Karen Olson, who managed the Matanuska Creamery in Palmer, has been charged with defrauding the state of Alaska and with making false statements to the federal Department of Agriculture. Olson faces six counts in all.
The charges stem from 2008, when Olson, CEO and a part owner of Valley Dairy, illegally obtained a 430 thousand dollar loan from the state’s division of agriculture. The charges indicate that Olson used the loan to conceal Valley Dairy’s financial losses, and that she made false statements to the US Department of Agriculture in order to receive federal grants.
Federal prosecutor Retta Randall says Olson’s scheme aimed at covering up illegal conduct on the part of her business partner
“Once she realized the economic situation of the Valley Dairy, she was made the chief executive officer of the Valley Dairy and authorized to pursue loans with the state of Alaska. What our investigation revealed is that she allegedly filed false documents by fax and by email and by mail to get the state of Alaska loans.”
Olsen is charged with concealing the criminal activities of Kyle Beus [BEE yoose], co owner and president of Valley Dairy. Beus is currently under indictment himself for using USDA grant money for his personal use, and for submitting false statements to the USDA regarding two federal grants awarded him in 2007 and 2008 to start a cheese and ice cream manufacturing facility in the Matanuska Valley. Retta Randall
“She provided documents to USDA. Those documents were also false, but she was able to get the USDA to consent to give over to the state the primary interest in the equipment. And that’s what caused the state then to authorize the loans. So the underlying allegations are based on false documents, concealing the criminal conduct of Mr. Beus, and then getting loans from the state of Alaska and having the USDA give up it’s interest in the dairy, for the Valley Dairy to be able to get those loans. “
Beus is awaiting trial. Federal prosecutors say that Olson could face a one million dollar fine or a total sentence of 30 years in prison.
Cori Mills, a state assistant attorney general in Juneau, says it is not clear at this time what action the state will take against Olson
“It’s all confidential and will all be done internally. And if and when that decision is made, then it will be made public. But at this point, there is no decision on pressing charges.”
The Matanuska Creamery shut down in December of last year, due to financial issues. The company owed the state almost 900 thousand dollars when it closed. The state recalled it’s agricultural loan to Valley Dairy in August of last year after the Creamery defaulted on the debt. The state acquired the Creamery’s assets and auctioned them off earlier this year.
The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency is making a field trip to Alaska this week. Gina McCarthy says this trip is not about regulation, but about learning and tribal consultation. She’ll be going to Fairbanks and Bristol Bay, but she started her trip at the site of a receding glacier.
Hays Research Group asked 388 likely primary voters their opinions of a possible 2014 ballot initiative that would prohibit the Pebble Mine. More than 60% said they favor the measure. Some two-thirds of that group strongly support it.
“Favorability was shared across all parties,” reported pollster Adam Hays. “Democrats, Republicans, as well as people who identified as moderate or in the middle.”
Hays said he was not paid by any group to conduct the poll.
This is the highest level of support for the ballot initiative ever. A “clean water” initiative that would have banned the mine failed in 2008 56 to 44%.
Hays said Alaskans support development projects but oppose this specific one.
The poll shows that more than 70% of Alaskans want the gubernatorial candidates to weigh-in on the ballot measure. Governor Sean Parnell has urged the EPA not to rule out the mine before the Pebble Partnership submits its application.
The United States Arctic Research Commission convened at Unalaska’s Grand Aleutian Hotel today. The independent agency is made up of eight commissioners with diverse backgrounds in fisheries, science, and education.
Their charge is to help the federal government develop a game plan for conducting research in the Arctic. The commission will talk about their research plans this week. But their focus is going to be on implementing a new, national Arctic strategy plan released by the Coast Guard in May.
That plan laid out three extremely broad goals for Arctic development — preserving peace in the region, conserving the natural environment, and finding a way to work with non-Arctic countries and organizations that want to get in on development.
Brendan Kelly is a polar science director for the White House. Over the past year, that job has taken him throughout rural Alaska and now, to Unalaska. Kelly’s been talking to residents about the Arctic strategy plan.
“There’s a lot of very smart people with a lot of experience — whether it’s shipping or fishing or the science of climate,” Kelly says. “There’s a lot of expertise here in the state. We’re really just trying to make sure that we benefit from that expertise.”
Kelly says he’ll be using the testimony to help find holes in the strategy — things that the federal agencies missed or underestimated when they wrote it.
On Tuesday afternoon, Kelly will host a public hearing for Unalaskans. It’s the last event before the federal Arctic Research Commission adjourns.
But the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will pick up from there. The state legislators and local stakeholders on the board will spend Wednesday afternoon taking public testimony before they go into a work session all day Thursday.
The goal of that session is to come up with a set of guiding principles for writing Arctic policy in the legislature.
The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will also be introducing its new executive director this week. Nikoosh Carlo is a neuroscientist by training, with roots in Alaska: She graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and she’s previously worked at the state legislature.
The Arctic meetings wrap up on Thursday night.
Suicide prevention was the focus of about 100 tribal representatives attending the 13th Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit in Anchorage Thursday and Friday. Alaska has the nation’s second highest suicide rate. In rural Alaska, suicide rates are four times the national average, and involve disproportionately high numbers of young Alaska Native men.
Wrangell Medical Center has faced a number of issues over the past few years. Finances, personnel turnover, and design changes stalled the plans for building a new hospital. But now, the plans are back on the table. And the hospital and its board of directors think the project is heading in the right direction.
A Wasilla woman is under federal indictment for fraud in connection with Valley Dairy, Inc., which did business as the now-defunct Matanuska Creamery. Karen Olson, who managed the Matanuska Creamery in Palmer, has been charged with defrauding the state of Alaska and with making false statements to the federal Department of Agriculture.
This week, Royal Caribbean, parent company of Celebrity Cruises, announced that the M/V Millennium will not be making its last round of sailings in Alaska. The cruise ship, which is more than 80 feet longer than the Titanic, was forced to return to Ketchikan while sailing to Seward due to a propulsion issue, and is now on its way to dry-dock in the Bahamas. The passengers who had their cruise cut short have been offered full refunds and credit for a future cruise by Celebrity.
According to Peter Grunwaldt, CEO of Premier Alaska Tours, Celebrity chartered 737′s to fly some of those passengers to Anchorage, where they began their land tours as scheduled. Premier contracts with Celebrity for the land tour portion of their cruise packages. Grunwaldt says that while the cancelation of the rest of Millennium’s schedule is disappointing, that it was fortunate that the maintenance issue did not happen earlier in the season. He also says that, overall, the summer has been spectacular, with sunny weather and a significant increase in cruise passengers. He estimates that, before the cancelation, cruise numbers were up as much as 20 percent.
Other businesses are seeing significant impacts from the cancelations, however. Paul Landis, COO for CIRI Alaska Tourism Corp, says that bookings at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, which is owned by CIRI, have taken a hit.
“Obviously it has an impact on our numbers. Both Celebrity Cruises and their parent, Royal Caribbean, are great customers of ours, so we have to make some adjustments with the decrease of room nights we would have received from that particular sailing”
Landis says that the Talkeetna lodge will stay open until September 15th as planned to accommodate other cruise lines and independent bookings. He says that, so far, the only employees to end their seasonal employment early have been volunteers. Landis has been working in Alaska tourism for over two decades, and says that while he has dealt with cruise cancelations, that it’s often due to scheduled maintenance and companies have months to prepare.
“In terms of the short timeframe that was put on this one, I can’t recall an instance of this happening before. It really did send ripples throughout the tourism industry at all levels, but the tourism industry…is an industry that pulls together and really works together to make sure that the guest still has a quality experience in Alaska.”
In addition to the impact on land tours and lodging, the cancelation also hits the companies that provide activities to cruise passengers. Sharon Mahay of Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures says that the missing cruise passengers will “hugely affect the end of the season.” Mahay’s had a delayed start to the season due to a late thaw, and will now be facing a slowdown near the end of the summer. Talkeetna Air Taxi also says that they have had cancelations in the wake of the maintenance issues of the M/V Millennium.
Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said in an e-mail that she was not able to comment on how many passengers the Millennium would have carried on its final trip to Alaska this summer. The total capacity for the ship is over 2,000.
A group of people from all over the U.S. traveled to the capital city this week for one reason – stand up paddle boarding.
Jan and Jeff Lipscomb, Carol Fontius, and Bob Stafford went to Auke Lake for their first Alaska stand up paddle board experience.
Fontius describes the sport which has its roots in Hawaii.
“It’s like a big long surf board that you can stand on. And if you’re really good, you can do yoga on or something. With a paddle, you stand up and you just move through the water. You know sometimes people fall in when they first start but it’s easy not to even get wet after a while.”
Sunday was North Douglas. The group took off toward Mendenhall Glacier.
“Heading straight for that glacier was like being in an IMAX movie for me. It’s only something I’ve seen in movies. And to be on the water, looking at it, it’s really surreal.”
Jan Lipscomb says the trip so far has been fun and not too strenuous.
The two couples traveled to Juneau from San Diego and Las Vegas with the help of Florida-based company SURFit. Karla Gore runs the business with her husband Aaron Pollard. One component is setting up stand up paddle boarding trips in different parts of the world.
“Almost anywhere there’s water you can paddleboard. We’re really used to warm water paddle boarding, but I thought we know that it’s beautiful here. There’s so much to see, so much water, so much place to paddle, so we thought well we’d just try it here.”
For Jeff Lipscomb, paddle boarding in Alaska is how he wanted to celebrate turning 60.
“For me, this is something that surrealistically you could only dream about and it has been, two days in a row – all I can say is, this is phenomenal. You’re paddling on the water looking at arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth.”
Lipscomb says being on the water on a paddleboard is different than being on the water in a boat.
“When you’re paddling, there’s the sound of your paddle in the water and that’s it. And then everything else you hear are things like eagles, birds, salmon thrashing around. You can hear and see everything with clarity.”
Stafford describes the schedule for the rest of their week in Juneau.
“We’ll paddleboard at least once every day, and maybe twice, and we’ll go 5-6 miles in the morning, 5-6 miles in the afternoon. And we look for wind or some texture in the water and we follow that a little bit.”
Other Juneau paddle boarding destinations include Amalga Harbor, Boy Scout Beach, Auke Rec, and Echo Cove.
The largest health insurer in Alaska is likely to get a lot bigger next year. Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of two insurance companies that will offer plans on the new federally run marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. The company is expecting to serve thousands more customers in the state, but that growth will come with the kind of uncertainty the insurance industry has never had before.
Jeff Davis spends a lot of time thinking about Alaska’s health insurance Marketplace.
“This is a big, big undertaking for everyone that’s involved.”
Davis is President of Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska. Right now, the company has 10,000 individual customers in the state. And Premera thinks that number could double by the end of next year, thanks to the new marketplace. But Davis doesn’t talk like a guy who may double a segment of his customer base. He sounds worried. He says in the long run having new customers will be great, but there will be some growing pains.
“We are fully prepared that we could lose a significant amount of money in 2014 because of just the uncertainty of who comes in and when they come in.”
That’s because for the first time, health insurers won’t be able to exclude customers with pre-existing conditions. Davis says that’s kind of like letting people buy home owners insurance while their house is on fire. The new law has provisions, like open enrollment periods, to help lessen the impact. But Davis thinks the first wave of people to sign up on the marketplace will have significant health problems. Then he expects healthier people will follow, especially those who qualify for subsidies. In Alaska, that’s anyone who makes less than $57,000 a year.
“For people who are subsidy eligible who are buying a plan today, they’re likely to see the amount they’re paying out of pocket every month actually go down because of the effect of the subsidies.”
But for those without subsidies, individual insurance could be quite costly. Premera says most rates it filed to offer on the marketplace are higher than its current plans. Davis explains the policies are required to have better benefits and smaller deductibles than the most popular plans today. He says a young family of four, earning more than $117,000 a year is likely to see the biggest out of pocket increase, because they won’t qualify for a subsidy.
“There will be winners and losers. There will be some people who [pay] significantly more out of pocket for their health insurance after January 1st, 2014 and there will be some who pay significantly less. And it’s just that upheaval and that mix that worries me.”
Adding to that upheaval is the uncertainty of what the online marketplace will actually look like. Davis says there is still a lot unknown about how it will work on October 1st, when it is supposed to be up and running. He does expect it to be functional, but says it will probably be bare bones at first, with more features added in later on. Susan Johnson, the regional administrator for the federal Health and Human Services Department, acknowledges it won’t be perfect at first.
“Let’s be clear, there will be problems, but let’s not have the news on October 2nd be Susan Johnson had to wait 45 minutes to get through the call center. Let’s have the news be Susan Johnson finally has the opportunity to have insurance that she never had before. ”
Johnson says the Marketplace will be a huge step forward for how people buy individual and small group insurance in Alaska and across the country. For Davis, that huge step will completely transform the way he does business in the state. And he’s prepared for a wild ride.
“You get on the roller coaster and there are some ups and downs and it’s pretty scary and maybe you’re in the dark at Disneyland and you don’t know what’s coming next. It’s a lot like that but as with a roller coaster ride, at the end, you get off.”
Davis expects to get off the roller coaster in two or three years and arrive at a ‘new normal’ where a lot more Alaskans have health insurance.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
The military’s Red Flag Training exercise wraps up today. Representatives of branches of U.S. and several foreign forces participated in the 2 week training, which included jet fighters and bombers engaged in mock battle using live ordinance. As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, some interior residents are glad it’s over.
University of Alaska, Fairbanks Faculty and Staff gathered Thursday for the ribbon cutting and dedication of the new Margaret Murie Life Science Building. The new building houses the Department of Biology and Wildlife alongside the Institute of Arctic Biology. KUAC’s Emily Schwing got a behind the scenes tour of the new state- of-the-art research laboratories, classrooms and offices.
The smell of new paint and a freshly waxed floor wafts through the air… and on a clear day, sunlight streams through two-story tall windows of the foyer of a brand new science facility at UAF. Brian Barnes is the Director of the Institute of Arctic Biology. He says he’s been waiting for this new building to become a reality for more than a decade. “We were teaching out students in classrooms that were built in 1965 and 1967,” says Barnes. We had kids coming from high schools that had better facilities than the University. That’s no longer true.” Barnes is standing next to Paul Layer, UAF’s Dean of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics. Layer says it’s also been many years since UAF’s Biology Department has been housed in one location. “Biology is the largest major at UAF. We have over 400 majors in Biology and Wildlife and it’s the largest graduate program as well,” says Layer. “And so for us to have a place that has the state of the art kind of facilities that we can use and students have access to is really for us way, way overdue.”
The new building is named for Margaret Murie, the first woman to graduate from the Alaska’s Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1924. The school later became UAF. Murie is better known as a naturalist and author who helped found a conservation movement in the United States. The building itself is bright, dominated by open space, large windows and lots of glass. As you walk through the hallways, you can catch a glimpse into laboratories and research space. Brian Barnes says that was the ultimate goal. “One of the driving principles was to have research and instruction and teaching labs near each other so that undergrads coming to class would walk by research labs that they could look into and see other undergrads in there and think ‘I want to do that too,’” says Barnes. “So that’s the juxtaposition and then we have faculty and graduate students thrown into the mix as well.” On the first floor, there’s a 150 seat auditorium equipped with smart-room technology for lectures and presentations. Instead of chalkboards, there are sliding glass panels at the front for instructors. Across the hallway, Paul Layer tries out one of the new chairs in a high tech classroom. They’re black, wide and round around the bottom and wheeled.
They have desktops attached and even a cup holder. Layer shows off how the desks and chairs maneuver so students can break into groups. “Biology has really embraced the idea of doing a lecture then getting together, working on small projects, small demonstrations, groups discussing problems,” he explains, “and then sharing that with a larger classroom as opposed to sort of standing up and talking for an hour.”
The building is equipped with low flow plumbing, water filters and a high tech ventilation system. Brian Barnes says, despite the wide-open space and the large windows, it’s also extremely energy efficient. “It’s supposed to be the most modern building in the state in terms of efficiencies.” He says there’s only one thing he’d change. “We would have had a fourth floor,” he laughs. ” We would have made it bigger, because we’re still are crammed for research space for faculty throughout, but within the design, actually ask us in a year, because we really want the students in here and we want to try it out some more.”
State bonding funded the 88.5 million dollar project. It came in more than 850 thousand dollars under budget. Construction was completed earlier than planned. Classes began here in May. Students will return for the fall semester next week.
Eldred Rock wind speed and wind direction sensors have not been working for a couple of weeks, frustrating both the Lynn Canal gillnet fleet and National Weather Service.
The instruments record weather conditions used on NOAA weather radio observations and in forecasts, important information for Lynn Canal mariners and pilots.
Warning Coordination Meteorologist Joel Curtis says the agency wants it fixed, too, but the rock is not an easy place to reach.
“That equipment is really, really hard to service. It’s up on a rock and it’s out in the middle of Lynn Canal, away from ports and everything else,” he says. “You have to have every part in the world with you when you go there because you only have one shot at fixing it. It’s not the kind of place you’re going to say, ‘oh, I’ll just come back tomorrow.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
NOAA weather radio is often more handy, but Eldred Rock wind speed and direction are still available from the Marine Exchange website.
“Wind speed, wind direction, matter of fact the whole sensor is not reporting,” Curtis says. “That’s been off and on a big problem this summer.”
He says the weather service is responsible for equipment repair at all its stations. Eldred Rock and Lincoln Rock are on a long list of other locations with problems.
The historic Eldred Rock is home to a once-manned lighthouse, activated in 1906. The last human observer left the rock in 1973, when the beacon was automated.
Soggy skies did little to dampen enthusiasm on the first day of the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Thursday.
President Barack Obama wants to tie college rankings to how affordable they are and whether students are landing in the workforce after graduation.
As APRN’s Peter Granitz reports, some Alaska education leaders welcome the plans, but worry about implementation.
Every summer, a million tourists pass through Southeast Alaska. It’s a boon to local retailers, who rely on the extra customers to make up for slower winter months. But with lots money being spent, business can get dirty. This spring, the state responded to complaints that onboard shopping experts were misleading passengers and smearing local stores by hitting these programs with a new set of rules. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez wanted to find out if the new regulations are actually working.
Just about every other store in Juneau’s shopping district sells jewelry. They advertise diamonds and tanzanite, steep discounts and free charms. But a sign on one storefront stands out: “Don’t see us on your cruise ship map??? We’d rather not give your cruise ship a kickback!!”
MEHAN: We put up that sign because a lot of people were unaware of the gimmicks that were going on the cruise lines …
Of the half dozen local business owners I talked to about these kickbacks, Mehan was the only who would agree to be quoted. Even then, he wouldn’t let me use his real name, out of fear of getting blackballed by the cruise industry.
Years ago, Mehan used to pay $25,000 plus 10 percent of sales to be part of the cruise shopping programs. The shopping programs are run by media companies, who then pay the cruise lines to have their employees — known as “port lecturers” — on board the ship. These port lecturers are supposed to work like shopping ambassadors, guiding tourists to trusted retailers. But even though Mehan was part of their program, customers were still steered to chains with stronger ties to the industry. So he stopped paying. Then Mehan started hearing troubling things from passengers.
“‘We were told to only go to certain stores because the other stores are people who sometimes don’t sell the real stuff and we are not responsible for it,’ and stuff like that,” says Mehan. “So that’s like a scare factor.
These kinds of complaints got so bad that the State of Alaska started investigating the companies who hire the port lecturers and give the cruise lines a cut of their earnings to have them on board.
Ed Sniffen handles consumer protection for the state, and he says it wasn’t just local businesses who were upset. Passengers were also saying they’d been ripped off.
“‘Hey, I bought this diamond at this shop, and they told me that it was a two-karat something, and I paid $20,000 for it. When I got it back home and had it appraised, it was really only worth $5,000.’ You know, some of those kinds of things,” says Sniffen.
Port lecturers operate on cruises across the world, but Alaska is the first place to crack down on their employers.
In February, the state agreed to a $200,000 settlement with Onboard Media, Royal Media Partners, and the PPI Group — the three Florida-based companies that put port lecturers on Alaska cruise voyages. The companies didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing, but they did have to start requiring port lecturers to disclose that they didn’t work for the cruise lines and that what they were doing was a type of advertising. They were also prohibited from disparaging stores that didn’t participate in their programs and from making misleading statements about sale prices and return policies.
None of the major cruise lines that operate in Alaska — Carnival, Princess, Holland America, and Norwegian — responded to emails asking about their relationship with port lecturers. Royal Media Partners and the PPI Group also ignored interview requests. Only Onboard Media answered questions about the settlement terms.
“[The settlement] simply formalized policies that Onboard Media has always followed,” wrote Noelle Sipos, a spokesperson for Onboard Media, in an e-mail. She added that the company is complying with all of Alaska regulations, but that they’re not applying the state’s rules to other places.
“The program in each region is tailored to support the requirements of the local authorities,” wrote Sipos.
So, are these regulations doing anything? Right now, the attorney general’s office is reviewing about 70 recordings of port lecturers in action, and it looks like filming them is helping. Sniffen says while things aren’t suddenly perfect, most of the feedback on the ground has been good.
“What we’re hearing is that generally things are better. That things have gotten a little cleaner,” says Sniffen. “Passengers aren’t saying the things that they used to say.”
Before Cindy Dollar gets off her cruise ship, she’s given a shopping map, a bunch of coupons, and a tote bag for her haul. She’s vacationing from Texas, and she says there’s serious pressure to spend.
“Yeah, it’s constant,” says Dollar. “I mean if you let yourself, you can be barraged with the whole shopping experience on the ship.”
From what she’s seen, it looks like the port lecturers are following the state’s new rules. They’re putting disclaimers on promotional materials, and reading from scripts that describe their presentations as marketing. They’re still pushy, but at least you know where they’re coming from.
And so far, their pitch doesn’t seem to be working on her. Dollar doesn’t plan on buying from the stores that are being hyped up, and she definitely isn’t thinking about making any huge purchases.
“I plan to bring back a few souvenirs for family and my petsitter,” Dollars laughs.
She thinks a local gift shop will do the trick.
The Celebrity cruise ship Millennium returned to Ketchikan Sunday night after mechanical problems. Police responded to the ship late Tuesday night following reports of unruly passengers.
Ketchikan police responded Tuesday night to several emergency calls from passengers on board the stranded Celebrity ship Millennium. Apparently, the callers thought there was going to be a riot.
Here’s police chief Alan Bengaard: “We, the police department, received three 911 calls from passengers on the MV Millennium who stated that people were getting unruly on board the ship, and they believed a riot was about to begin. Officers responded to the ship, met with ship security and advised them of the 911 calls. Ship security and officers contacted approximately 500 guests on the third floor of the vessel, and subsequently peace was restored and officers left.”
Bengaard says those 500 people were upset about Celebrity Cruise’s plans for where they would go when flown out of Ketchikan.
“The officers … were given the information that some of the passengers were unhappy with the miscommunication between them and the cruise line, and ultimately where their final destination was going to be,” he said. “Initially, evidentially, they were told they were going to be flown to Anchorage, and plans had changed and some were upset with that.”
Bengaard says he believes the passengers will instead be flown to Vancouver.
Cynthia Martinez, director of corporate communications for Celebrity, responded via email to a request for comment. She says she talked with ship security officers, who claim that local police came to the pier about midnight Tuesday in response to 911 calls, but that police did not board the ship. Martinez says that ship security considers the mood on board as “calm.”
She did not offer further comment.
The 965-foot Millennium, with a passenger capacity of about 2,000, has been stuck in Ketchikan since Sunday evening, when it was forced to return to port due to a faulty propeller.
Passengers aboard the Millennium are leaving Ketchikan via chartered flights arranged by Celebrity. They also received full refunds and vouchers toward a future cruise.
The military has signed off on an expansion plan for Alaska training operations and areas. The Alaskan Command, representing the Army and Air Force, published its formal record of decision Tuesday on changes to the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, or “J-PARC”.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks is taking a new approach to helping students struggling with depression and other mental health problems that can lead to suicide. U.A.F. Associate Director of Counseling Tony Rousmaniere says a $5,000 grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will pay for an on line outreach program.
A resolution to mitigate conflict between dog owners and trappers could pass easily during tonight’s Regular Borough Assembly meeting. The item is on the consent agenda and unless an assembly member disagrees, two new areas will be established for dog training within the borough. It’s a resolution that took two years’ worth of discussion between the Alaska Trapper’s Association and the Borough Trails Advisory Commission.
The resolution designates the Isberg Recreation area in northwest Fairbanks as well as an area directly south of Salcha Elementary School as places where people can free run their dogs. Resolution sponsor and Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman Karl Kassel says the Borough is not creating two new dogs parks, however. Instead, he says the areas will be set up specifically for canine training. “Things like hunting dogs and search and rescue dogs,” he explains, “that need to free run to perform their duties and obviously need to be trained properly to perform their duties. To do that in an area safely, you wanna be confidents there aren’t a lot of traps where the dogs are running loose.” Kassel serves as a liason between the Assembly and the Borough’s Trails Advisory Commission. He says the resolution will not put an end to trapping within the Borough. “Trapping and the regulation of trapping is a Fish and Game regulation,” he says, “It’s not a borough function. We’re not trying to regulate trapping. The intention here is to not have any sport of significant or adverse effect on any sort of activity that’s already going on, and to use this as a tool to educate the public a little bit more.”
The resolution doesn’t make mention of sled dogs, but Kassel says that’s because the designated training areas aren’t large enough for those activities like mushing and skijoring. “Typically, a dog team would train longer miles and they may pass through these areas,” Kassel says, “The hundred mile loop trail goes through the Iceberg Recreation Area, so somebody may go through the area while they are training dogs, but they would be outside of these areas for more time than they would be within these areas. We still share some concerns obviously that while training off leash is allowed, there are probably going to be people who just go and let dogs run loose.”
The resolution also doesn’t mention other popular trail systems in the borough, where both recreation and trapping take place. Melissa Head is a long time Borough resident. She lost her dog to a trap near the Goldstream Valley last winter. She supports the resolution, but she says it doesn’t go far enough.
“It represents a lot of work that has been done between the ATA and the Borough’s Trails Advisory Commission,” says Head, “but it’s not just enough to say that certain areas are off limits. Dog owners can encounter traps almost anywhere in the borough, often in trails, on the edge of trails, where even leashed dogs can be harmed.”
Pete Buist is a lifelong trapper and a former [president of the Alaska Trapper’s Association. He says most conflicts between dog owners and trappers are not the fault of trappers. “It will be an ongoing problem until dog owners start obeying the law,” says Buist. Borough code does prohibit running dogs off leash, but there is a section in the code that allows for off-leash training. Buist says he understands the resolution is the best option for compromise between all concerned parties. “We are willing to give up some ground where it would otherwise be legal for trapping, because we are trappers who are your friends and neighbors and the Alaska Trapper’s Association is the organized version of that,” Buist says. “We still share some concern obviously that while training off leash is allowed, there are probably gonna people there who just let their dogs run loose.”
ATA members have agreed to voluntarily curtail trapping in the designated dog training areas. Karl Kassel says enforcement will fall under the responsibility of the Borough Administration.