries and restaurants. It’s actually an apartment building. Campaign chief Adrian Herrera says Arctic Power recently emerged from warm shut-down status. For a few years, it had no real office.
“The last Alaska Legislature grant allowed us to lease this office and have a second employee, so we’ve have this operation for a year,” he says.
Herrera’s own apartment is in the same building, so his is a very short commute.
Arctic Power was founded in 1992, so long ago its torch has passed to a new generation. Adrian Herrera’s father is Roger Herrera, a former BP executive who ran the campaign for years. The second employee now working with Adrian is Michael Shively, who also has family roots in resource development advocacy. His uncle is John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Mine partnership.
Herrera says he understands Alaskans are frustrated Arctic Power’s work isn’t finished yet. When Congress created the Arctic Refuge in 1980, a section of the law, numbered 10-02, left the fate of its northern edge in limbo. Polls show Alaskans overwhelmingly favor oil drilling there, but that would take another act of Congress, and polls show most Americans hate the idea. So Arctic Power keeps trying, even now, with the Senate and the White House in the hands of committed opponents of ANWR development and the nation awash in oil from North Dakota and Texas.
Herrera says it’s the central conundrum of ANWR: Alaskans believe in responsible oil extraction while other Americans want this distant place locked up.
“It’s the difference between the people who live there and find their living off the land, who eat and work on the land every single day, and a state that gets nearly its entire income from that land use, versus people who’ve never been there,” he says.
But Herrera says circumstances can shift suddenly in Washington, and Arctic Power needs to be ready. When gasoline prices climb, for instance, lawmakers are more inclined to open ANWR.
“ So in this world of Capitol Hill and politics you never say never,” Herrera says. “Absolutely realistically speaking, would Harry Reid allow a bill on ANWR to reach the floor of the House? Very unlikely. Would the president threaten to veto it, absolutely, down to the last minute …. (But) you fight the fight until the very end. You don’t give up … . I mean, yes, realistically, if it came to the floor under current situations — Well, it probably wouldn’t even come to the floor, but is the debate still going on in hearings? Absolutely. Are the public still listening? Absolutely.”
Financially, Arctic Power has had fat years and lean years. Oil companies pulled out long ago, so the group’s primary funder has been the state of Alaska, which has contributed $12 million over the years – sometimes a million or two a year, sometimes a tenth of that. Still Herrera calls it a grassroots organization.
“Not all our funding does come from the state,” Herrera says. “We have a considerable amount of our funding that comes from private donations (reporter, off mic: Like what percentage?) … I’m not at liberty to say that.”
Public records on file with the IRS show other contributions are miniscule. The most recent, a lean year ending mid-2012, shows private donors gave Arctic Power $1,200. They were outspent 100-to-1 by the state. The group did better at bingo – receiving $20,000 in charitable gaming receipts from an Anchorage bingo parlor.
In Arctic Power’s war room – the living room of an open-plan two-bedroom suite – lists of bill numbers are tacked to the wall, favorable bills in black ink, bills they don’t like in red. Herrera says the group is no longer solely devoted to opening the coastal plain of ANWR. These days, they’re also working to encourage development to the west, in the National Petroleum Reserve- Alaska, and off-shore — all with the aim, he says, of filling the trans-Alaska Pipeline.
He says the work is largely research and outreach, and shepherding visitors around Capitol Hill to help make the case.
”Our goal is to really monitor the Hill and as much as possible convince the public, convince state legislatures around the nation, other coalition groups … to support the effort,” he says. “What’s good for Alaska is good for America. That’s been our message from the beginning and it will be until the job is done.”
About a mile away, just off the Capitol grounds, is the headquarters of Alaska Wilderness League, on the second floor of an unremarkable office block. Some 10 people work here, and 10 more in Alaska field offices. While Arctic Power’s budget recently doubled to $300,000, Alaska Wilderness League has an annual budget of more than $3 million. It initially focused only on the Arctic refuge but has since expanded into other Alaska issues, including logging. Despite its healthy budget, Arctic campaign director, Lydia Weiss, says they don’t lobby in fat-cat style.
“I don’t take members of Congress golfing. I don’t buy them steak dinners. We don’t have that sort of budget. That’s not how it works. I pick up the phone and I ask for time to meet with staff people and I sit down and do it the old fashioned way. And I tell them about this place and I tell them about the dynamics and I dispel myths and usually I win their support.”
Alaska Wilderness League chooses the more evocative route. They always call it the “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” and the “coastal plain,” never “ANWR” or “10-02 area.” They use beautiful photographs and deploy interns dressed in polar bear suits. Weiss makes no apologies for the bear costumes. At rallies and protests, everyone from tourists to members of Congress wants to pose for photos with the bear. Weiss says the fur suits work as intended by drawing attention and, she says, reminding people what’s at stake.
Weiss, originally from New York state, also freely admits one of the worst accusations flung at her side: She’s never been to this coastal plain she’s devoting her career to.
“As if having been there is a threshold that one has to pass to care about the place!” She says. “It costs thousands of dollars for somebody to get into the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If that’s a threshold for being able to care about this place, that’s a recipe for making sure that only the richest most elite people in American are allowed to weigh in on it. I’m not one of those people. I never had any expectations of going to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But one of the things that makes me proudest as an American is our wilderness ethic. And I, like most Americans that care about this place … like to know that America can do this right and we can protect our most special places. Not for us, and not for recreation but for future generations and for the wildlife that depends on it.”
A few years ago, when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, Alaska Wilderness League was playing defense. Now, Weiss says, is the time for her side to gain ground.
“When there’s an immediate threat to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we all, this entire community,… comes together to defend it, and we always win,” she says. “There is less attention on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when that immediate threat isn’t there, and Alaska Wilderness League was founded and exists today in part to make sure we’re taking advantage of opportunities for offensive gains when the threats aren’t as immediate.”
Senators who champion their effort, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Mark Kirk of Illinois, recently introduced a bill that would declare the coastal plain of ANWR a wilderness area, forever off-limits to oil development. It’s a recurring favorite for environmentalists but people on both sides of the issue say the same thing when asked about its chances of becoming law: It would be hard to get anything this controversial through Congress.
Alaska Pacific University’s Kikkan Randall claimed a silver medal in the women’s classic-style sprint race in this season’s opening World Cup event in Kuusamo, Finland. It was the first day of cross-country ski racing.
The reigning world champion and three-time Olympian finished behind Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk in the 1.4 kilometer classic sprint race.
“I felt really strong all day and my skis were excellent in every round,” Randall said. “There is a big climb near the end of the course and my strategy was to save some energy to come over the top strong and carry the speed to the finish.”
Randall has never made the podium in a classic-style sprint race.
“She looked increasingly strong throughout the day,” U.S. coach Chris Grover said.
“Both her striding and her double-poling looked very powerful and efficient.
Two other American women placed in the top 30. Sadie Bjornsen came in 16th. Ida Sargent finished the race in 26th place. There are two more days of racing for both men and women.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Georgetown University took home the Great Alaska Shootout crown, beating the University of Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball team 92-78 in the championship game.
After the game, both coaches had similar ideas on the deciding factor of the tournament.
“As Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone has a game plan until the first hit,” Georgetown head coach Jim Lewis said. “And you have to be able to be flexible and adjust on the fly, if you will.”
Though UAA head coach Ryan McCarthy spoke to the same general topic, his outlook differed.
“To play a team like Georgetown that’s as athletic as they are, there’s no way we can simulate that in practice; or, there’s no way you can game plan for a team that is that athletic,” McCarthy said. “I mean, at our level we just don’t see teams like that – ever.”
In the Seawolves’ first game of the tournament, they were able to overcome a 14-point halftime deficit against UC Riverside and win in a double overtime thriller, but Georgetown’s 12-point lead going into the half was too much for UAA to overcome.
Coach McCarthy said after Tuesday’s game, the Seawolves were mentally exhausted.
“Your team has a tank of emotion and once it’s empty you can’t refill it, and I think that we used up a lot of that emotion – I mean, a double overtime game where it’s just I think emotionally just absolutely drains you,” he said.
Senior forward Kylie Burns said despite the championship loss, there are some things the team can learn from and bring into the regular season.
“Mental toughness, just because you’re down, doesn’t mean you can’t ever come back,” she said. “Energy is a huge thing, too, because that can get you going, and it’s not even a basketball skill.”
UC Riverside took third place, beating Nicholls State 74-64.
The men’s tournament continues through Saturday.
A two-year effort to improve medical care in Delta Junction got a big boost earlier this month in the form of a $400,000 grant that will enable the Interior Alaska Hospital Foundation to open a clinic by March. Now, foundation members have launched a drive to raise at least $150,000 for a pharmacy they’d like to open along with the clinic.
An oil and gas exploration well drilled in the Nenana Basin has not yielded a commercially viable deposit. Doyon Corporation vice president of lands and resources Jim Mery says the nearly nine thousand-foot well, about 16 miles west of Nenana, has inspired the corporation to keep looking.
Mery stresses that the well is only the second deep drilling that’s happened in the Nenana Basin, where Doyon has leases on about 400,000 acres of state land. He says the company is actively planning additional exploration work.
Monica Gokey, APRN-Anchorage
This week we’re heading 80 miles southwest of Bethel to a village the locals call “Kwig.” Andrew Beaver is the tribal administrator in Kwigillingok.
The new motion picture “Icebound,” about the Alaska serum run to Nome, is just one of many films coming to the Anchorage International Film Festival in early December. Also, “The Frozen Ground,” which only had limited theatrical release in Alaska.
HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
Alaska has its share of big science projects, to be sure. But to get results, science doesn’t always have to be huge.
In Sitka, a project in its second year is studying the seasonal movement of juncoes and some other sparrows. It started as a way to involve kids in science, and to answer some basic questions about a species so common that we haven’t taken the trouble to study it.
Robert – “I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed somebody at a whisper.”
Gwen – “Sorry, I hope it comes out.”
I find Gwen Baluss a couple of blocks up the street from where I live. She’s sitting just inside a downstairs window in the home of Scott Harris, who works for the Sitka Conservation Society.
She’s poised by the window, which is slightly ajar, holding a thread. When she releases it, a device known as a “hall trap” unfurls, ideally right on top of some unsuspecting juncoes.
“Yeah. It’s not looking good out there,” she said.
Juncoes tend to arrive at backyard feeders in waves, and the latest flock took flight after a cat stopped by.
Harris’s 7-year old son, Tomy, has been kneeling by the window all morning. He understands the hall trap, and what it’s like to be a few inches away from a creature that most of us only ever see at a distance.
“And when it’s in the middle, you let go of this,” Tommy said. “You let go of the string, and then the trap comes down on the bird, and then you just go out and get them. It doesn’t hurt them.”
The cat’s visit has pretty much ended trapping this morning. This is a setback, but only a small one. Baluss’s project has a very limited scope.
“I’m not color-banding any other birds in Southeast Alaska, so Sitka’s actually getting a lot of colors,” Baluss said. “If you see a color-banded bird in Southeast chances are that it came from Sitka, if it’s a junco, chickadee, or song sparrow. Those are the three species that I have the color bands for.”
Baluss is attaching tiny, colored bands to the legs of juncoes – only in Sitka. Anywhere from 1-4 bands per bird – like color-coding with various combinations of white, green, red, blue, and light blue. It’s an inspired strategy.
“That’s the nice thing about color-banding,” Baluss said. “A bird-watcher, or anyone, who happens to see a color-tagged bird could report those, and we would know which bird that was with a fair level of confidence.”
Baluss is a wildlife technician for the Forest Service in Juneau. Her agency, the Sitka Conservation Society, and the University of Alaska Southeast co-sponsor her research.
After lunch it’s time to change venues. We’re in the potting shed of the community garden, behind Blatchley Middle School. The noise that sounds like hail is actually from the marble-sized raindrops Southeast is famous for.
As I arrive, Baluss and Harris have just bagged a bird – literally. They’ve released the trap, and Baluss reaches in, grabs the junco, and stuffs it into a little cloth sack.
After she attaches the bands, she measures the length of its primary feathers, and checks its fat content. Earlier, she told me you can see right through the skin of small birds. She holds up the junco and starts to gently blow apart the downy feathers on its breast.
Gwen – “So, looking at his fat, I’m kind of doing the see-through skin trick again. The kind of yellowish stuff you see there is fat. Well, actually some of it is corn that he just ate. Stuff in his crop that you can see.”
Robert – “I’ve been interested in birds since I moved to Sitka but I never knew that they were see-through. That you could actually see their last meal heading down the pipe.”
Gwen – “Yeah, if they’ve eaten a lot.”
Baluss has banded 44 juncoes in two days, despite the weather. One ruby-crowned kinglet, one white-crowned sparrow, one fox sparrow, and one song sparrow. Last year she did almost one-hundred birds.
And these few birds have already taught us something important. Except for a few slate-colored juncoes that move in each winter from Canada, our local juncoes were always thought to be year-round residents.
One-hundred-forty-four banded birds say otherwise.
Gwen – “In that last year, of all the birds that we color-banded, none were seen in Sitka in the summertime at all. So they moved somewhere. Perhaps just out of town where people weren’t hiking. Perhaps much farther than that.”
Robert – “From what you’ve learned so far, it’s likely that people will be seeing these banded birds, not necessarily in Sitka, they might be seeing them up to the north, seeing them up in Whitehorse?”
Gwen – “Yeah. Hopefully most of them will survive the winter and breed somewhere, and communities in Southeast and in Canada will keep an eye out for them.”
So does this mean an entire population of songbirds moves out of Sitka in winter, only to be replaced by an identical population moving in? That’s a pretty big conclusion, even for small science.
This week we’re headed 77 miles southwest of Bethel to the village of Kwigillingok. Andrew Beaver is the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Kwigillingok.
“My name is Andrew Beaver, I’m the tribal administrator for governing body, Native Village of Kwigillingok. I’m also a church elder.
I’m only ninety year young, I don’t feel that old, and I have 13 grandchildren. And I’m married and I have my own, my own children, that are grown adults now, supporting themselves.
I feel I’m still in my mid-age. Like in 40, 45, 40 year old. Because I’m very active; I go out to tundra and enjoy the nature. I don’t stay put in once place.
Personally, I enjoyed going out doing subsistence [for fun]; it’s part of our recreation, like a we enjoy the natural environment, um, and that’s natural. Like when I’m stressed out at work, I work for my tribe in the office, and I can go out into nature, nature environment, and be out there. And many times my stress feelings are [done with] out there, and by the time I come back I’m no longer stressed out. I’m ready to go back to a stressful work.
We’re pretty much done with our summer subsistence fishing. We dried salmon and we eat some of them…. and right now we’re in the process of drying smaller fish, and right up to freezing, when the ice is thickened up on the river we dipnet for tom-cots and that’s part of our winter food supply.
Unusually it’s warm. By this time it should be frozen. The river still is pretty open. There’s a thin ice on lakes, and this is not normal. Last year it was frozen by this time of the year.
I think we’re pretty much adapted to any season, unusual season like this. We’re, right now, we’re still doing our subsistence activities, like before freeze-up, we continue with that.
We don’t have any restaurants or hotels, but we have places where people can sleep — like families open their doors, bringing strangers in. The school also opens their doors to have somebody stay there at minimum cost. But we have a general store with mostly canned foods and limited food or refrigerated. It’s not like in city. But, uh, the necessary basic needs for community.
I think our community is keeping their language, Yup’ik language; that’s our first language and 99 percent of our population speaks our language fluently. And our second language is English, not that much.”
The Bethel City Council once again declined a hard look at raising water and sewer rates. Mayor Joe Klejka was behind a memorandum to have staff write up ordinances that would make the water and sewer operation cover its costs. Eric Whitney made the motion to enter the memorandum, but that’s as far as it got.
The city currently has to transfer money earned by the port to cover costs. Vice Mayor Rick Robb in his comments said the timing might not be right.
“There is a lot of concern about raising people’s bills at a difficult time, we have some problems with that, especially as the city currently has a surplus of money due to excise tax and other things and to turn around and bring up raising bills, maybe we can use some of that excise tax in a different way. I just throw that out there as an idea,” Robb said.
Bethel resident Sherry Neth receives piped water. She expressed interest in being metered, and only paying for what her household uses. She spoke to the idea of reducing the steep costs of water delivery.
“Trucks [will] get more expensive and the more miles they have to travel, the greater the wear and tear,” she said. “I want to encourage looking at the infrastructure and and if as rates go up if some of that could be an investment toward improving infrastructure, that will in the end decrease the long term cost to the city,” Neth said.
Major Joe Klejka is urging the council to be proactive on getting control over the precarious sewage lagoon. He said agencies won’t give the city grants until the water and sewer rates cover their costs. Meanwhile, the lagoon needs protection from erosion as it generates large waves in the second cell. The port, which has been subsidizing the water sewage system, needs dock work done.
“To just wait for catastrophic failure makes me really nervous’ Kleika said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to go, maybe someone will bail us out, but it won’t be pretty when it happens, whether it’s the dock or the sewer lagoon. I think we need to go forward. I was hoping that this action memorandum would get the conversation going, because it is important. It is cost increases and it is difficult times.”
The city is about a half million dollars short on an annual basis.
The council approved a record keeping master plan that allows for electronic records. The previously approved system required all paper records.
The state disaster office has pushed back the start date for those affected by the October Kenai flooding to register for individual grant assistance.
The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said this week they now plan to open disaster assistance centers, as well and online and telephone registration during the week of Dec. 8, the Peninsula Clarion reported. Officials had initially planned to do so the week of Dec. 2.
Officials say the delay would allow out-of-state contractors to arrive and be properly trained on procedures.
On Nov. 18, Gov. Sean Parnell declared the Oct. 28 flooding on the Kenai Peninsula a disaster.
Kenai Peninsula Borough officials estimated that 120 homes were affected by the flooding and that $2.1 million in damages occurred to private.
The chairman of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board says replacing the troubled Tustumena ferry is the board’s top priority.
Chairman Bob Venables of Sitka said at a recent board meeting that the Tustumena is important to the transportation infrastructure of Western Alaska. The Tustumena was out of commission for nearly a year. It returned to service last month, six months later than expected.
The Alaska Journal of Commerce reports that the Alaska Marine Highway System has contracted with a Seattle marine engineering firm to help with the process of replacing the vessel.
The system’s general manager, Capt. John Falvey, said the cost will likely be several hundred million dollars. He said the state’s Vessel Replacement Fund has enough money to complete pre-construction work.
Environmental groups are asking the state and the federal government to exchange or purchase land to create a permanent wildlife buffer along the eastern border of Denali National Park. The request comes in response to a park service study that shows a decline in the number of wolves viewed by visitors who ride the bus along the park road.
A state court judge says he’ll personally review further procedures by the state Department of Natural Resources in a dispute over a water rights application. At a hearing today, ( Wednesday), Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner gave DNR a timeframe for moving forward on processing the Chuitna Citizens Coalition’s application for an instream flow permit.
Last month, Judge Rindner told DNR the agency’s delay in processing the 2009 application, was “unreasonable” and violated the Coalition’s constitutional right to due process. At that time, Judge Rindner gave DNR 30 days to get started.
At today’s [Wednesday's ] hearing, the court set a schedule for DNR to take the first step in adjudication of the permit. Valerie Brown, an attorney with the Trustees For Alaska, which represents the Coalition, says publishing notice of the application is the first step under state regulations.
“And DNR didn’t do that. They sent a letter asking for a point of contact. So, today the hearing was about whether or not they [DNR] had to immediately publish notice, and the judge said that he was going to let them collect sixty more days of information before he decides if they have to publish notice or not. “
Earlier, Brown had filed a contempt of court motion against DNR, while the state agency filed a counter- motion for clarification. Judge Rindner did not find DNR in contempt of court. State attorney Colleen Moore says a letter DNR sent to the Coalition this month suggesting that further information is needed, is in compliance with the court’s October ruling.
Moore declined to be recorded, but said the state agency has until December 6 to formally request further information from the Coalition, which then has 60 days to answer. A second court hearing is set for early February.
Moore also told the court that prior to the November 13 letter to the Coalition, a second application was received at DNR requesting water use in the same stream that is in the Coalition’s request, and that now DNR will have to process both applications together, since they are for water from the same stream.
The Coalition wants an instream flow permit for a salmon stream in the Chuitna River watershed, which it says will be damaged if a proposed coal mine in the area becomes reality. Attorney Brown:
“The fact that the judge is not going to allow DNR to continue to delay is a very good thing for us, because we have been waiting a long time for this, and Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition would really like to secure fish protection with this instream flow application.”
State attorney Moore says the agency is not reluctant to process the Coaltion’s application, and that DNR’s problem is a lack of staff time to process all applications in a timely manner. Moore says at this time, more than 300 instream flow reservations are pending at the agency, most of them from other state agencies, although about 30 of them have been filed by private citizens’ groups. HB77, legislation pending in the Senate rules committee, proposes to limit water reservations permits to only public entities, excluding citizen requests.
Bilge water is the nasty stuff that collects at the bottom of a boat. It can contain engine oil and anti-freeze, and releasing it in state waters is illegal. But even though it’s a crime, the state doesn’t get too many chances to prosecute it. Last week, the Department of Law scored a rare legal victory when a bilge water case was decided in their favor.
When someone dumps their bilge water, it’s hard to nab the perpetrator. The evidence literally dilutes as the crime is happening. Unless, of course, the evidence freezes. That’s exactly what happened in Seward on January 20, 2012. State attorney Carole Holley explains.
“Seward boat harbor employees found an oily sheen around the edges of the vessel, and the reason why this was so easily determined is because there had been a hard freeze in the night that sealed the vessel up in ice,” says Holley.
The boat was the motor vessel Dutch Harbor, and the man operating it was Allen McCarty. While there’s no way to get an exact amount of bilge water released, estimates put it at 200 gallons.
To prove McCarty was responsible for the pollution, the state’s environmental crimes unit teamed up with the Coast Guard. They took samples of the contaminated harbor water and of the bilge water still on the boat. Then, they compared them to see if they shared a similar composition.
“What they determined when they sent it to the U.S. Coast Guard’s laboratory in Connecticut was that there was a match,” says Holley.
McCarty was charged with unlawful discharge of oil, water pollution, and failure to report the release of hazardous substances. Last week, a jury found him guilty of all three counts. McCarty was fined $5,000, required to pay for the cost of the clean-up, and ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.
As the state’s environmental crimes attorney Holley says that part of why the state prosecuted the case was deterrence. There have been situations — like in Kodiak a couple years ago — where bilge dumps were identified, but the offending vessel was never found. And if enough people get away with discharging bilge water in a given area, it can have a real environmental impact.
“When you multiply it by a hundred Mr. McCartys, you have a lot of toxic materials that’s being put into the water,” says Holley.
McCarty’s attorney was also struck by how uncommon prosecution of this sort of crime is, but for different reasons. Paul Stockler says he can’t think of anyone who’s been in state court over bilge water violations. The most similar trial he can come up with is that of Captain Joe Hazelwood, over the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Stockler disagrees with the court’s decision, and is preparing to appeal it. He says his client was prosecuted for something he didn’t do. Stockler is also skeptical of the state’s evidence against McCarty.
“A person testified from back east that it was a match, whatever that means. So, he’s saying that the substance in the water is consistent with the substance in the bilge,” says Stockler. “I think their science is lacking.”
Holley’s confident in the test results, but says it is McCarty’s legal right to appeal. And in the meantime, she hopes that future violators think twice about dumping their bilge.