The state appeals court on Friday reinstated charges of excessive fishing against a former state senator and two others.
A wildlife officer in August 2009 cited former lawmaker Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, and others for catching more sockeye salmon than allowed under a subsistence fishing permit.
The men challenged the citations, and a district court sided with the men. The court said the Board of Fisheries should have set limits and not delegated that authority to the Department of Fish and Game.
The appeals court disagreed, saying the Board of Fisheries has the authority to enact regulations and delegate that authority.
The cases against the fishermen will return to district court.
A woman is suing the Municipality of Anchorage, claiming she was falsely arrested for drunken driving after she refused to give her phone number to a police officer.
The Anchorage Daily News reports Nancy Means is seeking to have the municipality scrub any evidence of her arrest.
Officer David Burns saw a minivan with hazard lights flashing Nov. 25, 2011. He found Means and three passengers in the disabled minivan.
Burns said he smelled a slight odor of alcohol. He sought and received her license and insurance information, but she refused when he asked for her phone number.
Burns then arrested her for operating a vehicle under the influence. A later breath test listed her blood-alcohol level at .000.
City attorney Dennis Wheeler says the arrest was proper.
The state has issued an air quality advisory for the Fairbanks area through Saturday.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports cold air and temperature inversions are behind the poor air quality.
The advisory from the state Department of Environmental Conservation covers Fairbanks, North Pole and surrounding areas.
It also deems the air quality in Fairbanks as “unhealthy,” the third-worst category behind “very unhealthy” and “hazardous.”
People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should avoid prolonged exertion. Others should limit any prolonged exertion.
Alaska State Troopers say a privately-owned ATM was stolen from a Palmer restaurant.
The Anchorage Daily News reports the machine was taken from RW’s Hamburger House Saturday morning. It weighs about 200 pounds, and troopers suspect it would require more than one person to take it.
Restaurant employee James Tickney says burglars forced their way into the building’s back door and dragged the ATM about 25 feet outside.
He says there was about $4,700 in the ATM when taken.
Troopers ask anyone with information to call 907-745-2131 or Mat-Su Crime Stoppers at 907-745-3333.
Sitka Community Hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, Hugh Hallgren, will retire in June after more than four years of service in Sitka. The hospital’s Board of Directors announced Hallgren’s retirement on Monday.
In a news release, Board Chair Celeste Tydingco said, “Hugh’s leadership and vision for our hospital have been critical to the success we have enjoyed during his tenure.”
Hallgren can trace his healthcare career all the way back to 1973, when he decided against, what he says was the popular option at the time, selling soap for Proctor and Gamble.
“Well I started off getting a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago,” said Hallgren. “And I felt at the time, being of that age group – the hippy age group, that my duty was to try to improve other people’s lives.”
Over four years ago, when Sitka needed a hospital CEO, Hallgren was looking for a new job. Hallgren says that the hard working, cooperative staff shared his values – namely, the patient should always come first. So, accepting the CEO position at SCH was a no-brainer.
Once Hallgren arrived, and got the chance to look under the hood, reality set in. He says, at the time, the hospital was in trouble. It was losing almost two million dollars a year. Hallgren says there was insufficient medical staff to efficiently address Sitkans’ needs. He set to work expanding the surgical service, reopening OB services, and recruiting physicians.
“We got general surgery back with Doctor Wein, thank goodness. We restarted obstetrics. You lose your surgeon it’s hard to do OB because you may need to do a cesarean section here and there,” said Hallgren.
Over the course of his tenure Hallgren recruited 14 physicians. About half are on the island full time and work at the Mountainside Family Healthcare clinic. The rest provide specialty care as needed – services like reconstructive plastic surgery, cardiology, and dermatology.
Hallgren says that the strategy has always been to find out what Sitkans need, and try to provide it on the island. He reports a 118% growth in patient visits since 2010.
Hallgren said, “what we see is the community responding to our ability to meet their health needs. So now, if you want to go to Seattle or anchorage to go shopping you can just go shopping you don’t need to add a physician’s visit to it.”
Rapid growth is the reason why SCH is working on building a second primary care clinic on the first floor of the hospital. The Board will continue efforts to raise the remaining funds required to open the new clinic.
Hallgren’s next destination is Yuma, Arizona, where his wife, Tanya, has taken a job treating US Marines with stress related mental health issues. Hallgren says that he is ready to pass off the baton: “It’s always good to leave before you’re asked to go. The best time to leave a party is when it’s going full blast.”
The SCH board will work with a hospital management advisory firm, Quorum Health Resources, to conduct a national search for a new CEO.
The state announced the 2014 guideline harvest levels for Pacific cod in the state-waters fisheries this week.
In the Aleutians district, that’s about 12 percent less than last year’s harvest level.
The Aleutian district is divided into A and B season. A season will run Jan. 1 through June 9. Seventy percent of the harvest is reserved for A season — about 12.5 million pounds. The remaining 30 percent is for B season. That’s about 5.3 million pounds.
Fish not caught in A season will also roll over to B season — up to 70 percent of the total harvest level.
It’ll be the first year for the Dutch Harbor subdistrict, in waters a little less than 100 miles north of Unalaska. State groundfish management biologist Chuck Trebesch says the new subdistrict is an exclusive fishery for boats under 60 feet that are fishing with pot gear.
Vessels can only fish in one exclusive state-waters fishery at a time. The other exclusive fisheries near the Dutch Harbor subdistrict are Kodiak and the South Alaska Peninsula. Fishing in the new subdistrict wouldn’t shut a vessel out of the Aleutians fishery, or any other non-exlusive or federal fishery.
Trebesch says the Dutch Harbor fishery will open a week after the parallel federal fishing season ends. That’s the federal hook-and-line season for vessels under 60 feet. Trebesch estimates it’ll hit its quota in February or March. Then the Dutch Harbor subdistrict can open, with all of its harvest available immediately.
Trebesch says he has “high hopes” for the new fishery. He says he expects five to 15 boats to participate.
An $18 million project is on the drawing board for a midtown Anchorage ball field. The city’s Mulcahy Stadium, long the home field for the city’s college baseball teams, could be moved to make way for a parking lot, if a city Parks and Recreation plan gets approval.
There’s been a sharp increase in the number of flu cases reported to the state.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports there were 177 influenza infections in Alaska between Dec. 1-21.
Before that, only 65 cases had been reported in the first months of the flu season.
There are still flu vaccines available at public health centers in Alaska. Shelly Point-Anderson, who is with the Fairbanks Regional Public Health Center, says anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to get a flu shot.
The Alaska Army Corp of Engineers met with Army corp leaders in Washington D.C. on Monday, to discuss where the Corp will construct a deep draft port in Western Alaska. Three sites on the Seward Peninsula are potential locations for a new deep water port.
A new study from the state shows how dependent Alaska is on the military.
The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports that 60 percent of all federal dollars spent in Alaska are devoted to defense spending. The state estimates the military will spend $486 million next year on Alaska projects.
The study is from the state Department of Labor and published in this month’s Alaska Economic Trends magazine.
It also shows the Fairbanks North Star Borough has the largest percentage of residents with ties to the military. Just under 23 percent of residents there are employed by the military or a military dependent. Coming in second with nearly 22 percent was the Denali Borough, home to Clear Air Force Station.
Kodiak came in third with 18 percent, mostly Coast Guard members.
If you think minus 38 is cold, just stick around a day.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the low temperature Thursday morning at the airport was minus 41 degrees, three degrees colder than Christmas morning.
The cold Thursday produced the season’s first ice fog, reducing visibility to less than a mile in some places and making the Thursday morning commute a challenge.
And that wasn’t even the coldest temperatures recorded in Alaska. Weather officials say it was minus 58 in Chicken, 52 below in Tok and minus 50 in Eagle.
The National Weather Service says there should be some good news this weekend as warmer air is pushing into the region.
On St Lawrence Island, the tribal government of Gambell gave one walrus tusk to each household in the community of just under 800. The distribution is meant to provide ivory carvers with a bit of raw material to work with, in order to bring in a little extra cash amid the ongoing economic disaster from last spring’s poor walrus harvest on St. Lawrence Island.
Leaders in the state of Utah announced today they will challenge an appeals court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involves a Utah state constitutional amendment that outlawed same sex marriage. A federal judge threw out the amendment saying it violated the U.S. constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses. The decision does not have a direct impact on Alaska’s amendment banning same sex marriage, but ACLU Alaska executive Director Joshua Decker says a Nevada case currently in the 9th circuit court of appeals will.
A Russian Mission man died on Christmas Day after his snowmachine crashed.
Alaska State Troopers say 35-year-old Jeremy Wigley died in what is believed to be a single-vehicle crash. Wigley’s body was found Wednesday morning on the Russian Mission Lake.
Several hours earlier he had been drinking with his wife and friends. Troopers say Wigley and his wife had been arguing and he allegedly forced her onto his snow machine and drove off.
Just before 5 a.m. his wife showed up at a local home. She wasn’t wearing any shoes and was hypothermic. Troopers say she doesn’t remember the details of what happened before that.
A relative took the woman to the local health clinic then began searching for Wigley. His body was found at about 7:30 a.m.
Moorage rates in Sitka’s harbors are going up next week.
The Sitka assembly last night approved the rate hike on second reading, bumping the per-foot monthly charge for permanent berths from $2.64 to $2.80, an increase of a little over 6 percent effective New Year’s Day.
The increase was the result of a master plan completed in 2012 that proposes similar increases in each of the next three years.
There was no testimony from harbor users, although some expressed their concern two weeks ago when the issue was heard on first reading. The general sentiment was that some commercial fishermen might start to look for lower moorage in other communities.
Assembly member Mike Reif questioned that logic at the time. But since then, he has become the lone “no” vote. But it wasn’t because he was worried that the rates were too high.
“I think the rate needs to be a little bit higher. I’d rather enter this maybe being a little too high in the beginning, and then we can cut back.”
Reif was concerned about some of the possible scenarios described by the harbor department that involved abandoning some of the harbor system, or allowing parking lots to revert to gravel. He said, “We’re not just trying to take care of current harbor users — we want to take care of their children.”
There was no support on the rest of the assembly for increasing rates above those recommended in the master plan — but they didn’t rule it out in the future.
Matt Hunter wanted to take a look at how things were going in a year. So did Pete Esquiro. He called Sitka’s “one of the best harbor systems” in Alaska.
“To have something as good as we have is going to cost more money. There’s just no way around it. We have a very large industry here in the salmon and seafood industry that means a lot to us financially. And if we do begin to start closing down facilities, and consider that, it will have some detrimental effects to the overall economy of Sitka.”
Esquiro nonetheless voted with the majority in favor of the 6-percent hike
Assembly member Phyllis Hackett was absent.
The increase keeps Sitka in third place among Southeast’s most expensive harbors, behind the two in Juneau, and in Petersburg. Elsewhere in Alaska, Valdez, Kodiak, Seward, and Homer all have more expensive moorage.
In November, work began on Sitka’s ANB harbor. The $7.7 million project will demolish all of the existing structures and replace them with new floats and pilings by early spring. But a small invader in the harbor has added a wrinkle to the usual process.
Workers with the Seattle-based contractor Pacific Pile and Marine are driving piles into the seafloor at ANB Harbor. Sitka City Engineer Dan Tadic watches from the parking lot at ANB Hall.
“What they’re doing right now, they’ve got the basically the tip of the piling on rock, and they’re starting to drill into the rock,” Tadic says. ”And every few feet or so they’re using air to blow the cuttings back out of the piling, so it almost looks like the water is boiling.”
The contractors are drilling about 13 feet into rock to set the pilings. They stop occasionally to flush out the cuttings. At those moments, with water bubbling up and cuttings spraying from the top of the piling, it looks like they’ve struck oil.
The contractors will put in over 60 new galvanized-steel pilings, ranging from 12 to 24 inches in diameter. Those will be followed by brand new floats. The work has to be done by March 15, in time for herring season.
But there’s a side story to the project. In 2010, volunteers with Sitka’s Bioblitz survey found a pair of invasive tunicates – small marine invertebrates – in ANB harbor, as well as several other Sitka harbors.
These tunicates aren’t d. vex (Didemnum vexillum), an invasive tunicate that many Sitkans have heard about before — and that is sometimes compared to the creature from the 1950’s horror movie, The Blob. D. vex can grow extremely fast, blanketing and smothering entire ecosystems. It was found in Sitka’s Whiting Harbor in 2010 — and that’s still the only place in Alaska that it’s been found.
The tunicates in ANB harbor are called botrylloides, or harbor star and golden chain tunicates. And they’ve been much better behaved than d. vex – so far.
Marnie Chapman is a biologist at the University of Alaska Southeast.
“We’re interested in watching the botrylloides group,” Chapman says. ”Because even though at this point there hasn’t been demonstrated massive growth of these, a lot of times what invasives do is they can hang out at very low levels and then all of a sudden something will change about the environment and then they’re able to grow and expand rapidly.”
The concern is that, given the right conditions, the botrylloides in ANB Harbor could suddenly explode, choking out native species. So though the botrylloides have remained fairly contained thus far, officials hope to avoid spreading them further. Because of this, the ANB Harbor project permit requires that all of the material from the harbor be disposed of in a different way than usual.
“A lot of times what happens in Alaska is bits and pieces of harbors get sent all over the place when harbors are decommissioned,” Chapman said. “And so it’s potentially a really effective way of spreading invasive species to really pristine areas in Alaska, to take pieces of harbors and move them somewhere else.”
Instead, the material from ANB harbor will be barged down to Seattle and disposed of on land. The wood will be taken to a landfill. The steel piling will be recycled. And officials hope the process will prevent the harbor’s invasive stow-aways from hitching a ride to any other Alaskan ports.
I attended the American Geological Union (AGU) Fall Meeting this week in San Francisco.
It’s billed as “the largest worldwide conference in geophysical science,” with over 20,000 attendants. There was a vast number of talks on the cryosphere, which I’ll try to cover over the next few days. One session I attended, “Frontier Science from Extended Continental Shelf Studies,” included talks presenting the results of ocean-going expeditions by countries such as Japan, New Zealand, Russia, and the U.S. While most of these cruises’ priorities were to map the continental shelf, they generated many side benefits in the form of new scientific discoveries. In effect, on these cruises, geopolitics was fueling geoscience.
A couple of talks pertained to the Arctic Ocean. Dr. James Hein, a senior scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and adjunct professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, presented the talk, “Critical Metals in Western Arctic Ocean Ferromanganese Mineral Deposits.”
Findings from USCGC Healy
He discussed the findings from cruises of the USCGC Healy in 2008, 2009, and 2012, which were intended to jointly map the continental shelf with the Canadians. Scientists collected ferromanganese crusts and nodules and found that the Arctic Ocean notably differed in chemical composition from other oceans. The results regarding the presence of ferromanganese was not terribly exciting, nor were the findings specific to cobalt, copper, nickel (whose extraction has the potential to generate rare earth element byproducts) and rare earths as a whole – all of which were higher in other oceans.
Aircraft industry interested in scandium
Scientists did, however, discover that the crusts and nodules they collected were the only ones from the global ocean enriched in scandium (Sc). Scandium is a silvery-white metal that is sometimes classified as a rare earth element, and it is often found near other rare earth elements and uranium. At present, there are reportedly no active scandium mines, as the Zhovti Vody mine in Ukraine was flooded years ago . Instead, scandium is generally produced as a byproduct from uranium mining in places like Kazakhstan and mine tailings throughout the former USSR, which used the element for military purposes.
Commercially, the aircraft industry is interested in scandium, as it is similar to titanium, the metal out of which most airplane bodies are constructed. Scandium has a high melting point and is resistant to corrosion like titanium, but it is significantly lighter. Scandium can also be used in manufacturing reinforced aluminum alloys (scandium-reinforced aluminum)  and in x-ray tubes.
$15 million per ton in 2013
Trade in scandium is extremely small in volume, as only about 5,000 kilograms a year are used. Yet the amount of money exchanged for such a small quantity is stunning, as scandium fetched $15 million per ton in 2013.
The International Seabed Authority grants deep-sea mining leases for areas outside of exclusive economic zones. Most of these leases have been made in the Pacific, specifically in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone. The New York Times has a useful map from 2012 of deep sea mining activities. Given the shortage of rare earth elements on land in part due to China’s decreasing of its exports from its Bayan Obo mine, the world’s largest rare earth element mine, deep-ocean deposits have been considered as a potential alternative source. No deep-sea mining leases have been made in the Arctic, but discoveries such as these latest results on scandium will likely add to excitement about the future potential of the industry on the high seas. In any case, mining could start much sooner within the existing territorial seabeds of the Arctic littoral states.
The first use of scandium-reinforced aluminum was on the nose cones of Soviet ballistic missiles. The alloy allowed the Soviets to launch missiles from submarines that could slash up through the Arctic sea ice from below, emerging damage-free and ready to strike. I suppose the first application of this alloy is appropriate given the recent discovery of scandium-enriched crusts in the Arctic. Let’s just hope that if mining proceeds in the years to come, more useful applications will be made than furthering the arms industry, least of all in the Arctic. This is especially the case given the region’s fragile environment and the little scientific knowledge that exists about the deep sea. Mining for minerals inevitably comes at an environmental cost, one which would not be worthwhile if the only use were for advancing the destructive capabilities of military technology.
-  Scandium, A Rare Earth That’s Not Really A Rare Earth?
-  Duncan, R. 2008. Elements of Faith. New Leaf Publishing Group: p. 46.
A 60-year-old Willow woman is accused of ramming her car into a trooper vehicle.
Dona Carnahan is charged with assault, failure to stop at an officer’s direction, criminal mischief, driving under the influence and possessing a weapon while intoxicated.
Troopers say Carnahan was hysterical when she called 911 early Wednesday to say a female was from a home.
Troopers say they tried to contact Carnahan, but she drove away.
According to troopers, a trooper tried to stop Carnahan, but she kept going and about two miles later spun her vehicle around and tried to ram the trooper’s vehicle.
The trooper was not hurt. Troopers say Carnahan sustained minor injuries. Both vehicles were damaged.
Troopers say Carnahan was under the influence of alcohol and had a shotgun in her vehicle.
A proposal to build a 160-foot microwave tower atop the Homer bluff has residents in the area concerned about their property values and views of Kachemak Bay. The City of Homer Planning Commission has already signed off on the project but it could still get hung up in the legal system.
The company applying for the permit is Anchorage-based Kodiak Microwave System. In its application to the city, the company says the 160-foot tower would be located on a five-acre lot in the Eker Estates subdivision, near the top of East Hill Road along Skyline Drive.
The purpose of the tower is to provide broadband internet services to the communities of Port Graham, Nanwalek, Halibut Cove and Nikolaevsk, as well as residents out East End Road. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has requested the tower as a way to provide better internet service to schools in Nanwalek and Port Graham and the Port Graham Village Council has said the tower would greatly improve business and education in that community.
In a Dec. 4 report, the city planning department recommended that the planning commission approve the plan, which it did, unanimously, at its last meeting.
Homer Planning Director Rick Abboud says that the city has followed the process for this permit as it’s laid out in city code, including notifying all property owners within 300 feet of the proposed tower.
Abboud says communications towers like the one proposed by Kodiak Microwave are not unusual in rural residential areas along the Homer bluff.
“Right on the other side of Skyline (Drive) … you’ll see a cluster of them,” he said. “So there is a precedent.”
Before the vote, the commission received a handful of letters from neighbors who are opposed to the microwave tower.
Kevin and Kathleen Fay live out of state but own property in the area. They wondered about the possible impacts of radiation emitted from the tower and the possibility of “cancer-causing radio waves.”
Scott Adams says he is more concerned about the effect the tower would have on the view and how that might affect the value of his property.
Perhaps the most vocal opponent of the plan has been Kevin Dee. Dee is the executive director of AGEYA Camp, a wilderness camp for Alaska Native youth that operates in the summertime. Although the camp is not within 300 feet of the tower site, Dee says it would definitely be affected.
“This represents a taking of value,” said Dee. “There’s going to be harm done here and the city shoudl not help to facilitate that.”
Kodiak Microwave says the tower would not be visible from downtown Homer or the Homer Spit but Dee disagrees with that. He says he has spent a lot of time recently researching microwave towers and speaking with his neighbors in the area, who he says are united against the tower project.
Some of the neighbors have already retained Homer attorney Lindsey Wolter to represent them. In a cease-and-desist letter sent to Kodiak Microwave on Thursday, Wolter says the proposed tower violates conditions of a 1990 covenant for the Eker Estates subdivision where it would be built.
The covenant states that, within the subdivision, “no lot shall be used except for residential purposes.” It also expressly forbids buildings more than two stories in height and satellite installations that detract from the view.
Rick Abboud says the neighbors’ disagreement about the covenant will have to work its way through the legal system and that is not something that is within the City of Homer’s purview.
Abboud says the next step in the process would be a final “yes or no” decision from himself and the chair of the planning commission. Once that is issued, anyone who opposes the decision would have 30 days to file an appeal, which would then be heard by the Homer City Council, acting as the Board of Adjustment.
A new program is scheduled to get started next year in Alaska to help prepare people to become nurses.
The Alaska Nursing Action Coalition is slated to be part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s $4.5 million initiative called the “Future of Nursing State Implementation Program.”
The program is intended to bolster efforts already underway in 50 states to address the issues of access, quality and the cost of health care. The Alaska Nursing Action Coalition is slated to get $150,000 over 2 years.