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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: 11 min 27 sec ago

Race to Alaska: ‘Soggy Beavers’ Slog Into Ketchikan

Tue, 2015-06-23 09:00

Teams continue to arrive at the finish line in Ketchikan for the inaugural Race to Alaska, an engineless boat race that started in Port Townsend, Wash. By late last week, all the finishing teams had been on sailboats. But Team Soggy Beavers relied almost 100 percent on human power.

Team Soggy Beavers was all smiles as they were cheered at the finish line Thursday. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

Imagine paddling.

It’s not easy, right?

Now, imagine paddling for hours at a time.

Now imagine paddling for hours at a time every day for 11 days, sometimes facing 35-knot headwinds and 15-foot swells.

That’s Team Soggy Beavers: Six young, obviously energetic, potentially crazy Canadian guys, who paddled a small modified canoe for 750 miles.

When they paddled past the finish line at Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin, they were all smiles, and delighted to crack open a six-pack of beer waiting for them on the dock, which they grabbed while officially ringing the arrival bell.

Team Soggy Beavers paddled into Ketchikan Thursday afternoon, the seventh team to finish the Race to Alaska. (Photo by Leila Kheiry.)

They held onto their cold bottles of Kokanee while talking to well-wishers on the dock.

“Did you get some sleep the last couple of days?”

Like three or four hours a day. We started doing short shore sleeps, but we didn’t plan on sleeping on shore, so we didn’t have tents, so we just had to do that during the day when it was warm and not raining. Then we slept on the boat, otherwise.

Tanner Ockenden said the euphoria of finishing had taken over, so he was feeling pretty good at the moment, despite the lack of sleep.

He says the race was more challenging than anyone expected, and the headwinds made a sail they brought along useless for much of the trip.

“We just kept slogging, having a good time and making horrible crude jokes. It just kept us going the whole way. We used the sail for the first time on the crossing from Vancouver Island to Cape Caution. That was exciting. After that, we used it a handful of times running with the wind, but I’d say 90 percent of our motion was paddling.”

One memorable moment was paddling through Johnstone Strait, where he said they pushed through 100 kilometers of solid headwinds.

“All of it was pretty neat. We paddled mostly at nighttime, actually. It was calmer and we had to keep warm in the night, so it was like, alright, we’ll paddle at night and maybe sleep on a beach for an hour or two in the sunshine. That was beautiful. We had phosphorescence the whole time. Every paddle stroke was like leaving a footprint.”

The team members say they all still like each other, and nobody got too cranky during the journey. If someone did get a little testy, the other just decided he was hangry, and would give him an energy bar.

Speaking of food, energy bars were a primary source of nutrition.

“We had a lot of energy bars. Occasionally, we’d pull over and grab some food at the marina if we had the chance, once or twice we did that. We brought a lot of dehydrated food, so if we had the chance, we’d make food on shore. But most of the time it was energy bars, sausage and cheese. I had two jars of peanut butter. That was nice.”

Team Soggy Beavers paddles past the finish line at Thomas Basin. (Photo by Leila Kheiry)

Among the greeters on the dock was Alan Carley of Team Por Favor. That three-person team was in second place for a long time, but in the end they were edged out for the second-place prize – by a margin of four minutes – by another sailing boat, MOB Mentality.

Carley, also a Canadian from Victoria, B.C., isn’t unhappy with the third-place finish.

“It was about comradery, it was about friendship, it was about the adventure of coming here. It was intended to be a little more of a cruise. It developed into a race. That was kind of accidental.”

Carley recalls one moment of the trip that stood out for him: a six-hour stop on a beach along the way.

“We stopped, we caught a fish, we barbecued it, and then we got three-hours sleep. That was definitely a highlight. For three hours, we were awake, catching fish and laughing, and got a three hour nap, which was really great, then we were back underway.”

That was the only time during their approximately 8-day sail that all of Team Por Favor slept at the same time. He says they each took individual breaks throughout the trip.

Carley adds that Ketchikan has been welcoming to all the arriving race teams.

“We’ve been tearing around in floatplanes, we’ve been running down here intermittently to cheer on the teams, and there’s even talk of more sailing.”

Speaking of more sailing, there are still Race to Alaska boats on their way to Ketchikan. The race doesn’t officially end until July 4th.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, June 22, 2015

Mon, 2015-06-22 17:42

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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‘Fairbanks Four’ Suspect Paroled

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

One of four Fairbanks men fighting for exoneration from murder convictions was paroled last week.

Economic Report Assesses Potential for A Recession in Alaska

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The state released a report last week with the ominous title, “The Great Alaska Recession.” It’s written by Juneau economist Greg Erickson, who was commissioned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to produce a report on the economic impact of Medicaid Expansion.

GOP Presidential Candidate Announces Alaska Team

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

Of the throng of Republicans known to be running for president, the state party says Marco Rubio is the first to announce an Alaska team.

Wildfire Threatens Nulato; Village Evacuates Upriver

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

Dozens of new wildfires are burning around interior and western Alaska, as widespread lightning continues to cause new starts. An Alaska Interagency Coordination Center report listed 47 new fires Monday morning, with 186 active blazes state-wide.

Conflicting Water Rights at the Heart of Chuitna Mining Debate

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

PacRim Coal is proposing a strip mining operation on the west side of Cook Inlet, in the Chuitna watershed. It proposes removing the water completely from a tributary of the Chuitna River, which is a salmon stream.  On August 21st, there will be a public hearing in Anchorage about the reservation of water applications for the area near the proposed mine.

Breaking the Link Between Childhood Trauma And Suicide

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

About 200 people in Juneau have joined forces to break the link between childhood trauma and suicide. They took part in a two-day suicide prevention conference last week.

Online Map Keeps Tabs on the Lay of Juneau’s Cemetery

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

A grease-smudged stack of 25 fading sheets of paper in a storage shed is one of only two copies of who’s buried where in Evergreen Cemetery. All the burials since 1986 are hand-written. Now that’s about to change.

Categories: Alaska News

Economic Report Assesses Potential for A Recession in Alaska

Mon, 2015-06-22 17:41

The state released a report last week with the ominous title, “The Great Alaska Recession.” It’s written by Juneau economist Greg Erickson, who was commissioned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to produce a report on the economic impact of Medicaid Expansion.

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Categories: Alaska News

GOP Presidential Candidate Announces Alaska Team

Mon, 2015-06-22 17:40

Of the throng of Republicans known to be running for president, the state party says Marco Rubio is the first to announce an Alaska team. Anchorage political consultants Art and April Hackney have signed on to lead the Alaska campaign.

Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, drew some heat this spring when he unveiled his campaign logo. It dots the “Eye” in Rubio with an outline of the U.S. map, minus Alaska and Hawaii. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, promptly registered her objection via Twitter.

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Categories: Alaska News

Wildfire Threatens Nulato; Village Evacuates Upriver

Mon, 2015-06-22 17:38

The village of Nulato is beginning evacuations as the Nulato fire is approaching the new town settlement.

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The fire started on Sunday just a mile from the village. According to the Alaska fire service it was caused by lightning.

Volunteers are taking boats from Galena, about 40 miles upriver, to move people out of the village.

Galena-based missionary Jon Casey is in Nulato helping out with the firefighting response. He reports that the fire jumped a fire break created over the past day and winds are now pushing the fire closer to the main residential section of Nulato.

Smokejumpers are on the scene to assist local crews.

Categories: Alaska News

Breaking the Link Between Childhood Trauma And Suicide

Mon, 2015-06-22 17:36

Close to 200 people in Juneau joined forces Thursday to break the link between childhood trauma and suicide. They’re taking part in a two day suicide prevention conference. Day one focused on establishing the trauma-suicide link.

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The first day of the conference, “Trauma and Suicide: Breaking the Link,” attracted about 185 participants, mostly from Juneau. All the sessions take place at Centennial Hall and continue into Friday. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

After analyzing data from state surveys on trauma and risky behaviors, Alice Rarig says she was taken aback.

“It shocked me to see that one in five young people think about suicide and that more than half of them have major problems with sadness or feeling alone or not having adults in their lives to talk to,” she says.

Rarig is a retired state health planner and a member of the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition. She says she’s also troubled by the amount of youth who’ve experienced bullying, violence, sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences.

The coalition identified childhood trauma to be a leading factor contributing to suicide in Juneau.

Patrick Sidmore is a planner with the state Department of Health and Social Services. He helped coordinate the Adverse Childhood Experiences study in Alaska. For the past 20 years, the national study has shown that traumatic experiences, like abuse, neglect or growing up with substance abuse, may lead to serious health problems into adulthood.

“In the original study, they looked at suicide attempts and adverse childhood experiences and it had the strongest correlation of any of the items they looked at,” Sidmore says. “For example, 80 percent of suicide attempts can be tied back to adverse childhood experiences. This is the rate similar to lung cancer and cigarette smoking.”

Sidmore says many scientists think adverse childhood experiences actually cause suicide. He says addressing trauma will help prevent suicide.

Shirley Pittz says one of the ways this can be done is examining the quality of relationships for kids. Pittz is an early childhood expert with the state’s Office of Children’s Services.

“What are we doing to support families so that they can have good nurturing relationships with kids? What kind of messages does our community give about the value of children and how we’re supporting kids? All you need is somebody who cares about you and that can get you through a lot, so how can we make sure that every kid has that?” Pittz asks.

The rate of suicide in Juneau is similar to the state’s. There were six suicides in Juneau in 2013, similar numbers in prior years. It peaked in 2007 with nine. The Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition formed the following year.

Walter Majoros is the coalition’s chair. He’s also the executive director of Juneau Youth Services. He says the number of suicides may have gone down, but “there are a lot of deaths that have occurred in recent years, particularly with people in their 20s, that have been drug overdoses, so we have to look beyond the real numbers to what’s actually happening,” Majoros says. “And so in that sense there are still a lot of deaths that are occurring within our community that maybe aren’t being labeled as suicide, but if you look a little deeper, I think they really are.”

Coalition member Alice Rarig adds the numbers don’t account for suicide attempts or suicidal plans and thoughts.

She says preventing suicide means also preventing other bad things

“We’ll probably reduce the fighting, the bullying, the unsafe sex, the self-harm through alcohol use and substances,” Rarig says.

On day two of the conference, participants will focus on putting their knowledge to work on a community level.

Categories: Alaska News

Ready… Set… Net! Bristol Bay Setnet Fishery Opens

Mon, 2015-06-22 16:55

Sockeye on ice. (Credit Mike Mason/KDLG)

Setnetters in the Nushagak Section had their first opportunity to put their nets in the water Sunday night. KDLG checked out the first hour or so of fishing, and we didn’t see many fish. But Dee Barker, who pulled up to Rebel, a Peter Pan tender, about 30 minutes into the first setnet opening in the Nushagak Section on Sunday night, says he had a couple fish in his net.

“We got four fish in nets so far. That I could see. And yeah, looking for a good season. Get the bugs worked out, this is a good time to do it. Early. Yeah. See what works, what you need to change. I thought we’d go out, maybe Tuesday. But we were ready, pretty much. I’d had, I got a new motor in the boat, and I brought it out, run it in the water, but we didn’t have this, first time we set the gear out. We still have some gear to put up on the beach.”

Barker was about the eleventh boat to get ice and water at the Rebel on Sunday.

Onboard the Rebel, Kris Straub says the tender gave out about 4 tons of ice in the first 20 minutes of the opener.

“Pretty much everybody that’s fishing is coming to get ice and taking care of their fish this year, and so it’s good with this extra heat. Yeah, it makes a way better quality and that’s what it’s all about this year.”

District Manager Tim Sands says that when the first drift opener in the district occurs will depend on the numbers from those first two setnet openings plus sonar and tower counts, and an aerial survey.

We’ll have more numbers and info from the opener later today.

Categories: Alaska News

Lightning Strikes Ignite Nearly 50 New Fires

Mon, 2015-06-22 16:11

Dozens of new wildfires are burning around interior and western Alaska, as widespread lightning continues to cause new starts. An Alaska Interagency Coordination Center report listed 47 new fires Monday morning, with 186 active blazes state-wide.

Among recent days new fires getting attention are 2 on either side of the Parks Highway near Anderson. Firefighters are battling what’s being called the Rex Complex fire. The report estimates the combined burn area at nearly 5 thousand acres. Fire Information Officer Andrea Capps says the fires have threatened populated areas.

Caps says the Nenana River lies between the fire and the community of Anderson, and response to the blaze is ramping up as a Type 2 management team from Washington State takes over operations and more resources are diverted to the fire along the Parks Highway.

Many of the other recent new lightning starts are in more remote areas of the interior, but a few are near villages. A new blaze that started Saturday near Northway along the Alaska Highway has quickly grown to 9 thousand acres. Tok area Division Forestry spokesman Jim Schwarber says winds are pushing the flames away from the village and parallel to the Highway.

“The concerns we have are the potential impacts of the fire on the travel corridor there — the corridor for traffic on the Alaska Highway,” Schwarber says. “We are making preparations to have flaggers and pilot cars on scene if safety requires their use to keep the traffic flowing there.”

Schwarber says there have been smoke impacts but so far the fire is far enough from the road not to be an issue. He says a management team has taken over the fire response.

The Card Street Fire near Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula is 25 percent contained after destroying 11 structures. The Sockeye fire near Willow is now 79 percent contained.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Fairbanks Four’ Suspect Paroled

Mon, 2015-06-22 15:59

One of four Fairbanks men fighting for exoneration from murder convictions was paroled last week. The Alaska Native community gathered in Fairbanks over the weekend to welcome home Marvin Roberts.

Friends and family sang and danced to celebrate the release of Marvin Roberts. Roberts is one of the so called “Fairbanks Four,” men whose convictions for the 1997 beating death of 15-year-old John Hartman, have long been questioned. The three others: fellow Alaska Natives George Frese and Eugene Vent, and American Indian Kevin Pease remain jailed.  A request for post conviction relief, currently working its way through court, centers on new information pointing to others being responsible for the Hartman attack. The interior Native Community has increased support for the Fairbanks Four in recent years, something the 37-year-old Roberts recognized in brief comments at the weekend event.

Roberts has been in a halfway house in Fairbanks since last week, after transitioning from prisons where he spent the last 17-plus years. Speaking at the Saturday event, Tanana Chief’s Conference President Victor Joseph reflected on the bitter sweet feeling of many.

Joseph emphasized the importance of the event as a fundraiser for the Alaska Innocence Project, which along with other attorneys is working to exonerate the Fairbanks Four.  Their request for post conviction relief largely hinges on self-incriminating statements by two former Fairbanks men serving time for unrelated killings. Alleged statements by one of those men about the Hartman murder, remains under seal of attorney client privilege, a situation Innocence Project Director Bill Oberly calls very unique.

Oberly remains optimistic justice will prevail, pointing to Robert’s parole despite maintaining his innocent. Oberly is hoping for a ruling releasing he sealed statement prior to an evidentiary hearing scheduled for October.

Categories: Alaska News

Disaster Prep: Salvation Army Collects Emergency Supplies

Mon, 2015-06-22 15:19

Salvation Army Lt. Christin Fankhauser – Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI

Salvation Army Lieutenant Christin Fankhauser is the face behind the local effort to build emergency supply kits for the Homer community. She is standing in the center of a medium sized room lined with shelves of non-perishables.

“Top Ramen, pasta, spaghetti sauce, rice; we have plenty of canned goods from vegetables to rice to beans,” says Fankhauser.

The idea behind the drive is pretty basic. In the event people are displaced by a disaster, like the fires that flared up near Sterling and Cooper Landing recently, they will still have a place to go for the basics. Batteries, flashlights, rope, gloves; all the things a family might not be able to grab in an evacuation.

“Let’s say the firemen come in and say, ‘you have 20 minutes to evacuate.’ In that 20 minutes you have to gather up what you can. Most people are going for their treasure possessions, their irreplaceable things,” explains Fankhauser. “20 minutes is a quite short time.”

Fankhauser says that inability to grab everything while on the run is why cash donations are also extremely important. She explains that when people donate materials they’ll inevitably end up giving the same items and charity groups like the Salvation Army might already have shelters setup to distribute food.

“People might forget something like their prescription medicine. Well of course the community is not able to donate prescription medicine. So somebody gets to a shelter [and] they’ve got their food, they’ve got their shelter, but now they don’t have their prescription meds,” says Fankhauser.

Fankhauser says that people will always donate after disaster strikes but she stresses it’s extremely important to stock up beforehand.

“That way it gives [us] time when we have those donations already [and] we have these kits ready to go. We can setup, we can get going, and that gives us time for all the organizations to get together and say, ‘this is what we’re going to do [and] this is what you’re going to do,’” explains Fankhauser.

She says that way the Salvation Army, local churches and any other organizations responding can evaluate the gaps they still need filled by the community as opposed to starting off from scratch. The program Fankhauser is building is new and they haven’t built a strong relationship with local charities yet; but she’s confident if a disaster struck, they’d still be a strong safety net able to catch those hit hardest.

“We also have a disaster coordinator for the entire state. She’s a resource for us, she is in Anchorage and if were to have a huge disaster up here they would come down with their mobile canteens that they already have,” says Fankhauser.

In the meantime, Fankhauser is just trying to secure donations. She says they haven’t received many items for the kits yet and the drive ends at on the last day of June.

“I thought maybe I had advertised adequately by sending notice to the papers and the radio, and posting on Facebook, and sending notices to the city and the chamber. I don’t really know if the community even knows that we’re collecting,” says Fankhauser.

She says people can leave items in the Salvation Army’s collection bin at Ulmer’s Drug and Hardware Store. There are lists of the things needed inside of the store.

Categories: Alaska News

Chignik Lagoon Hydro Project Now Operational

Mon, 2015-06-22 10:19

Packer Creek flows down a steep slope at the site of the hydro project.
Credit Dave Bendinger/KDLG

The long-anticipated hydroelectric project on Chignik Lagoon’s Packer Creek is now operational.

Nathan Hill is the manager of the Lake and Peninsula Borough:

They are running 100% hydro as we speak. It’s not 100% complete, there’s some dirt work to do still, things we were waiting on for weather. But they are off of diesel right now.”

Hill says the $5 million dollar hydro project is a run-of-the-river system.

“Which means we take water out up at the top and put it into a pipe, and it gets piped down to a lower elevation where it goes through the turbine and then gets put back into the creek.”

The unit will provide electricity to the 70-some residents of Chignik Lagoon. Hill says they may not see a drop in electricity rates right away, but getting away from diesel should lower costs in the long run.

“With the cost of diesel, prices rise and fall, and we have no control over it. But with alternative energy, the goal is to at the very least stabilize the cost of energy so that it doesn’t spike.”

The hydro project was funded with $4 million dollars from the Alaska Energy Authority, as well as contributions from the Borough and the village.

The project has been in the works for several years, and broke ground last spring. Hill says the community plans to hold a ribbon cutting around mid-August.

Categories: Alaska News

Cleveland Volcano Heating Up, says AVO

Mon, 2015-06-22 10:17

This symmetrical, 1,730-m (5,676 ft)-high stratovolcano has been the site of numerous eruptions in the last two centuries. Credit USGS

The Cleveland volcano in the east central Aleutians is showing signs of heating up.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory reports that increased surface temperatures and ash indicate the volcano has entered a period of unrest. According to the release, the alert level for Cleveland was bumped up to advisory, meaning the possibility of explosions has increased.

The Cleveland volcano is located on the uninhabited Chuginadak Island about 45 miles west of the community of Nikolski. Its last major eruption was in 2001 and it has been intermittently active since then.

Categories: Alaska News

First Drift Opening on Lower Kuskokwim Today

Mon, 2015-06-22 10:13

The season’s first drift gillnet opener takes place Monday on the lowest part of the river. Map from USFWS.

The Kuskokwim River’s first 6-inch drift opening happens Monday afternoon from the Johnson River down to the refuge boundary at the mouth of the river. It runs from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Monday, June 22, 2015.

Nets must be no longer than 300-feet in length, and 45 meshes in depth.

Managers have been waiting for chum and sockeye to outnumber king salmon at the Bethel Test Fishery. They say a three to one ratio was achieved this weekend and that the ratio is higher than that in the lower river. Federal managers write that they expect a limited chinook harvest in Monday’s opener.

There will be more chum and red salmon in the river compared to king salmon as the season progresses.

Federal managers say they will have additional openings moving up the river as the ratios change. They expect no more than about 200 boats taking part in this afternoon’s opening.

Federal managers this year are in charge of waters below Aniak during the king salmon run, while the state retains control from Aniak to the headwaters.

Categories: Alaska News

Conflicting Water Rights at the Heart of Chuitna Mining Debate

Mon, 2015-06-22 10:09

PacRim Coal is proposing a strip mining operation on the west side of Cook Inlet, in the Chuitna watershed. It proposes removing the water completely from a tributary of the Chuitna River, which is a salmon stream.

On August 21st, there will be a public hearing in Anchorage about the reservation of water applications for the area near the proposed mine. The decision that follows could determine the possible future of the watershed.

With regard to water rights, Alaska, is a prior appropriation state. It follows the logic of first in right, first in time. Basically, the first person to take water from an area for beneficial use, gets the rights. David Schade is the Chief of Water Resources for the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR.

“In 1984, the legislature allowed reservation of water applications, or what some people call instream flow reservations,” says Schade. “Part of that was that a traditional water right, as long as you perfect that right, and use that water, it’s a perpetual right. Reservation of water rights are reviewable.”

So, one is perpetual, one is reviewable.

Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, says it was through this process that local citizens first showed their opposition to the mine.

“There’s been a very strong effort to understand how can we protect this resource without getting sucked into a process we know has a predetermined outcome. So, local citizens with the Chuitna Citizens’ Coalition, on the west side of Cook Inlet, filed to keep the water in Middle Creek,” says Shavelson. “It’s called a reservation of water or instream flow reservation. It’s simply there to say the water belongs in the stream for salmon and other wildlife.”

On the other hand, PacRim Coal has filed for traditional water rights. Schade, for DNR, is currently considering the three applications from the citizens’ coalition.

“So what we have now is a traditional water right that is behind a reviewable water right and it creates a little bit of conflict.”

The purpose of the public hearing is to gather more information on objections to the applications. On one side, there will be people who believe DNR underestimated the value of the fisheries that will be lost if the stream is destroyed in its initial analysis.

Two of the applications are in the footprint of the proposed mine area, while the third is not, which speaks to this group, says Schade.

“In those instances, there’s a direct conflict between reservation of water, leaving the stream there, and the ability or not to mine,” says Schade.

On the other side, there are those who believe it’s not in the public interest to grant any reservation of water at this point in time.

The timeline isn’t standard says Schade. Typically, DNR would look at reservation of water versus traditional water rights at the end of the permitting process, once the mine is given the go-ahead.

“So unfortunately, I’m having to make certain assumptions that these permits will be granted and I will clearly lay out what those assumptions are,” says Schade. “But I’m going to have to assume that these things are going to be able to be put in place as part of my decision, or if I think they’re not going to be put in place because of any further information I get.”

In 2013, the Superior Court ruled that DNR had violated the citizens’ coalition’s right to due process and hadn’t followed the law when they allowed their water applications to sit for four years without consideration. Hence the accelerated timeline.

As part of that, DNR received more than 7,000 public comments on the applications. The majority, like Coalition member Judy Heilman, wanted protection for salmon habitat.

“There’s never been a salmon stream that’s been restored that’s been destroyed like that. I can’t tell you how important it is for us to stop this before it starts,” says Heilman.

But others were vehement that DNR should follow the standard permitting process.

“What I see in the discussion is you have various groups with very specific viewpoints. You have the fisheries viewpoint and they’re very focused on that and that’s a very viable viewpoint to have. You have industry on the other side that has the viewpoint of trying to be able to develop resources,” says Schade.

After the hearing, Schade will make a decision on the applications. That will come by October 6th.

“So it’s a challenge. DNR is a multi-use agency. We have to balance all the uses. The good news, is I have a statute which gives me criteria.”

He says he’ll follow that and, because reservation of water applications are reviewable, will possibly return to the decision once again down the line.

Categories: Alaska News

Businesses want more recreation at Tongass National Forest

Mon, 2015-06-22 10:07

A group of 49 business owners in Southeast Alaska wants the federal government to put more money into recreation opportunities at the Tongass National Forest.

The Juneau Empire reports the group sent a letter in May asking lawmakers to consider the Tongass’ recreation program when Forest Service funding is appropriated.

The group says the recreation budget has dropped 42 percent in the last six years.

Montana-based research firm Headwater Economics released a report in November saying the Tongass is spending more on its timber program than recreation.

Juneau Economic Development Council Director Brian Holst says the House and Senate had been expected to act on a Forest Service budget proposal this week.

He said the state needs improved access to recreation opportunities for its tourism industry to grow.

Categories: Alaska News

Kenai Peninsula fires slowly coming into containment

Mon, 2015-06-22 10:06

The Card Street fire near Sterling and two fires near Cooper Landing continue to burn on the Kenai Peninsula.

As of Sunday morning, the Card Street fire was estimated to be around 7,700 acres. Over the weekend, it continued to burn over marshlands and recreational areas around Skilak Lake into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Cooler temperatures, higher humidity, and favorable winds continued to push the fire away from residential areas and all evacuations were lifted on Saturday.

According to the Washington Interagency Command Team, which is leading firefighting efforts, the fire is 20% contained.

Skilak Loop Road and the Skilak recreation area will remain closed until conditions improve.

385 personnel are working on the fire and a total of 11 structures have been destroyed.

Near the community of Cooper Landing, the Stetson Creek and Juneau Lake fires continue to burn, though they haven’t grown much since the end of last week.

As of Sunday evening, Stetson Creek was estimated at 212 acres and Juneau Lake at 488 acres.

Although it’s the smaller fire, Stetson Creek is burning near the Sterling Highway and is in the vicinity of populated areas. Crews from Oregon, the Alaska Midnight Sun Hotshots, and a Chugach National Forest team worked through the weekend to establish a perimeter and protect assets near the highway. It’s estimated to be 30% contained.

The Juneau Lake fire is 10% contained. A crew came in by helicopter to protect structures on Juneau Lake and secure the fire’s edge along the west and south.

134 personnel are working on both Cooper Landing fires.

The Card Street fire is listed as human-caused while the Stetson Creek and Juneau Lake fires were caused by lightning strikes.

A burn ban is in place for the entire Kenai Peninsula, including the Chugach National Forest.

Categories: Alaska News

Fort Yukon Tribal Hall gets energy upgrades

Mon, 2015-06-22 10:02

Eight miles north of the Arctic Circle, a fixed 72-panel, 18-kilowatt array of solar panels went online last month atop the Fort Yukon tribal hall.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the $250,000 project was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Tribal Energy Program and Fort Yukon’s Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Government.

The solar panels are only one part of the Alaska city’s energy upgrade, which also includes LED lighting upgrades and increased insulation.

The project also includes outreach and education.

In June, the array should produce and estimated 2,351 kilowatt-hours, saving $1,504. But in December, the city only expects 184 kilowatt-hours, or a savings of $118.

Categories: Alaska News

Silver Bay Seafoods to pay $75k environmental fine

Mon, 2015-06-22 10:01

Sitka-based fish processor Silver Bay Seafoods has agreed to pay a $75,000 penalty for environmental violations at its plant in Valdez.

The penalty was levied by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, for improperly discharged fish waste in the Valdez harbor.

In 2013, the pipe carrying the plant’s fish waste was damaged, likely by a ship dragging its anchor across the harbor. The company replaced the pipe without DEC approval.

And while the original pipe had discharged waste at about 180 feet below the water’s surface, the new pipe was half as long and thought to be releasing waste at a depth of about 40 feet. That was already less than the 60 feet required by the plant’s permit — but a dive survey at the end of the 2014 season found the actual discharge level was only three feet deep.

Mike Solter is a compliance manager at the DEC. He explained the agency’s concern.

“When you start discharging in really shallow bits of water, what happens is you end up with really thick, serious waste pile sitting on the bottom,” Solter said. “[That] can actually smother the bottom, it can smother the sea life down there, and it can actually create dead zones.”

In this case, Solter said a small waste pile did build up on the seafloor, but it’s not clear what, if any, environmental impact it had.

The penalty is calculated based on the potential for environmental harm, as well as any economic benefit gained by not complying with the permit. Solter called the fine “pretty significant.” But he said it was reduced because of the company’s efforts to do better.

“They’ve actually hired a full-time environmental staff member,” he said. “And at this plant in particular, they’ve told us they’re working on plans to cut their amount of waste significantly, they’re going to start freezing it on-site and either hauling it to a landfill or taking it to be  re-processed into other products.”

In a statement emailed to KCAW, Silver Bay CEO Rich Riggs wrote, “Silver Bay deeply regrets the circumstances that lead to this penalty and takes full responsibility for the incident. We understand the importance of being a good environmental steward and fully support the efforts of ADEC to protect the environment.  We have and will continue to take affirmative steps to avoid any further incidents.”

Categories: Alaska News

Experts say temperatures in Alaska likely to stay warm

Mon, 2015-06-22 10:00

The heat wave that has already brought record-breaking temperatures to Alaska is expected to continue until the start of fall.

The Alaska Dispatch News reports that the three-month forecast from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center anticipates warmer-than-normal weather from July through the end of September.

The strongest changes for warm weather are in Southeast Alaska and along the Southcentral Alaska coastline.

NWS’s Alaska climate science and services manager Rick Thoman says several factors are combining to keep the state warm.

Those include the current positive phase of an oceanic cycle that is associated with warm sea surface temperatures in the North Pacific, unrelated warm temperatures in the Bering Sea and the diminished state of Arctic sea ice.

Categories: Alaska News

French tour company wants to build relationship with Petersburg

Mon, 2015-06-22 09:59

A fishing boat passes in front of the French mega-yacht L’Austral. Photo/Angela Denning

A French tour boat carrying about 250 people is visiting Southeast Alaska this week. It’s the first of several visits planned this year and next. L’Austral stopped at Petersburg last week.

“Bonjour. Welcome on board.”

Christel Bonomme is Guest Relations for the tour ship and greets our group of ten Petersburg residents with a warm smile and a thick French accent.

It’s a pretty fancy mega-yacht that’s four years old, part of a new fleet of ships owned by the French company called Ponant and passengers pay for it. A week-long trip through Alaska this summer starts at $6,000.

Photo/Angela Denning

Inside, the color scheme is whites and neutrals with leather furniture and wood trim. Even the standard rooms have king-sized beds which impress the visitors.

There’s a two-story sculpture that depicts rain drops made of hundreds of crystals. There’s a spa that smells like perfume; a dance floor for live music events, and a dining hall for formal evenings.

The ship is parked in front of Petersburg which is an unusual site. Smaller cruise ships this size show up on occasion but the town never gets large ones. It can’t. There’s just not enough room for them to maneuver. The water in front of town, called the Wrangell Narrows, resembles a large river. It’s a channel between Mitkof and Kupreanof Islands and it’s known for its tides which can create strong currents. Today, the conditions were just right for this large ship to park.

Christel Bonomme, Guest Relations, and Jean Philippe Lenaire talk to the Petersburg visitors. Photo/Angela Denning

In the bridge, Captain Jean Phillipe Lenaire greets the tour group.

“We enjoyed amazing whale watching this morning, exactly what we are looking for,” says Lenaire in a French accent.

The captain brought the ship into the Narrows this time because the water was calm and the tides were in his favor.

“I guess you have not so much cruise in Petersburg. That is why we are here,” Lenaire says. “It is just the reason we are here because our concept is to be able to go where the other one can’t go. That means the others, let them go to Ketchikan, Juneau, and other places, because it’s really our concept as a small cruise ship to be able to give another experience to our passengers.”

Although the ship does regular cruises to places like the Caribbean and Japan it also takes expeditions to the Amazon River and around the ice flows of Antarctica and Arctic. They have a dozen zodiacs which they can take out from the ship for impromptu excursions.

Petersburg chef, Mindy Anderson, and Liz Cabrera with the Petersburg Borough check out a menu at one of the ship’s bars. Photo/Angela Denning

Lenaire says they pride themselves on their stewardship of nature. They have a dozen expedition staff on board including ten naturalists. Petersburg being a small community on an Alaska island is just the type of place his clientele want to visit:

“They are looking for how is the life here in the small community in the middle of nowhere, on an island and in winter, you know. You need to give more than just a nice landscape and a nice excursion,” Lenaire says. “The people enjoy a lot to feel a warm welcome of a community, to feel that all of the community have a true smile, not just something to commercial.”

The French ship is also scheduled to visit Juneau, Ketchikan, and Haines and Skagway this summer.

Categories: Alaska News