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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 52 min 16 sec ago

Fishermen Test Experimental Cook Inlet Pollock Fishery

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:15

Since December, a few intrepid Cook Inlet fishermen have been trying something new. They’ve been fishing for pollock in state waters using seine gear. It’s an experiment to determine the viability of establishing a future fishery in the area. KBBI’s Shady Grove Oliver spent a day aboard the Sea Prince to see how the experiment is working so far.

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We set out from the Homer harbor before sunrise. The crew of the 58-foot Sea Prince organizes gear on deck under a flood light as we chug into Kachemak Bay.

And in the wheelhouse, Captain Rob Nelson is preparing for the first set. He’s not totally sure where or when to set the net.

“I guess, somebody’s got to start,” he said. “I mean it would be great if we knew exactly what to expect and how to gear up and everything. But, somebody’s got to go first I guess.”

The Sea Prince and another vessel, the Silver Streak, are the only two boats that have gone out so far. It’s a risky venture after all, to put time and money into something that might not pan out. And that’s the bare bones of this experimental fishery – to test the waters for potential and figure out the particulars along the way.

That’s one of the reasons Elisa Russ is on board today. She’s an assistant area management biologist for Fish and Game.

“Definitely that has been the impetus with having every single trip observed with a Department of Fish and Game observer on board to monitor the bycatch as well as the effectiveness of the gear and how the fishery is prosecuting,” Russ said.

Chinook bycatch has been a huge concern for fishermen and biologists alike. Since the fishery started in December, there have been 45 kings caught. Russ says all but two were released unharmed and those didn’t go to waste.

“And so, any that are caught and killed, which as I said was two, then I’m processing for sampling and taking genetic information from and then I’ve been donating them to the Homer Food Bank,” Russ said.

The majority of the bycatch has been herring, jellyfish, and the occasional Pacific cod. And numbers are lower than initially expected.

Captain Nelson says the other thing that’s been lower than expected is the fish.

“The fish are in the deep. This time of year they’re out in the deep hole so it’s kind of out of our reach unless they really come up,” he said. “So, you can see the potential; with a little deeper net you could go out and fish right out in the middle and probably catch some real volume doing that.”

The Sea prince can fish down to about 150 feet whereas the Silver Streak is limited to 75 feet.

And so far, the numbers reflect the net size. During the seven trips the boats completed in December, the Sea Prince caught more than 10 times the amount of pollock as the Silver Streak. And the combined total of 11,400 pounds was still only a fraction of the 220,000-pound GHL for 2014. To date, just over 30,000 pounds have been caught.

Captain Nelson says there’s good biomass, but lots of other contributing factors have come into play like tides, time of day, temperature, depth.

But he says the biggest challenge so far has actually been what to do with the fish once it’s caught.

“It just started slower. It’s one of those things where we figured we were going to be hot and heavy into it at the beginning and then market-wise it’s been a little slow,” Nelson said.

“They really need to diversify who they’ve been selling to. I think they’re hoping that with the opening of the trawl pollock fisheries – the big fisheries in the state for pollock – this will hopefully allow them more options for where to sell their fish,” Russ said. “Where the processors are buying larger volume from the pollock trawl fleet, that they can also perhaps sell a higher volume with less restrictions. I’m not sure if that’s how it will pan out.”

The majority has gone to the bait market at 30 to 40 cents per pound and he’s sold some to the South Korean fresh market as well.

Nelson plans to deliver today’s catch to The Auction Block in Homer. In the 10 hours we’re out fishing, they catch a grand total of 3,872 pounds. It’s not the most they’ve done and not the least.

With the sun well below the horizon, the Sea Prince stows its gear and heads back to town.

“We’re going to pull over to the dock where they’re going to unload us there. We’ll just crane up the totes and they’ll take them from there over to the facility and weigh them and then we’ll go from there and tie up,” Nelson said.

We head inside a warehouse where people are busy opening up the totes and throwing fish.

There’s also a surprise visitor. Beaver Nelson is the captain’s father, who’s come to see how his son fared today. He also sits on the Gulf of Alaska pollock work group. It was created to stimulate discussion about opening state waters to seining for the species.

Pollock is caught predominantly in the federal trawl fisheries. But he says recently, there’s been interest in new avenues.

“And there’s other areas [like] Sand Point, Kodiak, and King Cove,” he said. “Those areas are all interested in possibly seining for pollock also. So, this fishery is basically to determine if seining is a feasible way to capture pollock other than trawling. A safer way with possibly much less bycatch than trawling would involve.”

He says not only would it maximize use of a state resource, it would open up opportunities for fishermen concerned with the turn toward more restricted IFQ-type fisheries.

“If we had a state allocation, it wouldn’t be an IFQ thing,” he said. “It would be an allocation toward open-entry fishery to anyone who wanted to try it, could go do it.”

He says if the data collected during these initial trips is positive, he could see a fishery coming to fruition.

That data is the focus of biologist Elisa Russ’s last task of the evening. She heads over to a metal table, pulls out a pollock, a ruler, and a scale. She sticks the hook end of a scale through one of the heads.

“I am sampling the pollock. I’m going to do a random sample of 50 pollock from the catch today now that it’s all mixed up,” Russ said. “On all these fish, I’m going to take the length, the weight, the sex, the maturity condition, so if it’s a juvenile or if it’s sexually mature and where it’s at in its reproductive cycle.”

She pulls out a knife, swings it and chops open its head.

“I take out the pair of sagittal odaliths from these fish and that’s their earbones. We can tell their age from them. They’re kind of like a tree, they have rings on them,” Russ said. “We break them, burn them, cut them in half, toast them in an oven and that gives some contrast to the annuli, the age rings, and then we age them.”

This sampling will establish baseline data for the fishery. It will be taken into consideration by Fish and Game, the Board of Fish, and other stakeholders in determining where to go from here.

So, all in all, there’s still a lot up in the air. There are a lot of unknowns. It’s still a risk, but Captain Rob Nelson says, it’s worth it.

“Might not even be a profitable venture the first year, but it will be a start and you’ve got to start somewhere and we’ll know where to go from here,” he said. “But the first thing is to show that it can be done.”

He’s got until the end of February to do just that.

Categories: Alaska News

After Regrouping In Anchorage, Kikkan Randall Looks Towards World Championships

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:14

Alaska Pacific University skier Kikkan Randall has spent three years on top of the World Cup sprint standings. This season has been different- she’s struggled to make even the top ten in races. Randall’s back in Europe now, after spending a few weeks in Anchorage to regroup.

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Photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team.

Kikkan Randall was skeptical when her coach Erik Flora suggested she fly back to Anchorage from Europe in the middle of the World Cup racing season:

“At first, I have to admit, I thought he was a little crazy.”

But she came around to the idea of having a chance to refocus in the comfort of her home city. She says she ate seafood, played with her cats, and trained at Kincaid and Hillside:

“It was really, really good. Just to see friends and family and get back in a good training environment. I really feel like it was the break I needed.”

Randall’s early results on the World Cup have been disappointing. Her best finish so far is 9th in a sprint race in December in Switzerland. Randall is coming off last year’s Olympics, where she was the favorite to win gold in the skate sprint, but finished far out of the medals. Then in the spring and summer, she thinks she trained too hard, hoping to prove she could peak properly for this year’s World Championships:

“I don’t think I rested enough coming off of a big Olympic year and just carried too much fatigue into the summer and the fall. And by the time I realized I was under some fatigue, we were already in the racing season so I was trying to balance resting with the racing and it hasn’t allowed me to find my peak form.”

Until this year, Randall’s career has been a steady progression to become the best female sprint skier in the world. She says things were going so well, she got a little complacent thinking that trend would continue. Now she’s experiencing a new kind of challenge- not performing to her own, or the world’s, expectations:

“I’ve been laughing a little bit because I often talk in presentations about the importance of focusing on the positive and focusing on the process and the little things you can do each day to build up to your goals, and I feel like I’ve been having to listen to my own advice a little bit.”

The big goal this season is the World Championships, which start in Falun, Sweden on February 18th. Randall and her U.S. teammate Jessie Diggins are the defending world champions in the team sprint event. Randall says its a gamble whether her form will be back to 100 percent but she’s excited to get back to racing:

“I don’t really plan to put hard expectations down. I think I just want to make sure my body is in a good place and go out and race with what I have and if things go well, it could be some good results.”

Alaska Pacific University head coach Erik Flora isn’t worried about Randall’s performance. He says it’s common for elite athletes who have long term success to occasionally take a step back and have a rebuilding year. He says in the long run, one sub-par season shouldn’t matter much for Randall’s career, even if it’s hard to see it that way right now:

“With Sochi being a fairly big goal and a lot of the training leading up to it, post Sochi taking a year to adjust, having a bit of an off year, I’m sure when we look back on it, it’s not a big deal at all.”

Flora says the APU ski team as a whole is having one of it’s best season’s ever, with breakout performances on the World Cup from Rosie Brennan and Sadie Bjornsen. Both will compete in the World Championships alongside Kikkan Randall who is thrilled by the success of her teammates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Joyce Kerttula Dies At 91

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:13

Joyce Kerttula stands behind Gov. Bill Egan as he signs a bill by Rep. Jay Kerttula, holding his daughter Anna. Beth Kerttula is standing beside the governor. (Uncredited photo via Alaska House Democrats)

Joyce Kerttula died Monday at age 91 after a long fight with lymphoma, but not before helping two generations of Kerttulas rise to political power in the state.

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Beth Kerttula, the girl with the bunny in the photo, likens her mom to a 61st legislator who made Jay Kerttula’s historic rise to power possible.

“My dad’s the only guy to have ever been both speaker and president of the Senate, and I just, I never could figure out how he could have ever done that until I was in and realized, you know, it’s because of my mother. If you have someone working with you who you trust implicitly and who works side by side, and who really is a, frankly a second legislator, you can get a lot done. And that’s what happened. They were a tremendous team,” Kerttula says.

Beth Kerttula represented Juneau in the Alaska House for 15 years.

Jay Kerttula represented Palmer in the Alaska Legislature for 34 years, and Joyce Kerttula worked alongside him as an unpaid volunteer for almost that entire time.

In a 2014 interview, Joyce recalled how her unofficial career in the legislature began with an office visit. His secretary pulled open – then shut – a desk drawer that was full of papers.

Joyce Kerttula in 2013. (Photo courtesy Beth Kerttula)

“And I said, ‘Would you mind telling me what was in that drawer?’ And she says ‘Oh, that’s letters that I don’t know how to answer and I’ll get to them one of these days.’ And I said would you mind if I looked at one of them?’ And I pulled one out at the bottom and not the top and it was over a month old. And I said this can’t go on.”

Beth Kerttula picks up the story from there.

“And my mom just sat down and started writing, writing letters on one of those old Underwood typewriters. And she just kept going, and that was it,” she says.

Thirty-some years later, she was still at it. Joyce Kerttula handled the legislative offices, the campaigns and constituents. In her obituary, the family calls Joyce Kerttula “the heart and soul” of her husband’s legislative offices.

Originally from Oklahoma, she was born Helen Joyce Campbell in 1923. After finishing college, she left Oklahoma to be a personal assistant to a scientist working on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, where she witnessed a test detonation of an atomic bomb.

She moved to Alaska in 1954 and taught English at Palmer High School. She met and married Jay in 1955. Joyce Kerttula’s unofficial career in the Alaska Legislature began after he was sworn into office in 1961.

An Alaska memorial service is in the works for the summer. She had been living in Palmer, but was in Palm Springs, Calif., for medical care when she died.

“My mother used to say, you’ve got to live every day. And I, I’m going to try to emulate that a little bit better,” Beth Kerttula says.

Joyce Kerttula is survived by her husband, daughters, a sister, two grandchildren and a large extended family.

Categories: Alaska News

As House Leadership Calls For End To Point Thomson Litigation, Attorney Request Extension

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:13

Attorneys challenging the Point Thomson settlement have requested more time to prepare a new brief on the case. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports the delay has rankled legislative leaders, who think it’s inappropriate for Gov. Bill Walker to remain a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the state.

The Point Thomson lawsuit was originally filed in 2012 by Bill Walker, when he was still an attorney in private practice. He thought it was inappropriate for the State to make a deal with Exxon to develop the North Slope gas field without getting public input or seeking legislative approval.

But now that Walker has been elected governor and the lawsuit has been transferred to the firm Brena, Bell & Clarkson, the Alaska Supreme Court has asked for additional information on the proceedings.

The court set a deadline of January 30. But on Friday, attorney Robin Brena asked for an extension to mid-March. Brena says the firm needs extra time to review the case and see what legal options are available to them.

“The case was just recently transferred from Walker & Richards to Brena, Bell, & Clarkson,” says Brena. “So, the primary reason [for the request] was to give us an opportunity to get up to speed, and also give an opportunity for the counsel just to chat and and see if there’s any alternatives to litigation.”

The Point Thomson settlement was a major point of contention during the gubernatorial campaign.

Former Gov. Sean Parnell approved the original agreement, and it established a development plan for the reserves that would supply a proposed natural gas megaproject. Parnell, a Republican, criticized Walker for filing the public interest suit, arguing that it could jeopardize development of the field. Walker, who is not affiliated with a political party, called the settlement the “dirtiest backroom deal in state history.” But a week before the election, he said he would drop his lawsuit against the state if elected governor.

Walker’s name remains on the lawsuit, but he’s delegated his office’s authority to act on Point Thomson to Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, who must consent to Walker’s participation on Point Thomson matter. In a written statement, Walker maintains that the deal was illegal, and that he is not in an “immediate hurry” to drop the case.

Attorney Robin Brena says the extension request is not a sign in either direction.

“I don’t think reading tea leaves beyond that is helpful at this point,” says Brena.

But House Speaker Mike Chenault thinks a potential extension of the case could be significant.

“I think they always say that — don’t read much into the tea leaves until the thing’s over with or until you’re in a position where you can’t affect the outcome of it,” says Chenault, a Nikiski Republican.

Chenault believes the lawsuit has already gone on too long.

“You’ve got the governor as the governor of the State of Alaska, and now you have the governor as a plaintiff against the State of Alaska,” says Chenault. “I think it just sends a bad message.”

On Thursday — the day before Brena, Bell & Clark filed for an extension — Chenault sent the governor a letter, in conjunction with other members of House leadership, requesting that the lawsuit be dropped because of the conflict. He says continuing the lawsuit and extending the briefing timeline “creates uncertainty” for industry. Chenault adds that with Walker’s executive authority, it would be more appropriate for the governor to pursue a legislative remedy instead of asking for resolution in the courts.

“He is the governor of the State of Alaska. He is the head man,” says Chenault. “If he’s got a problem, he should be able to work that out without being involved in lawsuits.”

Chenault says he has not received a response to his letter from the Governor’s Office. Walker, who is traveling to New York to meet with credit rating agencies, was unavailable for comment, as was the attorney handling the case for the state.

The court has yet to decide whether it will grant the extension.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 3, 2015

Tue, 2015-02-03 17:12

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Point Thomson Settlement Challengers Request More Time

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Attorneys challenging the Point Thomson settlement have requested more time to prepare a new brief on the case. The delay has rankled legislative leaders, who think it’s inappropriate for Gov. Bill Walker to remain a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the state.

Walker Files Supplemental Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker has filed his supplemental budget. It covers the money that was spent during the current fiscal year but was not originally appropriated.

Homeless Assistance Program Scrambling For Funding

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

A program that distributes millions of dollars a year to keep homeless and emergency shelters open across the state is nowhere to be seen in Governor Bill Walker’s budget. It leaves dozens of organizations scrambling for the money they’ll need to keep their doors open.

Vet Suicide Prevention Bill Passes Congress

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The Senate today unanimously passed a bill aimed at preventing suicide among veterans.

Pipeline Coordinator Still Shuttering Shop While Obama Calls for Funding

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The budget President Obama sent Congress this week includes $1 million for the office of the federal coordinator for the Alaska natural gas pipeline. But the current coordinator, Larry Persily, says he’s still shutting down his offices in Anchorage and Washington, D.C.

Alaska Railroad Seeks Approval To Move LNG

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Railroad is among a few across the country seeking first ever approval to transport liquefied natural gas.

Fishermen Test Experimental Cook Inlet Pollock Fishery

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Since December, a few intrepid Cook Inlet fishermen have been trying something new. They’ve been fishing for pollock in state waters using seine gear. It’s an experiment to determine the viability of establishing a future fishery in the area.

After Regrouping In Anchorage, Kikkan Randall Looks Towards World Championships

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska Pacific University skier Kikkan Randall has spent three years on top of the World Cup sprint standings. This season has been different- she’s struggled to make even the top ten in races. Randall’s back in Europe now, after spending a few weeks in Anchorage to regroup.

Joyce Kerttula Dies At 91

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

Joyce Kerttula died Monday at age 91 after a long fight with lymphoma, but not before helping two generations of Kerttulas rise to political power in the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Vet Suicide Prevention Bill Passes Congress

Tue, 2015-02-03 14:12

The Senate today unanimously passed a bill aimed at preventing suicide among veterans. U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said it’s an important bill for Alaska, which has the highest number of vets per capita and also the highest rate of suicide.

“As an officer in the Marine Corps both on active duty and in the Reserves, I’ve personally witnessed the struggles, at times tragic, that some of our servicemen and women undergo,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor.

The bill is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who killed himself 2011. The legislation calls for a review of military and VA suicide prevention programs, financial incentives to help recruit psychiatrists to the VA and a better website to show the mental health resources available.

According to the VA, some 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Sen. Sullivan said it’s a personal issue for him.

“The suicide of a young Alaskan marine under my command still haunts me. You always wonder: could I have done more?” he said in his Senate speech. He paused for 10 seconds, looking down at the podium, working to maintain composure. “With the proper awareness and resources, this marine might be alive today.”

Clay Hunt’s mom said almost the same thing about her son: “If he had had better care, he, maybe, would not be dead today,” Susan Selke said in an interview with NBC.

The bill passed the House last month, also unanimously, and now heads to the president for signature. The bill had widespread support last year, too, but was blocked by then-Sen. Tom Coburn, who objected to the cost: $22 million over five years. The Oklahoma Republican has since retired from office.

Categories: Alaska News

Social Entrepreneurs Driving Innovation

Tue, 2015-02-03 11:54

Today we’re innovating. If you head up to the fourth floor of the Loussac Library on just about any given day, you’ll find a number of different groups working in the innovation lab.

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“Groups and what they talk about include everything from overseas consulates, federal organizations, crafters, hobbyists,” Darla Hane, the coordinator of the innovation lab, said. “They really run the gamut.”

She says to think of the lab as part brainstorm, part real-world application. For example, let’s say you’re a band that’s looking for a place to practice.

“We want to help that group not only create music but also have an understanding of band contracts, band writers and copyright laws and how it applies to them,” Hane said. “If they want help with their websites we can connect them with programmers or web designers.”

“It’s a very holistic approach to it.”

The group that’s meeting tonight is fairly new; only their second week. They’re called the social entrepreneurs.

“Social entrepreneurs approach entrepreneurship in a way that a regular entrepreneur would, but they also approach it with the thought that the outcome of their business model should have a direct impact on the social good of their community,” she said.

Hane says the group, much like the lab itself, is diverse. There’s the Dean of APU, a graduate student, a small business owner, and a song writer to name a few. Tonight’s discussion is about how to offer free cash checking and bill paying to Anchorage residents.

“The gist of it is there are 13.5 million people in the US that have a job, but don’t have a bank account,” Thomas Gokey, who is part of a group called Strike Debt, said. “I don’t know specific numbers for Anchorage.”

He describes it as an Occupy Wall Street offshoot focused on reducing debt in the US. He says free check cashing is just one way to do that.

“On average it costs you 10 percent of your income just to access and spend your money if you don’t have a bank account,” Gokey said.

Gokey says that’s because banks charge to cash and write checks if you’re not a member. Also, there are penalties for certain purchases if you don’t have a bank account. Purchases like a car. Gokey is hoping his fellow social entrepreneurs can help create a business that could bypass the bank.

“The service provided is super simple,” Gokey said. “You just need someone to turn a check into cash, and write a check to pay bills.”

“What is the chance that a bank would say ‘we can do that in our bank.’ I mean I can see why they’d say no, but I can also think of benefits to the bank. Because when this person does finally decide they want a bank account, where are they likely to bank?”

Oddly enough, director Darla Hane says she knows a few bankers that frequent the innovation lab. She’s going to invite them to the group’s next meeting.

“Let’s talk to some bankers. Yay! It’ll be great,” Hane said.

I asked Darla how often something works out that perfect at the lab. She tells me it happens all the time.

“Collaboration is a big part of the innovation lab,” Hane said. “Just tonight one of the guys here was talking about his patent, and so he used some of the other lab guests to apply for his patent.”

The patent wasn’t finalized, so Hane wasn’t able to give me any details. Not unless I show up next week of course.

Categories: Alaska News

To Fund Lobbying Effort, Sex Worker Advocates Turns To Internet

Mon, 2015-02-02 23:21

Every legislative session, different interest groups will hire lobbyists to influence legislation that affects them. But what happens if you’re already on the wrong side of the law? APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that a sex worker group is raising money to send one of their own to Juneau.

Smart watches, movies, even potato salad — all these things have found success with crowdfunding. Now Terra Burns wants to see if Internet users will pay for her to travel to Juneau and advocate on behalf of sex workers.

“It’s really been really hard for people in Alaska’s sex industry to have any voice at all because of stigma and criminalization,” says Burns.

Burns is 33 years old. She’s a graduate student who studies the sex industry, and she’s worked in it in the past. She’s also affiliated with a sex worker group called Community United for Safety and Protection, which opposes human trafficking laws that were put on the books in 2012.

The laws upped the penalties for coercing people into the sex industry, and they changed the statutes so victims would not be referred to as prostitutes. But Burns thinks they have not worked as promised — of the sex trafficking cases that have been opened since the the laws were put on the books, she says half were prostitutes themselves.

“Most of the people that they have been charging have been women who have been working together in the industry,” says Burns.

Burns thinks the law should be amended so those who work in the sex industry of their own volition are not treated as traffickers and are not entrapped by police officers.

Burns launched a “Tilt” crowdfunding campaign three weeks ago. It’s like Kickstarter, but for causes. The goal is to raise $1,500 to pay for Burns to live out of a camper in Juneau for a month. So far, the crowdfunding campaign is only at the halfway mark, with just $800 raised.

Burns says there weren’t too many other funding options. She notes sex workers can’t act like a union, where they collect dues to pay for lobbying on issues that affect them.

“I would love to be able to have that discussion, but it would be considered under the law sex trafficking in Alaska,” says Burns.

And she’s volunteering, because the group can’t afford a professional lobbyist.

“We don’t have that kind of money,” says Burns.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission does not have much experience with advocates supported by crowdfunding, but they think Burns will have to register with them as a representational lobbyist, since only her expenses are being covered.

Even if the campaign stalls and those expenses are not fully covered, Burns has decided to come to the capital. So far, only one bill dealing with sex trafficking has been introduced, and it would allow victims of sex trafficking to use that as a defense if they are charged with prostitution crimes. Burns is opposing it because she thinks it splits members of the sex industry into victims and traffickers while leaving voluntary participants in a difficult position.

But bill sponsor Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat and the Senate’s Minority Leader, does not see the conflict.

“My bill does not affect sex workers — it affects victims of sex trafficking,” says Gardner. “It doesn’t touch sex workers who are voluntary sex workers in any way, shape, or form.”

Gardner introduced the bill last year, and it passed the Senate unanimously before stalling in the House. Because the bill has not been controversial, Gardner is not sure that Burns’ lobbying effort will be productive.

“She’s well intentioned, and might very well be right about some of the things she’s saying,” says Gardner. “But we deal with the reality here of what it takes to pass legislation, and you can have a great big earth-shaking, proposal, or you can bite off one little piece that won’t draw opposition from any quarter, and try to get that through.”

Gardner says she does sympathize with the difficulty that people affected by sex trafficking legislation have in being heard by the Legislature.

“We got calls from people, but by and large they were too frightened to speak on the record,” says Gardner.

Burns plans to testify on the bill, should it get a hearing.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor’s proposed budget cuts could mean fewer staff at ASD

Mon, 2015-02-02 23:05

The Anchorage School Board is debating what to do about next year’s school budget in light of the governor’s proposed funding cuts. Wrapped into the discussion is the future of the middle schools and literacy programs.

ASD’s administration is proposing a $784 million budget that includes 43 new full time positions with teachers for both charter and neighborhood schools.

But if Governor Bill Walker’s proposed budget cuts pass the legislature, ASD will be short about $12 million for next year. That means losing staff, not adding.

Superintendent Ed Graff says they could cut their pilot programs, like literacy coaches, pre-K, and professional development. That includes 36 positions. Or they could cut 120 full-time positions from the district overall.

“You know close to 90% of what we do in our budget is related to people and personnel,” he told the School Board on Monday evening. “And you can talk about a lot of things but it’s still going to come down to FTE [full-time equivalent], or people.”

School Board President Eric Croft says even if they cut the pilot programs, they’ll still have to cut other staff. It could add one more student to each classroom next year. Parents and teachers have told the district they want to keep class sizes down.

Graff says he wants to keep funding the middle school model and core teacher team planning with general fund money because the district is evaluating the effectiveness of the model.

But Board Member Natasha Von Imhof questions prioritizing middle schools when the district’s budget is decreasing.

“I also just want to point out that Anchorage School District is the last district in Alaska to still hold on to the middle school model. Fairbanks has eliminated it. Mat-Su has eliminated it. When oil is at 50 bucks a barrel, I think we have to start making choices.”

Von Imhof says some of those choices could include putting aside some of this year’s $17 million fund balance for the 2016-2017 school year instead of using it all next year. She says she’d rather slide the district’s budget down a slope rather than have it fall off of a cliff.

The board decided to advance the budget to the next reading on Thursday, February 19. They are accepting input from the community.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 2, 2015

Mon, 2015-02-02 17:43

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Legislature Plans For Gasline Special Session

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
Republican leaders expect that the Legislature will go ahead with a special session in October to consider a natural gas policy.

Sex Workers Want Lobbyist in Juneau

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau
Every legislative session, different interest groups will hire lobbyists to influence legislation that affects them. But what happens if you’re already on the wrong side of the law? A sex worker group is trying to raise money to send one of their own to Juneau.

Arctic Standards Won’t Be Ready For Shell’s Return

Liz Ruskin, APRN-Washington, DC
After Shell’s troubled 2012 drilling season in the far north, the Interior Department began working on Arctic-specific standards for offshore drilling. But those new standards aren’t done yet.

String Of Earthquakes Shakes Up Pribilof Islands

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB-Unalaska
The Pribilof Islands aren’t usually prone to shaking. But more than a dozen earthquakes have been recorded in between St. Paul and St. George in the last few days.

Child Center Leaving UAA, Frustrating Parents

Josh Edge, KSKA-Anchorage
Tanaina Child Development Center at the University of Alaska last week received notice from the University that the center will need to find a new location. The decision has left many parents frustrated, but the two sides are still in discussions to see if a new agreement can be reached.

Alaska Regional Hospital To Open Mountain View Clinic

Annie Feidt, APRN-Anchorage
Alaska Regional Hospital is planning to open a healthcare clinic in Mountain View by the end of year. There aren’t any primary care services in the neighborhood currently.

Alaska Legislature Takes Second Look at Erin’s Law

Daysha Eaton, KYUK-Bethel
Erin’s Law is back in the legislature. If passed, the bill would require school districts, statewide, to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education.

Poor Design Led to BC Tailings Pond Failure

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska-Juneau
Poor design led to last summer’s catastrophic failure of a British Columbia mine tailings pond. That’s the conclusion of an investigation ordered by provincial officials and released last Friday.

Vets Check Yukon Quests Dogs

Emily Schwing, KUAC-Fairbanks
Over the weekend, veterinarians looked over the sled dogs that will run the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in both Fairbanks and Whitehorse. The vets wanted to make sure the dogs were healthy, well-fed and ready to race on the 1,000-mile trail.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Plans For Gasline Special Session

Mon, 2015-02-02 17:12

Republican leaders expect that the Legislature will go ahead with a special session in October focused on natural gas policy.

Senate Rules Chair Charlie Huggins, a Wasilla Republican, says the Legislature needs to take up tax legislation in order to keep up with scheduled development of a North Slope gasline.

“We know that the governor has said that he wants to maintain or accelerate that timeline,” says Huggins. “We agree on that, and hence we have targeted October as a date for a special session to address any issues that might be involved.”

House leadership is committed to keeping with the timeline as well.

The project includes a liquefaction plant and a pipeline that would extend from the North Slope to Nikiski, to transport the gas reserves to market. Estimates put the cost between $45 and $65 billion.

Categories: Alaska News

Tanaina Child Development Center, UAA May Be Parting Ways

Mon, 2015-02-02 17:08

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Tanaina Child Development Center at the University of Alaska last week received notice from the university that the center will need to find a new location. The decision has left many parents frustrated, but the two sides are still in discussions to see if a new agreement can be reached. 

Though Tanaina has been housed on the university campus for decades, it operates as an independent non-profit organization. Scott Hamel is an assistant professor at the university and the president of the Tanaina board of directors. He says the university sent Tanaina a letter last week notifying them that their long-standing agreement would be terminated.

“It’s from 1989, and that agreement basically states that Tanaina will provide services and preference to students and faculty and staff in return for the space that it now occupies – and utilities,” he said.

In the letter, Hamel says the university cited space constraints and liability issues as reasons for the decision.

The program can accommodate around 60 children between 18-months and 5-years-old. Hamel says about 90 percent of those enrolled are the children of university students, staff and faculty – many of whom were wait-listed for 1 to 2 years.

Mark Shulman’s oldest son is in 1st grade, but was enrolled in Tanaina when he was younger. And Shulman says the benefits of the program have been easy to see.

“He actually had some issues with speech and it helped him get early notice so we could him extra support when he was two or three in speaking,” Shulman said. ”And now, getting that help and continuing that help with the state and with them, it just, it helped him to progress into…he’s reading now and he’s doing a lot better with speech, but that extra help really..they need that development.”

Shulman has another son who is currently enrolled in Tanaina and hopes his youngest can begin attending this summer.

Discussions are still ongoing between Tanaina and the university, but Hamel says the center is looking for a new location if a new agreement doesn’t come to fruition. But, finding a new facility to suit Tanaina’s needs could be problematic.

It costs approximately $900 per month for a child to attend Tanaina.

This is a developing story.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Regional Hospital To Open Mountain View Clinic

Mon, 2015-02-02 17:07

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Alaska Regional Hospital is planning to open a healthcare clinic in Mountain View by the end of year. There aren’t any primary care services in the neighborhood currently. That’s forcing residents to use Alaska Regional’s emergency room for routine care, according to Medicaid data from the state Department of Health and Social Services. That costs the hospital in uncompensated care and it costs the state in unnecessary Medicaid payments.

When Julie Taylor became CEO of Alaska Regional a year ago, the board was already talking about opening a Mountain View clinic. Taylor says it was immediately obvious to her that there was a need.

“If we’re looking at how we’re going to be using healthcare dollars effectively finding ways to reach populations to treat them closer to home at the right level of care is a better use of those funds,” Taylor said.

Neighborhood residents have been asking for better access to primary care for years. In 2002, the Anchorage Community Land Trust hosted a summit where the need for local health services was a clear priority.

Kirk Rose is executive director of the land trust. He says Alaska Regional has responded in a big way and residents are thrilled.

“We’ve been working on it for it, patience is a virtue- good things come to those who wait, but we’ve been very tough and staunch about fighting for a health presence in the neighborhood so we’re hoping this is a really nice win in that in enhances quality of life for the people that live here,” Rose said.

Taylor says the clinic will be large enough to offer about 3,000 patient visits a year.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Legislature Takes Second Look at Erin’s Law

Mon, 2015-02-02 17:03

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Erin’s Law  is back in the legislature. If passed, the bill would require school districts, statewide, to provide age-appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education. Last session Representative Geran Tarr, a Democrat from Anchorage, introduced Erin’s Law which died in the House Finance Committee.

This time around Tarr filed the same version she introduced last year before the session even started, but for the same reasons.

“The idea here is by having this education students know how to speak up if they have experienced sexual assault or sexual violence if someone has, you know, done something to them that shouldn’t have been done. It’s about giving students that voice and giving them the language to speak up so they are empowered and can be a part of stopping this from happening in Alaska,” said Tarr.

Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, testified in the House Education Committee on House Bill 233, also known as Erin’s Law. Rep. Geran Tarr is the bill sponsor. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Alaska has some of the highest rates of child sex abuse in the country. There were nearly 2,700 sexual abuse cases involving children reported to the state Office of Children’s Services in 2014. The law is named after 29-year-old Erin Merryn from Illinois, who was sexually abused as a child and has made it her goal to pass the law in all 50 states. Last year she testified before the legislature about the law which, Tarr says, had broad bi-partisan support.

“I’m looking forward to that same level of support this year. There were several different suggestions as to what happened. It got lost at the end of session, maybe there was some partisan decision-making involved, I was a freshman member of the Democratic minority, maybe we ran out of time,” said Tarr.

Last year, Republican Senator Lesil McGuirecarried the bill in the Senate, but it went nowhere when the Legislature got caught up in a standoff over a minimum wage bill. This year, Republican Representative and Majority Leader, Charisse Millett has introduced another version. She says she wants to hear from local Alaskans throughout the process.

“I would like to have a face, folks talking about this bill that are from Alaska that have the Alaskan story that they can tell. Because I think it’s important for folks in Alaska to hear from Alaskans. It’s important that Alaskans take ownership that there is a problem, and then an ownership that they want to solve the problem,” said Millet.

Bethel Democratic Representative Bob Herronsupports the bill. He says all too often he sees problems with how sexual abuse is handled in schools, especially in his district.

“They just call OCS and then someone else comes in. And that OCS person, though they are hard-working people, they’re not around the children as much as a teacher is. And so, I think it’s important that teachers, school administrators are taught the warning signs and then maybe we can collectively, society, can get involved earlier when a child is being harmed,” said Herron.

“Or, prevent it altogether,” adds Herron. He points out there was recently a large out-of-court settlement in Yukon Kuskokwim Delta’s Yupiit School District over a teacher accused of molesting girls in Tuluksak.

“Of course it’s well-chronicled that recently in one the schools in one of the villages in the Delta we had a school employee that was involved in abusing these young people, so we’ve got to talk about it. Communication is better,” said Herron.

The bill does not have a fiscal note attached, however legislators say it could cost districts to train staff. Members of the House majority say bills that cost money will get extra scrutiny this session, as the state faces a multi-billion dollar budget deficit due to falling oil prices. Last year Tarr said the Alaska Children’s Trust, theRasmuson Foundationand the Mat-Su Health Foundation had all expressed support for the bill.

Categories: Alaska News

Mine Dam Collapse Report Cites Bad Design

Mon, 2015-02-02 17:01

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Poor design led to last summer’s catastrophic failure of a British Columbia mine tailings pond. That’s the conclusion of an investigation ordered by provincial officials and released Friday.

Mine critics in Southeast Alaska says the report illustrates their concerns about Canadian mines in watersheds that drain into or near the Inside Passage.

A report on B.C.’s Mount Polley Mine tailings dam breach says poor design caused the collapse. (Courtesy BC Ministry of Mines)

The engineering report identifies the likely cause of Aug. 4’s dam failure at Mount Polley, an open-pit, copper and gold mine in east-central British Columbia.

A small part of the dam collapsed and millions of gallons of silty water poured through, widened the gap and sending a huge amount of water into nearby creeks and lakes.

The report says the breach was caused by failure of the dam’s foundation. It says too much weight was put on an underground layer of glacial sand and gravel that developers and inspectors didn’t know about.

It says the dam’s face was too steep. It also says the pond behind the dam was very full and the weight triggered the collapse.

Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell is among those saying the report gives credence to concerns voiced by Southeast Alaska leaders.

“We need to protect our waters. And what they do upstream does affect us. It could have a huge impact if there were another spill. And the United States has to have a say on what happens in Canada on this particular issue,” she says.

The report recommends more stringent standards for tailings-pond design, as well as better government inspections. Both could affect other mines in the province, including projects under development near waterways that flow through Alaska.

Karina Briño is president of the Mining Association of British Columbia. She says the report could speed, rather than slow, permits needed for new development.

“Decisions have been put on hold because we were waiting for this report. That clarity from government and the regulators will be helpful for the industry,” she says.

She says mining companies are going through the report. And they’re committed to build safe mines.

“A very significant part of the process is understanding what the root cause of the breach was and what are some of the measures they are recommending,” Briño says.

“In my mind and in the minds of many other Alaskans it’s whether business as usual will be changed fast enough,” says Juneau’s Heather Hardcastle, a gillnetter and co-owner of Taku River Reds, which catches and markets salmon.

She doubts serious changes will happen, because of the report, since the provincial government is doing all it can to support mine development. B.C. Premier Christy Clark this month announced her government would increase the Ministry of Mines by nearly $10 million.

“It certainly is a concern about the speed at which projects in B.C. for the last five to eight years have been evaluated, permitted, developed and constructed. And Mount Polley does raised red flags about the quality and frequency of inspections,” she says.

Mount Polley does not drain into any Alaska watersheds.

But its owner, Imperial Metals, is about to open the Red Chris Mine near the Stikine River, which enters the ocean near Wrangell and Petersburg.

Another mine under exploration is the KSM, which will operate near two watersheds that drain into the Pacific within 50 miles of Ketchikan.

And, there’s an attempt to reopen the Tulsequah Chief, a mine on a tributary of the Taku River, near Juneau.

“There’s nothing that the Canadian government or their environmental people can say to us that would make us feel better,” says Ketchikan’s Rob Sanderson Jr., who co-chairs the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group.

He’s concerned about impacts on subsistence and commercial fishing.

“I think they’re again going back to that Band-Aid approach. I don’t think that’s going to hold,” he says.

Mine critics are lobbying the U.S. State Department to put transboundary mines before a panel that resolves cross-border conflicts. So far, there’s been no action.

Categories: Alaska News

Sled Dogs Get Their Final Pre-Race Check Up Before The 32nd Yukon Quest Starts

Mon, 2015-02-02 17:00

Sled dogs signed up to run in this year’s Yukon Quest got their final pre-race check up Saturday. (Photo by Emily Schwing KUAC)

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Over the weekend, veterinarians looked over the sled dogs that will run the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in both Fairbanks and Whitehorse. They wanted to make sure the dogs were healthy, well-fed and ready to race on the 1000 mile trail.

Inside a large warehouse, veterinarian Nina Hansen checks the paws and teeth and listens to the heart beats of sled dogs.

“I look at their eyes make sure their eyes are bright and clear,” she explained. “I look at their mucus membranes you can get a good idea of how well hydrated a dog is by looking at their mucus membranes,” Hansen said. “I look at their teeth. They should have clean teeth that are in good shape. If there’s a lot of dental disease, just like in people that can lead to problems in the rest of the body and then I will assesse body condition after that and I just run my hands along their spine, feel their ribs, feel their muscles in general,” she said.

A small reddish-brown dog stood nearby.  This dog didn’t have a radio frequency microchip, so Hansen reached for a needle and inserted one in the skin just behind the dog’s ear.

“So, it’s about the size of a grain of rice,” she said. “It’s a passive identification when you run this scanner over it, it will come up with a unique number that only this dog has so we use this to identify them.”

This is Hansen’s first year as the Yukon Quest Head Veterinarian, but she’s worked on the race for the last six years. For the most part, these dogs are calm, alert and many of them wag their tails. Hansen isn’t surprised.

“When I was in small animal practice, which I did for three years, there was not a day that went by that a dog did not bite me,” she laughed, “but I have been working with sled dogs for seven years now and I have been bit one time by a sled dog and I have looked at thousands of sled dogs,” she said. “Sled dogs are very well socialized, they’re great to work with they’re great with people they’re used to being handled, they’re used to being around people,” Hansen said.

A group of black and orange dogs surround us.  They belong to four-time Yukon Quest Champion Lance Mackey.

“Mine are very personable, very opinionated, they always have something to say it seems like,” he said of his dogs.

Mackey last ran the race in 2013, but he did not finish that year. He says this year, only one of his dogs is returning as a veteran. The others are young two-year olds he hopes to develop over the coming years.

“I want to race them like they are five-year olds, because I feel I have something to prove because of my race season in the last few years,” he said.

The fiercely competitive Mackey is one of four returning champions. As well, he’ll face off against a few big names who’ve never raced the Quest – that includes Ray Redington, Junior.

“Don’t count me out. I want my two minutes,” Redington said.

Redington may be a rookie to the Quest, but he’s run 13 Iditarods, finishing in top ten four times. He decided to sign up after the race committee decreased the mandatory layover at the midway point in Dawson City from 36 to 24 hours this year. “I like the 24 versus the 36, I think the race is going to be definitely ran faster if we have good trail conditions because of that,” he said.

This year, mushers are also required to take two additional six-hour layovers at a checkpoint of their choosing in the first and last thirds of the race.  Like most of the sled dogs signed up , Redington’s team checked out well. He says they’ve been in good shape all season.  “Everyday after runs, they’re stretched out. When you’re taking their booties off, we’re going through their feet to make sure everything is good and if they have any problems then you work on it,” he said.

… And most of the musher’s set to race are confident their teams will hold up on the 1000 mile trail from Whitehorse.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Regional Hospital To Open Mountain View Clinic

Mon, 2015-02-02 15:28

Alaska Regional Hospital is planning to open a healthcare clinic in Mountain View by the end of year. There aren’t any primary care services in the Anchorage neighborhood currently. That’s forcing residents to use Alaska Regional’s emergency room for routine care, according to Medicaid data from the state Department of Health and Social Services. That is costing the hospital in uncompensated care and it’s costing the state in unnecessary Medicaid payments.

When Julie Taylor became CEO of Alaska Regional a year ago, the board was already talking about opening a Mountain View clinic. Taylor says it was immediately obvious to her that there was a need.

“If we’re looking at how we’re going to be using healthcare dollars effectively, finding ways to reach populations to treat them closer to home at the right level of care is a better use of those funds.”

Neighborhood residents have been asking for better access to primary care for years. In 2002, the Anchorage Community Land Trust hosted a summit where the need for local health services was a clear priority.

Kirk Rose is executive director of the land trust. He says Alaska Regional has responded in a big way and residents are thrilled:

“We’ve been very tough and staunch about fighting for a health presence in the neighborhood so we’re hoping this is a really nice win in that it enhances the quality of life for the people that live here.”

Taylor says the clinic will be large enough to offer about 3000 patient visits a year.

Alaska Regional is expanding in other ways. The hospital is planning to open two new freestanding emergency rooms, one in South Anchorage and one in Eagle River.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News. 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Standards Won’t Be Ready For Shell’s Return

Mon, 2015-02-02 15:14

After Shell’s troubled 2012 drilling season in the far north, the Interior Department began working on Arctic-specific standards for offshore drilling. But those new standards aren’t done yet. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says they won’t be in place to guide Shell’s planned return to the Chukchi Sea this year.

“As Shell indicated just recently that they were going to go forward with their exploration plan this summer, we’ll be holding them to the standards that we’ve held them to before, with upgrades and proof that they can do what they say they do before they’re allowed to go up there,” Jewell told reporters in a press call today, primarily talking about the president’s budget for her department.

Jewell didn’t say when the Arctic standards would be released for public review but indicated it would not be in the coming weeks.

“We’ve been working closely with industry and learning from the lessons Shell experienced in 2012 in formulating those,” she said.

The standards are expected to require things like well containment systems and rigs on hand to drill relief wells and also limit the season.

The five-year budget President Obama sent to Congress today has nothing to bolster long-held Alaskan hopes of winning a share of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas. In fact, Jewell says the administration is trying to undo offshore revenue sharing with Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama.

“The outer continental shelf is owned by all Americans,” Jewell said. “There is a small portion of the Gulf (of Mexico) where there is revenue sharing proposed for certain Gulf states. We believe that needs to be re-examined to look at what is a fair return to the taxpayers across the whole United States.”

The Interior Department budget includes full support costs for Alaska Native health care contracts. It also has more than a million dollars for 3-d mapping of Alaska and nearly $3 million to clean up the Red Devil mine on the Kuskokwim River, in southwest Alaska.

The president’s budget, though, is essentially just a request, because spending decisions are up to Congress.

Categories: Alaska News

String of Earthquakes Shakes Up Pribilof Islands

Mon, 2015-02-02 09:20

A swarm of earthquakes have been recorded in the central Bering Sea. (Credit: AEIC)

The Pribilof Islands aren’t usually prone to shaking. But more than a dozen earthquakes have been recorded in between St. Paul and St. George since Friday afternoon.

Michael West, the director of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, describes the activity as a “swarm.”

“That is, a cluster of earthquakes that are responding to some stress in the earth that appears to be releasing itself kind of incrementally,” West says.

Most of the earthquakes have been around magnitude 4.0, although five of them exceeded 5.0M.

Residents in St. Paul and St. George have been feeling the effects. But as of Sunday afternoon, there were no reports of damage in either community. And there were no tsunami warnings, either.

The National Tsunami Warning Center will only issue an alert for Unalaska and Sand Point if the earthquakes grow stronger – above a magnitude 7.0.

“This is a special region in Alaska,” says science officer Paul Huang. “It’s unlike the front part of the Aleutians. The water [around the Pribilofs] is shallower, so we have a different criteria.”

It’s been over 20 years since the Pribilof Islands saw a significant earthquake. A magnitude 6.7 quake struck north of St. George in 1991, sending a small tsunami across the Bering Sea.

But other than that, the Pribilofs have been pretty quiet. They’re not affected by subduction along the Aleutian Chain, which causes a lot of seismic activity in the region.

West says the recent outbreak appears to be coming from a different source — tension that’s built up in the Earth’s crust.

“Most of what we know about whatever fault it is that’s active is coming from the earthquakes that we’ve actually seen in the past couple of days,” West says. “They are sort of enigmatic.”

Categories: Alaska News

Eyak Salvaged, Back In Sitka

Mon, 2015-02-02 09:17

The Eyak bids goodbye to the tugboat Marauder, which brought it into Sitka Channel. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

The Eyak is back in Sitka.

Ten days after the 80-foot tender and mail boat ran aground and sank just north of the Goddard hot springs, it’s back afloat — after a virtual alphabet soup of state and federal agencies and local companies worked together to salvage it.

At about 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon (1-30-15),  the tugboat Marauder chugged into Sitka Channel with the Eyak in tow. Those watching as the vessel was tied up at Sitka Sound Seafoods said the plan for now is to take the Eyak to Wrangell for repairs.

Michael Wortman, the head of the Coast Guard marine safety detachment in Sitka, said that in total, the Eyak spilled about twenty gallons of fuel — a fraction of the 800 to 1,000 gallons the boat was believed to have on board.

“We, honestly, got really lucky,” Wortman said. “Since the vessel inverted, all the oil was trapped inside,  and SEAPRO and SEAL did a great job preventing a lot more from being discharged into the water.”

The vessel was upside down in forty feet of water, Wortman said, which counter-intuitively limited leaking.

And Wortman said most of what was spilled was soaked up with absorbent material by the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Response Organization, or SEAPRO, the agency tasked with responding to local spills.

The Eyak is a crucial lifeline for the small communities of southern Baranof Island.

Mayor Debra Gifford, of Port Alexander, said the Eyak’s owner and captain, David Castle, has been supplying the town for more than two decades. Finding someone to fill the gap will be hard, Gifford said.

“It’s going to be kind of difficult because the Eyak was a multi-service operation,” she said. “Because they did all those things — the mail, the freight, buying fish — he was able to make a living doing those. But to do any single one of those is not super cost-effective, so we probably are going to have to think about the future here, to consolidate things and only get stuff in once a month or every few months. I’m just not really sure how that is going to play out yet.”

But for now, the town’s 45 year-round residents are in good shape, Gifford said. Castle owns a second, smaller boat, the Silver Arrow, which is taking mail and groceries down to Port Alexander while the Eyak is out of commission. Fuel comes in on a separate barge.

So while there’s no way to get, say, a couch or a new washing machine, or lumber for a building project, nobody is in dire straits.

“Everyone’s got food to eat and that kind of thing,” Gifford said. “I think mostly people, off the bat, are pretty heartbroken for Dave Castle.  The loss of the Eyak is more than just him bringing us stuff, it’s his home, and it’s a lifestyle for him to come out here and, you know, be a part of the infrastructure of our community. He’s a good friend to all of us out here.”

The Coast Guard’s Wortman said Castle had insurance, which is paying for the salvage operation. Friends also set up a fundraising campaign for Castle. So far, it has raised over $25,000.

Categories: Alaska News

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