APRN Alaska News
Yukon Quest mushers dropped off all the food and gear they’ll need for the 1000-mile sled dog race in both Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon over the weekend. Race Manager Alex Olesen says the race becomes more of a reality once all that gear has been delivered.
“I mean we’re not ready, we’re never all the way be ready,” he said. “There’s always going to be things that come, there’s things that will break, there’s things that will change, but now it’s on!” said Olesen.
On Saturday, at least 15 volunteers heft bags filled with everything from wool socks to chunks of frozen fish and meat from the back of a pick up truck.
Long before these polypropylene bags were dropped off in Fairbanks, mushers like Cody Strathe had them laid out and labeled waiting to be filled in the driveway at Squid Acres Kennel – home of the sled dogs both he and wife Paige Drobny train for mid-distance and long-distance races like the Yukon Quest.
“I think last year, I had probably 40 total bags for the Yukon Quest,” he said. “Right now, I’ve made a spread sheet that tells how many snacks and how many meals I need at each checkpoint.”
A week ago, Strathe stood over a wooden table in front of his house, with a knife in his hand. A strong, musty stench hung in the air.
“Ok, well, I’ve got a couple beaver carcasses laid out her eon the table and I am cutting the meat off,” said Strathe. “The meat is one of the dogs’ favorite snacks on the race. For some reason this stinky gross beaver met is just absolutely one of their favorites.”
A few feet away, there’s a different kind of smell. Friend Matt Cameron mans a giant saw to slice up a long, frozen block of something green and lumpy. It’s frozen tripe, or cow stomach.
“Yeah, it smells pretty bad, butt he dogs love it!” Cameron laughed.
The tripe, the beaver meat and all kinds of other dog food are packed into the drop bags. But these bags aren’t just filled with food.
There’s also a flurry of activity inside Cody Strathe’s house.
Fellow musher and friend Mandy Nauman sits on the living room flood amid a heap of handwarmers.
“Any help is much needed and I’m here to help,” she said.
She drove a team in the Yukon Quest last year, so she’s familiar with the scenario playing out today.
“At some point during the race, the musher is going to appreciate all the work that all their friends put in,” said Nauman.
Over at the kitchen counter, a pot of caribou stew bubbles as long-time friend Matt Austin scoops teaspoons of red powder into small plastic bags. After he’s done with that, he’ll organize other dog food supplements, additives, oils and ointments for sled dogs. It’s a tedious job, but that’s what he’s here for.
“It’s just fun to be a part of the whole scene and help good people out,” said Austin. “It’s awesome to be able to give a hand and hang out friends and drink some beer and have some food and just be social.”
Not every musher throws a drop-bag party like this to prepare meals, sort dog booties and double check packing lists.
Rookie Kristin Knight-Pace of Healy says she and husband Andrew were huddled in their one room cabin with all her gear spread out the night before she was set to deliver her bags to race personnel.
“This is the biggest relief ever. This is like the hardest hurdle,” she laughed.
She says keeping track off all her gear and everything for her dog team is an enormous challenge.
“This is my first 1000 mile race, so it’s the fist time I’ve ever had to pack for this long of a trip,” said Knight-Pace.
“I’ve been thinking about it like all those people that through-hike the PCT. They mail all their stuff to themselves ahead of time at all these post offices along the trail and that’s how I feel this is,” she said. “It’s a relief to know that it’s juts going off into the world and what’s done is done.”
Over the next two weeks, drop bags will be shipped to checkpoints along the 1000 mile trail. They’ll be ready and waiting for mushers after they leave the start line of the 32nd annual Yukon Quest February 7th.
Alaska’s governor and congressional delegation are furious over President Obama’s announcement this weekend that he’s seeking wilderness status for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That would put the area off-limits to oil and gas development. Permanent wilderness designation would require congressional approval, and this Republican-led Congress is unlikely to grant it. But that’s just the start of what Obama has in store for the state in the coming days.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, flanked by Congressman Don Young and Sen. Dan Sullivan, faced national reporters at the U.S. Capitol, projecting ferocity.
“We have said as a delegation that we will not stand it. We will not tolerate (it), and we will do everything that we can to push back against an administration that has taken a look at Alaska and said ‘it’s a nice little snow globe up there and we’re going to keep it that way,’” she said.
Murkowski says wilderness status for ANWR is just one of three gut punches the Interior Department plans deliver this week to Alaska’s economy. She says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s chief of staff, Tommy Beaudreau, told her about them Friday. Punch two will be withdrawals from the Arctic off-shore leasing program. That five-year draft plan is expected as soon as tomorrow. Punch 3, Murkowski says, will be to the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, where ConocoPhillips needs a road to develop its Greater Moose’s Tooth project. Murkowski says the government intends to impose conditions that will add $40 million to the cost.
“If it’s not off-limits, (the administration is) going to make it so hard and so expensive that no operator is going to want to do it,” Murkowski said. “Is this how you treat a state?”
Murkowski says she intends to try to block the actions legislatively and through the budget — a meaningful statement since she chairs the subcommittee charged with writing the Interior Department’s spending bill. She’s written a “sense of Congress” statement on the Arctic, as an amendment to the Keystone pipeline bill. She mentioned a possible lawsuit. She also says the congressional delegation will work to educate the rest of the country on how much care Alaska’s industry takes to avoid harming the land or animals.
Rep. Young told reporters the industry does no harm to Arctic wildlife.
“I mean that’s the nonsense. The guy in New York, Miami, Philadelphia San Francisco. ‘Oh, we’ve got to save the poor little animals,’” Young said in falsetto, hands aflutter. “It doesn’t affect them! Never has. It’s all a myth, easily sold to the less knowledgeable people.”
Once the administration formally requests wilderness status, it intends to manage those parts of ANWR as wilderness. Environmentalists who support the plan say it won’t make a big difference on the ground, because industry isn’t allowed there now anyway. The government says in its plan it intends to keep subsistence access the same. Murkowski says she believes Obama’s wilderness request is just a prelude.
“Lisa’s theory: I think that they are advancing this in an effort to get environmental support, to raise money for the cause,” she said.
As she sees it, Obama is trying to drum up support from his base so that he can then declare ANWR a national monument, an executive action to lock up the area. Murkowski says that would violate the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which says Congressional approval is required to reclassify large tracts of land.
“But if he’s got public support on his side, he doesn’t care if he’s ignored the law (ANILCA),” she said. So I think he’s teeing himself up for future action.”
While Obama’s move has Alaska officials fuming, environmentalists are thanking him. Cindy Shogan of the Alaska Wilderness League says it’ll still be tough to get a wilderness bill through Congress but she says Obama’s commitment to the issue helps.
Two Sand Point men are facing federal charges after allegedly breaking into the town’s post office in late December.
Sheldon Shuravloff, 21, and Keith Lee Wilson, Jr., 18, were indicted Thursday on charges of burglary with intent to commit larceny, and conspiracy to commit burglary.
An unnamed 17-year-old is also facing juvenile charges in connection with the alleged break-in. The state is handling that part of the case.
Sand Point Police Chief John Lucking wouldn’t say what was damaged in the incident, which happened on Dec. 28. The post office’s outer door was unlocked at the time, Lucking says, to allow after-hours access to mailboxes.
“We responded to the report of a burglary there… and found damage and secured the scene, and cooperated with the federal authorities who came in to conduct their own investigation, which we supported,” Lucking says.
He says all three defendants are lifelong residents of Sand Point, which is home to about a thousand people. Though the case has been turned over to federal investigators, Lucking says locals are still paying close attention.
“The community is adamant — they’re expecting accountability here. And I think everybody feels like it was a personal violation,” Lucking says. “It’s everyone’s post office, and people were locked out of their mail for a week, and processes have changed and doors have become locked now. And it shouldn’t have to be that way in Sand Point, Alaska.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Courter says that’s a consideration as the case moves forward.
“It’s pretty well known that in our small communities, the post office is a center of community life,” Courter says. “It’s important for every member of the community, not just the people involved in a particular break-in or incident.”
Shuravloff and Wilson could face up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine for each charge. Courter says the value of the damage done to the post office could affect any possible sentence.
President Obama is proposing the largest ever wilderness designation in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would forever put the coastal plain off-limits to oil and gas development.
The White House announced the plan with a YouTube video showing Arctic footage with the president explaining the area’s importance to polar bear, caribou and migrating birds.
“But it’s very fragile,” Obama said. “That’s why I’m very proud my department of Interior has put forward a comprehensive plan to make sure we’re protecting the refuge and that we’re designating new areas, including coastal plains for preservation.”
Alaska’s top elected officials were united in their displeasure with the weekend announcement. ANWR’s coastal plain is coveted by the state and oil industry for its vast resource development potential. Gov. Bill Walker and the state’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement describing the president’s move as a war on Alaska’s future. Walker says it undermines the promises of the statehood compact.
“The plan was we had to live off of our resources and then over time, they’ve taken away a 100 million acres at a time, it doesn’t take long before we’re down to trying to make a living off a small piece of ground,” Walker said. “I’m sorry if I sound frustrated today, but I am. I’m very frustrated. I mean, it’s not a shot across the bow, it’s a little more serious than that.”
Permanent wilderness designation for the coastal plain would require an act of Congress. The environmental lobby has been pressing for that for decades, without success. The likelihood of such a bill passing in this Republican-led Congress is virtually nil. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski isn’t taking the announcement lightly. In a written statement, she says her days of trying to work with the administration are over and she intends to hit back with everything she can. Murkowski chairs the Senate committee that oversees the Interior Department. She also chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that writes its budget.
This week, we’re heading to Lower Kalskag – a community of about 250 people on the Kuskokwim River. Janet Evan is the city clerk in Lower Kalskag.
Republican Senator Lesil McGuire of Anchorage has introduced the first large-scale bill regulating marijuana like alcohol in Alaska. The measure includes fine points that lawmakers, police, and the public need to adapt November’s Ballot Measure 2 into a legal framework.
Senate Bill 30 lays out a new, more specific definition of marijuana that includes derivatives like hash oil, as well as byproducts like hemp. McGuire says the bill is the first of three that will come out of the Judiciary committee.
“It decriminalizes marijuana in the case of 21-year-old Alaskan adults using marijuana for recreational and medicinal uses,” McGuire said, for, “up to one ounce.”
The legal defense for transport of marijuana is defined, as well, something the 1975 Ravin decision did not cover even after sanctioning personal use.
McGuire’s bill comes as government bodies across the state are mobilizing on measures to create boundaries for legal marijuana use that will be clear to both the public and police. Under SB-30, for example, you cannot drive with “an open marijuana container,” which is further defined as everything from paraphernalia to a broken seal on packaging. Similarly, there is a mechanism for ticketing open consumption—something the city of Anchorage is currently considering.
Myron Fanning is deputy chief for the Anchorage Police Department, and said a big concern in implementing the new laws is squaring local rules with those being drafted by the Legislature.
“One of the big challenges is telling my officers what they can and can’t do,” he explained. Fanning was part of a delegation the city of Anchorage sent to Colorado for a recent conference on what has been learned a year in to its legalization.
Deputy Clerk Amanda Moser also attended, and thought the conference helped officials learn about different strategies to address many of the unanticipated issues arising from legalization.
“One of my main take-aways from the conference was we don’t have to re-invent the wheel here in the municipality of Anchorage,” Moser said after the delegates presented to an Assembly committee looking into commercialization. “We can take what Colorado has done over the last year, what’s been successful, what hasn’t been successful, and use that as we begin to write our regulations.”
SB-30 will be introduced to a joint hearing between the Senate and House Judiciary committees on Monday.
In 2014, Alaska’s Air National Guard rescued more than 90 people. They picked up individuals from downed aircrafts, snow machines that fell through ice, and lost hikers in the wilderness.
The 49-person search and rescue squadrons are credited with saving over 2,000 lives in Alaska over the past 20 years. But they also deploy abroad providing rescue capabilities for the Air Force in Afghanistan, Iraq and even Djibouti in East Africa. Many of their skills are honed during training missions around the state. They let KSKA’s Anne Hillman tag along on one late last month.
My flight aboard a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter starts like any flight anywhere — with a lecture on buckling my safety belt.
“Then you can adjust it with the straps and also on the end if you want to tighten it up, just pull this. Or loosen it. However you want.”
But my safety belt isn’t attached to a seat – I’m hooked to a ring bolted to the floor. The back of the helicopter is an open space where pararescuemen – called PJs – can move around to jump out different doors or pack the space with gear. Fifteen people can fit in the back, though it doesn’t allow much breathing room.
The pilots, engineers and PJs chat through headsets about their landing site, the weather conditions, and who saw their buddies perform.
Sunlight turns the distant Chugach Mountains pink and we fly low enough to the ground to see tufts of grass still poking through the season’s meager snow fall. Soon we fly into a bank of fog near Mount Susitna and the winds pick up dramatically. The helicopter circles around the proposed landing area then after some conversation we move on. The conditions aren’t suitable for what they need to practice – a PJ jumping tandem out of a Hercules C-130 aircraft, carrying another to the ground.
The helicopters soon choose a new location and drop us off with a stretcher and loads of gear. They take off again to practice mid-air refueling.
Combat Rescue Officer Aaron Hunter sets up the drop zone.
“I’m just going to mix this in underneath,” he says, testing the wind and laying out rectangles of orange material showing the wind direction.
He radios to the Hercules that’s headed toward the drop zone carrying five more PJs and tells them the altimeter settings for the new location.
“King Bruin….. the setting is 9-4-2,” he said.
Hunter joined the National Guard straight out of college. He says he had never even heard of it until a month before signing up, but he says it suits him.
“I’ve been in the Guard seven years now and every day has been not the same,” Hunter said. “And that really helps me out because I don’t really have ADD, but I feel like I have ADD a lot.”
He’s worked in Alaska and deployed to Afghanistan and Djibouti. Hunter’s completed hundreds of jumps.
“I don’t even really consider jumping super dangerous anymore,” Hunter said. “There are so many things built into that make it safe. There’s a better chance of me getting hurt on a ladder than I think there is jumping.”
Hunter explains that parachutes have built-in safety mechanisms. The ‘chutes will deploy even if the jumper is unconscious, though they wouldn’t have control over the landing. For Hunter, the joy of being in the guard isn’t the thrill of the jump, it’s helping people.
“So I’ve had a chance to work on several different plane crashes where the people were still alive and you have the ability to administer a little bit of care and then get them out of their bad situation and move them on to higher care,” he said. “No one else in the state would have been able to do anything.”
The National Guard is deployed when the State Troopers can’t reach an area because of equipment, personnel, or weather conditions. The Guard will send out the pilots and PJs. If the area can’t be reached by an aircraft, the PJs drop ATVs and snow machines out of the plane by parachute then use them to access the victims.
During this training mission, the heaviest equipment is a chainsaw brought along in case a PJ lands in a tree. After about a half an hour, the Hercules returns to the drop zone and hurls a streamer out the door. It shows the PJs the wind direction and helps them figure out where to jump.
“They’re gonna fly over where the streamers landed and they’re gonna count how many seconds it takes to get from the streamers to the target, then start the count again after they pass the target then jump out the same distance from streamer to target,” he said.
Hunter starts a bright pink smoke signal to give more pointers.
“It always changes. The situation on the ground is always different than what you think it’s going to be. No matter what it’s always different. And so, winds change. Might as well know the winds are changing,” Hunter said. “And it’s nice to have a physical indicator of that.”
Soon after the four jumpers drift slowly to the ground and land a minute walk away from the blazing orange arrow. Capt. John Romspert led the tandem jump. He says it’s a skill he mostly uses overseas for carrying specialists or translators into action.
“Normally I plan differently because the person I’m jumping has never jumped before,” Romspert said. “Some people have never even seen one of these planes I’m taking them out of. So not only do I have to fly for myself as we sky dive, I have to fly for them and be prepared for them to do everything their not supposed to do.”
The guardsmen pack up their parachutes and head to the waiting helicopter. This time, Hunter will jump. It’s his first time in about two months. He says he’s slightly anxious.
“I think scared and excited are the same thing sometimes,” Hunter said.
The helicopter takes off again. When the conditions are right, Hunter jumps without hesitation. Others practice hoisting in and out of the airplane on cables, disappearing into the mini blizzard created by the helicopter’s propellers. And soon the training mission is over. Ten of us pack into the back of the aircraft, perched on bags of gear and parachutes, and head back to Anchorage.
Back at JBER, Capt. Aaron Zamora prepares for the mission debriefing. He was Romspert’s passenger, though usually he jumps himself. He was in the Air Force before joining the Alaska Air National Guard.
“For 10 years we practiced with body armor and M4s and night vision goggles. Everything was related to war,” Zamora said. “I was getting a little tired of that, you know? A couple rounds of Iraq, a couple of rounds of Afghanistan. I was kind of over it.”
But Zamora says he wasn’t ready to leave the military, so he moved to Alaska and joined the Guard. Here, he only deploys every other year. His main focus is keeping civilians, Air Force, and aviators safe in the state. He says the role is less stressful but still has its own challenges.
“It’s a little unique here,” Zamora said. “You never know what you’re going to get into, whether it be on a glacier, on a river, or out in the ocean or some sort of rope system you have to set up on the side of cliff to get someone out of their plane.”
Zamora says it’s nice not to have to think about guns or other aircraft, just the environment around you and how to save someone’s life.
McGuire Introduces Bill To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
Republican Senator Lesil McGuire of Anchorage has introduced the first large-scale bill regulating marijuana like alcohol in Alaska. The measure includes fine points that lawmakers, police, and the public need to adapt November’s Ballot Measure 2 into a legal framework.
Anchorage Assembly Addresses Potential Army Downsizing
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
A pending military draw down could take more than 11,000 troops off of bases in Alaska.
Walker Names Transportation Commissioner
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
There’s a new boss at the state agency overseeing, roads, airports and ferries. Gov. Bill Walker on Friday named Marc Luiken as his commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
Walker Outlines Plans For Budget Cuts
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
With Alaska facing a multi-billion-dollar shortfall, Gov. Bill Walker is proposing 5 percent cuts to agency funding. He described his fiscal plan in his State of the Budget address on Thursday night – a speech that hasn’t been given since 2006.
Murkowski, Sullivan Agree Climate is Changing but Split on Naming Cause
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC
The U.S. Senate spent the week voting on a raft of amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill. Democrats took the opportunity to force votes on climate change.
XS Platinum Agent Doesn’t Appear at Arraignment
Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel
An arraignment was held Wednesday in federal court in Anchorage for the five XS Platinum Inc corporate officials indicted on charges of violating the Clean Water Act and making false statements to federal officials.
ARCTREX Tests Arctic Oil Spill Tracking Techniques
Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage
Offshore oil and gas exploration has become increasingly prominent over the past several years. But questions remain about how effective response efforts would be if there’s an oil spill. Last summer, scientists began tackling one piece of the puzzle – tracking how spilled oil would move and spread in the Arctic Ocean.
AK: Rescue Training
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
In 2014, Alaska’s Air National Guard rescued more than 90 people. They picked up individuals from downed aircrafts, snow machines that fell through ice, and lost hikers in the wilderness. The search and rescue squadrons also deploy abroad providing rescue capabilities for the Air Force in Afghanistan, Iraq and even Djibouti in East Africa. Many of their skills are honed during training missions around the state.
300 Villages: Lower Kalskag
This week, we’re heading to Lower Kalskag – a community of about 250 people on the Kuskokwim River. Janet Evan is the city clerk in Lower Kalskag.
A biologist from the U.S. Geological Survey has been appointed to lead the state’s Habitat division.
Tony DeGange is currently the chief of the ecosystem and geography offices at the Alaska Science Center. DeGange says he was recruited by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten about the job, and that he supports the division’s conservation mission.
“As more and more people live on the earth and there’s a lot more development, we have a responsibility to take care of our natural resources, and when we do development to try to do it in a way that minimizes impacts to fish and wildlife,” says DeGange.
DeGange has worked for USGS for more than 30 years, and has previously collaborated with Fish and Game on salmon habitat projects. He has also represented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
DeGange takes over the position at a time when the division is reconsidering its habitat management process. Management plans for the state’s sanctuaries and reserves — like the McNeil River bear refuge and Minto Flats — were being rewritten under the previous director, Randy Bates. The policies were targeted by a petition campaign that described the changes as a “rollback,” and Bates was removed from the position earlier this January.
The process is currently on hold. DeGange says he will now have to figure out what to do with those plans.
“The criticisms were that the state wasn’t following a highly transparent and public process,” says DeGange. “One of the first things that Sam Cotten has charged me with is coming up with a recommendation on how to move forward.”
DeGange says those recommendations will likely come next month.
There’s a new boss at the state agency overseeing, roads, airports and ferries.
Gov. Bill Walker on Friday named Marc Luiken as his commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
Luiken served in the same post from 2010 to 2012 under Gov. Sean Parnell. He’s a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who also worked on oil production with ConocoPhillips.
Walker says he liked Luiken’s approach the last time he was commissioner.
“He has somewhat of a shared vision I have, as far as what can be done in the Department of Transportation,” Walker said. “I think there’s some more efficiencies we can do, do things differently than they’ve been done over the past.”
Walker removed acting Commissioner Pat Kemp, a Parnell administration holdover, from the post January 12th.
Kemp and two other officials were told to resign after they released a report Walker said criticized his freeze of transportation megaprojects, including the Juneau Access Road.
Kemp said it was an informational report, not a challenge.
Offshore oil and gas exploration has become increasingly prominent over the past several years. But, questions remain about how effective response efforts would be if there’s an oil spill. Last fall, scientists began tackling one piece of the puzzle — tracking how spilled oil would move and spread in the Arctic Ocean.
The Arctic Tracer Release Experiment – or ARCTREX – is a step toward understanding how oil – or other contaminants – would spread in the ocean.
The team couldn’t release oil into the water, so they used a red-colored dye instead.
“It’s a non-toxic, kind of like a food dye that you use for cupcakes,” Peter Winsor, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said.
He says the goal of the experiment wasn’t necessarily to mimic crude oil, but instead to better understand how the ocean could disperse any number of substances underwater.
“The dye will disperse by the ocean currents and we think that the dye is a good representative of something we can map over time to really learn how to map something that is spilled into ocean in great detail,” Winsor said. “It’s not a perfect representation of crude oil; it might be a fairly good representation of crude oil that has subject to dispersants.”
The team released dye on the surface of the ocean in two different locations in September, when the edge of the Arctic sea ice is still far to the north. The first batch of dye was deployed at the Berger lease patch, about 60 miles off Alaska’s northwest coast in the Chukchi Sea. Winsor says this release proved the crew could successfully track the dye and relay the data in near-real time to NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration – where it could be mapped online.
“That particular dye release was very exciting because it stayed in the upper ocean – the top 50 meters,” Winsor said. “It never spread any deeper, and fairly rapidly was stretched, strained and deformed over time as we mapped it back and forth with our research vessel and some of our autonomous underwater robots.”
The crew tracked the dye for about four days before moving onto the next location, a little closer to Wainwright. The second release was much closer to the coast and near a large front — where there’s a big difference in temperature and salinity across a very short distance…and Winsor says the dye there tracked much differently.
“In this case, the dye left the surface of the ocean within 1 hour and 40 minutes and basically started to sink and follow that water mass down through the water column towards the sea floor,” Winsor said. “So, that was interesting from an oil spill management perspective, because after 1 hours and 40 minutes, you wouldn’t see a trace of it anymore at the sea surface.”
“So, if you do an overflight with an airplane or an autonomous flying vehicle, you wouldn’t be able to see it anymore.”
The team used three methods to track the dye: a pump system on the ship to get measurements at the surface; a small vehicle towed behind the ship to gather data further below; and with autonomous underwater vehicles, which are about 5 feet long and weigh 110 pounds. Winsor describes them as large, yellow bananas with wings – and they use an unconventional propulsion method.
“They suck in a little bit of seawater, which means they get heavy compared to the surrounding water and sink slowly through the water column. But, because of the wings they translate that to forward moving…or propelling themselves forward,” Winsor said. “So, they slowly glide from the sea surface to the sea floor, and then they pump out the same amount of water, and now they’re slowly drifting up to surface and the wings propel them forwards.”
“We’re able to run them for several weeks to several months on just a single load of batteries.”
Winsor says that efficiency coupled with the ability to program them via satellite means they could prove to be a valuable tool in tracking spills, even without a support vessel in the area.
Though this is a good first step, Winsor says the data is specific to this type of area and wouldn’t be a good representation of a place with deeper water like the Gulf of Mexico.
“This is a very different ocean; it’s 40-50 meters deep – only a shallow Arctic shelf sea that’s very dominated by wind and hydrographic properties and water coming up through the Bering Strait,” he said.
Winsor says he plans to take a team out to the same areas next year and release dye at the bottom of the sea to simulate what could happen if an Arctic oil well blows out.
Governor Bill Walker’s State of the Budget speech made clear that leaner times are ahead for Alaska. His address was a somber departure from the optimistic state of the state address. He noted almost right away that managing the state’s finances into better standing will not be easy.
HOST: Lori Townsend
- Bill Popp, executive director, Anchorage Economic Development Corporation
- Alyssa Shanks-Rodriquez, economist, State Department of Labor and Workforce Development
KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, January 23 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, January 24 at 6:00 p.m.
Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 24 at 4:30 p.m.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski will deliver the next Republican weekly national speech on Saturday. It’s the party’s response to the president’s weekly radio address.
Murkowski is in the spotlight these days because she’s managing the floor debate for the Keystone XL Pipeline bill. Her office says she plans to focus on the energy potential of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The tradition of the president’s weekly radio address dates back to Franklin Roosevelt. President Obama airs his as a YouTube video.
The U.S. Senate spent the week voting on a raft of amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill. Democrats took the opportunity to force votes on climate change. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is leading the Republican push for Keystone, acknowledged it put some senators in a bind.
“Some may suggest these are … hard votes to take,” she said on the Senate floor. “Nobody ever said voting should be easy here in the United States Senate.”
Both Alaska senators voted for an amendment saying climate change is real and not a hoax. The vote was nearly unanimous: 98 to 1. The rub came on amendments declaring a cause. Murkowski voted for an amendment saying “human activity contributes to climate change.” Alaska’s other senator, Dan Sullivan, voted against it. Sullivan believes “the verdict is still out on the human contribution to climate change” and that there’s no scientific consensus, Sullivan spokesman Mike Anderson said in an email.
The amendment fell one vote shy of the 60 needed for passage.
Both Alaska senators voted no on a slightly different amendment. It declared that humans “significantly” contribute to climate change. That was one adverb too far for Murkowski.
“I would suggest to colleagues that that inclusion of that word is sufficient to merit a ‘no’ vote at this time,” Murkowski said ahead of the vote.
The amendment failed. Murkowski said later the word “significantly” was unclear, because it could mean 5% or 90 percent.
“Why would we even get into a matter of degrees? Let’s just acknowledge that human activity causes impact,” she said.
In the end, though, the only climate amendment to pass was the one recognizing that change is real. Debate on the Keystone bill continues next week.
It’s power politics of an electrifying kind. What should the rules be for selling independently generated power to utilities, who have borrowed money and invested heavily to assure reliability for their customers?
HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network
- Robert Kahn, director, Northwest and Intermountain Power Producers Coalition
- Callers statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
An arraignment was held Wednesday in federal court in Anchorage for the five XS Platinum Inc. corporate officials indicted on charges of violating the Clean Water Act and making false statements to federal officials.
Two individuals appeared in court, but Kevin Feldis, a first assistant US Attorney, and Chief of the criminal division, says three company officials did not.
“Although their registered agent in Delaware was served and accepted service of the summons ordering them to appear, they did not appear in court. The United States in response filed a motion seeking an order that they appear in court and if they don’t appear, we may be seeking sanctions or other penalties,” said Feldis.
The judge has a range of penalties, including charges of hundreds or thousand of dollars per day. The three men are Canadian and Australian, and are not currently in the country.
XS Platinum owned and operated the Platinum Creek mine from 2008 to 2012. The company and its leadership are accused of polluting the Salmon River with mine discharge, which was documented on aerial surveys flown by Togiak Refuge staff in 2011. Located near Goodnews Bay, the area has a history of platinum mining throughout last century.
The indictment says the company used wastewater ponds that leaked into the river and dug a ditch to direct wastewater into nearby Squirrel Creek. The company never bought a clarifier, used to recycle water, despite telling regulators it would do so.
This is the first federal criminal case involving environmental crimes in Alaska. Feldis says there is a strong federal component, as the mine was on Bureau of Land Management land and affected a waterway.
“The indictment alleges that the conduct that occurred, the types of discharges, and the nature of those, are are violations of federal law,” said Feldis.
Two of the accused, Robert Pate and James Staehli, both residents of Washington state, were in court and entered not guilty pleas. A trial date is set for March 9th.
KDLG’s Dave Bendinger contributed to this story. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner first reported this story.
Bethel Search and Rescue reports they’ve found a body of a man that went missing in December near Kwethluk. The body is believed to be that of 26-year-old George Evan of Akiak. Evan was one of three people that went missing while traveling on a four-wheeler during a storm on December 12th.
Searchers say they found Evan’s remains Wednesday afternoon. They say his body was found about 46-feet underwater on the riverbed and under the ice about a quarter mile down Kuskokwak Slough from where another body was recovered last month.
The body of 51-year-old Ralph ‘Jimmy’ Demantle was found on December 15thnear an open hole where the 4-wheeler was recovered just after the group went missing. The third traveler, 27-year-old Sally Stone is still missing.
Evan’s remains were located by using a remote operated vehicle owned and operated by Tom Crossmon of Deluth, Missouri who volunteered for the recovery.
Charles Enoch contributed to this story.
Ash from a Russian volcano diverted the nightly flight into Nome Thursday.
The Global Volcanism Program at the Smithsonian Institution tracked “powerful explosions” last week and into this week from the Shiveluch volcano, considered one of the most active volcanos on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, that sent plumes of ash up 32,800 feet in the air.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Nome said Thursday that the ash cloud went to the mid level and lower level of the jet stream, sending it east toward Alaska. The plume then combined with a high pressure mid-level system over the Bering Sea, suspending the ash cloud over the central and eastern Norton Sound by Thursday.
“As it came across on the mid-level and upper-level jet stream, the ash kind of got sucked in with those winds,” said Christopher Clarke with the National Weather Service in Nome. “It went almost clear over the Chukotsk Peninsula, and was directed down around the backside of the high, and it’s come right over the top of Nome [as of Thursday night].”
Alaska Airlines confirmed the flight overflew Nome due to the volcanic ash in the area.
Halley Knigge, a spokesperson with Alaska Airlines, said the nightly flight made it from Anchorage to Kotzebue without incident. The plane left Kotzebue at 7:03 p.m. and “observed a haze in the area” around Nome. Following the airline’s policy of “never flying through areas of known ash,” the crew diverted the plane to Anchorage (the flight’s ultimate destination) and landed at 8:33 p.m. Knigge said the airline expects the ash cloud to dissipate, and to resume regular flights, by Friday morning.
It was unknown Thursday if smaller planes, which typically fly lower than larger commercial jets, were affected by the ash cloud.
Forecasters say the plume is moving down the Norton Sound coast and could move over the Yukon Delta before likely dissipating within the next day or so.
Volcano watchers with Russia’s Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, who are continuing to monitor the Shiveluch volcano, reported Friday that “explosive … eruption of the volcano continues” with “ash explosions up to 32,800 feet [that] could occur at any time.” The volcanologists and other observers caution that “ongoing activity could affect international and low-flying aircraft.”
You can see webcam videos of the volcano and its eruptions atthe Volcano Discovery website.
The State of Alaska dropped its case against a Juneau woman who was cited for springing legal traps and freeing a bald eagle.
At Kathleen Adair’s arraignment Thursday, the district attorney asked the judge to dismiss the case and encouraged Adair to continue freeing eagles.
District Attorney James Scott says Kathleen Adair did violate the law when she triggered the traps on her way out of the Davies Creek trail. But he says he used his prosecutorial discretion.
“There is space between the technical violation of a law and whether or not a case should be brought, and sometimes cases fall within that space, and I think Ms. Adair’s case is a perfect example,” Scott says.
Alaska Wildlife Troopers cited Adair on Jan. 10 for intentionally hindering lawful traps on Dec. 24. Adair says she sprang a total of three traps out of concern for the safety of dogs and hikers. She also freed an eagle that was caught in two traps. Despite her efforts to save the eagle, it was euthanized later that day.
Scott reminds the public that tampering with lawfully set traps is treated like a criminal offense. Anyone caught doing it could face jail time.
But, as Scott said in the courtroom, he considers what Adair did for the eagle admirable.
“If she finds herself in the same situation I hope she does the same thing again. However, before she takes it upon herself to trip traps generally, I really encourage her to meet with and talk to the other folks with an interest in this to keep us from having to go to court at all. That’s really my goal here,” Scott says.
Alaska Wildlife Trooper Sgt. Aaron Frenzel says his office had a valid case and stands by the decision to charge Adair.
“If the law is violated we have the duty for both the victim in this case, as we would with any case, to bring charges forward on an individual. It was clearly violated so we felt like the charges were appropriate,” Frenzel says.
He stresses Adair was not given the citation for freeing the eagle or springing a trap in the immediate area; she was cited for tampering with another trap twice over a span of four days. Frenzel says the complainant, called “J.F.” in official paperwork, had said even more of his lawful traps were sprung during that time period.
“To say who, if maybe something else set off other traps, who knows? We know what she had advised us of and what he had advised us of, and was there more? I don’t know,” he says.
Adair says she feels relieved with the court’s decision. She says in hindsight, she may have acted differently.
“I probably would’ve left the eagle there. I mean, it saved the eagle from some suffering but they ended up having to put the eagle down anyway and all of this hassle just – I don’t know whether it was worth it or not,” Adair says.
Then again, “It’s hard to say if I would or not. When the eagle is staring at you the way that one was, it’s really hard to say what you’d really do,” she says.
Adair says she might pursue the official steps to limit trapping on Davies Creek Trail.
With Alaska facing a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall, Gov. Bill Walker is proposing 5 percent cuts to agency funding. He described his fiscal plan in his State of the Budget address on Thursday night — a speech that has not been given since 2006. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
There was no mention of Alaskan Brewery beer or Mat-Su carrots — no applause lines or jokes. Compared to Wednesday’s State of the State speech delivered, Gov. Bill Walker’s State of the Budget address was a sober event.
“Alaska’s state government funding has two drivers: oil price and oil production,” said Walker. “Unfortunately, neither is going in our favor right now.”
For half an hour, Walker described the budget he planned to submit. He has until February 18 to turn in his own budget, and he’s been using former Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan as a placeholder in the meantime.
Walker said cuts would be spread across the board. He intends to shrink agency expenditures that are not dictated by formulas by 5 percent from the draft he was given by Parnell. Walker said that amount would be doubled for his own office. By the end of his term, agency budgets could be reduced by as much as 25 percent.
Walker also said that even the sacred cows of the Alaska budget would not be off limits.
“In my endorsed budget, the K-12 formula funding remains intact, but I’ve eliminated the one-time funding added last year,” said Walker. “This equates to a 2.5 percent funding reduction.”
Walker noted that the school funding formula would be reviewed over the next year, and that education would be forward funded at 90 percent instead of in its entirety.
Community revenue sharing — the money the state provides to municipalities to bolster their own budgets — was described as vulnerable and at risk of being phased out, though Walker plans to keep the program mostly intact this year.
“Municipalities will receive $57 million dollars in revenue sharing. That is $3 million less than last year,” said Walker.
While cuts were the general rule, Walker mentioned a few additions to his budget. He bumped his capital request up to $150 million in state spending to include some projects that are currently under construction, but not yet complete. And he again asked for the Legislature’s support in seeking $450 million in Medicaid funding from the federal government.
“Investing in the health of Alaskans is sound, prudent fiscal policy,” said Walker. “We all want Alaskans to be as productive as possible, but people cannot work, hunt or fish unless they are healthy.”
Walker said that with a leaner budget, the state should be able to deal with a shortfall so long as oil prices bounce back next year. But if they do not, Walker suggested that the state may have to look at finding new forms of revenue next year, which could mean taxes or repeals of credits and subsidies.
“If prices stay low next legislative session, we will need to discuss more traditional revenue options,” said Walker.
At the end of his speech, Walker’s staff distributed a slim budget handout to legislators. With his official operating and capital budgets still outstanding, the packet gave agency spending totals with itemizing how the money was being used.
It showed that the Departments of Labor, Commerce, and Law face the deepest cuts, while the Departments of Natural Resources and Public Safety as well as the university system survive mostly intact.
The budget summary also showed that even after all the reductions Walker described, Alaska was still facing a deficit in excess of $3 billion. And while every agency but one was seeing its funding cut, Walker’s budget was still technically larger than the one than Parnell handed to him because Walker does not plan to use bonds to cover a $257 million appropriation to the state’s pension fund.
After skimming the freshly released budget documents, legislators responded mostly favorably to Walker’s State of the Budget address.
Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican who co-chairs the finance committee, said she was encouraged by Walker’s direction.
“I think the governor took a courageous first step in putting things on the table that are going to be hard to talk about,” said MacKinnon.
Senate President Kevin Meyer, of Anchorage, said he was “lockstep” with the governor in trying to address the state’s shortfall, but was disappointed to hear that education cuts were possible.
“We’ll certainly look at that, and talk to our local school districts, and just see what kind of impact that will have to our schools,” said Meyer.
In addressing Walker’s budget speech, House Finance Co-Chair Steve Thompson noted that the state may have to consider taxes as well as cuts to address the deficit.
“We’re going to have to realize that even with this reduction and probably another reduction next year that we’re still going to run out of money here in a very short time,” said Thompson. “I think we need to start the discussion about reducing the budget. We’re doing our side of the job, but that’s not going to complete the job. We’re going to have to look at other revenues.”
Meanwhile, Democrats responded positively toward the speech, but acknowledged the way education and labor spending were treated gives them pause.
“We applaud that he wants to stay focused on the long game,” said Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner, of Anchorage. “That’s what we have to do, and one of the problems with the legislative process is we get bogged down and we have to plan for tomorrow, and not overreact today.”
While lawmakers do not yet have Walker’s budget before them, the Legislature finance committees are already meeting to do work on the document.