APRN Alaska News
Indigenous game designers, coders, and artists will be in Santa Clara, California on Friday to talk about the future of the native gaming industry.
Self-determination is the notion behind the Natives in Game Dev Gathering. Elizabeth LaPensee is an Anishinaabe, Metis, and Irish game designer.
She says this is the first event of its kind and she’s excited about it.
“To have a number of native people come together and give talks from game industry,” LaPensee said. “This has never happened before.”
Presentations range from incorporating native hip-hop into games, to using indigenous science teachings in game mechanics.
“We get to have these really robust, really exciting topics because we don’t have to just be talking about what’s out there already in commercial game industries,” LaPensee said.
Alaska will be represented by Ishmael Hope, one of the lead writers for the groundbreaking 2014 game, “Never Alone: Kisima Innitchuna.” He says by bringing his experiences from Never Alone to the conference, he hopes to open up honest conversations about where native game developers can go from this point on.
“It’s a chance to take that next step forward versus always trying to work through centuries-old divides and barriers,” Hope said.
The goal, say both Hope and LaPensee, is for indigenous gamers, developers, and designers to recognize their own potential. Someday, they’d both like to see totally independent native game companies, publishing companies, studios and more. Independent from code to console, says LaPensee.
“I hope that future generations will look back at this moment and see this work and will still carry on the ways in a way that they can respect the position we’re in now and where they’re going to be then will be much more vast, is my hope,” LaPensee said.
The U.S. House has passed a bill to keep the Coast Guard operating at the current spending level.
Alaska Congressman Don Young says it includes Alaska-specific items he championed.
They include a ban on imposing civil liens against fishing permits to collect on debts. Young says the ban already exists in Alaska law but not in federal law.
He says it’s aimed at protecting the earning power of commercial fishing permit owners.
The House bill also includes the transfer of Coast Guard housing units in Tok, leftover after the closure of a Loran station. If the bill passes the Senate and becomes law, the property would pass to Tanana Chiefs Conference to operate its behavioral health clinic.
Rare thunderstorms in Southeast Alaska led the National Weather Service to issue a special marine warning Monday evening.
The warning covered a swath of Southeast, roughly from Juneau to the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island.
Between about 5 and 6 p.m. Monday, a network of ground sensors detected more than 100 lightning strikes in the affected area and portions of western Canada, says Rick Fritsch, the weather service’s lead forecaster in Juneau.
“Boats of course, very susceptible because by definition, they’re out there floating on the water. They are the high spot,” Fritsch says.
The weather stayed clear in Juneau through the end of the warning at 7:15 p.m.; weather radar images showed the brunt of the storm system over Chichagof and Baranof islands, Chatham Strait and parts of Admiralty Island.
Juneau averages about one thunderstorm every two years, Fritsch says.
“This is kind of interesting because late Autumn going into the winter is normally when we see thunderstorm activity, coming at us from the gulf,” Fritsch says.
He says moist air from Canada combined with unusually high ground temperatures — Monday’s highs in Juneau were 16 degrees above normal — caused the atmospheric convection that led to the thunderstorms.
Walker Threatens Budget Veto, Warns of Layoffs
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
Alaska is heading toward a government shutdown. That’s the message Gov. Bill Walker relayed to state workers, in a letter warning them of budget vetoes and layoff notices.
Alaska’s Capital City Braces for Potential Layoffs
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Of the 16,000 State of Alaska employees, more than a quarter of them work in the capital city.
Flooding Closes Dalton Highway
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The northern end of the Dalton Highway is closed again. A month after overflow from the Sag River shut it down, spring melt water has made the only access road to the North Slope oil fields impassable again.
First Kuskokwim Restrictions Expected May 21
Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel
Expecting another poor king salmon run, the first fishing restrictions are expected to go into effect May 21st.
Girl Dies After Boat Falls on Her
The Associated Press
Alaska State Troopers say a 3-year-old girl from lower Kalskag has died after a boat fell on top of her.
Thirsty California: A Potential Market for Alaska Water?
Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka
In Sitka, raising the hydroelectric dam at Blue Lake has created not only a source of renewable energy, but an even larger reserve of fresh water. The bulk water presents a business opportunity and in drought stricken-California, a thirsty client.
M/V Susitna Racks Up As Much As $1M in Rain Damage
Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s would-be ferry, M/V Susitna, has suffered expensive damage, and now the Borough estimates repairs could cost as much as $1 million.
Conference to Focus on Traditional Knowledge, Resource Management
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society meets in Juneau this week. Tribal and other government officials and staff will discuss climate change, subsistence, Arctic policy and dozens of other issues.
Alaska’s First Cannabis Convention
Eric Keto, KSKA –Anchorage
Alaska residents and a wide variety of local and national retailers gathered at the Dena’ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage for the first large commercial event related to the impending marijuana production and sales.
Of the 16,000 State of Alaska employees, more than a quarter of them work in the capital city. On their lunch break, state employees at the State Office Building talked about their tentative employment future.
Britten Burkhouse says her office at the Department of Health and Social Services was pretty quiet after getting the email from Gov. Bill Walker about potential state layoffs.
“I think we were all just dealing with the punch. Recuperating maybe a little bit. It wasn’t a very good thing on a Monday.”
Burkhouse isn’t surprised by the email. The threat of a government shutdown and layoffs has been a possibility since the legislature recessed at the end of April, but she says it makes the situation seem more desperate. She thinks Gov. Walker is doing the best he can, but,
“It’s come to the point where maybe he’s using state employees as leverage to kind of get the Legislature to act.”
Burkhouse is a grants administrator for the department. She says she makes sure nonprofits get money to provide services for Alaskans.
“State employees do more than just show up to work every day. We actually help protect the life, health and safety of Alaskans.”
Mike Lewis has been a state worker for 15 years. He’s the lead courier in mail services. Over the years, he’s made sure Alaskans get their Permanent Fund Dividend checks. He says the potential layoffs are all part of a game.
“This is what they do. It’s government. It’s politics. I don’t like politics because of this.”
And he doesn’t think there’s anything he can do, like contacting a legislator, to change the situation.
“It’s the big people up there that make all the decisions. I don’t think they care much about the little guys.”
If he’s laid off,
“I’ll go fishing, crabbing – all the things I can do when I’m off. If it’s only a week, it wouldn’t bother me that much, but if it’s longer than that it’s the financial thing.”
Twenty-three-year-old Mackenzie Merrill just wants to have job stability. Before this email, she says she was getting other ones about positions getting cut. She’s only an economist with the Department of Revenue for only eight months. It’s her first job out of college.
“I just signed a year-long lease and I want to work here and I want to save money for my future. I went to college. This is what I signed up for. Entering the state during a severe fiscal uncertainty has been disappointing.”
Merrill has a vacation planned in July anyway, when layoffs could begin. But she’d like to know that she has a job to come back to.
In Sitka, raising the hydroelectric dam at Blue Lake has created not only a source of renewable energy, but an even larger reserve of fresh water. The bulk water presents a business opportunity.
With a contract deadline looming that could terminate its exclusive rights, Alaska Bulk Water hopes to deliver on long awaited promises to ship tankers of water and to make California its first customer.
In April, California Governor Jerry Brown gave a speech in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The formidable snowpack, which melts to provide ⅓ of California’s water supply, was nowhere to be seen. The earth was brown and bare.
“People should realize we’re in a new era. The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day – that’s going to be a thing of the past,” Brown says.
The Governor goes on to impose the first mandatory water restrictions in state history, cutting urban use by 25 percent.
“Water coming out of a temperate rain forest…frankly, I think our water is better tasting than anyplace else in the world,” said Garry White, the Executive Director of the Sitka Economic Development Association. “I’m kind of a water snob now.”
We’re driving through the Tongass Forest, which averages around 100 inches of rain a year. The bulk water (and emphasis on bulk) was enough to incentivize a short lived bottling venture, called True Alaska Bottling.
“It was on Alaska airlines. It got on cruise ships. It got into Hollywood movies,” said White. “If you look at the movie the Duplex, Ben Stiller’s got a bottle of it sitting next to his nightstand.”
And California is exactly where White hopes to send Sitka’s water again. Not bottled in plastic, but delivered in ships.
We hop out of his truck. Unfurled at our feet, like a glittering blue carpet, is Sawmill Creek, the freshwater outlet stream from Blue Lake, which provides hydropower and drinking water to the city of 9,000. The water from Blue Lake is so plentiful that household use is not metered and so clean that it’s not filtered before it goes to the tap. While it sounds like an Evian commercial, for White it’s a business opportunity.
“It’s a tough venture, but if people are thirsty enough and need the water enough and it makes fiscal sense, it can happen,” said White.
Sitka already built the infrastructure to draw the water from the lake to the shore. It’s behind us – a giant red nozzle poking up out of the ground. From there, a floating pipeline will carry the water into containers or bags loaded on big cargo ships. Just like oil. Sitka set the price point for water at 1 cent a gallon and can legally export 95 billion gallons a year. If you do the math, that’s quite a bit of money.
“If we move all 9.5 billion gallons a year, that’s 95 million dollars that could come into this community,” said White. “That’s huge.”
The challenge, of course, is actually getting the water to market.
Sitka’s vision of a bulk water business began 15 years ago, when the pulp mill closed. The city acquired rights to the land and to the water and in 2006, signed a 20-year contract with True Alaska Bottling, which is now called Alaska Bulk Water.
We put in performance criteria that said after 24 months from the beginning of the contract, they had to move a certain amount of water or the city at their option could terminate the contract.
The 24 months passed. And?
“No water was moved,” said White.
So, the city renewed the contract, but under the condition that Alaska Bulk Water pay a non-refundable fee for water credits.
The contract has been extended four times (in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012) and to keep it, Alaska Bulk Water spent $1.5 million and must ship 50 million gallons by December 8th. Still, no water has been moved. But White says that recent developments give him hope that water will finally leave the island this summer.
“I’ve always been ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’” said White. “But when I see our current partners putting real money down to go out and put in a mooring buoy system and hire engineers to design it and going out and getting their Army Corps permit, doing all the right things and continuing to invest in the venture, then it’s no longer a 30,000 view of it. It’s starting to get down to the details.
Terry Trapp, the Chief Executive with Alaska Bulk Water, declined to be interviewed in detail for this story. But over the phone with KCAW, he said the company hopes to have the operation up and running this July.
In the meantime, White says there is a lot of trouble shooting to be done. For instance:
“When you show up to a receiving port with 10, 20, 30 million gallons of water, what do you do with it? Right? You got to have a place to store it. You got to be able to recharge aquifers. That’s a huge part of this venture that needs to be figured out.”
In addition to storage on the California side, it’s unclear what kinds of ships will be used. If those ships aren’t flagged as American, their passage from Sitka to California violates the Jones Act, which prohibits the transport of goods by foreign vessels. White is looking to Alaska Bulk Water and several engineering firms to tackle these and other issues.
White also wonders if, even at 1 cent a gallon, water is too expensive to transport at a reasonable cost.
KCAW: What do you say to Sitkans who are like, ‘No way. No way is this actually gonna happen. This is crazy sounding.’
White: I’ve been in that boat. But as you see somebody work out any type of problem that’s a lofty goal, it’s encouraging to see those baby steps that get you closer down the path.
In order to hold onto this contract, Alaska Bulk Water pledged to ship $50 million gallons by December 8th of this year.
The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society meets in Juneau this week.
Tribal and other government officials and staff will discuss climate change, subsistence, Arctic policy and dozens of other issues.
Society activist Norman Jojola is natural resource manager for the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Northern Pueblos Agency in New Mexico.
He says the conference will address the role of traditional knowledge in resource management.
“A lot of the Western knowledge tends to have them tell you what a certain species wants, what a certain species needs, this is how they’re going to survive. Instead of to me, as traditional knowledge would go out, look at the species, live with the species and let the species tell you what it wants rather than you telling it what it’s supposed to do.”
Some sessions will focus on fish hatchery operations and lead ammunition poisoning wildlife. Others will cover more recent issues, such as policing fracking and dealing with meth labs.
The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society meets Wednesday through Friday at Juneau’s Centennial Hall.
Another focus area is cooperative management.
Jojola says that’s important when tribes share borders.
“These animals have no sense of boundaries. And they’re going to move wherever they want to move and whenever they want to move. It’s always good that you have this cooperative effort in managing these resources because if you don’t, then you’re just fighting each other.”
The society began in the 1980s as a way to share information. That includes educating tribal youth about resource issues.
A man biking to work along the Chester Creek trail near the Goose Lake overpass was assaulted by a group of three young men on Monday morning.
APD reports that one of the youth was using a five-foot-long branch as a walking stick. As the biker passed him, he swung the branch and hit the biker in the face. The biker crashed, and the group of three men walked away toward East High School. The stick broke the victim’s nose and eye socket and fractured his skull.
APD spokesperson Anita Shell says it was a completely random act of violence. The group did not speak to the victim nor try to steal anything. She says she does not know if this was linked to the stabbing of a young woman in late March because that victim never saw her attacker.
Shell says they are seeking more information. The Monday morning attacker was described as about 15-years-old with short hair, medium build, and medium-brown skin tone. One of his companions was about 17 with short hair and curls on the top.
Alaska State Troopers say a 3-year-old girl from lower Kalskag has died after a boat fell on top of her.
The accident happened on Saturday on dry land, in the community of Lower Kalskag about 90 miles northeast of Bethel.
Troopers say the girl, Gwendolyn Nayamin, had been playing on the 16-foot boat, which had been leaning against a home.
The boat toppled while she was playing on it. No foul play is suspected, and troopers have called it an accidental death. The girl’s body will be sent to Anchorage for an autopsy.
Alaska residents and a wide variety of local and national retailers gathered at the Dena’ina Convention Center in downtown Anchorage this weekend for the NW Cannabis Classic. While smoking was prohibited, the trade show featured marijuana-oriented retail products as well as information sessions for hobbyists and business owners hoping to navigate the nascent cannabis market in Alaska.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s would-be ferry, M/V Susitna, has suffered expensive damage, and now the Borough estimates repairs could cost as much as $1 million. The Borough has been trying to sell the vessel for years, and is negotiating with the Federal Transit Administration on the repayment of a $12 million grant.
According to the Mat-Su Borough’s Port Director, Marc Van Dongen, rainwater has damaged three of the ferry Susitna’s four engines where it is currently being stored, in Ketchikan. The damage was discovered in February, and seems to have occurred during particularly heavy rains in late January.
“It was over 5 1/2 inches in one day. And apparently some of that rain went into the exhaust, manifold of the vessel. It went through the exhaust stack down into the manifold, and water went into the cylinders and into three of the four engines.”
When the crew tried to start the Susitna for the regular exercising of the vessel in February, those three engines failed.
The ship has been docked in Ketchikan since 2011, at a cost of 30 thousand dollars a month. Van Dongen was not specific as to why water was able to seep into the engines. Borough Manager John Moosey says the vessel has been operating for five years without covers on its vertical smoke stacks without issue, and that it’s not clear why the problem showed up this year. What is certain is that the insurance estimate on repairs will not be cheap.
“We are working on the estimate. It’s going to be significant; it’s anywhere from $500,000 to $1,000,000 is what we’re guessing.”
The borough’s policy carries a hefty deductible — $250,000. Marc Van Dongen says tarps now cover the smoke stacks. He says plans to sell the vessel are proceeding, despite the new chapter in the long saga of the Susitna.
“And we’re still attempting to dispose of the vessel either by transfer or by selling it as is. We could still claim the insurance money to do the repairs, but that won’t happen until we have a buyer.”
John Moosey says there is no rush for determining what to do next with the MV Susitna. He says once more information is available, he will take it to the Mat-Su Borough Assembly.
“We’re still in kind of wait and see mode and just examining the situation. Once that is concluded, I’ll report back to the assembly, because this has sucked up a lot of energy and time. I know my assembly, as is, has a deep level of frustration.”
Meanwhile, the borough is negotiating with the Federal Transit Administration on twelve million dollars in grants the government agency wants back, because the ferry never went into service. The assembly held a closed-door executive session on the Susitna earlier this month, and has scheduled another. For now, Marc Van Dongen says the borough does not have plans to repair the boat.
“It appears that we’re not going to until we have a buyer. Then, we would negotiate with that buyer on the deductible portion, based on what their offer might be for the vessel.”
Van Dongen says ship brokers in Florida and in Hawaii have contacted the Borough about the ship, as has an individual in Texas. According to Van Dongern, another individual, a foreign national, has made an offer, but Borough Manager Moosey says there are no offers in writing at this time. The borough would need federal approval to sell the Susitna outside the country.
In 2010, Børge Ousland and Vincent Colliard were part of a four-person sailing crewon the first ever circumnavigation of the Arctic Ocean in one season, sailing through both the Northeast and the Northwest passages.
Now, they’re in the midst of skiing the Stikine Icefield in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The journey is part of a decade-long project to traverse the world’s 20 largest glaciers. So far, they’ve crossed glaciers in Patagonia, Chile and Svalbard, Norway.
The two men started skiing on the Stikine Icefield May 9. Beforehand, I joined them on an important excursion – a trip to the grocery store.
I find Ousland and Colliard in the baking aisle of Foodland IGA standing in front of the oils. Ousland says they’re looking for sunflower oil for breakfast, “because we need to boost the porridge with some extra fat because we need a lot of energy on this trip.”
This is something they have to consider that other people normally don’t – does something have enough fat? Ousland struggles with this when looking for string cheese. He reads the nutrition stats on several, before he settles on the organic cheese strings. Sixteen of those – one for each day. Ousland says the trip will likely take 12 days, but they’re shopping for 16 to be safe.
Ousland is 52 and from Oslo, Norway. He’s done about 30 expeditions that’ve taken him to places like the North Pole, the South Pole and the Himalayas. And he does them unsupported. That means no help along the way, no caches of food, even on months-long trips.
“The longest trip I’ve done was when I crossed the Arctic Ocean solo from Siberia to Canada. Took me 83 days,” Ousland says.
For that trip, he started out with more than 400 pounds of food and gear which he carried on his back and pulled on a sled. For crossing the Stikine Icefield, Ousland says they’ll each be carrying about 120 pounds.
“So this is lightweight, but we still have to be careful and take it seriously and do the right thing,” Ousland says.
The idea behind the long-term expedition is to shed light on how climate change is affecting glaciers. They document their journeys with glacier measurements, notes and photos. One of their sponsors, National Geographic, outfitted them with a video camera.
“We go out there to show the world what’s happening and how it looks like. Because you can’t just draw things on the map or listen and read to scientific reports, someone has to visualize it. So we’re not scientists but we’re the eyewitness to the climate change,” Ousland says.
Ousland also sees these trips as a way to pass down knowledge to 29-year-old Colliard. Colliard is from France. He says he first communicated with Ousland, who he calls his hero, by email when he was 19.
“One day I was harassing him that I really wanted to go on a trip with him on a sailboat around North Pole and he said, ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll give you a chance,’” Colliard says.
Since then, Ousland has been Colliard’s mentor, friend and expedition partner. Colliard says he’s learned the importance of preparation and how to be meticulous.
“I saw him packing things and everything is extremely organized so when you’re on the field you don’t think, ‘Where’s this thing? And where’s the other?’” says Colliard.
He’s learned it’s important to practice the same steps of setting up and packing up camp over and over, even when the weather is nice and calm.
“So when it’s really windy and you’re alone and you want to pitch your tent, you have to make sure you have a nice procedure because if you’re in the middle, let’s say, of an ice cap or Greenland or on the sea ice and you lose your tent – your tent is like the only refuge that you have – you’re done if you lose a tent,” Colliard says. “You can just call for emergency.”
What he’s not so sure about at the moment is chocolate. He stands in front of dozens of choices and zeros in on the milk chocolate Cadbury bar. I suggest the caramel bar.
“No, no, no liquid inside,” Colliard explains.
“How about dark chocolate?” I ask. “You’re more milk than dark?”
“Yeah, we need a little more sugar also,” he says.
Colliard hems and haws before going back to the milk chocolate Cadbury.
“Do you think I can just open one and then I can pay and I try it?” Colliard asks.
“You must have had Cadbury, no?” I wonder.
“Yeah, but not this one,” Colliard says.
So he opens the wrapper, breaks off a square and after a few chews, “Mmm, that will do the job. Mmm, yeah, perfect.”
Besides chocolate, string cheese and sunflower oil, Colliard and Ousland’s carts are filled with nuts, raisins, dry milk, beef jerky, toilet paper and several bags of potato chips. Those get crushed into crumbs, then packed in individual Ziploc bags.
For this trip, Ousland isn’t bringing one of his standbys.
“Normally, I bake a cake which is almond cake with egg cream and I bring it on the trip to celebrate the small victories. Especially on the long trips, there’s always something to celebrate – my son’s birthday or when I’m halfway or things like that. You need things to look forward to,” Ousland says.
Of course, the real motivation is the journey itself, Ousland says, the adventure – finding out what’s after the next curve, what’s beyond the next ridge.
Gov. Bill Walker announced on Monday morning that he will be vetoing parts of the state operating budget.
In a letter sent to state employees, Walker explained that the partial veto is being made because the Legislature authorized $5 billion in state spending when only $2 billion are readily available.
“I have made clear I cannot accept a budget that is not fully funded. To do so would put the State in the position of not being able to fulfill our obligations. This is unacceptable,” Walker wrote.
While Alaska has a $10 billion rainy day account, a three-quarter vote is needed to access the funds, and lawmakers have not reached a deal to tap it. The Republican majorities and Democratic minorities are in a stalemate over education funding and the expansion of Medicaid, and no compromise has been reached on those issues three weeks into a special session.
In his letter, Walker stated that many state employees will receive layoff notices in early June if a deal is not reached. He wrote that he prioritized appropriations dealing with public safety and health when making his vetoes.
Lawmakers plan to continue their budget negotiations. The special session is scheduled to end on May 27.
This is a developing story.
A popular, yet troublesome, ocean monitoring buoy went back in service this spring in southern peninsula waters after being out of service for a year and a half.
The Lower Cook Inlet Wave Buoy is loved and used by many, when it decides to stay in once place.
“This buoy is affectionately nicknamed Bandit because it’s come off its tether multiple times in the past couple years,” says Darcy Dugan, program manager with the Alaska Ocean Observing System. “Two summers in a row it came off its chain for reasons we weren’t able to completely pin down, but we’re guessing the strong tidal current was one of those reasons. Most recently, we ended up having to take it off its tether because it started to malfunction and we had to get it fixed and take it back out. So, we’ve got our fingers crossed that this time it’ll stay out there.”
So why put an expensive piece of equipment in a rough spot where its likely to break free? Dugan says the answer lies in the question.
“Cook Inlet is a dynamic place and with the ice and the boat traffic and the currents, we knew it was fairly risky to put it out there, but the need was so great it was worth the risk,” says Dugan.
The buoy is located off the coast of the southern peninsula between Homer and Anchor Point. It was first deployed in 2011 and transmits information on wave height and direction, wave period, and water temperature.
It’s maintained by the Alaska Ocean Observing System, or AOOS, which is one of 11 such organizations around the country. Dugan says they try to identify and fill gaps in ocean monitoring around the state. That’s why their motto is the Eye on Alaska’s Coast and Oceans.
“We are under the umbrella of NOAA but we act as a non-profit organization and our mission is to improve access to marine data,” says Dugan. “So, we work with institutions and organizations and groups across the state that pull together information on the coastal and marine environment and produce interactive data tools that the general public can use to get information.”
The Cook Inlet buoy’s data can be accessed three ways online. There’s a real-time sensor map through AOOS. The map also provides information from more than 2000 other weather, wind, and water monitoring stations and webcams around the state.
Its information is also on the website of the National Data Buoy Center through the National Weather Service and through the Army Corps of Engineers.
She says the data is updated every few minutes. And when Bandit the buoy manages to escape up the inlet and stops transmitting, Dugan says her office hears about it.
“The buoy has a really wonderful group of Homer supporters that check it on a regular basis. So, when the buoy goes down, we get phone calls which, from the perspective of someone managing the buoy, it’s great to know the buoy is in such high demand.”
But the rough seas and unpredictable waves that Bandit so dutifully measures are exactly the forces that may make it live up to its adventurous name sometime again in the future.
Two weekend fires in the Kuskokwim delta community of Atmautluak were contained over the weekend—but Alaska State Troopers say they’ll still investigating the cause.
The first blaze came Saturday afternoon. In an online dispatch Troopers say they were alerted to the fire at 4:20 in the afternoon. Locals were able to keep the flames to just one room of the Tribal Office Building—but the flames also damaged the outside of the structure.
The second fire came early Sunday morning around 3 o’clock—and was reported at the community’s old Moravian Church.
Troopers say that second fire “totally destroyed the abandoned church” and also damaged a house next door. The house was occupied at the time of the blaze.
No one was injured in either fire.
Troopers were on the scene Sunday to investigate both fires.
The determined the city office blaze was caused by “two young children playing with lighters” underneath the structure. The second fire, Troopers say, was started by a 13-year-old boy and an 18-year-old playing with fire.
Investigation into both incidents remains ongoing.
Police are looking for a suspect they say shot and killed a Fairbanks man he’d been fighting with in a bar.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports city of Fairbanks spokeswoman Amber Courtney says the men fought and were kicked out of a bar on Old Steese Highway in the early morning hours on Sunday, and continued the argument outside.
Witnesses say 23-year-old John D. Kavairlook Jr. was with his wife, and the suspect was with three other men as the fight escalated to throwing rocks. Courtney said Kavairlook approached the four black men and was shot multiple times.
Police are looking for witnesses and surveillance footage that will help identify the suspect, described as between 5’8″ and 5’11”, weighing 200 to 230 pounds with a short haircut.
State authorities say all contaminated soil from a spill of 1,900 gallons of aviation fuel has been removed.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the soil was contaminated when a Big State Logistics tanker-trailer rolled April 21. The accident happened about 20 miles north of Healy on the Parks Highway.
The truck driver was cited for negligent driving.
Officials say about 300 cubic yards of material was removed and delivered to a facility for incineration.
A release from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says about 250 gallons of fluids were recovered with absorbent pads right after the spill. Another 900 gallons were pumped from a nearby ditch.
There were no reports of wildlife being affected by the spill.
Two families are suing the Anchorage School District for illegal suspension practices. The mothers say that the suspension notices the district sends out don’t include the full reasons for the suspensions, just simplified codes like “74-Dangerous Actions” or “14-Willful Disobedience.”
Jim Davis from the Northern Justice Project, which is arguing the case on behalf of the families, says the incomplete notices violate due process rights because they don’t give families enough information to decide if they want to fight the decision or not.
“You can’t just put it on whichever families are the most aggressive or whichever families make the most phone calls will find out what really happened. Families should be told from the beginning ‘Here’s what happened,” he says.
Six different families have brought up the issue to the Justice Project. Many of them do not speak English as a first language, which makes it harder for them to seek out the full reason for the suspension, Davis argues.
The suit is asking the district to change the policy and tell families the factual reasons behind any suspensions.
The Anchorage School District says they do not comment on any active litigation.
The Interior Secretary’s power to take land into trust for tribes could create pockets of Indian Country across Alaska. Tribes see it as an opportunity to police their own territory and improve village safety. Others see it as the reservation model that Alaskans rejected in the land claims settlement act 44 years ago. Outside the state, land-into-trust is controversial, too. Alaska Congressman Don Young presided over a testy hearing Thursday on the subject.
Early in the hearing, Congressman Young called out tribal advocates sitting in the audience. Young said people from the National Congress of American Indians were trying to undermine him and his work on the Indian Affairs subcommittee, and pouring gasoline on a political fire:
“I’m going to suggest we play ball straight. This is not to start an issue or try to destroy the effects of this committee. I hope everybody understands that. Because I do not forgive very well …. Not once have I not served the American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
Young, chairman of a subcommittee on Indian Affairs, says he just wants to create uniform standards, so the Interior Secretary doesn’t have total discretion on when to take lands into trust. But Young’s recent hearings on the subject, and memos from his subcommittee staff, have riled Indian Country.
Kevin Washburn, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, says he worries Young’s vision is a return to the darkest days of federal Indian policy. Washburn also spoke of an attack on tribal sovereignty and urged Young not to join it.
“I respectfully ask you not to take this path. If you take this path against the people of Indian Country, the Obama Administration will be standing shoulder to shoulder with tribes as they fight you on this.”
The secretary’s land into trust power was granted by Congress in 1934. Washburn says the goal was to make up for previous federal policy and re-establish tribal jurisdiction on some of the 90 million acres tribes lost.
“Now admittedly, Interior’s power to take land into trust only rarely during the previous presidential administration. But when president Obama came into office he made restoring tribal homelands one of his highest priorities. So interior dusted off the power and began taking land into trust again.”
He says the administration is more than halfway to its goal of accepting half a million acres in trust before it leaves office. Washburn, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, thanked Young for letting his views known so voters can choose come election time.
“You’ve made plain your concerns about tribal governments. And you’ve not hidden your prejudices, and I respect that because although I disagree with you, I’m glad you’re not running from your convictions.”
Young both scolded Washburn and showed him respect. The Congressman says he just wants to make it fair for all tribes that want to put land in trust.
“Why would you object to that?” Young asks.
“Well, because there’s no tribe that’s asking for that, chairman. There’s not a single tribe that wants you to pass a law…”
“Now wait a minute. That’s not true. There are tribes that say we need to know why we were turned down. It’s because of the discretion of the secretary, the BIA.”
In Alaska, a judge’s order, for now, prevents the Secretary from accepting land into trust, but the administration is ready with new Alaska-specific rules once the case is resolved.
The state of Alaska is closing wolf hunting early in the Stampede area along the northeastern edge of Denali National Park.
The emergency shutdown ends the season two weeks ahead of its scheduled closure. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game action follows the killing of two Denali wolves shot earlier this month on state land, near a bear baiting station. A state release says bear hunting regulation changes have resulted in more hunters in the area. Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotton says the situation increases the chances of wolves commonly seen in the park, being taken.
Individuals and environmental groups petitioned the state to take the action to better protect a Park wolf population that’s plummeted to 48 this spring, its lowest level on record.
State Division of Wildlife Conservation Acting Director Bruce Dale says there’s no biological or conservation issue. Wolf viewing has declined in recent years, but trapping and hunting aren’t the only reason cited by biologists, who also point to low snow winters that have made it tougher for wolves to prey on caribou and moose. Wolf advocates want restoration of a protective buffer zone along the park’s north eastern boundary. The board of game eliminated the wolf buffer in 2010.