The Alaska Marine Highway System Manager says the first of two day boats will be sailing Lynn Canal even before the summer of 2016.
Captain John Falvey and other state transportation officials are holding meetings on the new ferry design this week. The first was in Juneau last night.
“The purpose of this was to have a lunch box boat.”
Will Nickum is an engineer for Elliott Bay Design Group in Seattle, architects for the day boats and other Alaska Marine Highway ships.
But the paradigm of state ferries is changing; instead of operating 24-hours a day, the proposed 280-foot shuttles would be tied up at the end of 12-hours, like the fast ferries Fairweather and Chenega.
“At the end of the day, the crew would go home and then come back the next morning and start all over again.”
The current design of the ferries show a closed car deck – but state officials originally said it would be open. That drew a lot of criticism from passengers who are familiar with Lynn Canal’s rough seas and spray. Boat architects Elliott Bay have advised against it. Nickum says it would cost slightly more.
“But the weather protection and the potential for lower maintenance, the recommendation was pretty strong back to the state and state’s accepted that recommendation and the design you see now has a closed car deck.”
The day boats would first serve Juneau, Skagway and Haines, carry 53 standard-size vehicles and 300 passengers, and travel at about 15 and a half knots.
There wouldn’t be much time in port.
“Rapid unload and load of the passengers and vehicles is important to meet this day boat concept,” Nickum said. “For rapid turnaround, need to drive through loading and unloading; not too much monkey motion around through side doors and what not. Really want to come on the bow, go off the stern or come on the stern and go off the bow.”
Juneau resident Bob Millard wonders how realistic that turnaround is. He rides the Alaska Marine Highway often, and also Washington State ferries, which are day boats.
“You know I’m concerned about crew fatigue and the time it takes to load in ports, like Haines, (where) you have a lot of tourists. The turnaround time I s probably a factor given all the traffic and inexperience of people loading and unloading.”
Millard says the potential delays would make that 12-hour day a very tight schedule.
The preliminary design study for the shuttle ferries came out last month and a public comment period is underway. This week’s meetings in Juneau, Skagway and Haines are strictly informational.
Marine Highway manager Falvey believes both ships will be operational by the middle of 2016. The funding comes from a previous Alaska Class Ferry project.
“We have approximately $118 million to work with and we feel very confident we can deliver both of these boats all said and done for that price.”
Falvey says the design team is now working detailed scenarios:
“What would the system look like when the first Alaska Class Ferry comes on. What would it look like when the second one comes on and there will still be mainliners running up through the canal.”
The public comment period on the preliminary design ends August 30. Comments should be made online through the Department of Transportation website.
Glacier Bay Lodge will stay open, at least for another 2 years.
Several weeks of negotiations between National Park Service and the current concessionaires ended yesterday. This resulted in a 2-year extension of the contract held by Aramark and Huna Totem Corporation.
“That will keep the Glacier Bay Lodge open, keep the day tour boat running, as well as other services that they provide in the park, such as the restaurant and the gift shop,” explains John Quinley, spokesman for the National Park Service in Anchorage.
He says the extension begins in January 2014. Before it runs out, NPS plans to put out a new prospectus.
Based on conversations with Aramark and other companies about why they didn’t bid, Quinley says reasons include costs of operation and maintenance.
“We’re going to be relooking at those numbers and seeing if there are maintenance tasks that perhaps were overstated, if there were things that would better belong on the park service’s side of the ledger, ways to get that work done less expensively perhaps. So we have a lot of work to do to rebuild a prospectus that will get some bidders,” he says.
Glacier Bay Lodge contains 56 rooms, which accounts for about half the lodging available in all of nearby Gustavus, a town of 450 residents.
JoAnn Lesh is president of the Gustavus Visitors Association and owns Gustavus Inn with her husband Dave. She and the association have been working on keeping the lodge open since the end of March.
“Everyone said it couldn’t be done,” she says. “I’m very excited that we will get a chance to have two years of stability for our economy here in Gustavus.”
Lesh says the association is holding a luncheon tomorrow at Glacier Bay Lodge to celebrate.
The state of Alaska wants oil prices high.
“Every dollar change in price is close to 100 -150 million dollars in state revenue,” said acting Revenue Commissioner Angela Rodell. “Short term volatility like you’ve been seeing in the past few weeks, given things going on around the world, create a lot of distractions.”
The recent coup in Egypt gets all the headlines is not the reason for the jump, said Frank Verrastro. Verrastro, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said fears over control of the Suez Canal are legitimate.
Other conflicts, he said, are having more tangible effects.
“The Iraq Ceyhan Pipeline has been down, and that’s reduced exports out of Iraq. There’s been problems down in Basra,” he said by phone Monday from Washington. ”Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, and the fact that Libyan production is down 600,000 – 700,000 barrels a day.”
All this means that Alaska has little control over a global commodity. High oil prices translate to higher fuel costs, especially in hard to reach rural Alaska.
Throughout western Alaska, villagers are ordering and stockpiling hundreds of gallons of heating oil for the winter.
Bob Cox, vice president with Crowley Maritime Corporation – the company that barges refined oil products to western Alaska, said there are about three weeks left for the final barge of the season to make the journey.
The company stores the fuel in tanks throughout the state. Both Crowley and other companies sell the fuel to villagers.
Cox said the company monitors global oil prices to get the best price, and this year, it tried something new: Buying 300 thousand barrels of heating oil from China.
“That arrived off the west coast of Alaska in July. We offloaded that and brought that into our tank farms because that was a better value at that time, then U.S. prices,” he said.
The company still needs to finalize its price for the final barge.
Crowley uses the price per barrel the day the barge is loaded in its calculation for final prices. Cox says about one-third of Crowley’s cost is overhead, distribution, profit and transportation – the rest is the product.
“So we’re somewhat hostage to whatever is going on in the oil markets at the time we’re loading the barges,” Cox said.
Oil prices have been higher before: They hit $120 a barrel when the Arab Spring erupted.
This spring, state legislators considered a controversial bill that would define what counts as a “medically necessary” abortion for the purpose of Medicaid reimbursement. Now, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is considering regulations tackling the same issue. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that proposed rule would require doctors to get specific on why they think the state state should cover the procedure.
Abortion policy in Alaska is a war of inches. Because of a privacy clause in the state constitution, most of the fights don’t involve prohibitions of the procedure. They play out at the margins. And the question of whether the state should cover abortions for low-income women for medical reasons is one of the most contentious fights.
The latest battle comes in the form of physician paperwork. The Department of Health and Social Services wants doctors to fill out a sheet checking off why an abortion should be reimbursed. Commissioner Bill Streur says the point is to make doctors reflect on whether an abortion is medically necessary or elective. He wants the state reduce the number of payments for abortions he thinks are in the second category.
“We hope so. We don’t know, because I thought the last one would have helped, but it didn’t help. In fact, our numbers seem to be up this year from previous years.”
When Streur says the “last one,” he’s referring to a form that doctors have been filling out for a year now. That form puts abortions in two categories: ones the federal government pays for because the pregnancy could kill the woman or because it’s the result of rape or incest, and ones that the state pays for because they could have a dangerous effect on a woman’s physical or mental health.
The new form gets even more detailed. It would make doctors check off a specific medical condition — like epilepsy or heart disease — as a reason for getting a reimbursement. While opponents of the new regulations have privacy concerns, Streur says he doesn’t see an issue with patient confidentiality.
“For instance, if a recipient has diabetes or if a recipient has a heart condition, if they have other issues — a cancer– if they’re on special medications that preclude or make it dangerous to continue with a pregnancy, we already have that information because we’ve been paying for their care.”
Planned Parenthood has already come out against the regulations, saying that if the goal is to limit state payment for abortion the Department is putting a de facto restriction on access for low income women. They also say the proposed rule could violate the equal protection clause by placing different requirements on women who get abortions instead of taking their pregnancies to term.
Other providers describe the regulations as a form of bullying, meant to discourage doctors from getting Medicaid reimbursement by making them feel like the state is scrutinizing them more intently. One physician, who didn’t want his name used, says he personally thinks the regulations are intimidating.
“This actually happened to me about 15 years ago. But if someone from the enforcement branch basically said, ‘I don’t think you’re exercising due clinical oversight, and you’re essentially billing the state for things they shouldn’t be paying for, and you’re breaking the law.’ So from that practical point, that’s chilling to me.”
This provider added that he sees the regulations as intruding on the doctor-patient relationship.
For his part, Commissioner Streur says he doesn’t think the new form would be much more burdensome than the previous one, and that it would give the state a better dataset to work with when trying to curb the number of abortion payments.
But Streur says the proposed regulations have stirred up some controversy. Since the rules were first introduced on Friday, he’s gotten a mixed response. The e-mails have broken down along political lines, with opponents of abortion being especially supportive.
“[They've been] very nice, very complimentary because of the direction that we’re going in terms of right to life … and not very nice from those I’m denying care,” says Streur. “I’m not denying care. I’m denying reimbursement for the services performed that are not medically necessary. That’s the only thing we’re doing. We are not denying care. We can’t deny care.”
The Department is taking public comment on the proposed regulations until September 27.
The Anchorage Police Department says it arrested 34 people for driving under the influence during the first weekend of an expanded effort to crack down on drunken drivers. There have been five drunk driving deaths in the city in the last two months. The new effort includes five additional patrol units made possible by a state grant. By comparison, that’s 13 more arrests than the previous weekend. The department will continue the expanded patrols through the Labor Day weekend.
A state Superior Court judge has sided with Municipality of Anchorage employee’s unions in a dispute over a city labor law. Judge Eric Aarseth heard arguments from union and city attorneys yesterday, and made his decision from the bench only minutes after their conclusion. Aarseth’s decision allows a referendum asking voters to weigh in on the law to go forward, and it essentially suspends the city ordinance for now. Anchorage municipal attorney Dennis Wheeler says the city will contest the suspension order, because under city code, a suspension can only take place if the required number of petition signatures is in.
Tribal leaders from around the state will be gathering in Anchorage this week to address the suicide epidemic. It’s sponsored by the Alaska Tribal Leaders and is their 13th annual summit meeting. All 229 tribes in Alaska are invited.
According to the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, Alaska had 1,369 suicides between 2000 and 2009, an average of 136 per year. That gives Alaska the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country.
Mike Williams Sr. of Akiak is one of the organizers. He says suicide is devastating Alaska, particularly the Native villages.
“And my hope is that we are going to be identifying the underlying causes that is affecting the devastation in our communities, especially in these last 20 years,” Williams says.
Alaska Native men between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest rate.
Bill Martin of Juneau is co-chairing the event with Williams. Martin is the former President of the Central Council of the Tlingit Haida Indians of Alaska. In a written statement he said, “tribal governments can no longer ignore this issue. . .it is only we, their elders, their tribes and their families, who can end it.”
Williams says they hope to walk away with two resolutions. One would include an action plan for rural Alaska to deal with suicide. Another would help in “restoring the people.” He says some state and federal policies have come to the villages that have had adverse affects on them, such as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In 1971, ANSCA extinguished aboriginal hunting and fishing rights.
Williams lives in a remote community of about 300 residents.
“Living in a small community like Akiak I feel like I’m being left out and our voices are not heard,” Williams says.
He says the resolutions coming out of the summit meeting will be sent to Alaska’s 229 tribes, and to the state and federal government offices.
Williams says they will likely encompass a variety of solutions to address different needs around the state.
“I think each community has different ways of dealing with this issue and one size does not fit all,” says Williams.
The conference starts Thursday at 8 a.m. at the Hilton Hotel.
Scheduled speakers include Native American fishing rights activist Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Nation and Brian Cladoosby, Chairman of Swimonish Tribe, both from Washington.
Speaking from Alaska will be Doug Modig, a Tshimsian from Metlakatla, and Allen Levy of Anchorage.
Williams says they are all looking for positive solutions in addressing the suicide crisis.
“I have all the faith and confidence that we can do it and if we come out and saving one person out of this conference, that’s a huge message and that is a success,” Williams says.
Tribal leaders from the Lower Yukon village of Alakanuk will be presenting on how they have successfully dealt with suicide. The village hasn’t seen suicide in recent years after elders got together and faced it head on the local level.
Geophysical Institute is forecasting strong auroras at the end of the week. Some of that activity could be in response to changes in the suns magnetic field. Over the next few months, the sun will undergo a magnetic flip. Is an event that happens every eleven years, but scientists have only been able to monitor what happens at the solar poles since the 1970’s.
Much like the Earth, the sun has a magnetic field with a north pole and a south pole. But in just a few months, the sun’s negatively charged north pole will have a positive charge. Its south pole will switch from a positive charge to a negative charge. “It’s part of the normal process,” says Roger Smith. “The sun has cycles of activity,” Smith is the Emeritus Director of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “If you have your cup of coffee in the morning, and you have cream on the top, and you spin it up with a spoon, you see some circulation,” he explains. “What’s happening on the sun, it’s the same as having the spinning on the top of your cup reverse and go the other way.”
Because the sun is so hot, charged particles in its magnetic field move in a constant fury. Those particles interact with others throughout the solar system, causing auroras among other things. Smith says this “flip” stirs up those particles and gases that stream off the sun. “The sun actually in a larger scale behaves like a comet,” says Smith. “All the gases that stream off, stream off into a tail, and it takes a long time for anything that’s got into that tail to propagate down, so there will be a ripple effect which will go on for possibly years,” he explains.
This year, the sun’s magnetic reversal is asymmetric, meaning the north pole is changing faster than it’s south pole. But Smith says that might be normal. Because of limitations in technology, this is only the fourth time scientists have been able to record an event like this. “To be able to detect the polarity of the magnetic field on the sun, you need optical techniques that are relatively advanced compared to 100 years ago,” says Smith.
A magnetic reversal could affect some radio transmissions and satellite communications. Here in Alaska, Smith says it’s more likely we’ll see the effects in the form of medium level auroras.
With climbing season over, mountaineering rangers in Denali National Park have turned some of their attention to conservation. A team just returned from the Muldrow Glacier after spending two days picking up decades-old trash from climbers that has begun melting out of the ice.
The highest ranking leader in the United States Coast Guard stopped in Unalaska today to talk about Arctic strategy.
The severe drought that’s gripped the Interior for most of the summer finally broke over the weekend. Rains fell throughout the region for the first time in some areas since early July. But it’s probably too little and too late for most farmers, especially those who own livestock, who’ve have had to resort to costly measures like irrigating and importing hay from Canada and the Lower 48.
The rain cleared the air of smoke from the Mississippi wildfire still smoldering near Delta. But it didn’t bring much relief to the area’s farmers.
Bryce Wrigley is a Delta barley grower and president of the Alaska Farm Bureau. And he says the season started with the opposite problem — cold, wet weather that delayed planting.
“We actually started planting on the day we normally quit,” Wrigley said. “And so, it was just that late. I mean, on the 17th of May, we had now.”
The cool spell was followed by a stretch of 90-degree days in early June.
Other than a couple of rains earlier in the summer, pretty much the only water that’s fallen onto the area’s farmlands has come from irrigation systems, like the one that Doug McCollum set up on about 300 acres of hay east of town.
A few miles away at the family’s meatpacking plant, McCollum’s daughter, Jeannie, sums up the economic toll that this summer’s drought is taking on the business.
“All I can say it’s a crisis,” she said. “There is a crisis … shortages of enough feed for the livestock.”
Jeannie McCollum says the business tries to maintain a two-year supply of hay for their 400 head of cattle, and sell the surplus to horse owners around the state to cover the cost of fertilizer, which runs to about $100,000 a year. That’s the sort of savvy that’s helped them to do pretty well in a business where the profit margins are always slim.
This year, the McCollums are just trying to grow enough to avoid hauling in hay from Canada and the Lower 48 — a costly fall-back plan that many other farmers in the Interior have had to resort to, along with others in the Mat-Su, which also has been hit by drought.
“It’s cost-prohibitive, with the cost of fuel, to run to Canada, to get some feed,” McCollum said. “Potentially, at some point, maybe some of these other people (who) produce hay, some of them getting only a third of what they normally get, it’s a fair chance that some of the other people who are producing hay are going to have to tell their clients that, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to find another source to get your hay.’”
But another Delta-area area farmer, Don Lintelman, is already bringing in truckloads of feed for his 120 cows that provide milk for his Northern Lights Dairy, one of two in the state. Lintelman, who’s farmed in the area for 44 years, says it’s very expensive, but he has no choice.
“We got over 600 acres, and we only probably got about a fourth of the crop that we usually get,” he said.
Phil Kaspari, the agricultural extension agent with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service in Delta, is working with Lintelman to help him get a low-interest loan to help offset the cost of buying imported feed.
Kaspari says Lintelman on Friday became the first Alaska farmer this season to be given assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program.
Kaspari believes agency officials approved Lintelman’s request, and will likely grant others’, because they’ve realized the impact of this year’s drought.
“It seems to really be coming to light, more and more, that we have to take some action to avert a real disaster,” Kaspari said.
The drought has also been hard on farmers cultivating other crops, both in the Interior and to a lesser extent in the Mat-Su Valley, the state’s other major agriculture area. Franci Havemeister, the director of the state Division of Agriculture, says that because the Tanana Valley has gotten less than half of the usual summer rainfall, farmers here are harvesting only about a third of their average yield. And she says that has hurt them economically.
“When you’re looking at a yield of 30 percent, you’re looking at a drastic shortfall when it comes to revenue,” Havemeister said.
Havemeister says she agrees with the gloomy prediction that farmers here have drawn — that the weekend rains, while welcome, are just too little, too late.
Juneau’s Front Street Clinic is in danger of shutting down due to fiscal reasons. The public health facility, run by the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, caters to the capital city’s homeless and low-income residents.
Up to 25 people a day visit Front Street Clinic to receive medical, dental, and behavioral health services. 59-year-old veteran Michael Needham is one of them.
He’s having impressions made for dentures. “They’re very thorough with what they’re doing and I thank god every day for them,” Needham says.
Needham has been going to the clinic for three years and likes the way the staff treats him.
“Like I’m special right now, this is your time. That’s just what it’s all about. They don’t get interrupted or nothing. It’s really cool the way they do that,” he says.
Needham also has cancer, “See these things, little red dots are all cancer spots and I’ve been coming here for them.”
Janna Brewster is Front Street Clinic manager and medical provider. She says the health condition of clinic patients range. Some of them are very ill with diabetes, high blood pressure, lung disorders, cancer.
“Without Front Street, undoubtedly, some of these folks will die because they’re not going to have the day-to-day care that we can help them with.”
SEARHC communications director Michael Jenkins says the possibility of shutting the clinic down is based on federal budget cuts, including sequestration, as well as a reorganization of the regional health consortium.
Ten percent of Front Street patients are Alaska Native. They can go to SEARHC’s Ethel Lund Medical Center if the clinic closes. Brewster doesn’t know where the others will go.
“We have a very small number of patients that do have full disability services; we’ll be able to find other doctors in town that can take them. The largest portion will end up with no medical care at all,” Brewster says.
Dentist Ed Linsell has been practicing at the clinic for nearly all ten years of its operation. He says Front Street staff members are determined to do what it takes it keep the clinic open.
“I’m pretty outraged at how a whole population is going to be – they’re on the street to begin with but they’re going to be thrown out even deeper,” says Linsell.
The group of SEARHC employees has taken their fight to various people and organizations, including the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness. Dan Austin is a founding member.
“We consider this to be the most important, immediate issue for us. And so we will play whatever role we possibly can to keep Front Street Clinic open, whatever it takes,” he says.
Austin says closing the centrally located Front Street Clinic would take away more than just medical services.
“It serves as one of the main portals in this community to link homeless people on the street to possible services that might be available to them to help make positive changes in their lives. It’s a critical doorway for us.”
Clinic manager Janna Brewster says it’s her duty to tell the patients about Front Street’s possible closure. As soon as patient James Bouschor heard, he immediately started a petition. Within a week, he already has 500 signatures.
“I’m going to try and gather as many signatures as I can because you know not only me who’s needed help, but people that require daily medications and stuff that won’t be able to get it if Front Street closes,” he says.
SEARHC’s Michael Jenkins says the Board of Directors will decide whether Front Street Clinic will stay open or shut down at an upcoming meeting.
As Alaska’s summer starts to slide toward fall, concern is growing for sheltering the increasing numbers of homeless citizens in Anchorage on cold nights.
Ellen Krsnak is the community relations coordinator for Catholic Social Services, the agency that runs the Brother Francis shelter in the city.
Bean’s Cafe is across a parking lot from Brother Francis. Krsnak says Bean’s is a day shelter and serves breakfast and lunch.
Brother Francis handles the evening meal and provides a safe place to sleep, but often more beds are needed and Bean’s has provided sleeping space.
Federal money that was administered by the Municipality of Anchorage has dried up and without it, Krsnak says, the overflow numbers of homeless who need a bed on cold nights won’t be able to sleep at Beans.
Anchorage Health and Human Services director Janet Vietmeier says the problem of coming up with shelter funding for Anchorage’s homeless citizens is not a new topic.
Vietmeier says there are others in the community who have volunteered to provide services that Catholic Social Services would normally have to pay for. She declined to name who those volunteer organizations are.
If overflow shelter is not available at Bean’s Cafe this winter, homeless people would have to leave the area of Brother Francis and Beans to find warm beds on cold nights in other parts of the city. Transportation is not provided by any entity at this point. Vietmeier says people seem to figure it out.
“I guess I can answer that with, we have people that stay at gospel rescue mission and that’s not in that area, so somehow they find a way to find a warm place to sleep at night,” she said.
Vietmeier says the mayor considers the issue of safe shelter for the homeless a priority, but a meeting with organizations who advocate for the poor, including Catholic Social services has not yet been scheduled.
Wintry weather is forecast to sweep across Arctic Alaska.
National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Berg says a deep low pressure system is sending cold air down over the North Slope and Brooks Range, ushering in conditions a-typical of mid August.
“Generally it would bring just rain, but this is really cold and we’re gonna actually see some snow up along the North Slope,” Berg said. “It could possibly affect the Dalton Highway and the passes through the Brooks Range with a couple inches of snow.”
The northwestern Brooks Range can expect for up to 2 inches of snow, while up to 5 are forecast for the northeastern portion of the range, including Anaktuvuk and Atigun passes.
No snow is expected to the south, but Berg says the Interior will get some rain.
Berg says the high pressure ridge that dominated interior weather for much of the summer has pushed off to the east, allowing systems to move across the state.
Peggy Hunt is a born educator. She’s an agronomist — that’s a person who applies scientific principles to crop production — and she is director of the state’s Plant Materials Center located a few miles from downtown Palmer. On this unusually hot July day, she’s leading me around the Center and its grounds.
“We are looking at, in our country and in our world, you know, climate change. Are we going to have seeds, do we need seeds for survival.”
That’s a sobering thought. Few of us pay attention to the tiniest of agricultural necessities. But the Plant Materials Center makes seed cultivation and preservation its business. In one respect, the Center functions as a place that preserves, catalogues and stores seed for future use.
“This is a place where we have saved those seeds. Just what we have in here, at least, is the Native plants, the forestry seeds.”
We are standing in a cavernous, chilly and dimly lit building, even though outside the temperature is in the eighties at high noon. Peggy gestures toward the back of the building
”Way back there is a freezer that has forestry seeds in it, so it’s a germplasm reserve.”
Of course, the Center deals with grasses and vegetable seeds that farmers use every season, too. The Center is one of 27 in the US. Each one is responsible for a distinct region. All of them, except Alaska’s, are federally funded. Ours is funded by the state.
It’s the Center’s job to ensure that seed provided to local farmers is not only 100 percent pure, but has a guaranteed high germination rate.
Hunt leads me to another building, this one full of odd – looking contraptions.
”Here’s some more screens. Again, this would go for a different sized machine, such as this. You can have two or three different screens in here. “
The machines are seed separators – some use air , others strainers, to separate out the unwelcome seed. They give the room the look of a giant’s kitchen. Dozens of screens, strainers, and collander like gadgets hang from the walls. They can separate out the one noxious weed seed from the thousands and thousands that fill a bag of lettuce seeds
["And many times we have to put them through several different kinds of machines. "
“So identification would be really important. “
“Absolutely. Some seeds are heavier than others. And dead seeds are lighter weight. So by putting it into an air machine, where it’s blowing the seeds up, the heavier, good seed comes through.”
Pure seeds are bagged, weighed and stored.
“……like this one here, they’ve got it written on here. 23 pounds. This is Nugget, which is a bluegrass.”
But how do we know the seeds will sprout?
”This is Lubo Mahlev.” “Lubo, yes.” ”Hi.” ”Good to meet you.” “What are you doing in here?” “Well, this is the seed lab.”
To make sure that seeds actually sprout, not fizzle out, researchers at the center put them through germination tests. That’s Lubo Mahlev’s job. He works in the state seed research lab.
“So for each germination test we test 400 seeds. So there are like four racks of a hundred seeds. And this one right here, it is called Beach Flea Bane. It requires one week of pre-chill.”
Lubo pulls one germination sample out of a storage unit that is heat and light controlled to mimic actual day and night fluctuations in outdoor temperature and light. Twice a year, the Center sells seeds it deems one hundred percent pure. The seed, by law, must be tested within 18 months of sale.
“And you know, that helps the seed producer, so they can get the highest price for their seed, and it also helps the customer, because when you buy seed you want to buy seed that will grow.”
Just outside the lab, green fields spread for 200 acres. Irrigation sprinklers hiss on the fields of hay and grasses that are being grown to provide even more seeds for research, cleaning and sale. Something to think about next time you buy a head of Alaska Grown lettuce. Not surprisingly, some of the Center’s research is aimed at potatoes. The Mat Valley is known for its potatoes, but to ensure that quality is upheld, the Center works to provide certified disease – free seed spuds.
The town of Wrangell, once called the “sleeping giant,” has seen an awakening of its native culture and history.
It began with the Shakes tribal house rededication in May. Last month, it hosted both a national traditional foods conference and a Tlingit basketball camp for kids.
In early August, a group of people headed to the original Tlingit settlement 25 miles from present-day Wrangell—for a language and culture camp. It was the first time Tlingit was spoken in Old Town in 65 years.
Nineteen-year-old Sarah Williams-Churchill is leading me into the middle of the forest.
“You show no fear. Don’t be afraid to walk into the berry patch and get it,” Sarah said. “Because that’s where all the good ones are—deep in the middle—you have to fight for them.”
We’re surrounded by tall spruce trees, and we’re doing what she does best – hunting for salmonberries.
“But it’s the little things in life and for me, it’s berries,” Sarah said.
She’s one of about 15 people at a culture camp on Southern Wrangell Island.
The purpose is to perpetuate elders’ traditional knowledge of Wrangell.
Virginia Oliver is the camp coordinator.
Along with teaching about traditional foods and crafts, Oliver wants the camp to focus on language.
“It’s my dream to speak the language—to not let it die,” Virginia said. “I believe that the language is the foundation of our culture; it’s who we are.”
Oliver invited two elders, Florence Marks Sheakley and Ruth Demmert, to come and teach. Both are fluent speakers of Tlingit.
The first evening, the campers sit around in a circle and introduce themselves. Sheakley says this is important, both linguistically and culturally.
“They have to find out for themselves what clan they are, what child they are, and who their grandparents are. This is education for them. After they learn all this then they realize they do have a place in the community. They do belong somewhere. And this gives them pride,” Florence said.
Sarah Williams-Churchill thinks her Tlingit name is Kwakseek, but she’s not sure what it means, or if she’s even pronouncing it right.
She got her name from her grandmother, the last Tlingit speaker in her family.
“Yea, I got my first and my middle name from her. I got her Tlingit name. She meant a lot to me. And I wish I had more years to spend with her but everyone has their time to go. I guess it’s like she passed away before we could figure it out,” Sarah said.
So for the last 10 years, she’s been searching for the meaning of her name.
“My mom tried but she herself didn’t know a lot of it because her mom grew up in the lost generation and she partially did too,” Sarah said.
The number of Tlingit language speakers plummeted in the 20th century.
A 2000 UNESCO study estimated fewer than 300 fluent speakers left.
And that was 13 years ago. Ruth Demmert has seen the change.
“I’m not too sure. I think you call it progress. In order to progress in the society nowadays, English was enforced. And along the way, people got lost and started just to speak English. It’s important that it’s being reintroduced because we do not, do not want to lose our language,” Ruth said.
And Sarah wants to find her name. She asks the elders for help.
“When we first met her, the way she was saying it just didn’t sound right,” Sarah said. “So Ruth and I had her saying the name over and over.”
Sheakley says that sometimes when a name is spelled, important sounds are left out.
“And they were taught to say it like this and maybe they couldn’t pronounce the sounds that they heard either and that changes the name completely. But we finally came across what we thought they meant,” Florence said.
Like her grandmother before her, her name is Berry Basket Daughter.
“Now that I know what our name meant, it changed my life,” Sarah said. “It almost broke my heart.”
And she says, knowing her name is only the beginning of learning her identity.
“Ten years of pronouncing it wrong. I was at the point of thinking this is something that might never be found. And then to go to culture camp and find it. All that searching’s done, what do I do now? I figure out the rest of myself. I figure out my lineage. I find out how to speak it and how to be it,” Sarah said. “I heard that we’ll never not be anything than who we are. Tlingit people. It will never go away.”
Virginia Oliver says experiences like this culture camp strengthen a community as a whole.
Through the camp, she and the elders have created a Tlingit Phrase of the Week to air on the radio in Wrangell.
Demmert says she thinks the future now holds promise.
“Our culture will survive if the language is included,” she said. “We feel that this is really important.”
And she hopes, it will only get stronger with each generation to come.
There are a lot of rules if you want to gather signatures to get something on the ballot. You have to be at least 18. You can’t share your petition booklet with other people. And you have to be a resident of the state of Alaska. Now, a man from Wisconsin wants that last part of the law struck down, and he’s taking his case to court.
Friday morning the Alaska Air National Guard used some special tactics and equipment to successfully pull off a rescue in the Brooks Range north of Anaktuvuk Pass, where a hunting guide was mauled by a brown bear.
James Tuttle was mauled on Wednesday and his guiding company flew in with a paramedic to treat him but feared they couldn’t get him out without endangering his life so they called for help.
The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center worked out of Eielson Air Force Base with a C-130 dropping flares to guide a helicopter through the pass and to the site. They also re-fueled the helicopter in the air.
Returning, they went back to Eielson because of limited visibility at the Fairbanks hospital, and Tuttle was transported from the base to the hospital, where he’s reported to be recovering.
The number of ships through the Bering Strait grew 118 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
As nations attempt to stake claims for rich Arctic resources, the U.S. currently has little presence there. The Coast Guard has two ice breakers capable of operating in the region. That’s four short of the six required to fulfill the agency’s mission in both the Arctic and Antarctic.
One of those cutters, the Polar Star, is back in service after a major rebuild.
Here’s a look as part of our occasional series on Coast Guard cutters that visit Juneau.
Several staggered metal ladders aft the bridge go straight up to a perch called the Aloft Conning Station.
“We have a 360 degree view. That allows us to pick a good way through the ice.”
Kenneth Boda is Executive Officer aboard the Coast Guard heavy ice breaker Polar Star. It’s his third ice breaker tour.
“Typically when you are an ice breaker, you don’t want to break ice. You want to avoid ice as much as possible. So you look for the open water leads and being up there allows you to pick the path of least resistance.”
The Aloft Con is 110 feet above waterline on the Polar Star, under the command of Capt. George Pellissier.
“Most of the time in the ice you’re driving from there,” he explained during a recent interview when the ship stopped in Juneau after Arctic ice trials.
Pellissier will command the ship to Antarctica this winter.
The ice breaker’s primary mission there is to resupplyMcMurdo Station, the largest U.S. research station at the South Pole and the logistics center for other Antarctic facilities. Pellissier said two-thirds of the job is transit time. Then there’s the ice.
“You have to break a channel through the fast ice, which is ice that’s attached to the land, and then you have to make a channel straight enough and wide enough to get a container ship and a tanker in,” he said.
“I’ve seen it as much as 85 miles of ice and as little as 12.”
The upcoming Antarctic trip – called the Deep Freeze mission — will be the first in recent years for a U.S. ice breaker. The Coast Guard has had to lease Swedish and Russian ice breakers.
The latest study prepared for the Coast Guard indicates the need for three medium and three heavy ice breakers to fulfill U.S. statutory duties in the polar regions.
The Arctic poses the most immediate challenge.
The Coast Guard is responsible for law enforcement, search and rescue, security, and environmental protection where many nations want to drill, mine, fish, and tour. The ice breakers are also scientific research platforms. U.S. Homeland Security predicts a million adventure tourists could visit the Arctic this year.
Other nations have government and commercial ice breakers operating in the region year around. Commander Pellissier points to the region on a large map in his Polar Star office.
“As we come up the Bering Strait and then we head off to the west, all along the North coast of Russia, that’s already a viable route,” he said. “And that’s where you find a large number of Russia’s ice breakers plying that route to keep it open.”
The window is narrow now, but as the ice diminishes ships could go through the Chukchi and Beaufort seas to the Northwest Passage, linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
“If the ice continues to recede, which most scientists are predicting it will, then that route will also become much more viable in the future, pretty much cutting through all the small islands up in the northern part of Canada, and then down through the Labrador Sea and down the East Coast,” Pellissier said.
The new National Security Cutters are the core of the Coast Guard fleet. Despite their versatility, they can’t cut ice.
“They have a very limited window of time they can operate, particularly up in the North Bering and beyond. The ice breakers, particularly our heavy ice breakers, can stay up there year around,” Pellissier said.
Multiple studies indicate the U.S. needs a year-round presence in the Arctic. Existing ice breaker capacity is not enough, even with additional non-ice cutters and aircraft, more operating locations and improved communication and navigation systems.
A committee has been organized in Anchorage to explore the possibility of the city hosting the Olympics in 2026. Mayor Dan Sullivan will lead the Anchorage Olympic Winter Games Exploratory Committee.