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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: 10 min 44 sec ago

Glacier Bay’s missing stories find a new home in Tlingit tribal house

Wed, 2015-08-19 15:56

A $3 million Tlingit tribal house is being constructed on the shore of Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay – likely the first time the National Park Service has funded a tribal house.

An artist’s rendering of the Huna Tribal House. (Image courtesy National Park Service)

Three carvers are chipping away on an Eagle moiety pole that will go outside the red cedar tribal house with a Raven. The crest of a Wolf, Porpoise, Brown Bear and Thunderbird are starting to form, representing the clans in the area.

Gordon Greenwald, the lead carver, says it’s taken over a month to get this far on the totem and it’ll likely be six more before it’s finished.

“Now we could complete it faster than that if we used some machines. Chainsaws and so forth to do some of the major cutting but we’ve chosen not to do it that way. We’re trying to do it all by hand.”

His team has been carving the pieces to go in the 2,500-square-foot Huna Tribal House for about five years. There’s a constant flood of cruise ship tourists in and out of the shed, asking questions and marveling at the handiwork. But Greenwald says he doesn’t mind.

“For people that are new to this area, it gives them a chance to learn about our people. Going away knowing  Tlingit people, knowing what our life was like. And for local people, they can stop and see something is being made in our homeland,” he says.

The house posts which will go in the Huna Tribal House. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

An interior and exterior screen is already complete. So are the house posts of the four clans that identify Glacier Bay as home:Wooshkeetaan, Chookaneidí, Kaagwaantaan and T’akdeintaan.

Tom VandenBerg, the chief of interpretation at Glacier Bay National Park says the clans are an inextricable part of the story of Glacier Bay.

“But there’s no physical sign of their history here unfortunately,” he says.

Bartlett Cove is the site of the new tribal house. It’s where the clans originally resided until an encroaching glacier forced them to relocate hundreds of years ago to what’s now called Hoonah. In 1925, Glacier Bay became a national monument and federal laws limited what the Huna Tlingit could do in their homeland.

“It’s difficult, you know. The parks service represents the stories of our nation. And it seems like some of the Native stories have been missing from some parks.”

VandenBerg says there are places like Sitka National Historic Park with Southeast Native totems, but “there’s not much in the way of Alaska Native stories being told in parks.”

The National Park Service received a request from the Hoonah Indian Association back in 1992 to build the tribal house. VandenBerg is unaware of anything else like it: a ceremonial house paid for by concessioners fees from businesses that operate within Glacier Bay.

Tlingit elder and park management assistant Ken Grant says it’s going to be an emotional day when the tribal house is finished.

“Our people really have a strong tie to the homeland. The feeling of being left out has been with our elders for a long time. Like they say in our language: they were buried with a sorrow in their hearts,” Grant says.

He hopes that it’ll provide a space for young Huna Tlingits to learn about their roots and enhance language and cultural preservation.

Gordon Greenwald says it’s been a long time for the project to come fruition.

“But now I’m looking back on it, I’m wondering why this hadn’t happened in all the other parks long ago,” he says.

Back at the shed, carvers Owen James and Herb Sheakley are singing a song about one of the Huna clans.

When Sheakley started this project five years ago, he says he didn’t know all of the stories and he didn’t know how to carve. He’s been practicing at home, making ceremonial hats out of spruce and working on the Eagle pole.

“It’s stuff like this that keeps me going. I can actually create this now,” he says. “Before I could look at this and say, ‘Hmm, I couldn’t do that.’ Making the knives, listening to my boss teaching me the formlines, this is the kind of thing I’m making now.”

Greenwald says he owes teaching to his mentors; passing on the knowledge so it doesn’t stop with him.

“On all of this work, none of us will sign it because none of this work is about us as individuals; it’s about our people,” Greenwald says.

The Huna Tribal House is expected to be dedicated next August.

Categories: Alaska News

Out with Mew, in with the new: Anchorage hires a new police chief

Wed, 2015-08-19 15:25

A man with a long history in drug enforcement will take the reins as Anchorage’s new police chief. The city administration says he’ll be in step with a plan to develop a community policing model.

Chris Tolley will take over as Anchorage Chief of Police when current chief Mark Mew steps down in mid October. Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz made the announcement at city hall on Wednesday. Tolley has spent the past 28 years as a special agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the last four of them based in Anchorage. He will begin his stint as a city employee as acting Deputy Chief at APD on September first. Berkowitz said, by way of introducing Tolley, that the deputy job helps ensure a smooth transition.

“His experience, not just around the world and across the country, but here in Anchorage gives him the ability to understand what we do with APD and the ways that we can move forward. At the same time, because he is not directly from the APD family, he’s going to bring a fresh perspective, that I think will help us achieve a better police force moving ahead, able to achieve the kind of diversity within the force that we aspire to.”

From left to right: Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz, incoming APD chief Chris Tolley, outgoing police chief Mark Mew. Photo: Ellen Lockyer/KSKA.

Tolley began his law enforcement career as a beat cop in Baltimore 36 years ago. His experience since them exposed him to many aspects of police work. With DEA, he worked both in the US and abroad. Tolley says his background in partnering with domestic and foreign law enforcement will help the APD move in new directions.

“And crime has no boundaries. It is no longer confined to a single city. With the Internet, social media and global travel, law enforcement must extend to one another – local, state, federal and international. Our municipality faces many challenges.. the homeless, drug addiction and violence, all influenced from outside our jurisdiction.”

Tolley’s DEA experience took him to Hong Kong, Vietnam and to Hawaii, where he worked to eradicate marijuana. He has also worked as an undercover agent combating drug transportation, and has a background with the DEA’s Los Angeles office as a manager and personnel trainer.

Current APD chief, Mark Mew, will step down on October 12 to pursue new opportunities with the Bering Straits Native Corporation. Mew has high praise for Tolley

“I think this is a great choice for the next step for the Anchorage police department. I’ve worked with Chris for four years now on a lot of different projects and I know his skill level and his depth of character, and I think he’ll be an excellent choice to lead the Anchorage police department moving forward.”

Berkowitz thanked Mew for his five and a half years of service, saying that during Mew’s tenure, the department wrestled with a lack of staffing.

“I also want to take this occasion to thank Chief Mew for exemplary service under for what has been difficult and trying times.”

The city is working to prepare a budget that will train and put more officers on the street, Berkowitz said. The mayor and Tolley emphasized that a new philosophy of policing is evolving, as well. Tolley says community policing begins with dialogue with community figures.

“Policing’s changed very much since the days I began, when you just take control of a situation and take action swiftly. Today, it’s so important to give everyone a voice. And I want to take the time to listen to them, make sure our officers are trained to do just that.”

He says he wants the force to reflect the city’s diversity.

Categories: Alaska News

Pebble asks to subpoena former EPA official

Wed, 2015-08-19 10:49

Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG – Dillingham

The Pebble Limited Partnership is asking for a former Environmental Protection Agency official to be subpoenaed as part of the lawsuit over the agency’s alleged violation of federal regulations.

In an August 17 motion, lawyers for the Pebble Partnership asked a federal court to subpoena former EPA employee Phillip North.

According to court documents, North is believed to reside in Australia. In the motion, the partnership asserts that North worked with Federal Advisory Committees on use of the Clean Water Act to prevent the development of the mine.

The motion also says North collaborated with other entities on the Tribes’ eventual petition to the EPA.

The lawsuit, which was brought by the partnership, asserts that the EPA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and the motion alleges that North was an important figure in that activity.

According to the motion, some records of North’s work at the EPA is no longer available, and he shut down his personal email on which some of the alleged communication is said to have occurred, so he needs to testify in person about his activities.

Essentially, the partnership says the EPA acted improperly in its communication and coordination with other entities on the EPA’s consideration of a Clean Water Act designation. The partnership wants to develop a mine there; the EPA’s proposed designation would prevent that by restricting the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed for disposing of dredged and fill material from the mine.

A decision on the proposed designation is on hold due to the lawsuit.

In an email, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, which is representing the EPA in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the motion. An EPA spokeswoman also told KDLG News that her agency wasn’t commenting on the filing, as its part of ongoing litigation.

The Pebble filing says that the organization discussed the motion with counsel for the defendant in the case, which is the EPA, and they didn’t oppose it.

A lawyer for the partnership also did not respond to a call from KDLG News.

The case is in front of Federal District Court Judge H. Russel Holland, who denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the case in June.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka landslides: Part of a larger landscape change?

Wed, 2015-08-19 08:57

The landslides that struck Sitka early Tuesday morning (8-18-15) are the latest in a series of similar events that started in 2011. Although these slides are triggered by a combination of wind and rainfall, forecasters believe it’s too early to correlate these incidents with changing weather patterns — but that may change.

In the weather forecasting business, you win some and you lose some. That was the case in Sitka Tuesday morning, and forecaster Joel Curtis realized he had blown the call.

“I did underestimate the amount of rain we were going to get here. I was thinking somewhere over an inch, and the last 6-hour total that I checked was 2.57 inches. So it’s really been coming down.”

That rain fell between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m., triggering two major slides in Sitka — one of them possibly deadly — and several smaller slides.

Curtis is the Warning and Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau. He was in Sitka anyway for a training with the Coast Guard’s Air Station Sitka, when he got pulled in first to help manage a major fuel spill over the weekend, and now this.

And even though he’s not a geologist, he considers this type of mudslide to be an environmental event that starts with weather.

“Just a rough estimate: It takes about 15 miles per hour to start moving a tree trunk in the wind. And the more leaves that you have on the tree, or the branches or whatever that can catch the wind, the more movement you can get on the trunk. And so if you took some alder trees that were fully leafed out at this time of year and moved them around, you could actually get the roots moving pretty quick — and that’s just one disturbance in the soil.”

Other disturbances, Curtis says, include the freeze-thaw cycle — which doesn’t apply in this situation — and human activity, which does. Tuesday’s slide rolled right through a construction site, obliterating one new home and damaging another.

Whatever the trigger, the day’s slides were not isolated events. It’s been happening a lot lately. Curtis, though, is not pointing a finger — yet.

“This place is famous for large amounts of rainfall. So the fact that we’re having a warmer and wetter winter — and a warmer and wetter summer, if you will, because the pattern is already started — you look at that and say, Gosh there must be some correlation, because it’s happening with more and more frequency. But that also could be randomness and luck.”

Working backwards over Sitka’s recent slide history, there was the Starrigavan slide in September of 2014, which wiped out a huge area of the valley’s watershed, including an extensive Forest Service habitat project. The same weather event washed out the Herring Cove Trail and a section of Harbor Mountain Road.  There was the Redoubt Lake slide in May of 2013, which buried a Forest Service recreation cabin after a Sitka couple narrowly made their escape; and there was the Beaver Lake slide in December, 2011, which toppled an old-growth forest along a popular trail. 400-700 year-old spruce trees were stacked like Lincoln Logs.

And these were just the events that affected people and made news.

“It’s at least somewhat elusive to say that, ‘Gosh we’re getting into a high frequency pattern because of some particular environmental effect.’ But that being said, I would sure want to correlate that to amounts of heavy precipitation. And I think a statistical study might actually lend itself to that.”

Curtis says there just isn’t the science to support a conclusion between changes in weather and increased landslides — at least not at the moment. He says the University of Alaska Southeast Juneau Campus is planning to develop a landslide program, and he’s looking forward to seeing their data.

Until then the National Weather Service won’t be able to issue landslide advisories or watches, unless a landslide actually happens. “For the time being,” he says, “we’re more reactive than proactive.”

Categories: Alaska News

S&P says Alaska’s bond rating jeopardized by budget deficit

Wed, 2015-08-19 08:36

A ratings agency says Alaska’s bond rating could be lowered if more isn’t done by the state to address its large budget deficit.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services revised its outlook from stable to negative in a ratings report released Tuesday.

The agency said it would likely lower the rating, possibly by more than one notch, if legislators don’t enact measures to begin correcting Alaska’s “fiscal imbalance” within the next year. Conversely, it said the bond rating could be maintained if lawmakers put Alaska on a path to a sustainable budget, with strong reserves intact.

Alaska is dealing with multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices and using savings to help balance the budget. Gov. Bill Walker’s administration has been holding public meetings to outline for Alaskans the state’s fiscal options.

Categories: Alaska News

3 missing persons in Sitka landslide ID’d; Rescue efforts begin anew

Tue, 2015-08-18 22:33

A new home under construction on Sitka’s Kramer Avenue was obliterated in the slide. A neighboring home is unscathed. (Photo by Joel Curtis/National Weather Service)

Three people are missing after heavy rain triggered a series of landslides in Sitka Tuesday morning.

Governor Bill Walker plans to be in the city Wednesday to visit the affected areas.

 

On Tuesday evening, the city identified the missing people as Sitka Building Official William Stortz, age 62; Elmer Diaz, age 26; and Ulises Diaz, age 25.

All three were involved in the construction of several new homes on Kramer Avenue, about two miles from downtown Sitka. The slide in that area destroyed one of the new homes entirely, and damaged another.

The area remained unstable Tuesday afternoon and officials suspended search and rescue efforts for several hours, over fears of further landslides — though rescuers did manage to pull a dog alive from the debris. As of Tuesday evening, search and debris removal efforts had begun again, with plans to continue Wednesday morning.

The neighborhood below the slide was evacuated. Neighbors reported a second slide on the northern end of Kramer Avenue, in an area that hasn’t yet been developed.

Heavy rains triggered what now appear to be at least six landslides in Sitka Tuesday morning, prompting the city to declare a state of emergency.

In addition to the two on Kramer Avenue, a slide across Sawmill Creek Road heavily damaged the administration building at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, Sitka’s former pulp mill site, about eight miles from downtown. No injuries were reported, but the building was evacuated, along with bunkhouses belonging to local fish processor Silver Bay Seafoods. Sawmill Creek Road was closed past the industrial park as crews worked to remove the debris.

A fourth slide was reported in a more remote area, on Harbor Mountain, closing Harbor Mountain Road. Other slides were reported at Green Lake, and along the Gavan Hill trail.

The National Weather Service recorded over 2-and-a-half inches of rainfall in the six-hour period between 4 and 10 AM. Tuesday.

The flash-flooding prompted temporary trail closures at Sitka National Historical Park. And flooding in the parking lot of the Sitka Laundry Center on Halibut Point Road opened a sinkhole the size of a large van in the pavement, threatening two propane tanks, which were safely removed from the site.

Gov. Bill Walker announced Tuesday night that he will be in Sitka on Wednesday, and will visit the site of the Kramer Avenue landslide.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:47

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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Recovery efforts of 4 missing persons suspended until terrain stabilizes

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

Four people are believed missing after rain triggered a series of landslides in Sitka early Tuesday morning. Recovery efforts have been suspended while officials wait for the affected slopes to stabilize.

Legislative panel votes to spend $450K to stop Medicaid expansion in court

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A legislative panel has voted to sue Governor Bill Walker to stop Medicaid expansion. The Legislative Council made the announcement after a closed door meeting in Anchorage this morning.

A project to remap Alaska reaches its halfway mark

Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

An effort to remap Alaska celebrated its half-way mark Tuesday during a ‘skybreaking’ ceremony in Anchorage. The remapping initiative is a significant undertaking for the state.

Yukon king run shows signs of recovery

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Chinook salmon continue to swim up the Yukon River, the latest indication that the long ailing run may have turned a corner toward recovery.

Anchorage hospitals appeal state’s ER bed cap

Associated Press

Anchorage’s two largest hospitals are appealing the state’s recent allocation decisions in hopes of building more emergency room beds in the next several years.

Woman pleads guilty to running a sex-trafficking ring, sentenced to 5 1/2 years

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Monday afternoon Amber Batts was sentenced to five and half years in prison after pleading guilty to sex trafficking in the second degree. The defendant was running the sex trade business “Sensual Alaska” that served people around the state.

Life’s curvy road leads to homelessness for some

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

People don’t usually plan to experience homelessness; life just takes unexpected turns. But for some guests of the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, like Michael Hindman, the experience leaves them with more hope than anything else.

A lifetime of fighting: A history of Alaska LGBT rights

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

Alaskans voted in 1998 to define marriage in the state constitution as only between a man and a woman. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated that definition, Alaska and the entire country has marriage equality. Alaska’s fight for gay rights began half a lifetime ago.

Can we call it ‘Hoo-Brew’? A new brewery opens in Hoonah

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

On Saturday, a Hoonah microbrewery is opening its doors to serve the village a variety of craft beers. Kegs used to practically disappear around the same time tourists did. Now fresh pints are guaranteed through winter.

Categories: Alaska News

Recovery efforts of 3 missing persons suspended until terrain stabilizes

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:38

—-UPDATE: 5:19 p.m.—–

Officials now say only three people remain missing in today’s landslide: City building official William Stortz, 62, and construction workers Elmer Diaz,26, and Ulises Diaz, 25.

The area remained unstable and officials suspended search and rescue efforts for several hours this afternoon, over fears of further landslides — though rescuers did manage to pull a dog alive from the debris. As of Tuesday evening, rescue and debris removal efforts had begun again, and were planned to continue until dark, and pick up again in the morning.

—-Original story, 4:32 p.m.—-

Four people are believed missing after rain triggered a series of landslides in Sitka early Tuesday morning. Recovery efforts have been suspended while officials wait for the affected slopes to stabilize.

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A new home under construction on Sitka’s Kramer Avenue was obliterated in the slide. A neighboring home is unscathed. (Photo by Joel Curtis/National Weather Service)

Those missing were all likely involved in the construction of several new homes on Kramer Avenue, about two miles from downtown Sitka. The slide in that area destroyed one of the new homes entirely, and damaged another, though the full extent of the damage was still unclear Tuesday afternoon.

Neighbors have reported a second slide on the northern end of Kramer Avenue, in an area that has not yet been developed.

The area remained unstable and officials suspended search and rescue efforts this afternoon, over fears of further landslides — though rescuers did manage to pull a dog alive from the debris. The neighborhood below the slide has been evacuated.

Heavy rains triggered what now appears to be at least three major landslides — and a handful of smaller ones — in Sitka this morning, prompting the city to declare a state of emergency.

A slide across Sawmill Creek Road heavily damaged the administration building at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, Sitka’s former pulp mill site, about eight miles from downtown. No injuries were reported, but the building was evacuated, along with bunkhouses belonging to local fish processor Silver Bay Seafoods.

A third slide was reported in a more remote area, on Harbor Mountain.

Cascade Creek was running high after heavy rainfall Tuesday, August 18. (Rebecca LaGuire, KCAW)

Harbor Mountain Road has been closed above the first gate at the bottom of the hill. Sawmill Creek Road has been closed beyond Silver Bay Seafoods, as crews work to remove the debris.

The National Weather Service recorded over 2-and-a-half inches of rainfall in the six-hour period between 4 and 10 AM.

The flash-flooding prompted temporary trail closures at Sitka National Historical Park. Flooding in the parking lot of the Sitka Laundry Center on Halibut Point Road opened a sinkhole the size of a large van in the pavement. Two propane tanks on the edge of the sinkhole have since been removed.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislative panel votes to spend $450K to stop Medicaid expansion in court

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:37

A legislative panel has voted to sue Gov. Bill Walker to stop Medicaid expansion. The Legislative Council made the announcement after a closed door meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday morning.

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The council voted to spend up to $450,000 on legal assistance to fight Medicaid expansion in court. Before the vote, Republican Senator Charlie Huggins made the case for the lawsuit:

“This is not the time for the Alaska State Legislature to be timid and it’s not about the issue, it’s about the separation of powers. So I firmly, firmly urge members of this body to support the motion.”

At a meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday morning, the Legislative Council voted to spend up to $450,000 on legal assistance to fight Medicaid expansion in court. (Annie Feidt/APRN)

Last month, Gov. Walker announced he would expand Medicaid starting September 1. The Legislature failed to vote on his Medicaid expansion bill during this year’s regular or special session.

Only one lawmaker voted against the lawsuit, Democratic Representative Sam Kito of Juneau. He noted that several legal opinions supported Governor Walker’s decision to expand Medicaid on his own:

“And I am concerned about spending money in our current budget times to actually perform an action that could cost the state money.”

Medicaid expansion would offer federal health care to low income, childless adults. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost until 2017. After that, the state’s share of the cost of the program will gradually increase, but never amount to more than 10 percent.

At a press conference following the legislative council vote, Walker said he was disappointed in the legislature’s action:

“I stand firm on my decision. It was the right thing to do. I’m not wavering for a minute. Alaskans deserve nothing less. This has not pushed me in a different direction whatsoever.”

The legislative council is bringing in a Washington, D.C., law firm to challenge Medicaid expansion. Lawyers with Bancroft PLLC have argued against the Affordable Care Act in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senator John Coghill, a Republican from Fairbanks voted for the lawsuit. He says the lawyers will focus on getting a judge to issue an injunction stopping Medicaid expansion from going forward on September 1st. He says if an injunction isn’t granted, the lawsuit is unlikely to be effective:

“I think that we’ll push it, but by the time the process works we’ll probably be in a regular session, so at that point, the damage will probably already be done and then how to unravel it? Probably is not going to happen in the court system.”

About 40,000 Alaskans would qualify for Medicaid expansion. The Walker administration estimates about half that number would sign up in the first year.

Categories: Alaska News

A project to remap Alaska reaches its halfway point

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:36

An effort to remap Alaska celebrated its half-way mark Tuesday during a ‘skybreaking’ ceremony in Anchorage. The remapping initiative is a significant undertaking for the state.

Alaska is 57 percent mapped. That’s the milestone celebrated today at the FedEx hangar in Anchorage. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave the keynote by telecast, and a handful of GIS big-wigs flew in for the event.

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A terrestrial mapping effort reaches its half-way mark. Well-trafficked flight corridors were among the first parts of the state mapped. Photo: screen shot of Alaska Geospatial Council mapping site.

Nick Mastrodicasa with the Department of Transportation is one of the project’s leaders in Alaska:

“When this whole thing started in 2006 — it’s been 10 years almost — I found out that Mars was better mapped, and more recently mapped and more accurately mapped, than Alaska,” Mastrodicasa says.

A lot of the current mapping data used in Alaska is 40 to 50 years old. It was collected using manual cartography techniques that are now obsolete. One of the big drawbacks of that old data is that it isn’t always accurate.

Mastrodicasa describes it to Talk of Alaska host Steve Heimel during Tuesday’s Talk of Alaska program:

“There are some ridgelines we’ve seen that are a thousand meters off,” he says. “It’s not as bad as we originally thought, but it’s bad. We are seeing valleys that are horizontally displaced by half a mile.”

You probably get the picture that these kinds of mapping errors are a big deal if you’re a pilot. Stories of perfectly functional aircraft flying into the side of a mountain are regrettably ubiquitous in Alaska.

For example, say you’re flying through mountainous terrain and your flight path suddenly gets socked in, you really want your GPS device to be accurate. A GPS device is only as dependable as the data behind it. And the new data being collected with this mapping initiative is accurate within millimeters.

Forty-one million dollars have been spent on the project so far, and that money is coming from a multitude of different state and federal agencies.

The data collection process is expensive. It involves a technology called IFSAR. Kevin Gallagher is the associate director of USGS’ Core Science Systems program. He explains:

“IFSAR is interferometric synthetic aperture radar,” he says. “It’s essentially a radar, but by projecting it at the ground and measuring the reflectance back, you get a very highly detailed elevation map.”

Erosion threatens coastal settlements throughout Alaska. High-quality elevation data is vital to risk assessment and decisions about relocating villages at risk. Photo shared via Alaska DNR.

In addition to aviation, the high-quality data set also has significant implications for mineral development and resource management purposes.

This data, Gallagher says, is going to become even more significant as climate change begins to reshape the north. Melting permafrost, land subsidence and erosion are poised to redefine Alaska’s terrain.

“Because the data we’re collecting now is going to serve as a baseline to understand the changes that are occurring out on the landscape.”

Gallagher hopes the remapping project will be finished within another 2 to 3 years , which will bring Alaska’s maps on par with those the Lower 48, and on Mars.

Categories: Alaska News

5 youths, ages 10 to 13, suspected in Bethel school vandalism spree

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:36

Bethel police have identified five juveniles age 10 and 13, suspected of vandalizing preschool classrooms and smashing windows in more than a dozen cars owned by the Lower Kuskokwim School District. Charges are being sent to the division of juvenile justice.

Damages to the school and vehicles is pegged around $100,000. Photo: KYUK.

Lieutenant Joe Corbett says this is not the first time police have dealt vandalism in the school, which has high quality cameras that were rolling.

“We put the images around the police department, we put them in front of school administrators to try to get those kids identified. It normally doesn’t take us very long.”

The damage was discovered Sunday morning and closed the preschool this week. Corbett says the investigation is not entirely complete.

“The first confession isn’t always the entire truth. We need to work it from every angle and make sure that what we’re being told, the confession we did obtain are accurate, consistent, and make sure there is no one else out there who could be escaping punishment on this, if we’re to get all of the kids that were involved.”

The preliminary damage estimates exceed $50,000 for the vehicles and at least $50,000 to the preschool.

A Bethel school was vandalized over the weekend. Photo: KYUK.

“This amount, this level of damage is certainly out of the ordinary. But property damage from kids in this town has been a problem for a long time, and a lot of this is about parental supervision.”

Going forward, Corbett says the police will be enforcing a zero tolerance policy on the city’s curfew rules.

“It’s never been enforced at that level, we’ve always left that up to officer discretion. But when a problem’s been identified, it needs to be addressed. We clearly see there is a problem here. It’s our tool to address it, but it’s not the only tool that the city and citizens have. If you have responsible parents involved in what their children are doing… That’s the best tool of them all. Then we don’t have to write tickets.”

Parents can be fined up to $250 for curfew violations.

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon king run shows signs of recovery

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:35

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.

Chinook salmon continue to swim up the Yukon River, the latest indication that the long ailing run may have turned a corner toward recovery.

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An Alaska Department of Fish and Game sonar counter near the Canadian border at Eagle  continues to tally king salmon. It’s near the end of the run, but counts have remained pretty good, anywhere from about 800 early in the month to nearly 300 August 10 and 11. That’s well down from the over 3,000 counted daily during the peak of the run a month ago, but State Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Schmidt says the extended strength of this year’s Chinook return is surprising.

“We’re actually at just over 83,000 chinook salmon. That’s the most we’ve passed over the border since this project began in 2005.”

The number is more than predicted by computer models and lower river return assessments, and well in excess of a border passage objective of 55,000 kings. This year’s return is the second in a row that appears to show movement toward rebuilding a run that once averaged over 150,000 Canadian origin fish, but has tanked in recent decades due to over fishing and suspected environmental factors. The downturn resulted in extreme fishing restrictions, Schmidt expects will be relaxed next summer.

“We’re still going to make sure we’re meeting escapement goals, but it does mean that there is hopefully more fishing in the future for Yukon River fishermen” she says.

Schmidt cautions that management of next summer’s fishery will hinge on what’s predicted by computer models that try to account for complex factors including the ages of the fish expected to return. She says a salmon research project near the river mouth also being used to predict run strength has been seeing more young Chinook.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage hospitals appeal state’s ER bed cap

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:34

Entrance to Anchorage’s Providence Hospital emergency room. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Anchorage’s two largest hospitals are appealing the state’s recent allocation decisions in hopes of building more emergency room beds in the next several years.

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The Alaska Dispatch News reports that Providence Alaska Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital have both filed appeals accusing the Department of Health and Human Services of making groundless assumptions about costs and the best interests of the public.

Too many emergency room beds can push up health care costs, so Alaska, like most states, has laws limiting the capacity of emergency rooms. In July, Providence Alaska received permission to add eight beds, six fewer than it requested. Alaska Regional’s proposal to add two freestanding Emergency Rooms in South Anchorage and Eagle River was denied, in an effort to prevent unnecessary ER costs.

The appeals will be heard by an administrative law judge, who will make a recommendation the state’s health commissioner.

Categories: Alaska News

Woman pleads guilty to running a sex-trafficking ring, sentenced to 5 1/2 years

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:33

Amber Batts was sentenced to five and half years in prison after pleading guilty to sex trafficking in the second degree Monday afternoon. The defendant was running the sex trade business “Sensual Alaska” that served people around the state.

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Batts connected sex workers with clients who were pre-screened for safety concerns then she took a portion of the fee. She already has two felonies on her record.

State Assistant Attorney General Adam Alexander prosecuted the case. He says the case was not about the morality or legality of prostitution.

“Our hope in prosecuting broader sex trafficking enterprises is to create a safer environment for individuals who are caught up as workers in that trade and in an environment that people feel comfortable disclosing when they’re being victimized. And unfortunately our experience working on the ground here in Alaska, more often than not the people who are working in the sex trade are victims of exploitation.”

Alexander says many participants in the sex trade are vulnerable and have experienced trauma.

But sex trade worker advocate Tara Burns says members of the industry are being prosecuted for actions that make the sex trade safer.

“So we work indoors instead of out on the street. And that is being called “having a place of prostitution now, which is felony sex trafficking in the third degree. We share clients and we communicate with each other about clients – “have you seen this client? Is he safe?” and that is now called a sex trafficking ring or a prostitution enterprise.”

Burns has worked in the industry for 20 years, and her organization Community United for Safety and Protection is lobbying to change the state’s laws. More than 30 thousand people have signed an online petition in support.

“We’re asking the Alaska legislature to repeal the new sex trafficking laws. We want to be able to go to the police to report crimes like sex trafficking without having to worry about being charged with felonies now instead of just prostitution.”

The laws passed in 2012. The human rights group Amnesty International recently adopted a resolution supporting the decriminalization of consensual sex work saying that it will make it safer for the workers.

Categories: Alaska News

From working to homeless and back again — a story of hope from the Brother Francis Shelter

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:32

Mike Hindman at the Brother Francis Shelter. (Hillman/KSKA)

People don’t usually plan to experience homelessness; life just takes unexpected turns. But for some guests of the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, like Michael Hindman, the experience leaves them with more hope than anything else. When KSKA’s Anne Hillman spent the night at the shelter late last month, he greeted her and other guests at the door.

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“Alright, anybody and everybody who wants inside, please line up on the right hand side,” 26-year-old Hindman says as he opens the self-locking door to the shelter. He greets a guest. “How you doing, sir?”

It was an unusually calm summer evening. Hindman was monitoring the entrance area to the shelter and checking for contraband like weapons or alcohol.

“Anything inside of your pockets I can see?” he asks a woman as she gazes a bit past him.

Burly and tall with a goofy smile, the name of an ex-girlfriend tattooed in delicate script on his arm, Hindman never saw himself in a place like Brother Francis. He was young, strong, making good money.

“In the back of my mind I thought, ‘Why are people homeless? And I’ve always had a job. Why don’t people work and why don’t people do this?’ Maybe I didn’t have compassion or sympathy at first,” he recalled.

But a few years ago, he made a mistake.

“This is the part of the story where I’ve got to tell the truth, ok? This is my big blip. I was in Dutch Harbor, Alaska working as a longshoreman…” he starts his history.

Hindman got involved with drugs, was busted for buying narcotics for an undercover cop, pleaded guilty to a felony, and went to prison.

“I learned my lesson right off the bat. My first 30 minutes in jail I realized this is not for me and then besides that 30 minutes I had another 18 months to learn the same lesson thinking, ‘This is definitively not for me.’”

As part of the plea deal he gave the state everything he owned. He was released this spring with nothing but purple prison underwear, donated clothing, and a quarter in his pocket. After sleeping rough for a couple nights, someone told Hindman about Brother Francis. He began volunteering as a door monitor in exchange for secure housing at the shelter and help finding a job. Hindman said it completely changed his perspective.

“I no longer pass judgment when I walk by somebody, its more what can I do to help? Because whether the person, maybe they are an alcoholic, or maybe they do have a temper problem, or maybe they do have a flaw, but I think all of us do. What I worry about now is, is that person cold?”

Working at the door lets him see people’s lives turn around, he said. One day they’re tired and stressed and a few weeks later they have a job and are looking bright. That’s his story, too. He was recently hired as a cook on the North Slope.

But during his off weeks he’ll be back at the shelter, helping out, and saving money to rent a place of his own. Hindman sees beauty in the echo-filled concrete halls.

“I’ve seen people with nothing to their name but they give everything they can to the next guy who also has nothing,” he said, recalling people offering up their only jacket to protect others from the rain. “I know people that make $100,000 a year that probably wouldn’t let you borrow their jacket, you know?”

He says he stays positive and hopes it helps others stay that way, too.

Categories: Alaska News

A short history of Alaska LGBT rights

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:31

Alaskans voted in 1998 to define marriage in the state constitution as only between a man and a woman. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated that definition, Alaska and the entire country has marriage equality. To some it may seem like things are changing fast, but Alaska’s fight for gay rights began half a lifetime ago.

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In the course of Alaska’s legislative history, there have been six bills to outlaw sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. In Anchorage, there have been at least three ordinances.

They’ve all failed.

(left to right) Jay Brause, Gene Dugan, Fred Hillman and Les Baird. In 1982, the board members were moving out of the Alaska Gay & Lesbian Resource Center, which closed down. It was later revamped and named Identity, Inc. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Green)

The fight may have begun in 1975, when the Alaska State Human Rights Commission took a formal stance that sexual preference should be included in the state’s non-discrimination policy.

House Bill 125 was introduced in 1987, during the AIDS epidemic. The commission director, the attorney general and the governor all supported the bill.

“[It was] just something that seemed to me, it was time to make some noise about it,” says former Democratic Gov. Steve Cowper.

He introduced the bill less than two months after taking office. He had served in the Vietnam War and made a friend who was gay.

“They served just as well or better than other people,” Cowper said.

Cowper can’t remember why exactly he introduced the bill, but cites that personal experience as a possible reason. Old files also suggest commission Director Janet Bradley asked for his support.

“But as a general principle, people shouldn’t be discriminated against any more than you should be able to discriminate for racial reasons,” Cowper said.

Cowper’s friend died from AIDS years later. HB 125 never made it out of committee.

Janet Bradley left the Human Rights Commission in 1988. During the last decade of her career, she had taken an aggressive approach to more inclusive legislation.

After she left, Paula Haley became the commission’s director. She’s still the director now and she hasn’t touched the issue.

In 1989 through an LGBT advocacy group, researchers Melissa Green and Jay Brause published a statewide survey documenting the experiences of Alaska’s lesbian and gay community, including issues of discrimination and health.

Janet Bradley ended the report’s forward with a call to action: “This report then becomes our challenge; for if we believe that our vision of Alaska is marred when discrimination exists, we must commit ourselves to eliminating sexual orientation discrimination.”

In 2012, Green published her final report on a survey on LGBT discrimination in Anchorage through Identity, Inc. It was a few weeks before Anchorage voted on Proposition 5, a sexual identity anti-discrimination measure that failed. She says the report received a lot of criticism.

“It has important things to say. I hope that people might still read it, but I’m done. I’m done. I’m off on my own life,” Green said.

She’s burnt out and says she’s kind of bitter.

“It ate up a lot of my life and a lot of my time, and it had, I wouldn’t say exactly zero impact, but pretty close to that,” Green said. “Nobody really cared— outside of the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community, nobody really cared.”

In 1986, the Anchorage Daily News interviewed a gay man working at Identity, Inc., an advocacy organization. He was collecting violent and homophobic voice mail the office received for a research report on gay and lesbian discrimination.

That man’s name was Jay Brause.

“Through the AIDS crisis we started finding out how important our relationships were,” Brause said.

“We started finding out we had no rights. We were denied in so many ways.” Brause said.

He said he knew of couples who’d been together for decades and if one of them would become ill or die, often their relationship meant nothing when it came to hospital visitation, burials, military honors and home ownership.

“How do you explain that to people? It’s a potent, virulent form of discrimination,” Brause said.

During the same year the ADN published the story, he interned with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in D.C.

Brause and his now-husband Gene Dugan applied for their marriage license in 1994. The controversial act eventually led to the 1998 constitutional amendment defining marriage.

He paid for being a prominent gay figure in the 80s and 90s in more ways.

“I felt the prejudice and the discrimination very personally and directly. In a way, you don’t know if you’re hiding or you haven’t disclosed (your sexuality),” Brause said.

Like his friend Melissa Green, he’s disillusioned about his fight and American liberties. His reaction when Alaska got marriage equality?

“I did not have the person-in-the-street’s reaction. No, not even a smile,” Brause said.

In 2006, he and his husband moved to England, where he has dual-citizenship. In September, he’ll travel back to Anchorage to clean up to the last few bits of his life in America before leaving for good.

“Thank you to every single one of us who took on that work as activists, who took chances to make a difference, and believe me, there’s more to be done.”

State Legislative Reference Librarian Jennifer Fletcher researched legislative files. This article could not be produced without her assistance.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Can We Call It Hoo-Brew? New Brewery Opens in Hoonah

Tue, 2015-08-18 17:30

On Saturday, a Hoonah microbrewery is opening its doors to serve the village a variety of craft beers. Kegs used to become scarce around the same time tourists did. Now fresh pints are guaranteed through winter.

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Dan Kane and his business partner Todd Thingvall. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Todd Thingvall and his business partner Dan Kane have been working hard to renovate a 100-year-old house on pilings above water, the site of the new brewery and taproom. Both left good jobs to start the business. Kane says his kids asked if he was having a midlife crisis.

“There’s been a lot of sleepless nights,” Kane says. “I’m sitting in Anchorage at my house there and I have a good life. There’s a lot mornings I would be sitting there going, ‘Have I lost my mind, is this really what I want to do?’”

He’s been homebrewing for about 20 years. They met each other through their wives.

“Dan had beer so I instantly liked him. We hit it off ever since,” says Thingvall.

He pitched Kane the idea of opening the Hoonah brewery. They invested about $400,000 and are living upstairs. The long-term plan is to move the tanks to another site but for now, they’re on a patio above the water.

Usually stainless-steel fermentation tanks are labeled one, two, three.

(Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“We decided, eh. Let’s stay with a Southeast theme and we went with keta, humpy, king, sockeye and coho. Of course, the king is the big seven barrel,” Kane says.

They’re cooled by a refrigeration unit that runs partially off solar panels. Electricity can be expensive in Hoonah and the panels could pay for themselves in a little over a year.

On the bottom of the king tank is a well kept brewer’s secret.

“You’re very lucky to see this. It’s called a sample valve. It allows you to take samples or actual drinks out of a vessel. So this is our pale which was the first beer that we made here,” Thingvall says.

He fills up a frothy golden glass of beer made with Cascade hops.

With no connecting roads, the Pacific Northwest hops and brewer’s yeast is shipped using FedEx. Thingvall and Kane say it can be nerve-wracking waiting for the delicate ingredients to arrive. Most need to remain temperature controlled. It travels from Seattle to Juneau, then over to Hoonah by small plane. A few weeks ago, their yeast was overdue.

“One great thing about a small town, even the postmaster, she knew exactly what I was looking for and it came in Saturday after their closing hours and she called us. And said, ‘Hey it’s here.’ And waiting for us to come pick it up,” Kane says.

They’ll serve pale ale, IPA and hefeweizen. A pilsner and stout are also in the works. Production will be about 500 barrels a year, and some of the kegs could be distributed to Southeast’s smallest communities like Gustavus and Elfin Cove–maybe eventually making its way to Juneau.

What Kane says they’re really looking forward to the most is experimenting with ingredients like Hudson Bay tea, a medicinal plant that grows in the muskeg.

“When it first hits your palate, it was more of light clean, crisp beer and then as it hit the back of your palate that’s when that tea just came alive,” Kane says.

It can be tricky getting FDA approval for ingredients that are locally sourced, but they say they’re up for the challenge. They want Icy Strait Brewing to reflect the community.

“Hoonah has a slogan: The little place with the big heart. And it’s true. The people here are wonderful,” Thingvall says.

And now it has a microbrewery to match.

Overlooking the taproom of Icy Strait Brewery. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Categories: Alaska News

4 missing in Sitka landslide event

Tue, 2015-08-18 14:02

A sinkhole had opened up beneath a pair of propane tanks on Halibut Point Road. (Rebecca LaGuire, KCAW)

Four people are believed missing in a landslide that occurred in Sitka early this Tuesday morning.

Those missing were all likely involved in the construction of several new homes on Kramer Avenue. The slide in that area destroyed one of the new homes entirely, and damaged another.

Neighbors have reported a second slide on the northern end of Kramer Avenue, in an area that has not yet been developed.

Heavy rains triggered what now appears to be three landslides in Sitka in the early hours of the day. A slide across Sawmill Creek Road heavily damaged the administration building at Gary Paxton Industrial Park, but no injuries were reported. The building was evacuated, along with the Silver Bay bunkhouses.

Sawmill Creek Road remains closed beyond Whale Park.

The National Weather Service recorded over 2-and-a-half inches of rainfall in the six-hour period between 4 and 10 AM.

The flash-flooding prompted trail closures at Sitka National Historical Park. Flooding in the parking lot of the Sitka Laundry Center opened a sinkhole in the pavement. Two propane tanks on the edge of the sinkhole have since been removed.

Sitka Police and Fire departments are asking residents to please refrain from calling, as phone lines are needed for emergency communication. Also, there is no need for additional volunteer help at this time.

Categories: Alaska News

Three landslides prompt Sitka to declare state of emergency

Tue, 2015-08-18 13:54

This is a breaking story, check back for updates.

The City and Borough of Sitka has declared a state of emergency after heavy rain triggered at least three different landslides this morning.

A sinkhole had opened up beneath a pair of propane tanks on Halibut Point Road. (Rebecca LaGuire, KCAW)

The Sitka Fire Department has reported one slide on Halibut Point Road, one on Kramer Avenue, and one on Sawmill Creek Road, near the Gary Paxton Industrial Park.

The slide on Kramer Avenue has damaged at least one house. The extent of the damage is not yet clear.

Anyone who was working on the construction on Kramer Avenue is asked to call the Sitka Police Department at 747-3245. Sitka Search and Rescue is trying to account for everyone who might have been in the homes affected by the slide.

The Fire Department has closed Sawmill Creek Road at Whale Park. Kramer Avenue is also closed. Halibut Point Road remains open.

KCAW has also received reports from residents in the 2200 Block of HPR below Kramer Avenue that homes have been evacuated.

Cascade Creek was running high after heavy rainfall Tuesday, August 18. (Rebecca LaGuire, KCAW)

 

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka diesel spill now estimated at 2500 gallons

Tue, 2015-08-18 08:47

Officials are now estimating that about 2,500 gallons of diesel spilled into Sitka Sound this weekend, after a fuel tank failed at the city’s Jarvis Street Power Plant. That’s significantly less than the 7,000 gallons feared on Sunday.

By Monday evening (Aug. 17), much of the spill had been cleaned up or dispersed — and officials were hoping that a storm would help finish off the rest.

Fire Chief Dave Miller on Eagle Beach at 7 a.m. on Monday, August 17. Diesel from the Jarvis Street Power Plant spilled onto the beach from the storm water drainage system. (Photo courtesy of Mark Gorman, City of Sitka)

When it failed over the weekend, the storage tank at the Jarvis Street Power Plant released about 30,000 gallons of diesel. Most of that was caught in a cement containment enclosure designed for exactly this sort of event. But when responders pumped the diesel back into the tank on Sunday, they found about 7,000 gallons missing.

Some of that diesel leaked into the city’s storm water drainage system and spilled into Sitka Sound at Eagle Beach, near the mouth of Indian River.

But a significant amount likely evaporated — as much as 4,000 gallons, according to estimates from the Coast Guard.

Bob Mattson is the state’s on-scene coordinator for oil spills in Southeast. He works for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

“When oil is exposed to the air and the elements it undergoes a weathering process,” Mattson said. “A lot of it is lost due to evaporation — and of course people in Sitka know what the weather was over the weekend, had some pretty nice days, especially on Friday and Saturday. So we know that the amount of oil which actually evaporated is going to be significant — with diesel oil it is — but we won’t ever really know exactly how much.”

The diesel from the Jarvis Street Power Plant leaked into Sitka Sound through this storm water drain at Eagle Beach. (Rachel Waldholz, KCAW)

For now, officials are estimating that about 2500 gallons may have made it into Sitka Sound.

Mattson says he’s pleased with the city’s cleanup efforts so far. Coast Guard and city personnel laid absorbent material throughout the storm water system and on the beach on Sunday and Monday, catching and mopping up much of the spill.

By Monday afternoon, the only sign of the cleanup were several layers of containment boom in a small area around Eagle Beach. Mattson says what’s left is a sheen on the water.

“It looks bad,” he said. “But fortunately it’s a thin layer, and in terms of a volume, there’s not a lot.”

The spill is near Indian River and the Sitka National Historical Park, but speaking Monday afternoon, Superintendent Mary Miller said that so far, no diesel has showed up in the park.

“We swept the park first thing this morning to see if there was anything that was moving in our direction,” Miller said. “And not even any evidence, not any smell, not any anything. And so right now it looks like things are as good as could be expected.”

Officials say there have been no confirmed reports of wildlife affected by the spill. Subsistence users are being asked to avoid the area, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has determined there is no threat to commercial fisheries.

Officials are also anticipating some help from Mother Nature. Storms moving into the area this week are expected to help break down and disperse the diesel.

Mattson says that predicted rain means that Indian River will likely be running higher than usual.

“Any of the oil sheens that wants to move along there…into the mouth of Indian River will meet this big wall of freshwater and it will shove it back out,” Mattson said. “So that’s good, that protects the mouth of the river.”

Eagle Beach at 2 p.m. on Monday, August 17. By Monday afternoon, the spill had been mostly mopped up and contained. (Rachel Waldholz/KCAW)

Meanwhile, officials hope that wind and wave action will break down the remaining diesel so that bacteria in the water can take care of the rest.

“Oil wants to break down naturally in salt water,” Mattson said. “It gets into smaller and smaller droplets, and this wave energy is going to force it into smaller and smaller micron-sized droplets, and that’s available for bacteria…who can actually use that as a food source.”

Officials don’t yet know what caused the tank to fail, or why the oil leaked out of the containment area, though the investigation is focused on a faulty valve.

And Mattson says it’s too soon to consider whether there will be any fines or penalties associated with the spill. That often depends on how proactive the responsible party – in this case, the city — is during the cleanup. Sitka had actually staged an oil spill response drill this spring in almost the exact location of the actual spill.

For his part, Mattson says he’s here for the duration.

“I’ve got a one-way ticket to Sitka,” he said. “I won’t be returning to Juneau until I’m satisfied that things are good.”

Officials are reminding subsistence seafood gatherers to avoid the area between Indian River and Cannon Island. Residents are also encouraged to report any oiled wildlife immediately, by calling the Fire Hall at 747-3233.

Categories: Alaska News

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