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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: 41 min 17 sec ago

Fire crews stage in Lower Kalskag

Tue, 2015-06-23 12:38

Fire officials are moving crews  off the Whitefish Lake fire to Lower Kalskag as a staging area for protecting homes and other communities threatened by fires. Crews had been working to establish a fire line on the northern edge, but are now changing strategy.

Francis Mitchell is with the State Division of Forestry.

“They would be there available for quick response to Kalskag, Chuathbaluk, Aniak, because there are fires near those communities,” Mitchell said.

Crews removed hose from along the western interior line so that it could be redeployed for structure protection.  The fire grew more than 1,500 acres going into Monday. It’s not controlled and has gone beyond the perimeter.

There are now more than 70 active fires in southwest Alaska, and 20 started Monday from lightning.

Because firefighters and aircraft are dealing with hundreds of fires around the state, only fires that directly threaten communities or occupied structures will receive staff.

Mitchell says the Kalskag crew is stationed near the runway to be ready to move.

“Ever changing and fluid, that’s kind of the way operations are. The focus is on getting the few crews in the southwest area  at staging points where they can be quickly deployed to fires that threaten life,” Mitchell said.

Upriver in Crooked Creek, crews laid down hose, set up sprinklers, and prepped the town  for point protection. Fire personnel will continue to focus on the western edge of the town, while securing multiple structures and sites. The fire is still 3.5 miles from Crooked Creek.

A burn ban remains in effect for Southwest Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Guide academy helps locals land jobs at sport lodges

Tue, 2015-06-23 11:44

David Parks Jr. gives some casting tips to his client Sarah Pearl in the Kulik River. Credit Matt Martin/KDLG

For the past seven years, a mosaic of organizations including Bristol Bay Land Trust, Trout Unlimited, and BBEDC have run the Bristol Bay River and Guide Academy to train local kids in the art of fly fishing. The students spend a week at a lodge learning to be guides.

Jet boats hydroplane up the Kulik River and floatplanes skip across Lake Nonvianuk as Kulik Lodge comes alive for a day of fishing. David Parks Jr. of Iliamna is one of the 15 students at the academy. He stands in the crystal clear water of the Kulik with Sarah Pearl.

Sarah: “Could we possibility catch something right now?” David: “Well, I am trying to teach you how to cast first.”

Pearl works as a housekeeper at the Kulik Lodge but today she’ll pretend to be a client so Parks can test out the fly fishing and customer services skills he’s learned this week.

Before this week, Parks had never fly fished. He always liked fishing but grew up only with a typical rod and reel.

“It was either that or ice fishing,” added Parks.

The first time he had ever picked up a fly rod was the first day of class.

“The next day we had to come out here and fish so I spent like half the time just swaying my rod back and forth just trying to get that perfect swing,” said Parks.

The students had a week long crash course in fly fishing and what it takes to be a guide.

“Like tying flies, and making leaders, and making sure we had all out customer service skills down,” said Parks. “Making sure we got it down in our heads.”

Sonny Peterson is the owner of Kulik Lodge. He currently doesn’t have any Bristol Bay locals working for him but says they add a great value to services that a lodge like his can provide.

“People come up there and ask where you’re from and your guide says he’s from New York or Florida, you know, it doesn’t sound as good if he says he’s from Igiugig or Nondalton,” said Peterson.

The Bristol Bay River and Guide Academy was founded in part by Tim Troll. He also is the head of the Bristol Bay Land Trust. Troll says the time is about right for locals to play a bigger role in the lodge industry.

“It took 70 years in the commercial fishery before locals really broke into the commercial fishery and now the lodge industry has been here about 70 years,” said Troll.

Troll also used to be the President of Chogguing Limited in Dillingham. The native corporation owns a sport fishing lodge and he says shareholders would often ask him why no locals worked in the lodge.

“And I asked the operator that and he said, ‘Well, I need guys who fly fish.’ And Bristol Bay wasn’t producing any local fly fisherman,” said Troll. “There were maybe a handful. So that sort of planted the idea in the back of my head that if we are going to serve the industry, we have to produce somebody who can fly fish.”

In 2008, Troll was finally able to see that idea come to live with the first guide academy. This is the 7th academy and roughly 80 students have gone through the program and 4 have been placed as permanent employees and a few other internships at sport lodges in the region.

Troll says that even if most of the students don’t get jobs at a lodge, they can learn about an industry that is all around them. He says many of these students may someday be leaders in their native corporations, which often own or lease land to lodges.

“Just understanding the industry, how it works, how it operates, and also lodges from the other side understanding what village corporations are all about,” said Troll. “And trying to deal fairly with everybody and make it work.”

He also says it’s a way for the kids to get exposure to people from all over the world.

“The business leaders of the world come here. You get to mingle with these people. And who knows where that could take somebody,” said Troll.

Troll doesn’t think the lodge industry will ever be a major employer in the region but it could be a significant one.

Sonny Peterson, owner of Kulik Lodge, says a major hurtle to hiring locals as guides is that the work is only seasonal.

“You know, a local kid here, it’s tough for them because once this is over, that’s it. And unless they can figure out something to do the rest of the year,” said Peterson.

“It’s hard to have just a seasonal jump with a box of Tide costing 30 or 40 dollars,”echoed David Parks.

Parks will be starting a new job at the post office when he gets back to Iliamna but he would love the chance to work at a lodge if he could.

“If I had a job that would allow me to take a month off in the summer. Maybe I’ll work in the schools. Work at the schools in the winters, be a guide in the summer,” said Parks.

Whatever career path lays ahead for Parks, it’s evident that this academy has left an impression on him. He smiles wide as he talks about his experience at the camp.

“The best part about it was catching that fish with that fly rod with a fly that I tied myself,” said Parks.

Each student at the academy gets a fly rod to take home. Even if it doesn’t work out that Parks can be a guide someday. He says fly fishing is a new skill he’ll enjoy showing off to his friends at home.

Categories: Alaska News

3 insurers plan to leave Alaska individual health market

Tue, 2015-06-23 09:35

Thousands of Alaskans will have to find a new insurer after a shake-up in the state’s health insurance market.

Aetna and State Farm plan to stop offering individual plans in Alaska and Assurant Health plans to leave the health insurance market altogether. Division of Insurance Director Lori Wing-Heier says the companies covered fewer than 6,000 policyholders at the end of 2014. Two major insurers remain for individual policies.

Wing-Heier says the division is trying to contact another company licensed to write individual policies in Alaska to gauge its interest but that company hasn’t written that kind of policy in several years.

Aetna said it looked at factors including whether it could provide affordable plans in making its decision. Assurant is looking for a buyer for its health insurance business nationwide.

Categories: Alaska News

Repair planned for small leak in trans-Alaska pipeline

Tue, 2015-06-23 09:34

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. is working on a repair for a small crude oil leak found in a buried section of the trans-Alaska pipeline, but for now an employee with a rag suffices for management.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the Alyeska’s Fairbanks shop is building a metal sleeve to contain the leak in a fitting between two pipes.

The company reported May 29 that the pipeline had leaked 10 gallons but Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan says it is now dripping less than a teaspoon a day.

Currently the company is sending an employee to wipe the fitting twice a day to manage the crude oil.

The trans-Alaska pipeline has seen several spills measured in hundreds or thousands of gallons. Egan says the drip is unusual.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska unemployment rate at 6.8 percent in May

Tue, 2015-06-23 09:31

Alaska’s preliminary unemployment rate stood at 6.8 percent last month.

That compares to 6.7 percent in April and 6.9 percent in May 2014.

Alaska has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state with the highest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last month was West Virginia, where unemployment stood at 7.2 percent.

The state labor department, in a release, says Alaska’s unemployment rate began to decline temporarily last fall after a policy change in unemployment insurance eligibility. But the department says the unemployment rate has since returned to “typical” levels.

The U.S. unemployment rate for May was 5.5 percent.

Categories: Alaska News

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

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