For the past five years, the housing authority has received federal funds for an elder service coordinator on Prince of Wales Island. This year, two new communities will be included in the program, which helps seniors access things like health care, financial information, events and activities.
“Programs like gardening, language classes, storytelling, or cultural events,” Ricardo Worl, the housing authority’s chief executive officer, said.
He says additional grant money will be used to hire coordinators in Yakutat and Saxman, where Tlingit and Haida recently opened new senior centers.
“A lot of our tenants in these senior housing facilities have spent their entire lives in that community, and they want to remain there. Their family lives there, their grandchildren live there,” Worl said.
The housing authority contracts with Catholic Community Service to run the program. Marianne Mills is director of Southeast Senior Services for CCS, which operates similar programs in Juneau and the entire region.
“The main thing is to keep them active, healthy, and connected with other people,” Mills said. “Not just staying in their place by themselves.”
Mills says the elder service coordinators in Yakutat and Saxman will tailor programs and activities to the needs of their community. She says the program on Prince of Wales has benefited from partnerships with other agencies.
“For example, with the SEARHC clinic, they did a sit and be fit class, got some exercise equipment in the senior apartments there, and arranged for doctor and physical therapy visits on a regular basis,” she said. “Just made a variety of different health promotion activities available.”
Tlingit and Haida this year received a total of $246,000 for elder service coordinators from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money is part of HUD’s Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiencygrant program. Despite the federal shutdown and sequestration budget cuts, Worl says he’s fairly confident the money will continue to be available.
“If they don’t have programs that allow our elders to age in place, in the rural communities, it’s going to be even more expensive to bring them to our urban centers, where it’s a lot more competitive,” Worl said. “The wait lists to get into these senior housing and health care programs are tremendous.”
He says the housing authority will just need to remain diligent in communicating to Alaska’s Congressional delegation the importance of such programs.
Energy and the challenges of providing it in remote Western Alaska was the main topic of a summit in Bethel on Monday.
Tribal leaders from dozens of villages throughout the Yukon-Kuskowim Delta attended the gathering put on by the Association of Village Council Presidents.
It’s fall now in the Y-K Delta with temperatures bouncing around the freezing mark. But winter is coming. And the elders say it could be a cold one.
Toksook Bay elder Paul John told the audience that traditional Yup’ik teachings include information on how to survive in the harsh environment.
John McIntyre with AVCP has heard elders say that the Earth is busy insulating itself and preparing for the cold weather that’s ahead.
“In some of those villages I’ve heard of grass growing up to five feet tall,” McIntyre said. “And the leaves, you know this summer when I look at the trees, the leaves were even bigger.”
“With those kind of indications, we need to start now to look at our energy needs.”
McIntyre works with the TANF program – or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. He says this past spring, cold weather lasted through May and families were running out of heating fuel. One family had 11 people sharing a single small home.
“And they didn’t have fuel oil for two months,” he said.
AVCP only learned of the family’s struggles after visiting the village and running into one of the elders who was staying at the house. In this particular case, one of the children in the home qualified for services and the whole household benefited from the heating assistance.
McIntyre implored the tribal leaders to share that kind of information with AVCP.
“You know who needs help,” he said. “Once you know who needs help, let us know, because we can provide these kinds of services to our people that are not making it.”
AVCP’s Energy Summit precedes the Association’s Annual Convention which happens this week in Bethel.
Since natural gas was discovered on the North Slope, there’s been talk of building a pipeline to get it to market. But where should that pipeline end? Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada announced on Monday that Nikiski is their top choice for a stopping point.
Steve Butt, the project’s senior manager, says the decision came down to some pretty simple questions.
“Is it suitable for a site? Can you build it there? And can you run it there? We thought the Nikiski industrial area had the best possibility of success.”
By choosing a spot on the Kenai Peninsula, the companies could build a pipeline that passes through the Interior and Southcentral and delivers natural gas to consumers along the way. There’s access to a large population base that already has some experience with natural gas processing. And especially important, there’s plenty of space to develop industrial facilities. About 500 acres of land are needed at the pipeline’s stopping point to build a processing plant and other infrastructure.
Butt says that’s the big reason Nikiski was chosen as the lead site over Valdez — that even though Valdez already has a marine terminal, there might not be as much space to build a major LNG facility. If development at Nikiski falls through, the North Slope producers have a short list of other potential sites, but are keeping the names of those communities confidential. Valdez plans to continue pushing for its selection as a pipeline terminal.
So, Alaskans have been waiting for the development of a natural gas pipeline for years. Exactly, how big of a deal is this announcement?
“It’s not the order for steel that Alaskans want. It’s not the order for the ribbon for the groundbreaking that Alaskans want, but it’s significant,” says Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for an Alaska natural gas pipeline. “You have the four companies — with the three North Slope producers in particular — agreeing on something. That’s always news.”
Legislators from both parties and the governor have issued celebratory press releases welcoming the decision. State lawmakers who have promoted the development of a separate, smaller gasline say this could even lead to a merger of the two projects. Persily says that make sense, because the choice of Nikiski as an end point would seem to “eliminate the need for a small-volume, state-supported line going same route, same direction, same customers.” Dan Fauske, head of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, did not return calls to explain how this development could affect the development of a small diameter gasline.
So, instead of something meant to primarily serve Alaska utilities, there’s the potential forone single, big line that would transfer billions of cubic feet of gas every day mostly for export. It would stretch 800 miles, have five take-off points, and cost at least $45 billion.
And that price tag is still the big hurdle. Project Manager Steve Butt says that just because they have an idea of where they want to end the gasline, the North Slope producers still need to be confident the line will be profitable before they start building anything. That means knowing there’s a viable export market and knowing how much you’re going to be taxed.
“Until you really understand that fiscal structure, it’s like asking somebody to take out a 30-year mortgage on a home, but they don’t know what the interest rate is. You know, we need to know those fundamental numbers so that as we move forward, everybody can have confidence that it makes sense.”
Gas taxes are expected to be a marquee issue next legislative session.
The CEO of Great Bear Petroleum says their new 3-D seismic data confirms a promising new oil resource in the shale rocks just south of Prudhoe Bay. Ed Duncan said they received the data late last month and are still examining it.
“Every source rock that we predicted to be present, is present. At the depths we predicted it to be in, at the state of thermal maturity we predicted,” Duncan reported. “These are things we said to the state, that we’ve said in public presentations. The rocks are there.”
Great Bear is the first company to actively pursue unconventional oil in the state. Duncan won’t provide any specifics, but he is confident that with modern fracking technology, they can get oil out of the rocks and make money.
“There’s nothing not doable about our technical and our business thesis.”
The small independent company leased about 500,000 acres of land from the state in 2010 with the hopes of finding commercially viable oil in the shale. A 2012 USGS report says that there could be up to 950 million barrels in the rocks Great Bear is targeting.
At this point, Duncan said the company has spent over $100 million. They have only drilled two exploratory wells so far, directly next to the Dalton Highway, though they have six permitted.
Joe Balash is acting commissioner of the state’s Department of Natural Resources. He said the resource isn’t proven until more wells are drilled, but he sees great potential. “We think– our geologists think– that there’s tremendous opportunity with the unconventional resource, and we hope that Great Bear is just the first company to make a buck on it.”
Duncan said they will gather more seismic data this winter. Then, they will unveil their development plan at the end of 2014. That includes how they plan to move the oil off of the North Slope.
“Initial development would very likely be trucked to Prudhoe. And then longer term development certainly would warrant a dedicated processing facility and very likely a tap into the pipeline.”
Great Bear’s leases are about 15 miles south of Pump Station One on the TransAlaska Pipeline.
The first big wind storm of the season is forecast to hit early Tuesday Morning.
With lots of wet weather and the ground still unfrozen, the National Weather Service says Anchorage should be prepared for some downed trees and power outages.
Say one last goodbye to the golden leaves that have brightened Anchorage’s autumn. They’re about to be blown away, according to Shawn Baines, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. He says it’s going to be very windy Tuesday.
“For those areas that typically get these really high winds, Turnagain Arm and higher elevations, we’re looking for gusts of 75-90 miles per hour, but we are expecting some of that wind, not nearly as strong, to get down to lower elevations of Anchorage – the lower hillside and parts of East Anchorage,” Baines said. “And we’re looking for gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour there.”
Sustained winds of 45-65 miles per hour are expected in the Turnagain Arm and the Upper Hillside. The Lower Hillside, East Anchorage and Eagle River can expect sustained winds of 20-35 miles per hour. Winds will increase overnight and be at their height between 6 and 10 a.m.
With a wet August and September, Meteorologist Eddie Zingoni, also with the Anchorage office of the National Weather Service, says the wind has the potential to do some real damage.
“There’s a greater change during this storm to see uprooted trees which increases the chance that one could knock out the power or be across the road in the morning, during the morning commute and could maybe cause an issue with that,” Zingoni said.
Zingoni says the winds are predicted to pick up just after midnight and the high wind warning will remain in effect until noon.
Forecasters say this storm won’t likely last as long as that one hit last September. That storm lasted for over 12 hours and knocked out power for about a week in some parts of the city.
A quarter to one half inch of rain is expected during this storm and minor flooding onto roadways is possible.
The National Weather Service has issued a high wind warning from 1 a.m. until noon Tuesday.
The Red Cross is urging Anchorage residents to be prepared.
Federal workers who have been furloughed will likely be paid retroactively once the shutdown is over. And government employees who are remaining on the job during the shutdown will be paid for their work eventually, but they don’t know when. For Alaska families living paycheck to paycheck, that’s a severe hardship.
Fuel from a sunken vessel in the Haines Small Boat Harbor has been contained, although it could still be several days until clean-up is complete and the boat is salvaged.
The 76-foot fishing tender Neptune sank while moored at the harbor about 1 a.m. Saturday. No one was onboard, but someone in the harbor called 911 and Harbormaster Phil Benner was notified. Benner said he and his staff responded and found the engine room flooded and the back deck already underwater.
“We did try to get some gas pumps started on the boat but it did not, it wasn’t successful,” Benner said. “The boat started tilting off the dock, and we evacuated everyone off the boat and cut the lines.”
Benner said the harbor staff deployed containment booms at the harbor’s entrance within 45 minutes. He contacted the boat’s owner who said there is about 1,600 gallons of fuel on board. Early Saturday morning Benner shut the harbor to boat traffic to keep leaking fuel from spreading into Port Chilkoot.
“Everybody’s moving as fast as we can but we want to make sure we aren’t contaminating Lynn Canal by opening up the harbor,” he said.
A sheen was visible in harbor early Saturday. The smell of diesel permeated the area, which is only a few blocks from downtown Haines. As the tide receded, a black line of diesel was left on the rock break wall and along grassy areas of the beach.
Local diver Norm Hughes went to the harbor early Saturday to see the sunken tender. Then the boat’s owner, Don Axelrod, called Hughes to see if he would dive on the boat. As a commercial fisherman, Hughes was especially interested in helping out.
“Don called me a little while later and asked if I’d go down and see if I could get the fuel vents closed off so we can keep the oil from coming out and maybe they’ll open the harbor back up then,” Hughes said. “If we can stop the environmental leaking of the oil then maybe the fleet can go fishing.”
Officials with the Coast Guard and field responder Bob Mattson with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conversation arrived by mid-day Saturday. As soon as the Coast Guard approved an operating agreement, local responders from the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization, or SEAPRO mobilized.
SEAPRO is the area’s oil spill removal organization. It has response teams in seven zones of Southeast, including one with equipment based in the Haines Harbor, which, Mattson says, helped with quick response time.
Mattson said officials decided to allow fishing boats to leave the harbor, but a decontamination site was set up at the harbor’s entrance. Beginning Sunday morning, fishing boats were stopped at the entrance and sprayed down.
“We have them come over here to our decontamination station and we’re using pressure washers to try to get as much of the film or sheen off the vessels prior to letting them leave the harbor,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Joshua Thorne said.
After the fleet left, the cleanup effort began in earnest. At least 15 responders were walking the docks in the harbor and using small skiffs to lay out absorbent oil pads. Mattson said because of the size of the harbor, and difficulty maneuvering around the sunken vessel, the skimming skiffs were not being used.
The Neptune is a privately owned tender contracted by Ocean Beauty Seafood during the commercial fishing season. Axelrod, the owner, and his insurance company are working on a plan to raise the Neptune. Axelrod was on the docks Sunday and talking with a salvage company, but didn’t want to comment.
Coast Guard petty officer Jeff Cruz said Sunday the salvage operation is going to be difficult. The Neptune is a wooden hull boat, built in 1937. Cruz said wood hull boats are difficult to raise.
“If you raise it the wrong way, it could break up, it could do all sorts of other stuff,” Cruz said, “And we don’t really want to mess with it underwater we could but you also run risks of contaminating the wood and getting contamination all throughout the boat and making it harder to dispose of.”
Mattson and the Coast Guard says they have not discovered any wildlife affected by the fuel spill at this time. The Coast Guard will investigate the cause of the sinking.
Fairbanks Police are expected to play a support role in the review of new data raised in the Fairbanks 4 case. The new information filed in court last month points to other suspects than the 4 local men convicted of the 1997 murder of John Hartman. Last week the state announced that it would conduct a review of the information raised by the Alaska Innocence Project, including a confession by a former Fairbanks resident imprisoned for other murders.
A dispute between the Municipality of Anchorage and Eklutna, Inc. is headed to court. Eklutna, Inc., an Alaska Native Corporation, claims it is due about half the revenue generated from the methane gas produced at the Anchorage Landfill, but Muni attorneys say the land didn’t generate the gas, city garbage did.
The Yukon Kuskokwim region is gaining national attention through the business savvy of the local Sparck sisters who happen to be triplets. Since 2006 the entrepreneurs have run a cosmetic company, ArXotica, using ingredients from the tundra. Now, they have a chance to win a free commercial for their company, which will be aired during the Super Bowl and are asking for your help.
A Sitka seafood processor has recalled two-year’s worth of product, after a state inspection revealed that monitoring equipment had failed.
The US Food and Drug Administration announced the recall by Big Blue Fisheries on September 30. It covers all vacuum-packed smoked fish produced by Big Blue — for the last two years.
Greg Johnstone, the Environmental Health Officer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, inspected Big Blue on September 20 and discovered that a recording graph on Big Blue’s smoker was not working.
“On a commercial smoker there needs to be a chart recorder that records the internal temperature of the fish in the smoker on a continuous recording graph. And for smoked fish in Alaska — anywhere throughout the US — it needs to reach an internal temperature of 145-degrees for at least 30-minutes. And there has to be a continuous record of that. Big Blue’s recorder was broken, and they hadn’t been keeping records as required.”
Mike Keating, with Big Blue, says his company cooperated with the DEC and the FDA, which distributed the recall notice nationwide. Keating says he destroyed about $20,000-worth of product with the DEC standing by. He’s used his invoicing records to notify customers of the recall directly.
Keating stresses that no dangerous bacteria was discovered in any of his company’s product. And, given the two-year extent of the recall, it’s likely that much of the product is not around anyway.
Greg Johnstone, with the DEC says this is probably the case.
“The likelihood that they’ll recover much of the smoked product is pretty slight, because it probably will have been eaten.”
Mike Keating says he’ll replace or refund any product returned to him in Sitka. He says he’s already spoken with some customers who prefer to keep their fish, despite the recall. He thinks the DEC and the FDA have blown the issue out of proportion.
Sunday, the Pentagon made a surprise announcement that most civilian employees are being called back to the nation’s military bases, despite the federal government shutdown.
That state and Coast Guard are responding to a sunken vessel in the Haines Harbor and fuel leaking from the boat is hampering the commercial gillnet fleet that homeports in the harbor.
The 76-foot Neptune sank while moored at the harbor about 1 a.m. Saturday. No one was aboard.
The boat can hold about 2,000 gallons of fuel.
Local harbor staff responded when notified shortly after 1 a.m. on Saturday. Harbormaster Phil Benner said he and his staff had to use axes to cut the lines so the dock didn’t sink with the boat. They placed oil containment booms at the harbor’s entrance and shut the harbor to boat traffic.
“Everybody’s moving as fast as we can but we want to make sure we aren’t contaminating Lynn Canal by opening up the harbor,” Benner said.
By mid-morning, diesel could be smelled throughout the harbor and was wafting toward downtown Haines. As the tide receded in the afternoon, the diesel in the water caused a dark line on the rock breakwater around the harbor and along the grassy beach. Ice totes and items from the boat that floated to the surface washed up on nearby beaches.
Local responders from the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization mobilized and assisted with adjusting containment booms. A local diver was called in to dive on the boat and try to plug leaking fuel vents and lines.
Officials with the Coast Guard and Alaska Department of Environmental Conversation arrived by mid-day. Lt. Ryan Erikson with the Juneau Sector Coast Guard said spill response is one of the missions of the Coast Guard not affected by the federal government shutdown.
“We were asked to curtail a lot of missions, but marine response and search and rescue have not been curtailed at all,” he said.
Erickson said the Coast Guard will also investigate the cause of the sinking.
The Neptune is a privately owned tender contracted by Ocean Beauty Seafood during the commercial fishing season. No fish were on board at the time it sank, but it was planning on leaving for the fishing grounds in the Lynn Canal on Sunday along with the fishing fleet.
Haines fishermen were notified that another Ocean Beauty tender, which was en route to Washington, was turned around at Petersburg to come to the Lynn Canal.
The Coast Guard and DEC officials met with local ADF&G commercial fisheries biologist, Randy Bachman, and decided the salmon opener could continue on Sunday. However, each boat will have to go through a washing and decontamination station before it leaves the harbor. Fish and Game also adjusted the district open to fishing and shifted a boundary line further south from the harbor.
When the Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Federal Areas last met, the theme was overreach from Washington. But this go-round, it seems the group is unexpectedly dealing with federal underreach.
Because of the government shutdown, none of the federal employees scheduled to address the commission this week have been able to appear. The irony hasn’t been lost on the group. When Craig Fleener, a deputy commissioner with the Department of Fish and Game, let the commission know that hunts could still take place at parks but that any activity needing paperwork couldn’t be done, the reaction was almost gleeful.
REP. WES KELLER (R-WASILLA): Another way to say that is maybe our parks are more open to us Alaskans than they ever have been.
FLEENER: Wide Open. As long as you don’t need a permit.
Hunting on refuges might be a different story. Gov. Sean Parnell has called for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lift closures on those lands.
While nobody who works for the federal government has been able to speak before the commission, they did hear from a person who is aspiring to a job in Washington. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who is one of the Republican candidates for Senate, laid out his goals for federal land management Friday morning.
Speaking in his capacity as lieutenant governor, Treadwell said the federal government was guilty of “seriously ridiculous overreach.” He reiterated his support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration and his opposition to a national oceans policy. He said would like to see a transfer of more federal land to the state, and progress on federal revenue sharing. Treadwell also said that when dealing with the federal government, Alaska should not be afraid to invoke the Tenth Amendment, which has been used in legal challenges over state sovereignty.
“The 10th amendment says ‘The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.’ Long live the 10th amendment. And long live courts that are beginning to give it justice and attention.”
The Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Federal Areas will continue to meet through Saturday. While the group does not have any regulatory authority, it will be presenting recommendations to the legislature on how the state should manage its relationship with the federal government when it comes to land use issues.
Fishermen are gearing up for the start of the Bering Sea’s lucrative crab season. But they may be off to a late start this year, because of the federal government shutdown.
State managers set catch limits. But the National Marine Fisheries Service is supposed to divide up the crab and assign individual fishing quotas, or IFQs, to boats.
“There’s nobody on staff with National Marine Fisheries Service [who is] available to issue IFQs as they are furloughed,” says Heather Fitch.
Fitch is a biologist with Fish and Game. She says it’s illegal for boats to harvest crab without these permits. But there’s no way of knowing how long it will be before the government gets around to issuing them.
“Either someone would have to be authorized to come back to work in order to do so, or it will wait until the federal government is up and running again,” Fitch says.
NMFS’ law enforcement division is one of the few departments that’s still open.
A NMFS enforcement officer says they’re trying to figure out a solution. As a compromise, they may let crab boats put their pots in the water before they get their permits — as long as they don’t pull up any crab.
Jake Jacobsen is the executive director for the Inter-cooperative Exchange, a coop of 80 crab boats. He says it’s never a good idea to leave crab pots unattended. But on the other hand, fishermen can’t afford to start late.
“If there is a delay, we’re at risk of not being able to land our crab in time to reach the all-important Asian New Year’s market,” Jacobsen says.
Last year, the coop tried to get most of its fishing done in the first three weeks of the season, so they could send their crab overseas to the Japanese market. Jacobsen says they wanted to do that again this year.
“We miss the market — we may be looking at $5 million less,” Jacobsen says.
The Bering Sea crab fisheries are supposed to open on October 15.
Alaska’s high court became the first state supreme court in the country yesterday to hear an appeal in one of more than a dozen climate change lawsuits.
The lawsuits pit young people against their states. The plaintiffs claim the state has an obligation to protect the atmosphere from excessive carbon emissions.
Nelson Kanuk is a freshman at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the main plaintiff inAlaska’s case.
His family’s home in the 600-person village of Kipnuk became uninhabitable because of spring floods, melting permafrost and erosion. This summer, his parents, two brothers and three sisters moved to Bethel, about 100 miles away.
“So we’re thinking of hopefully rebuilding our home in Kipnuk, or we might move out of town to possibly Kenai,” Kanuk said. “Somewhere we can start over.”
The state has three main arguments for why the court should dismiss his case:
- Climate change is a political question that only lawmakers and the governor can address. Not the courts.
- The injury to these youths from climate change is so ubiquitous that they don’t have legal standing.
- And finally, the atmosphere, unlike, say, clean water, isn’t a public trust resource that the state has a legal obligation to protect.
The science of climate change was not disputed.
Assistant Attorney General Seth Beausang argued the case for the state.
“My argument is not that that nothing can be done to stop global warming,” Beausang said. “It’s just that it shouldn’t happen in the context of a lawsuit. Where I think it should happen is at the political level, so if people are concerned about climate change, you know, they should get involved. And, you know, we live in a democracy and you should get as involved as you possibly can.”
While it’s not up to the court to write policy, attorney for the plaintiffs Brad DeNoble argued it is the court’s role to compel the state to come up with policy.
“You can declare the constitutional rights. You can declare that the atmosphere is a public trust resource. You can order the state to develop an accounting,” DeNoble said.
Similar lawsuits are pending in 12 other states, federal court — even Ukraine and Uganda. That’s according to Julia Olson, director of Our Children’s Trust. Her Oregon-based nonprofit helped Kanuk and other young people file these suits.
So far, Olson says only a trial court in Texas has backed the plaintiffs. Texas filed an appeal.
Alaska Chief Justice Dana Fabe didn’t give a timetable for when to expect a decision. Opinions typically come months after arguments are heard.
You can watch Gavel Alaska’s webcast of the Supreme Court proceedings and read tweets from the event here.
The State of Alaska has ordered a review of the Fairbanks Four case. The Department of Law announced the move on Thursday, saying new information in the 1997 murder of John Hartman led to the decision.
Last week the Alaska Innocence Project filed requests for post conviction relief for Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent and George Frese, the Fairbanks men convicted of, and now serving long prison terms for the attack on Hartman.
The applications include a letter from a former Fairbanks resident serving life in prison for other murders, who claims a different group of men carried out the attack.
The State announcement says there has been no credible allegation about the integrity of the original investigation. It says the Alaska law enforcement agencies, including State Troopers and Fairbanks Police are in support of the review.
The state is requesting additional time beyond the 45 days it has under law, to conduct the review and respond to the requests for post conviction relief.
A piece of equipment installed a few years ago near Dillingham has helped detect a small explosive event at the far away Cleveland Volcano in the Aleutian Islands.
The list of Alaskans with notable adventures is long, but Lowell Thomas Junior’s accomplishments are impressive by any standard. A former 12-year State Senator and Lieutenant Governor, an author, filmmaker and world traveler who visited the Dalai Lama and desert nomads, Thomas has logged more than 10,000 hours flying, much of it in a single-engine airplane with his wife. Tay. as his navigator. A new book co-authored with Lew Freedman chronicles Lowell Thomas Junior’s amazing life and is out now, just a few days before his 90th birthday. Lowell and Tay tell us with so many adventures, it’s tough to pick a highlight.
Chugiak’s Loretta French Park is a gem. It covers 130 acres of rolling green grass set beneath peaks dusted with the first flakes of winter. With fall’s russet and gold leaves just beginning to show, the quiet park appears to be a haven for bird watchers, joggers, dog walkers, even horseback riders. Maria Rentz lives nearby, on a mountain road winding up from the park
“That park is beautiful, and highly used and highly valued. So I think putting a landfill in next to the park is, just in concept right there, taking away from the asset that we just spent millions of dollars on.”
Rentz is on Chugiak’s Community Council, and heads Stop the Dump, a group of Chugiak folks who are fighting a plan that would allow Eklutna, Inc, to fill a gully on land the Alaska Native Corporation owns adjacent to the park with concrete, plastic, foam or other non-recyclables from demolition projects. That’s something Rentz and the Chugiak Community Council vehemently oppose.
”It’s of no benefit at all. I don’t think it will bring in any local jobs in here. It’s not scheduled to be a manned facility. You know, they’re idea of monitoring is cameras.”
And the noise. Even though a sign posted at the entrance says “No Dumping of Any Kind”, belly dump trucks rumble through the park entrance before they veer off onto private land.
We are in the park, looking out over a steep slope that declines onto forested land Eklutna owns on one side of the parks entrance road. The land at the foot of the slope is uneven and thinly wooded, then flattens out some distance away. Rentz says this is where the monofil will be situated, close to homes, a pre- school and a church community center. Then there are environmental concerns.
”It’s not going to be lined. And if you actually walk in there, you see streams perking up out of the ground. There’s groundwater, you know, at the surface. I don’t know how far we are above the aquifer. It fluctuates here a lot. I don’t think it is safe, and that is one of the concerns. “
Eklutna has partnered with an Anchorage company, Central Recycling, to fill in 17 acres of its land next to the park with demolition debris. Under a master plan filed with the Anchorage planning and zoning department, Eklutna could be allowed to haul in debris to the monofil for the next 30 years.
Eklutna CEO Curtis McQueen says the Dena ‘ina people value water, and that Eklutna has instructed its engineers, Dowl HKM, to collect more data on impacts to the water table. McQueen will not say more until after the public hearing. Dowl planner Michelle Ritter also declined further comment.
The city planning department’s Erica McConnell says Eklutna’s master plan covers 68 acres of land that the corporation wants to develop. The monofil itself requires a conditional use permit. She says the October 7 public hearing is a continuation of an earlier public hearing on the matter.
“The planning and zoning commission will finish the public hearing on the conditional use for the monofil, and then deliberate on both the master plan and the conditional use. If they do approve the conditional use it would be contingent on the Assembly approving the master plan.”
There has been no determination on the master plan yet. If the commission gives the plan the go-ahead, Eklutna still needs approval from the Anchorage Assembly before any dumping can begin, because the Native land is within Municipality of Anchorage city limits.
Central Recycling owner Shane Durand did not return calls for comment on this story. Durand has another business, Central Monofil, which has applied for, but not received, Matanuska Susitna Borough permission for a similar monofil project hear Palnmer. The Borough planning commission has denied the request based on three dozen concerns, ranging from inability to contain shredded material to the unsightliness of the fill area. Central Monofil was also fined for dumping without a permit near Palmer.
Rentz says that Title 21, Anchorage’s go-to for zoning issues, does not guide the planning commission on the monofil issue. And she points to the city’s centralized waste stream management program which began in the 1980s
”And now to again start allowing for these little monofils here and there, is de-centralizing it, and it is not in the best interest of the greater good of the municipality to do that. “
The city’s Hiland Road landfill already has an area dedicated to inert demolition materials. The dump fee is $58 a ton. Rentz says a compromise on fees could help bring the opposing parties together. The public hearing on the monofil issue is scheduled for Monday, October 7 at 6:30 pm at the city assembly chambers.