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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: 29 min 12 sec ago

ick the Bucket: Experts Seek Alternatives To Costly, Ineffective Sanitation Systems

Mon, 2015-05-04 12:24

The state of Alaska is working with the private sector to find alternatives to expensive piped water, and the labor-intensive haul systems that are less effective in meeting public health needs. Find out more at: http://watersewerchallenge.alaska.gov/
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Village Safe Water Program

What if you didn’t have piped water and sewer, and the government wasn’t picking up the tab to get you some? How would you find a low-cost system that you could keep running through the winter? In this segment of “Kick the Bucket,” find out how experts are looking for answers to rural sanitation issues in Alaska.

Villagers and people in the water and sewer business can name dozens of ways systems have failed due to parts that shattered in the cold, say, or components that had to be flown in from Europe and installed by a Lower 48 specialist.

Keeping it simple is not necessarily the solution when haul systems, where people pay by the gallon to get water delivered and waste picked up, leave them using as little water as possible, far below the 15 gallons a day needed for frequent hand washing. Brian Lefferts is environmental health and engineering director at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

“We recognize  that there are some places that the geology, the area won’t allow for piped water and sewer to the home, but that the small haul system the way it is just currently isn’t working,” said Lefferts. “So there’s a push to do research and development in that area to try to find a solution for those homes.”

Some of the push is coming from the state, which is putting up money for innovative solutions through the Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge. Bill Griffith is the Alaska Village Safe Water facilities manager.

“We’ve established some performance targets that include things like sufficient water for health, affordable operation, feasible capital costs, constructability, long-term operability,” Griffith said. “We’ve also got some evaluation criteria like the requirement to go out and get user input from communities, and also we’re looking for some innovative approaches to design.”

The state has funded six teams to develop detailed proposals. Speaking from his office in Tok, Summit Consulting’s founder David Cramer said recycled water will be part of theirs.

“Water that comes from your washing machine, from your shower, that water can be recycled, explained Carmer. “It can be used to flush a toilet. It can used to do laundry again, and so on.”

The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is seeking funding through crowd-sourcing to work on its proposed solution. Lefferts said recycled water is in their plans too.

“We’re hoping that by reducing the number of hauls that are necessary by retreating the water within the home, we’ll be able to make it affordable to the point where people won’t conserve water,” said Lefferts.

Another popular idea is mini-water and sewage treatment plants installed at each home.

Standalone systems for several homes in Kivalina are the goal of an Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium project begun a few years ago. Project manager John Warren said this summer they’ll install equipment that funnels filtered rain water into a tank in the house, and plumbing fixtures that conserve water. Because flooding and fierce storms are forcing villagers to relocate, Warren said the system is portable — giving the water treatment system as an example.

“It has filters. You can put some chlorine in the water and it’s in full compliance with the EPA requirements, and it’s safe,” said Warren. “The treatment system that we’re providing is also mobile. They can actually take it with them to fish camp. It has an electric pump for ease of use, or it has a hand pump if there is no electricity.”

As for sewage, ANTHC plans call for the separation of liquids and solids, and treatment of the solids to reduce the number of trips needed for disposal.

While the competitors have been asked to keep details confidential, Summit Consulting’s Cramer said reliability will come from sticking with the tried and true.

“I don’t think anybody expects to use space-age technology,” said Cramer. “What will go into these things will be products that are already on the shelf someplace, and the idea here is to combine them integrate them in a way that’s unique.”

Lefferts said he’s optimistic the Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge will result in new options but he hopes those don’t become the only choice for all rural communities.

“There are still a number of homes that are unserved that could easily be served with traditional pipes and gravity sewer mains,” said Lefferts.” And we know that system works and can be cost effective. And we strongly encourage that we continue to fund construction projects to serve those homes using traditional water and sewer construction methods.”

A few Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge teams will be funded to further develop their projects into 2018. But innovative alternatives are just one part of what’s lying ahead. Next time, in Kick the Bucket, we’ll find out more about what the future holds.

Categories: Alaska News

Weather Service Ends Manual Readings Of Mendenhall River Level

Mon, 2015-05-04 12:11

Hydrologist Aaron Jacobs takes the final Mendenhall River reading of 2014 in November.
(Photo courtesy National Weather Service)

The National Weather Service is changing the way it forecasts the water level in Juneau’s Mendenhall River.

The agency said Friday that it has stopped taking manual readings of the river level at the Mendenhall Loop Bridge. Instead, river level observations and flood forecasts will be based on an automated gauge located in Mendenhall Lake.

“We found that during the last couple jökulhlaups, especially at extreme high conditions, that the correlation between the lake and the river readings wasn’t so close anymore,” says Tom Ainsworth, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Juneau.

Jökulhlaup is an Icelandic term for a glacier outburst flood. Every summer since 2011, water from a basin located near the Mendenhall Glacier has drained,causing the lake and river to flood. When that happens, residents along the river rely on the weather service to provide them with flood warnings.

Ainsworth says there’s usually a strong correlation between the automated gauge located at the lake and the manual gauge at the Mendenhall Loop Bridge, except during those big floods.

“It’s hard to manually measure the river level when it’s really ripping,” Ainsworth says. “You’ve probably seen it during those last couple jökulhlaups out there. You know, it’s high, big waves, the instrument hits a wave crest and it starts swaying. So, it’s just not as accurate.”

He says using the lake gauge to predict how high the water will be downstream at the bridge should provide property owners near the river with more precise information. The lake level can be found on the weather service website, along with information about what happens to the river level at various stages of lake flooding.

Ainsworth says the weather service has already informed residents near the river of the change, as well as tour companies that offer Mendenhall River rafting trips.

Categories: Alaska News

Federal Biologists to Manage Kuskokwim Kings

Mon, 2015-05-04 10:51

Federal staff will again manage king salmon on the lower Kuskokwim River after requests from tribes. Earlier this year, a handful of tribal governments asked the federal subsistence board to implement federal management. The Federal Subsistence Board deferred last month, but at a Friday meeting of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders announced a plan for federal management.

Federal staff plan to limit the chinook fishery to federal qualified users from 32 Kuskokwim villages and manage the fishery day-to-day within the boundaries of the Yukon Delta refuge. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Biologist Brian McCaffery, the in-season manager last year, points to guidance from federal law and the weakened state of king salmon.

2015 is predicted to be a below-average king salmon run. (Photo by Ben Matheson / KYUK)

“In a time of conservation needs, in resource shortage, if anyone gets a shot at the resources within the conservation unit, it has to be first the federally qualified subsistence users. By implementing the federal special action, we set that sidebar as the bounds for which any harvest can occur,” said McCaffery.

Only residents of the 32 villages would be able to fish for king salmon under federal management. The reason dual management exists is because state and federal law don’t match. While both have subsistence priorities, federal law includes a rural preference the state doesn’t have.

Federal staff managed the king salmon run last summer on federal lands after the Federal Subsistence Board took action on a request from the village of Napaskiak. Five tribal governments asked this year for federal management. The fishery has been in decline for years, and with another poor run expected, Yukon Delta Refuge Manager Neil LaLonde says king salmon fishing may not even be a possibility.

“We expect little to no harvestable surplus,” said LaLonde.

The state estimates the run at 96 to 163-thousand kings, well below the average run of 240-thousand fish. The drainage wide escapement goal range is 65 to 120 thousand kings. LaLonde says his team is still working out management details.

“The season framework itself will likely look very similar to what it was last year in 2014. It wouldn’t be things that would be drastically different. We want to improve on things we did last year and be more effective in different ways,” said LaLonde.

One area to improve is the early season set net fishing. Managers expect to close the river in mid-May to big salmon gear and allow fishing for white fish with four-inch set nets for a period each week, instead of 24/7 fishing like 2014, in which thousands of king salmon were caught.

If there are enough kings for some harvest, LaLonde says it’s too early to say how the harvest would occur. They could implement a limited community permit system or, as the state has proposed, allow a very short king salmon fishing period, with limits on net length, to keep the number of salmon harvested to a minimum.

At a meeting Friday of the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group, fishermen from the length of the river tried to make sense of what this year’s version of dual management means. Working Group Chair Bev Hoffman emphasized that however it pans out, the goal should be the same for managers and subsistence fishermen.

“We’re going into another year of chinook conservation,” said Hoffman. “Any opportunity, 4” or 6” is not to target chinook for the drying rack.”

Members asked for consistency between federal and state regulations, which could change at Aniak. The state retains management outside of the boundaries of the refuge and the federal action only concerns king salmon. The state has new management options this year that should make it easier to match federal rules, like requiring set nets to be within 100 feet of shore and limited driftnet lengths. State and federal staff emphasized that they plan to work closely this summer and include the working group. The next Working Group meeting is not yet scheduled.

Categories: Alaska News

Man Dies In Fall From Pickup Truck Bed At Rural Lodge

Mon, 2015-05-04 10:29

A 56-year-old man died Saturday after falling from the back of a pickup and striking his head.

The man’s name has not been released.

Alaska State Troopers took a 911 call just after 4 p.m. from Meier’s Lake Lodge at Mile 170 Richardson Highway that a man had fallen while his truck was parked at the lodge’s gas pumps.

The caller said the man was unconscious.

Emergency medical technicians arrived to give the man aid. They began transporting him but called trooper to request assistance for a medical evacuation by helicopter.

A LifeMed helicopter landed at Mile 149 but the man was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m., about two and a half hours after the 911 call.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner is planned.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Man Charged With Murder In Weekend Stabbing Death

Mon, 2015-05-04 10:24

A 40-year-old Anchorage man has been charged with murder in weekend stabbings that left a man dead and a woman critically injured.

Alvin Rodriguez-Moya also is charged with attempted murder, felony assault and burglary.

Anchorage police say Alvin Rodriguez-Moya is suspected of killing 33-year-old Paolo Grassi early Sunday at a home on Anchorage’s east side.

Police responded to the home just after 3:30 a.m.

A 56-year-old female also suffered stab wounds. She was taken to a hospital and is reported as stable.

Police say the injured woman had been in a relationship with Rodriguez-Moya.

Police say Rodriguez-Moya broke into the home, fought with Grassi and stabbed him.

Police Sunday announced they were looking for Rodriguez-Moya. He called police to turn himself in at 9 p.m.

He’s being held without bail.

Categories: Alaska News

Epidemiologists Confirm First Case Of PSP In 2015

Mon, 2015-05-04 10:19

State epidemiologists have confirmed the first case of paralytic shellfish poisoning in Alaska this year.

The case originated with recreationally harvested clams on a private beach near Ketchikan. The victim had typical, but not severe, symptoms within half an hour of eating the clams on April 24.

Leftover clams were tested for the PSP toxin and came back with levels more than 13 times over the Food and Drug Administration’s threshold for commercial shellfish.

“The real scary part of course is that death can result in a really short period of time,” Department of Health spokeswoman Dawnell Smith said.

Early paralytic shellfish poisoning symptoms include lip and tongue tingling. That can progress to fingers and toes, losing control of your arms and legs, and difficulty breathing. It can be fatal within a few hours.

Commercially harvested shellfish are tested and safe to eat. There’s no convenient way to know if recreationally harvested shellfish are safe.

“You know, every, every year this comes up. Somebody gets sick, or begins to feel ill and goes and reports it,” Smith said.

State epidemiologists’ last confirmed case of paralytic shellfish poisoning was in December.

Categories: Alaska News

Temporary Water Filtration System Installed At Alatna

Mon, 2015-05-04 10:10

A water filtration system has been installed in a tiny interior Alaska village where a fire damaged infrastructure last month.

Anchorage television station KTUU reports the temporary water filtration system is making potable water available in Alatna, a community of 27 about 190 miles northwest of Fairbanks.

Gov. Bill Walker a week ago declared a disaster in the village, days after a fire destroyed the village water treatment facility, washeteria and clinic.

Damage is estimated at $500,000.

Residents at first crossed the frozen Koyukuk River to haul water five miles from Allakaket.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Tanana Chiefs Conference worked together to install the temporary treatment system at the Alatna well.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor’s Revised Budget Restores Some Funding For Sexual Assault Prevention

Fri, 2015-05-01 18:13

Alaska tops a lot of lists, like best whale watching and cleanest air quality. But the state also ranks highly in something else.

“Child sexual abuse, infant rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking,” says Peggy Brown, the executive director at the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

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  Earlier in the legislative session, a Senate subcommittee slashed all of the state funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs. It would have impacted projects like Girls on the Run and Choose Respect. Now, with the governor’s revised budget, some of that money has been put back.

Brown says when the network heard their 2016 state budget for prevention programs was being eliminated, it felt like being kicked in the rib.

“Not to use violent language. They got the breath knocked out of them a little bit,” she says.

In the five years the prevention programs existed in Alaska, there have already been signs of success. One program called the Fourth R was able to identify students who experienced sexual violence and role-play healthy relationships.

“And I think people really liked these programs. I think it gave people a certain amount of hope with these horrible numbers that maybe there were some normal simple things that normal simple folks could do rather than breaking up a fight or calling 911,” Brown says.

Now some of that lost funding might be reinstated. Gov. Bill Walker’s revised budget allocates $1.5 million for sexual assault prevention programs, about half of last year’s. Lauree Morton, the executive director of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, says she understands.

“The state’s in a difficult spot right now but that 1.5 is critical for projects moving forward,” she says.

Morton says 10 communities in Alaska currently have readiness prevention programs that help jump-start the bigger ones.

“If we have the $1.5 million restored, the number of those communities will be reduced to five,” she says.

Morton couldn’t say which locations would be cut. Projects like Green Dot, which teaches violence intervention skills, won’t be able to spread to other communities as quickly as the network hoped.

But most sexual and domestic violence prevention programs will still be able to function. Peggy Brown says for prevention work to actually be effective, it has to saturate an area for at least five years.

“And we were just at the five year mark and we were just getting data on a lot of these programs,” says Brown.

In 2011, the Alaska Victimization Survey in Juneau showed 55 out out every 100 women suffered from domestic violence or sexual assault. The network hopes that number is decreasing. A 2016 version of the survey could confirm that, but that’s contingent on the $1.5 million in the governor’s revised budget.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: A Forgotten Boat

Fri, 2015-05-01 18:05

Mitch Keplinger tightens twine. (Photo by Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak)

A group in Kodiak recently completed an Alutiiq boat that was last seen in the mid-19th century. Alutiiq people once used the angyaq to travel over long distances and through rough seas. It’s an open boat, like a dory, with a flat bottom and bulbous bow.

The artist leading the effort says the boat builders aren’t just recreating the past. They’re reviving a piece of Alutiiq history for use now and in the future.

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CJ Christiansen saws the curved edge of a seat he’ll install in his angyaq.

This is the first time Kodiak has seen an angyaq in about 150 years. Christiansen says the last record of it was from a stranded British sailor’s first-hand account of his rescue in 1850.

The boat’s 21-inch frame sits on supports in the back room of a former grocery store that’s now mostly used for storage.

CJ Christiansen (right) and Mitch Keplinger discuss what to do next on boat. (Photo by Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak)

Christiansen, who has carved everything from masks to harpoons, says his interest in building the angyaq came from his desire to recover a piece of Alutiiq culture. He says angyaqs were a big part of Kodiak life.

“Anybody should be able to do this. It’s not that hard,” Christiansen said. “It just takes a lot of dedication and pride in what you’re doing. Making sure everything fits. It’s really just taking art to the next level, going from one small art form to something bigger.”

Angyaq from above. (Photo by Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak)

Christiansen says kayaks were the everyman boat, but angyaq were special to Alutiiq people.

The flat bottom and rounded bow would have helped it float up strong waves.

“They had winter and summer habitations here,” Christiansen said. “So in the summer when they went to put up all their fish and all their food for winter supply, they would pack up the village in one of these boats and move it down to their summer habitation and then be able to bring back all the fish they put up and everything.”

Christiansen says villages took the boat hundreds of miles, from the mainland to Southeast, all around Kodiak and the Aleutians.

He says there are only a few sources that prove the angyaq’s existence, which makes building it a challenge. The group partially used the Yup’ik boat, the umiak, as a guide.

“Cause our people are related to the Yupik, we’d looked at their boat designs and had a book on how they were building their boats, and we kinda took their designs and modified them to what our boats looked like,” Christiansen said.

CJ Christiansen (left), Gary Knagin (center), and Mitch Keplinger. (Photo by Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak)

But, they also used one of the last remnants of the angyaq – wooden models Russian settlers took back home with them.

The models not only provide physical representations of the boat, but also reveal who might have owned them. Christiansen believes one family may have been responsible for the boat.

“Let’s see, there’s this picture of the boat, so you got the guy up there with the drum, the guy steering, and these guys all paddling, and then you see this guy here, see his hat?” Christiansen said. “Each one of these little rings is how many potlucks he gave. So, you know, three potlucks, he was a rich man, so he probably owned the boat.”

Christiansen says he and the other crafters put about 300 hours into the frame, but he says he was reluctant to track their progress from beginning to end. He didn’t want to fail.

But he says trial and error is the key to building a boat that hasn’t been seen for so many years.

“We might not got it 100 percent right, right now, but if more people start building ‘em and we start putting these in the water and taking them out and trying them, we’re gonna refine the design back to Russian time, pre-contact,” Christiansen said. “They were probably still   refining it when they had contact…”

Angyaq from side. (Photo by Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak)

Christiansen says he wants to make this a boat for Alutiiq people now, not just recreate a relic from the past.

“To be building one… it’s just… an amazing journey for me to see this thing come to life,” Christiansen said. “You know, I don’t want to be the only one who makes one of these. Ten years down the road, I want to see everyone building them.”

He says he hopes people will even race angyaqs.

But first, they need to find a place for this one.  Alisha Drabek is the Executive Director at the Alutiiq Museum. She says they’ll exhibit the boat outside the museum in mid May and then look for a permanent space. She says she’s proud to be able to showcase the boat.

“For the first one to be built in over a century, it’s amazing that it came together as quickly as it did, and they’re living the culture,” Drabek said. “They’re not doing this as part of a museum project. They’re doing it out of their hearts.”

Gary Knagin leans on side of angyaq. (Photo by Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak)

Back in the old grocery story, one of the group members is putting a finishing touch on the boat- securing part of the frame with twine.

Christiansen and his team are excited to see their work on display later this month. And eventually they hope to test out an angyaq in the waves around Kodiak.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: May 1, 2015

Fri, 2015-05-01 18:01

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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Urban Set Net Ban Proposed

Associated Press, Anchorage

A proposed voter initiative to ban setnets in urban parts of Alaska is making its way toward the ballot, while a lawsuit over its legality continues.

To Plan Port’s Future, City Looks To Current Users

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

Unalaska is getting ready to spend tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the aging Port of Dutch Harbor. The hope is to serve bigger ships and more of them.

Walker Restores Sexual Violence Prevention Funding After Senate Cut

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Earlier in the legislative session, a Senate subcommittee slashed all of the state funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs.

Anchorage Senior Wins National Poetry Out Loud Competition

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

West Anchorage High Senior Maeva Ordaz won the national Poetry Out Loud competition this week in Washington DC.

Memoir Arctic Daughter, Re-released For A New Generation

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Homer resident Jean Aspen has re-released her book Arctic Daughter, three decades after she first wrote about her adventures living off the grid in the Brooks Range.

National Maritime Refuge Considers All Options For Feral Cattle

Associated Press, Anchorage

Federal wildlife managers are still trying to determine the fate of feral cattle that have long gone without caretakers on an uninhabited Alaska island.

APOC Expediting Complaint Against Berkowitz

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Public Offices Commission is looking into a complaint against an Anchorage mayoral candidate over an improper corporate donation.

AK: Long Distance Alutiiq Boat Restored From Past

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

A group in Kodiak recently completed an Alutiiq boat that was last seen in the mid-19th century. Alutiiq people once used the angyaq to travel over long distances and through rough seas.

Categories: Alaska News

Heroin in Alaska

Fri, 2015-05-01 12:00

Law enforcement officers say heroin use is on the rise in Alaska and communities are struggling to keep the drug out of their neighborhoods. How is it getting here and what’s being done to stop heroin from entering the state. It’s not just an urban problem. Rural residents are speaking out to try to stop it.

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Byron Maczynski, Bethel City Council Member
  • Callers statewide


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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage senior wins national Poetry Out Loud competition

Fri, 2015-05-01 11:35


West Anchorage High Senior Maeva Ordaz won the national Poetry Out Loud competition this week in Washington DC. It’s the first time an Alaskan has both reached the finals and won. Ordaz won $20,000 for recitation of “Zacuanpapalotls” by Brenda Cárdenas. She also recited “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats.

The 18-year-old already has a full scholarship to Columbia University next year.

The program started ten years ago by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation and is run statewide by the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

“Poetry helps us sense and think differently about the world around us,” said Council on the Arts Executive Director Shannon Daut. “It encourages more abstract and creative thought, which is really crucial for kids to develop to help them be competitive in the workforce that is increasingly relying on creative thought and problem solving.”

You can watch Ordaz’s other recitation on here. Videos and photo courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Categories: Alaska News

Little – Known Alaska Musher Spurs Japanese Musical

Fri, 2015-05-01 11:28

A theater production coming to Anchorage this week honors the accomplishments of a little – known character in Alaska’s history.

Back around the turn of the twentieth century, one of the foremost dog drivers in Alaska was Jujiro Wada, a Japanese national who helped to blaze Alaska’s most famous trail 

If you mention the word Iditarod, images of racing huskies, dogsleds and the last of the Alaska mountain men come to mind.

Swenson, Buser, Seavey, Mackey are names that carved Iditarod history. But Jujiro Wada? Who’s he?  Well, he’s the man who built the Iditarod Trail.

University of Alaska  professor and Seward native Edgar Blatchford, says Wada faced incredible odds.

“It wasn’t like he had GPS or any food along the way. He carried a rifle, bullets and an empty sled, except for something to sleep in.”

Blatchford is helping the Asian American Cultural Center bring the musical, “Samurai Musher” to Alaska.  Back in 1909. Wada was renowned in what was to become the Alaska Territory, and his exploits were covered in newspapers of the time.

“The Seward Chamber of Commerce, it was called the Board of Trade at that time, hired him to find a way to connect Seward to the gold camps in the Interior and eventually Nome. Jujiro Wada was hired at a dollar a day and he hired what we like to think of as an international crew and they set forward to blaze the trial from Seward to Nome

Why Wada? Because he was considered the foremost musher in Alaska at the time. University of Alaska  professor Tony Nakazawa takes up the tale.

“Wada was credited from mushing forty to fifty thousand miles across Alaska.”

Nakazawa says Wada came from Hinodemachi in Ehime Prefecture. He was born in 1875 into a samurai family down on its luck, and left home early to seek his fortune in the U.S. He first arrived in San Francisco.

“One of the stories that is more prominent is that he was shanghaid by this Captain Norwood on the ship Ballena, and they were up in the Arctic waters, and their ship became icebound. And so Captain Norwood had Wada and a small group go on to shore and there he befriended the Brower family who mobilized the village and they came out and saved the people on the ship.”

Wada first worked at the Cape Smyth Trading post, with the legendary Charles Brower. It is was there, no doubt, that he learned his dog mushing skills. Later, he traveled with E.T. Barnette, the man who founded Fairbanks, and did his share of gold prospecting.

He was a man of many talents, sailor, prospector, dog driver — and quite the adventurer. And he was driven by the desire to make his fortune and send money back to his widowed mother in Japan.

A 1995 book published in Japan,  “The Samurai Dog Musher Under the Northern Lights”, is credited with spurring interest in Wada in that country.

The book was later translated into English by a Canadian who was documenting Wada’s travels for the Canadian Park Service.

Now the Mikan Ichiza Playgroup,  from Wada’s hometown in Ehime Prefecture, has produced a musical  based on Wada’s story

Nakazawa says the story captures public imagination, in part because of it’s theme of mother and son devotion.

“And there is a following among historians here in Alaska on Wada, but in terms of the communities, I don’t think it’s very well known. But one of the things that’s interesting about the Wada story is it was actually that he had written to his mother, sent money back to his mother from a distance, and this relation ship between a son and his mother.”

Wada’s fortunes did not always run smoothly.  Nakazawa says Wada was once almost lynched because of a misunderstanding.

“So one of the (newspaper ) articles that we looked at, had said that Wada was sent to much to Circle and Dawson City to build up Felix Pedro’s gold strike, and up to one thousand prospectors came to the Goldstream Valley area, and unfortunately, they didn’t find gold, as promised. And Wada almost met his demise, but fortunately, Mr. Barnett prevailed and Wada was spared.”

And, as World War 1 loomed, Wada was faced with discrimination because of mistrust of the Japanese in the US.

The stage production covers the triumphs and disappointments of Wada’s life from childhood in Japan to his adventures in Alaska, and through his declining years.

Edgar Blatchford says Wada’s story is exactly the kind of thing that fascinates tourists who are looking for something beyond the usual attractions.

“This is a major production, they are excited about it, they’ve put a lot of time into it. They are serious performers and they recognize the connection between Japan and Alaska which gives Alaska great avenue for more and more people from Japan coming to visit Alaska and getting off the beaten path.”

Wada eventually left Alaska. His later life is obscure, but we know he died in San Diego, without ever having struck it rich.  But the growing interest in his life is sure to enrich his memory in Japan and Alaska.


Categories: Alaska News

APOC Expediting Complaint Against Berkowitz Over Improper Corporate Donation

Fri, 2015-05-01 11:15

The Alaska Public Offices Commission is looking into a complaint against an Anchorage mayoral candidate over an improper corporate donation.

The complaint was filed against Ethan Berkowitz by David Nees, who has run unsuccessful campaigns for seats in the House and on the Anchorage School Board.

In the documents submitted to APOC Nees says that Berkowitz used images from a KTUU newscast in a campaign ad, but failed to disclose a corporate donation from the private company.

The Berkowitz campaign has not yet responded to a call for comment.

APOC is holding an expedited hearing on the issue today at 5:15pm.

Categories: Alaska News

To Plan Port’s Future, City Looks to Current Users

Fri, 2015-05-01 10:19

A diagram of the proposed upgrades includes wider crane rails (black dotted line), new piling and reshaping (blue shaded area) and larger vessels that might use the facility (outlined in water). (Courtesy: City of Unalaska)

Unalaska is preparing to spend tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the aging Port of Dutch Harbor. The hope is to serve bigger ships and more of them — but the companies that use the dock right now aren’t so sure that big changes are needed.

On Wednesday night, Unalaska’s city council chambers were full of the dock workers, fuelers and cargo companies that have worked in Dutch Harbor for 25 years, exporting seafood and importing freight.

They were there to weigh in as the city gets ready to remodel the port for the future. The $44 million plan involves replacing rotten pilings under the dock that serves container ships, barges and catcher-processors — and adding anything new that those companies want to see.

That might include a setup for a bigger cargo crane — one to reach further across wider ships. The current crane is on 50-gauge rails, meaning spaced 50 feet apart. Some ports, including Anchorage, have upped that to 100 feet.

Marion Davis is a vice president for Horizon Lines, the main domestic shipper in Dutch Harbor. They own the current crane, and Davis called into Wednesday’s meeting to say the 50-foot spacing works just fine.

“A lot of ports are huge ports. So they might have six, eight, ten lanes of trucks underneath the crane. Therefore, you need the room underneath the crane. Dutch will never have that,” he said. “So a 50-gage crane should be sufficient no matter what you do.”

He did suggest bringing in a new 50-gage crane built for a wider reach. But that’s not part of the city’s project — any new cranes would have to come from the users, like Horizon.

They were the city’s official shipping partner when the dock was first built. But that contract fell apart a few years ago. In March, the city council voted not to seek a new one — from Horizon, or anyone else.

Horizon still gets a guaranteed spot for their weekly mail and grocery delivery, according to a recent letter from the city. But otherwise, the dock space is up for grabs.

That means power is an open question, too. Right now, the port runs mostly on diesel — but Doug Leggett, the president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Unalaska, asked if the city’s electrical grid could handle more ships or cranes plugging in.

“I’ve spent plenty of time watching and breathing that exhaust, and I think most of us don’t realize how much pollution they pump into town when they’re sitting there,” he said. “The wind’s blowing, and you don’t see it, but it’s a lot.”

Other dock workers brought up cosmetic issues — like bad drainage, bumpy concrete and safety issues that need repairing. And they talked about the best spot for a new warehouse that barges and seafood companies could share.

All that helps the companies at the dock right now — but much of the plan still centers on the idea that more, bigger traffic is on the way. Longshoremen like Jeff Hancock were skeptical.

“I mean, you’ve got an outline of a gigantic, large, 1,200-foot vessel there at the dock,” he said, indicating a concept drawing showing different sizes of ships. “In what realistic thinking would we ever have a vessel of that size here, that we needed … to work the number of containers that that would be? … In what reality would we ever need that much capacity at this port?”

“No ice in the Arctic,” answered Dennis Robinson, a longshoreman and former city councilor.

Robinson is talking about the biggest unknown in upgrading Dutch Harbor: Will melting Arctic ice — and more Arctic infrastructure — really create that much demand from new shipping companies?

If it will, they didn’t show up on Wednesday to say so. But city ports director Peggy McLaughlin says she heard enough to move the designs forward — and to keep working on a funding plan. She needs to break ground by 2017 for permitting reasons.

“We’re building and replacing a deteriorating facility for the current users,” she said after Wednesday’s meeting. “And there certainly are users that are being turned away because of timing issues and dock schedules that will be able to utilize this proposed design.”

For now, the port’s oldest tenants will drive that design — and McLaughlin hopes it’ll leave room for those waiting in the wings.

The city and PND Engineers are taking public comment on the preliminary designs through May 29, and will hold a follow-up public meeting later this summer. You can catch a rebroadcast of Wednesday’s planning meeting on Channel 8 this Sunday, May 3 at 5 p.m. 

Categories: Alaska News

Mat-Su Begins Budget Process

Fri, 2015-05-01 10:15

Matanuska Susitana Borough officials got an early look at the Borough’s FY 2016 spending plan Thursday.  Borough manager John Moosey opened the discussion, saying the budget would be “very conservative”, compared with previous years. The Borough’s mil rate has remained relatively flat since 2010, but indications are that changes are coming, Moosey said.

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“We can’t continue this for this budget. If you look back at 2009 and what we were charging to taxpayers and where we are now, what other organization, business, can say we are doing more things, we’re growing and we’re still charging you less, charging taxpayers less, seven years later. My message today is, ‘we need to make some changes, especially revenue changes because some of the revenue that we are counting on and some of the things we have created are really making at a pinch point.'”

No individual department heads presented figures to the Assembly at Thursday’s worksession. The Assembly prioritizes spending and will deliberate the plan after a series of public hearings starting on May 4.

Moosey said, along with the budget debate, there needs to be further discussion regarding deficits in the funds that pay for select Borough operations.. namely, Port MacKenzie, Borough solid waste services, and the unused ferry Sustina.

Those so-called enterprise funds are supposedly supported by fees charged for services, but there wide gaps between costs and charges, Moosey said. Borough Finance director Tammy Clayton reviewed the latest figures on the enterprise funds:

“With regards to the Port, the budgeted deficit for June 30, 2015 is estimated at 6.8 million ($), the budgeted deficit for June 30, 2016 is estimated at 6.35 million ($).  The ferry, or what is approved to be transferred in for fiscal year 2016 is 460 thousand ($). “

Deficits in enterprise funds are covered by transfers from the Borough’s areawide fund.

The Borough’s Public Works director, Terry Dolan, told the panel that the solid waste enterprise fund is running a 1.6 million dollar deficit. He said increases in rates could close the gap.

State fiscal woes also are affecting the Borough’s budget for the next fiscal year. Moosey said a drop in revenue sharing, increases in school infrastructure needs and a drop in Borough revenue due to senior and disabled veteran tax exemptions are all contributing to the lean fiscal outlook.


Categories: Alaska News

Forestry Jobs Lost But Haines May Retain Part Of Office

Fri, 2015-05-01 10:15

Haines State Forest (Credit: Flickr/~dgies)

Two forester jobs in Haines and two in Ketchikan are wiped out in the state budget approved by the legislature earlier this week. Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed changes to that budget would add some money back into the Department of Natural Resources, but they wouldn’t bring back Southeast forester jobs. However, the two-person Haines State Forest office won’t be completely lost.

Budget reductions will likely force Director of Forestry Chris Maisch to cut 25 jobs and 10 internships around the state.

“It’s been probably my biggest professional challenge as a manager and as a forester,” Maisch said. “And I’ve been doing this type of work for over 33 years.”

In Haines, the two foresters make up the entire local office. They manage timber sales, maintain access roads, take charge of fire prevention. Losing both of those jobs would leave Haines State Forest management to someone in Juneau or Ketchikan.

“We know the community depends on a lot on the access, the firewood and the opportunity to have some economic development associated with the forest,” Maisch said. “We felt it was important to support residents in the community of Haines.”

Maisch says, out of all the towns and cities that are losing forestry staff, Haines has been the most outspoken.

“I want people to know that we were listening and paying attention to that,” he said. “It does mean that we dug a little deeper to try and improve the situation.”

Maisch didn’t want to leave Haines completely unmanned. So, DNR Forestry reallocated $106,000 to fund a seasonal, 9-month forester job in Haines. That money pays for salary and benefits as well as the office, utilities, fuel and a vehicle.

Along with losing about one and a third employees in Haines, starting in July, Ketchikan will lose two foresters. That downsizes their office to four – three foresters and one administrator.

“So we will obviously not have as much manpower as we once had to do forest management activity across Southeast Alaska,” Maisch said. “We will have enough to continue the program, but the remaining staff will be stretched thinner and have to travel more to do the work that needs to be completed across Southeast.”

It’s too soon to say whether one of the current Haines foresters will move into the seasonal job come July. Roy Josephson and Greg Palmieri more than 30 years of experience combined managing the forest in Haines.

Maisch thinks the seasonal position in Haines is sustainable. He says revenue from big timber sales like the 800-acre proposed Baby Brown sale would help, but it’s not necessary to keep the position.

However, if the state makes more cuts to DNR Forestry in coming years, Maisch says there are no guarantees.

Categories: Alaska News

Regulatory Board Reviews Proposed Marijuana Regulations

Fri, 2015-05-01 10:10

Communities could opt-out or limit commercial and retail marijuana sales much the same way they do alcohol under proposed regulations put forth by the state alcohol control board.

The board reviewed the first of three sets of marijuana regulations on Thursday, which included a system for community regulations.

When voters in November approved a ballot issue legalizing limited recreational marijuana, they directed the board to develop regulations for the commercial industry. A new marijuana board is expected to take over that work eventually.

The board directed the state Department of Law to open a public comment period on those regulations. The next meeting on the new regulations likely will be held in July.

The board also made permanent a temporary regulation that defines the public places where marijuana is prohibited.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Satellite Imagery Helps Nepal Earthquake Response, Assessment

Fri, 2015-05-01 10:09

Alaska Satellite Facility dish. (Credit Alaska Satellite Facility)

University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists provided critical satellite observations following this past weekend’s big earthquake in Nepal. It took quick action to get out information vital to assessment and disaster response.

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Categories: Alaska News

UAF Chancellor Addresses Retirement, University’s Budget Woes

Fri, 2015-05-01 10:03

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers. (Credit UAF)

Outgoing University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers is dispelling rumors that illness forced his recent decision to retire this summer. Chancellor Rogers, who was also a candidate to become the new president of the University of Alaska system, spoke during a wide ranging campus forum Tuesday.

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Categories: Alaska News