Peter Nestler has been hooked on jumping rope since second grade, when he saw an exhibition at Glacier Valley Elementary School.
In third grade, he joined the Juneau Jumpers. By the time he finished high school, he had helped his team win seven world championships.
Now 33 and living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Nestler has come full circle. He’ll perform his world class rope and unicycle skills for a new generation at Glacier Valley on Friday.
“It’s where I learned to jump rope,” he said. “I was on the team there, pretty much my entire learning curve was at Glacier Valley. So it’s kind of neat, and I was thinking about where to do these records. And I was like, you know, it would be kind of cool to have one where I actually started.”
During the show, the Ketchikan native hopes to set a new world record for most bum skips in 30 seconds.
That’s right, bum skips. Nestler explains:
“Basically, you’re seated with your feet out in front of you, and you’re jumping while you’re sitting down,” he said. “For this particular record … you hold both handles in one hand, so the rope’s basically cut in half. And then you spin the rope so it’s making kind of like a helicopter motion, but it’s going, it’s staying on the ground and you’re jumping over that with every jump.”
The current record is 82, according to the Guinness World Records press office.
He already holds the record for most rope skips on a unicycle in one minute: 237. Nestler hopes to set a total of 11 new world records this year, three of them in Juneau in the next six days.
And yes, this is his day job. He’s been professionally unicycling, jumping rope, and spreading a kid friendly motivational message around the world since 2002.
“A lot of people look at people like me that are professional or really good at something and they just think, ‘Oh, you know, he’s just born that way,’” Nestler said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, no.’ I’m definitely one of the people, I don’t pick stuff up quickly, but I work very, very hard, and the reason I’m good at stuff is I practice more than anybody else at something.”
Separately, he performs for churches and youth ministries with a faith-based message. He said his faith and relationship with God has helped him get where he is today.
He’ll perform next Wednesday at the Hub, an after school program at the Juneau Christian Center. There, he hopes to beat the record for the most rope skips while juggling a soccer ball in one minute. That’s 31.
He’ll also try to for the speed record for running a mile on one foot while jumping rope. The time to beat is 34 minutes, 1 second.
Constant conditioning and performing hundreds of shows a year inevitably leads to aches and pains. Add the grueling travel schedule, and he’s questioned his career.
“You definitely have those moments where you’re thinking, ‘Well, is this really the kind of job you want?’”
So far, the answer has been yes.
“But at the end, when you get out and you’re performing, you just kind of see the look on these kids’ faces,” he said. “They see me out there jumpin’, and you kind of see sometimes, those light bulbs kick off behind their heads. It’s like, you know, this really is what I like to do and I love the opportunity to do it,” he said.
Wrangell will soon be featured in National Geographic Traveler Magazine. KSTK’s Shady Grove Oliver caught up with the photographer working on the article yesterday and sent back this report.
Does Arkansas have a health care solution that would work in Alaska? The state’s Health and Social Services Commissioner, Bill Streur, is looking into that. Arkansas wants to use federal Medicaid expansion money under the Affordable Care Act to enroll people in private plans on its health insurance exchange.
It’s called the “private option” for Medicaid expansion. Instead of enrolling low-income, uninsured people in Medicaid, Arkansas would buy them insurance plans on the state’s health insurance exchange. Alaska Commissioner Bill Streur thinks it makes a lot of sense:
“It’s an intriguing model. If we can get more insurance through this, we ought to at least be in open dialogue with the federal government on this.”
Streur says he hasn’t spoken with Governor Parnell about the idea. But he says Arkansas’s plan addresses Parnell’s biggest problem with the expansion- that it leaves the state vulnerable to paying huge sums for the Medicaid program down the road. Parnell spoke with APRN about the issue in January:
“My concern is really that we not expand a program that the federal government can cut its funding to, but require us to continue and take over the federal share.”
Commissioner Streur says the Arkansas plan makes it easy for states to pull out of the expansion if that happens.
The Medicaid expansion starts in January, with the federal government paying for 100% of the program for the first three years. The federal government hasn’t approved the Arkansas model, but has worked with the state to draft the necessary waiver application. The Health and Human Services department has said it will consider approving a limited number of Arkansas style plans as demonstration projects. And Alaska isn’t the only state closely watching what happens in Arkansas, according to Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors:
“A lot of states are looking at this and saying if this really works in Arkansas, we’d like to try this.”
Salo says the Medicaid expansion would bring a lot of federal money into states. But he says the decision on whether to expand the program is a delicate one for many Republican Governors:
“A significant portion of them are amenable to expanding coverage if they can find a more politically or philosophically preferable approach, something that looks more like the private sector than it does a big government expansion.”
The Medicaid expansion would offer coverage to about 50,000 uninsured, low-income Alaskans. Susan Johnson is the regional director for the federal Department of Health and Human Services. She says the government is very open to negotiating with Alaska officials about what type of Medicaid expansion would work in the state:
“It’s not just, I want an Arkansas model, it’s what is best for the state itself… So Arkansas may come up with elements that Alaska would like, but there would be particular elements for Alaska that will be different from Arkansas. It’s just that we need to start that conversation.”
Commissioner Streur says he hopes to deliver a briefing to Governor Parnell about the Medicaid expansion decision in October.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
The Coast Guard icebreaker Healy is on its annual mission in the ice pack north of Barrow. Next month a group of technology specialists will come aboard with drones and submersibles to test arctic oil spill response capabilities.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council met in Kotzebue last week. It was the first meeting there since a general assembly in 1986. Members from Russia, Greenland and Canada joined their Alaskan counterparts to discuss ongoing concerns for indigenous people in the north. ICC formed in 1977. Jim Stotts is the ICC Alaska President. He says the regional groups have grown and are much more capable of addressing the concerns of the indigenous people they represent. ICC is also part of the eight nation Arctic Council. He says increasingly, they are being listened to on perennial issues such as climate change, subsistence and oil and gas development. Stotts says the federal government worked with them while developing the new national arctic policy.
“We feel like they are listening to us. At the Arctic Council level, where we have a right to participate in all levels of meetings including the ministerial meeting where you have folks such as Hillary Clinton or Secretary John Kerry at the meetings, very high level meetings. So I feel that we are being listened to and that we’re having an impact.”
Stotts says the rush to develop oil and gas resources in the arctic coupled with the prospect of increased vessel traffic means indigenous people need to be at the table for discussions about how to proceed as well as how to garner economic development for arctic communities. He says ICC contributed to an Arctic Council document called the Polar Code that was given to the International Maritime Organization.
“To address the special, unique nature of the arctic ocean, particularly ice and ship building codes and how to handle waste fuel and so forth. So, the arctic council is together with us and the observers which would include countries like China and the UK to come up with a plan and a way to do things safely that will benefit no only those countries but also the people that live in the north. So it’s important that this work is done before the mad rush for development.”
There is growing pressure from non arctic nations such as China to have a seat on the arctic council. ICC Greenland President Aqqaluk Lynge says there are important rules for how participants can operate within the arctic council, but he says there has to be acceptance of the interest from outside nations.
“Here the observers have a seat and if they also understand the situation of indigenous peoples of the arctic, then it’s good for us and it would help us to have more friends outside that would support indigenous peoples right to land, resources and our future culture.”
Lynge says the rapid growth of mining in Greenland is raising concerns over the community impacts from a large influx of outside workers. Concerns that both men say, will become a growing reality in Alaska and the other member countries as arctic resource development ramps up.
Over the past ten years, state education funding has more than doubled while student enrollment has stayed about the same. Still, educational outcomes haven’t seen dramatic improvement. This week, lawmakers got together to ask why that is. The information they received in these meetings could shape a fight over education funding that’s expected to play out this next legislative session.
Communities that were hit by last fall’s floods do not need to start heading for high ground, yet. Rivers are rising in the Mat-Su and Anchorage, but major flooding is not expected right now.
The Matanuska Susitna Borough is working on a plan to dry-dock the ferry Susitna in Cook Inlet. But the move would cost the borough more than one million dollars.
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.