APRN Alaska News
The Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska is experiencing a rare November breakup. Temperatures were cold in early November but over the past several days, temperatures have reached into the 40s and even the 50s in some places along the river.
Celina Van Breukelen is a hydrologist with the National Weather Service and the River Forecast Center in Anchorage. She says they’ve had reports of the ice moving at Napaimute and Aniak.
“There seems to be some sort of a localized breakup at some locations on the river. We don’t expect it to have a flood impact. We don’t think that the ice is thick enough or that the water levels are high enough to really create a flood event, more of just some local breaking up that’s happening,” said Van Breukelen.
The situation has thousands of residents in a transportation standstill as they wait for the Kuskokwim to freeze into a safe road for travel. Van Breukelen says the forecast calls for temperatures to begin dropping below freezing at night and that should slow down melting.
“That should help slow that process down a lot. Not expecting to see a lot of precip that’s going to add a lot of precip that’s into the river and there should not be a whole lot of snow to melt, so not expecting to see much more input into the river over the next few days,” said Van Breukelen.
Mark Leary, who lives in Napaimute, says this is the third time he’s seen a November breakup – besides this year, it’s happened in 2002 and 2010. He says it’s different than a spring one, especially how it sounds.
“It’s real hard and it sounds like rocks moving. There’s no needle ice like in the springtime to soften some of the sound. Rocks tumbling down a hillside, rocks gritting, rocks grinding. The difference now as opposed to a spring breakup, the night is long you know. You don’t know what’s happening during the night, you know it’s like 14 hours of darkness and you don’t know what’s going on – you can hear it but you don’t know and it’s a little bit scary,” said Leary.
Leary says although the National Weather Service is not calling for flooding now, if ice jams form near villages and re-freeze, it could mean trouble this spring.
“That’s what happened at Crooked Creek in 2010, it broke up in November right around Thanksgiving and then it jammed a few miles below their village and refroze and boy, that jam was hard as a rock. So the next spring, 2011 that jam couldn’t melt as fast as the regular ice. And that’s what caused the new jam in the spring of 2011 that hit Crooked Creek really hard,” said Leary.
A pilot flew the Kuskokwim River today to assess the extent of the breakup and reports an ice jam below Aniak. National Weather Service officials say some local surges of water are expected as the ice runs. They say people should move belongings and equipment away from the river, but they do not expect high enough water to impact homes or roads. Alaska State Troopers are warning people not to travel on the river.
Tonight in Anchorage the YWCA will present the 25th annual Women of Achievement award to 10 Alaskan women who have helped others. Some as well known news makers and others, who have quietly gone about the tasks of improving the lives of those around them, without much attention. Hilary Morgan is the YWCA’s CEO. She says the women’s advocacy organization has a theme for this year’s event of honoring the past, inspiring the future.
What Was Alaska’s Senate Race Money Spent On?
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC
More than $57 million was spent on Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, which comes to about $230 per vote cast, and the campaigns aren’t done reporting their spending totals.
U.S., Russian Focus On Bering Sea Issues
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
Russia’s already strained diplomatic relationship with the U.S. is degrading further amid renewed reports of a military presence in the Ukraine. But a conference underway in Anchorage this week is trying to work around sanctions and rhetoric in order to focus on mutual interests in the Bering Sea. The delegation from Russia is in Alaska to prepare for oil spills and increased marine traffic in the region.
Tremors and Ash Seen at Pavlof Volcano
Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska
Pavlof Volcano is awake again on the Alaska Peninsula.
Horizon Lines to Sell Alaska Operations
Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska
After years of financial difficulties, Horizon Lines is breaking up. The shipping company has announced to plans to shut down or sell its domestic routes — including service to Alaska.
LNG Trucking Plan May Not Hit Targeted Consumer Price Point
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The latest numbers show a state plan to truck North Slope natural gas to Fairbanks may not hit a targeted consumer price point. Officials updated the public on the project Wednesday, and they‘re optimistic they can bring down the price.
Girdwood Animal Cruelty Investigation
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Animal control officers have seized 12 emaciated husky dogs from a home in Girdwood. Officers on Wednesday also found a dog at the home that had died.
Warm Weather Breaks Up Kuskokwim River
Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel
The Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska is experiencing a rare November breakup. Temperatures were cold in early November but over the past several days, temperatures have reached into the 40s and even the 50s in some places along the River.
YWCA Presents 25th Annual Women of Achievement Awards
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Tonight in Anchorage the YWCA will present the 25th annual Women of Achievement award to ten Alaskan women who have helped others. Some as well known news makers and others, who have quietly gone about the tasks of improving the lives of those around them, without much attention. Hilary Morgan is the YWCA’s CEO. She says the women’s advocacy organization has a theme for this year’s event of honoring the past, inspiring the future.
Animal control officers have seized 12 emaciated husky dogs from a home in Girdwood. Officers on Wednesday also found a dog at the home that had died.
Anchorage Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Laura Atwood (confirms that) *says* the animal control office received a tip by email that the dogs were being neglected.
“The dogs were brought here to Anchorage Animal Care and Control Wednesday evening. They are in our care, they are being seen by a veterinarian today, and they are being cared for by our kennel staff. ”
Officers accompanied by Alaska State Troopers visited the home Wednesday afternoon. Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says the matter is under investigation, and that Troopers will have no further comment until the investigation is complete. No charges have been filed.
Atwood says that when officers reached the home, there was no owner present.
“To the best of my knowledge, the owner was not present when the dog was taken.”
She would not say how the dead dog died.
Atwood says Anchorage Animal Care and Control is ready to help if there is any suspicion of cruelty or neglect of domestic animals.
Enstar gas prices won’t change much for the next 7 months. Rates will hold steady at just under 78 cents per hundred cubic feet starting in January. That’s 5 and half cents over current rates and about the same as last winter. For an average household on an average month, that’s a $6.70 increase.
Company spokesperson John Sims says the rate is about average for the past five years. Gas costs will continue to rise slightly because of inflation.
Over the past year, the company’s gas cost adjustment swung from about 76 cents per 100 cubic feet of gas in the winter to 46 cents in the spring then back up again for summer. Community members expressed concern about the swings during a meeting with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska this summer.
The rate dropped slightly this fall to 71 cents. According to regulatory filings, the company is still trying to make up for a $5 million dollar deficit in the Gas Cost Balancing Account.
The second quarter drop to 46 cents was an anomaly.
To prevent such large fluctuations in the future, the company is reverting to a yearly cost adjustment instead of quarterly. They’re working their way toward that goal by making a 6-month adjustment that will go into effect in January.
Sims says yearly adjustments will start in July 2015 so people can set their budgets before the cold winter months.
The state is sending an emergency generator to Tuluksak, which has not had power since Friday afternoon.
Jeremy Zidek is with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He said Wednesday afternoon that the exact plan for bringing out the generator was still in the works.
“Once it’s on the ground they will be able to hook it up and have it operation within a few hours,” Zidek said. “We’re just really looking at different transportation options.”
Zidek says the Tribal Council has not expressed any emergency concerns, but tribal leaders are worried about food in people’s freezers thawing.
The Alaska Energy Authority has had a person on the ground since Monday to work on the generator, which broke down Friday. Residents say the post office is closed due to the power outage. The community is also dealing with phone and Internet issues, according to sources. The school principal says they have power from a generator and school is in session. Zidek says local individuals are working to share what power sources they do have.
“They are working with residents to identify where local generators are, where they can share the temporary power capability among neighbors,” Zidek said.
The community of nearly 400 people is located more than 50 river miles above Bethel. The ADN reports that GCI had sent a technician there to troubleshoot the phone and Internet issues. KYUK has been unable to reach the Tuluksak Traditional Power Utility.
Pavlof Volcano is awake again on the Alaska Peninsula.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory reports that Pavlof, “has entered a new phase of eruptive activity.” Wednesday night, they upgraded the volcano from ‘normal’ to ‘watch’ status – the middle tier of their system, indicating heightened unrest.
The AVO reports that Pavlof is spewing ash up to 9,000 feet above sea level, visible in neighboring Cold Bay. Scientists also saw increased seismic activity at the volcano Wednesday afternoon.
Pavlof is one of the most active volcanos in the state, but it has been quiet since June, when it erupted for about a week. During that event, Pavlof sent up an ash plume more than 20,000 feet above sea level and caused a string of local flight cancellations.
The volcano’s eruptions have been known to escalate quickly, according to the AVO. They can last just a few days, or as long as several weeks.
An appeals court has tossed out a request by Shell Oil to block future challenges from environmental groups against Arctic drilling operations.
Shell filed the lawsuit against 13 environmental and tribal organizations back in 2012. The oil company wanted a formal declaration that its government-approved spill response plans were legal. They hoped it would help them block hypothetical lawsuits down the road.
But the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said any challenges would have to go through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which approves Shell’s plans, rather than Shell itself. The court said it would be unconstitutional for Shell to determine the winner of court battles between BOEM and other groups that haven’t even happened yet.
The National Resource Defense Council was one group Shell was suing. In a statement, director Chuck Clusen said, “Shell was attempting to quash dissent and circumvent due process. It didn’t work – our legal system prevailed.”
The decision leaves the door open for groups like the NRDC to take potential legal action against Shell’s prospects in the Arctic. That’s as the company tries to secure more federal approvals for a 2015 drilling season in the Chukchi Sea.
A Bethel man has accepted a plea deal for sexual abuse of minors.
Eighteen charges against 66-year old Daniel Kashatok were consolidated into a charge of 2nd degree sexual assault of a minor and one 2nd degree count of attempted sexual assault of a minor.
Kashatok was originally charged with a total of 22 counts. With the guilty plea, the remaining counts were dismissed.
The charges stem from incidents between 2006 and 2010. Some of them reportedly happened at the Bethel Native Corporation building in Bethel where Kashatok worked. KYUK, in 2012, cited documents referencing 12 victims, of which 11 were under the age of 13.
Judge Charles Ray asked that Kashatok be held in the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center until sentencing after a request from Kashatok’s public defender. He’s been in jail in Anchorage. Sentencing is set for March 27 with Judge Ray.
There was a hearing in the Fairbanks Four case Monday. The hearing in state court was requested by the Alaska Innocence Project, which is attempting to overturn guilty convictions of George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent, the 4 men imprisoned for the 1997 beating death of John Hartman.
A new study theorizes that there could be more frequent and more violent storms accompanied by increased flooding and erosion in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta over the next 50 to 100 years due to climate change. The study by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska used remote sensing technology along with traditional knowledge and observations from local Native people.
Alaska scientists used satellite images to look through clouds during storms and for the first time could see how far tidal flooding on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta extended inland. It was much farther than they imagined.
“It’s really extensive, it can go just about 20 miles inland during these really large storm events. So it covers a very large portion of the outer Delta,” said Jorgenson.
That’s Torre Jorgenson, a landscape ecologist and adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and co-author of the study. Scientists examined storm-flooding events in the Bering Sea region of western Alaska from 1913 to 2011 and found that the largest events occurred in autumn and were associated with high tides and strong southwest winds. The data allowed them to map and document the extent of the region’s flooding for the first time. Jorgenson’s projections show sea level could rise 1-3 feet in the region over the next 100 years and that the region will likely see an increase in the frequency of flooding in coastal areas to a monthly basis.
“The study also looked at the retreat of sea ice”, Jorgenson says, because it dampens the affects of storm surges in the winter. A delay of freeze-up of the Bering Sea during the winter could allow big storms and significant surges to extend into December and January. Dr. Craig Ely is a Research Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and co-author of the study.
“Over a couple of days what happens is the tide comes up and then the wind pushes the tide inland even more. And then the winds are so high the tide doesn’t get a chance to leave and so the water just basically builds up over a couple of days. You know I’ve been out in some of the smaller storms when we’ve been kind of stranded out there and there’s just no low tide, it just keeps getting higher and higher,” said Ely.
Winter storms could have huge impacts: freshwater habitats converting to salt water, heavy sediment smothering vegetation, low lying permafrost plateaus collapsing, and villages eroding away.
81-year-old Leo Moses, of Chevak, was born about 30 miles South in Kashunik where he remembers a huge flood changed everything.
“And then after the flood had gone, for some years, the village itself started to sink. I think it was that the permafrost underneath the village was melting so it had nothing to hold it up and it started sinking it,” Moses.
The flood forced the village to move to old Chevak in the mid 1940s when Moses was about 7. The BIA then moved the village to what is now Chevak. Moses says he has no doubt he’s seeing climate change.
“Yeah, I’m seeing climate change every year. Man, the permafrost is going. Eventually we won’t have any permafrost. Ice up north, the ones that never used to melt start melting and there’s more water. What kind of future we have, I have no slightest idea,” said Moses.
Jorgenson points to the village Newtok, the first modern western Alaska village to initiate their own relocation, to Nelson Island, due to climate change. Jorgenson says warming temperatures and increased flooding will impact the Y-K region in his lifetime.
“I’m anticipating that most of the permafrost in this region will disappear in the next 30-50 years and storm surges help accelerate this loss by killing the vegetation,” said Jorgenson.
Both Ely and Jorgenson say their work provides a baseline on which more science can build. The findings of the study are in the most recent issue of the journal, Arctic.
The Division of Elections tallied 20,000 uncounted ballots on Tuesday. When workers turned the machines off at 10pm, unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker had increased his lead over Republican Gov. Sean Parnell to 4,000 votes. With a Walker win looking more likely, a transition team is being formed to prepare for a December 1 inauguration. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Bill Walker and his running mate Byron Mallott were quick to name the leaders of the transition team at a Wednesday afternoon press conference at their Anchorage campaign headquarters. First came Ana Hoffman – co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives, CEO of the Bethel Native Corporation, and a Democrat. Next, they introduced Rick Halford – former president of the state Senate, resident of Aleknakik and Chugiak, and a Republican.
But that’s about as specific as they got on the transition team. After already being pushed multiple times by multiple reporters to explain what exactly the team wanted to accomplish, Rachel D’Oro from the Associated Press again asked for a game plan. This time, from lieutenant governor candidate Byron Mallott.
D’ORO: I’m feeling that it’s just a little vague from what all of you have said. Concretely, what is this team going to do? Are they going to come up with a list of possible personnel? What is the end result going to be of this team?
MALLOTT: You know, that’s something that we’ve pondered ourselves. *laughter*
Walker and Mallott clarified that the transition team will not be tasked with selecting commissioners, but they themselves will separately name a cabinet within days of formally winning election. Walker said he had talked with Gov. Sean Parnell about what the logistics of a transition would look like.
Transition co-chair Ana Hoffman said her team’s focus will instead be on policy.
“Arctic policy and climate change, consumer energy, corrections, economic development, education, fiscal policy, and fisheries,” listed Hoffman. “Of course, these are all very large, significant topics.”
Co-chair Rick Halford added that the idea is to get stakeholders in those areas to hash out possible courses of action, and there will be more specifics once the race is called.
“A transition is vague, and it’s particularly vague when you don’t have final results, and you have a week or two to deal with the final issue. So yes, you’re right it is vague,” said Halford. “But you shouldn’t be afraid to ask a question, because the question’s vague and the answers may be vague.”
Walker himself echoed that point.
“I apologize for the vagueness of it, but this is a different process because of the nature of the timing,” said Walker.
Walker also emphasized that even though a transition team is being formed, the campaign is still waiting on further results from the Division of Elections. The Parnell campaign plans to do the same.
Elections workers will count more absentee and questioned ballots on Friday, with counts also scheduled for next week if necessary. More than 30,000 ballots still need to be processed.
Longtime Juneau service agency Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, or SAGA, may not have enough money to keep operating.
The nonprofit has 18 AmeriCorps members in Anchorage, Juneau, Seward, Cordova and Yakutat. It also works outdoors with young people through programs that are now in a state of flux.
SAGA recently lost staff members after a series of resignations and layoffs and is in the process of moving out of its main shop and office.
When George McGuan joined SAGA’s board of directors in March, he had no idea the organization was in a financial hole. He says the board informed him in July that SAGA was $250,000 in debt.
“I was blown away. I was like, ‘OK, we’re a non-profit. How are we $250,000 in debt?’ And they just kind of seemed like, ‘Well, that’s how we operate,’” McGuan says.
SAGA was founded in 1986 with a mission to foster development through hands-on learning. Its programs, Alaska Service Corps and Connections, bring AmeriCorps volunteers to Alaska. That’s how McGuan first came to Juneau in 2005.
He says the debt stems from many years ago, but the organization started falling apart this year. McGuan describes the process as people jumping ship.
“Our board of directors had our president quit and the organization itself had three people leave right in the middle of the summer. And then our executive director decided to quit because of the stress level, so we were kind of left holding the bag there with no real organization left,” McGuan says.
SAGA staff who left included an office coordinator and finance manager. When Executive Director Beverly Schoonover gave her letter of resignation in July, McGuan says the board tried at first to find a replacement, but that search has stopped.
Schoonover left in October for a state job after two and a half years with SAGA. Longtime employee Justin Fantasia also left around the same time. He had worked for SAGA since 2003.
“I was just really concerned that there wasn’t going to be a transition from executive director to executive director and that there was a lot of uncertainty whether the organization is going to continue on. I was not formally in a director position but I was in a leadership position. I didn’t want to find myself at the helm when things were going down,” Fantasia says.
Most recently, Fantasia was the manager of SAGA’s House Build program, a partnership with Juneau-Douglas High School, the school district and Juneau Housing Trust. Its goal is to build affordable housing.
He was the general contractor and experiential educator for high school students. Funding for his position came from the school district.
“When the House Build program wasn’t able to find land, which was not SAGA’s responsibility, but it was just sort of the partnership as a whole, I let everybody know that I was totally ready to be laid off if it was necessary,” Fantasia says. “It’s hard for SAGA to carry me as a staff person without that program revenue.”
SAGA is no longer part of the House Build program, which is moving forward and working with the city to purchase land. Fantasia, now an adjunct instructor at University of Alaska Southeast, still plans to help lead the construction.
SAGA’s board has been trying to find another organization to take over Connections and its AmeriCorps members. Lawrence Blood with the Division of Community and Regional Affairs, which supports Serve Alaska, says any nonprofit or city government would be eligible, but a transfer would have to be approved.
“Hopefully, the discussions that the board is having has as little impact on the members as possible. And if it does change to a different organization, we hope to make that process as seamless as possible,” Blood says.
The board also doesn’t know if it’ll continue to operate Juneau’s Eagle Valley Center, an outdoor education and retreat facility located out the road. The City and Borough of Juneau owns the center and has had a use agreement with SAGA since 1992. The latest agreement goes through 2016.
The city’s parks and landscape superintendent George Schaaf says SAGA has had trouble meeting terms of the agreement and asked to renegotiate. SAGA has talked to other organizations about partnering to run the center.
“I know that they’re going through some stuff right now and basically they’ve just assured me that they’re taking care of the building, keeping the heat on, keeping the road plowed, that kind of thing,” Schaaf says.
Fantasia describes SAGA’s turbulence as a culmination of many factors associated with the non-profit world – the rollercoaster of grant funding, administrative burdens of grants, high turnover of staff.
“There’s been no questionable use of finances. It’s just a long history of trying to get by,” Fantasia says.
He says SAGA’s outlook is grim, but Fantasia is hopeful its legacy will continue with or without SAGA.
“What they’ve done for 25 years is provide young people with a chance to get out and work on meaningful hands-on projects in a different environment, so go out and work on trails projects, get out to different parts of the state, come in from the villages and work in these teams of young people, have some positive role models in their life,” Fantasia says.
Acting board chair Matt Smith says the board is fighting as hard as it can to keep SAGA alive but he doesn’t know if it’ll be operating after this year. When asked if he feels any responsibility for SAGA’s current trouble, Smith had no comment.
Full disclosure: George Schaaf is a member of the KTOO Board of Directors.
Walkers Starts Forming Transition Team
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN
The Division of Elections counted 20,000 outstanding ballots yesterday. When they turned the machines off at 10pm, unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker had increased his lead to 4,000 votes over Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. With a Walker win looking more likely, a transition team is being formed to prepare for a December 1 inauguration.
With Persistent Lead, Sullivan Heads to Washington
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC
Republican Dan Sullivan has a persistent lead in Alaska’s U.S. Senate race. Today, according to his campaign spokesman, he’s en route to Washington.
Health Insurers Look Ahead To Open Enrollment Period
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The three month open enrollment period for the federal health care exchange begins this Saturday, November 15th. The two insurers offering plans on healthcare.gov in Alaska have very different projections on how many people will sign up for coverage for 2015.
New Hearing Held On Fairbanks Four Case
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
There was a hearing in the Fairbanks Four case Monday. The hearing in state court was requested by the Alaska Innocence Project, which is attempting to overturn guilty convictions of George Frese, Kevin Pease , Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent, the four men imprisoned for the 1997 beating death of John Hartman.
Alaska Study Predicts Stronger Storms, Flooding for Y-K Delta
Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel
A new study shows there could be more frequent and more violent storms accompanied by increased flooding and erosion in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta over the next 50 to 100 years due to Climate Change. The study by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska relied on remote sensing technology along with observations from local Native people.
After nearly 30 years, Juneau service agency SAGA on verge of folding
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Longtime Juneau service agency Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, or SAGA, may not have enough money to keep operating. The nonprofit has 18 AmeriCorps members in Anchorage, Juneau, Seward, Cordova and Yakutat. It also works outdoors with young people through programs that are now in a state of flux.
Bethel Winter House Faces Difficulties As Board Members Prepare For the Second Season
Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel
The Bethel Winter House provided overnight shelter and hot meals to the homeless living in Bethel last winter. Board members want to open the homeless shelter at the beginning of December, but have to overcome some challenges first.
When War Images Are Replaced With Something New
Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg
Veterans were honored yesterday for the time they served the country. One Vietnam veteran in Petersburg has found healing by going back to the country that was once only known to him as a place of danger and destruction.
The Bethel Winter House underwent its pilot project last winter, providing overnight shelter and hot meals to the homeless living in Bethel, possibly saving lives. Board members want to open the homeless shelter at the beginning of December, but have some challenges to overcome in order for that happen.
Eva Malvich is the President of the Bethel Winter House, or Uksumi Uqisvik in Yup’ik. She says, before they open, they have to find and train enough volunteers.
“We need a minimum of 60 based on how we did last year, and we are having a heck of a time getting people to sign up. If we don’t have 60 people signed up by the end of November we are going to have to meet as a board and decide whether we can open it or not,” said Malvich
Malvich says according to their policy, there will have to be two volunteers each night to run the shelter. She says volunteers will work twice per month, overnight, from 9pm until 7am.
Last year, Malvich says they ran the shelter with 20 volunteers and that wasn’t enough. They were overworked and burnt out. She doesn’t want that to happen again. As of Monda, November 10, ten volunteers have been trained so far, that leaves fifty more that have to be trained by the end of the month.
With winter ahead, Malvic says the community needs to get more involved for the hundred or so homeless living in Bethel to have a safe, warm place to stay.
“The whole purpose for this winter house is to prevent death by exposure for people in this community. There’s no reason why somebody should die from exposure because we’re in the 21st century. We have a big group of people in this community that experience homelessness. Last year there was a count of 100 people and 36 of those are children. It’s a community solution to a community problem.”
Malvic says the shelter has some good news on the funding front. Winter House officials announced last week that Conoco Phillips is contributing $5,000, the biggest donation yet. That brings the winter house one step closer to their goal of hiring a part time volunteer coordinator. There is also a possibility that the shelter will get a $13,500 grant from the state.
However the location of the shelter is still in discussion says Malvic. She says they might elect to rotate the shelter church to church, like last year – but that’s still up in the air.
You can find Bethel Winter House on Facebook.
Veterans are being honored Tuesday for the time they have served the country. One Vietnam veteran in Petersburg has found healing by going back to the country that was once only known to him as a place of danger and destruction.
War can hold difficult memories for many Veterans. Sam Bunge is a Vietnam vet living in Petersburg.
“If you said the term Vietnam I would think about mud and wet and danger and people getting hurt,” Bunge says.
Vietnam was a deadly war killing over 58,000 American soldiers from the late 1960s through the mid ‘70s. Those that returned alive were the lucky ones and Bunge knows it.
“I consider that my life after 1969 is borrowed time and so I try to take advantage of it, enjoy life and be good,” Bunge says.
He was in Vietnam for one year from 1968 to 1969.
“After I returned to the States in ‘69 and got back into real life, I wanted nothing to do with it,” Bunge says. “You couldn’t have dragged me into a Vietnamese restaurant.”
It took 40 years to change his attitude. In 2008, while Bunge was reading a veterans magazine he noticed an announcement about Vietnam veterans volunteering to build schools back in Vietnam. He had long been a volunteer himself as a fire fighter in Petersburg and he was drawn the idea.
“I said that sounds like something I’d like to do,” Bunge says.
So Bunge decided to return to the place that was a battle ground in his mind. He wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I was anxious. . . .because of my previous experience in ’68-’69,” Bunge says.
What Bunge saw was a surprise. So much had changed.
Bunge: “There’s electricity almost everywhere. Roads are improving. New areas are being opened up. For example, my first project was in a place called the A Shau Valley which is where Hamburger Hill is.”
Angela: “What does that mean? Hamburger Hill?”
Bunge: “Oh that was a. . .very significant battle in 1969. . .with the 101st Airborne. Um.. . when I was there in 1969 it was a free fire zone littered with craters from B-52s and the only people who lived there were the North Vietnamese Army. And now, there’s a nice paved road that runs the length of the valley. There are thriving agricultural villages, there’s electricity, irrigation, and a lot of the land is under cultivation. So it’s quite a nice change.”
Bunge believes the process of volunteering was even more beneficial to him than to the Vietnamese who later used the schools he helped build. His memories changed from very negative images to some that are much more positive.
“Now if you say Vietnam I think about green and crowds and smiling kids,” Bunge says. “I was able to replace a lot of nasty, ugly images in my head with more contemporary, peaceful and cheerful ones. Vietnam nowadays is a really nice place. It’s beautiful, there’s an enormous variety in landscapes, some of which are pretty spectacular. The architecture is just fascinating and amazing. The Vietnamese people are very, very friendly.”
He says the proper word to describe it is reconciliation.
Bunge decided to return to Vietnam three more times after the war to build schools in remote villages. Besides the construction work, there were also planned meetings with Vietnamese veterans. He says through translators, they made the best of it. They would sit around a table, introduce each other, eat Vietnamese food, shake hands and take pictures. He says there was a mutual respect. Yet there was one particular instance when Bunge feels like he really connected with someone. It was when he was touring around the country after the volunteer work was over.
“In 2008, a buddy and I went down South where I had operated also, around Saigon and our driver-interpreter took us to a restaurant and there was a poster on the wall of the lady who was a proprietor of the restaurant and she was wearing her Vietcong uniform decked out with medals. Of course, this is after the hostilities has ceased. And she was a local heroine of the Vietcong Women’s Battalion and I had operated right in that area for six months in 1968 and we agreed that we probably had shot at each other (laughs) and we were both happy that neither of us had gotten hurt and we were happy to see each other being prosperous now,” Bunge says.
The volunteer group that Bunge was involved with was around for 25 years before it disbanded recently. Bunge says it’s due to members getting older and having difficulty fundraising.
He says he doesn’t know if his experience can translate to the modern wars. The wars are just so different. But Bunge hopes that if the conflict in the Middle East ever does pass, then perhaps for some modern day soldiers they too can find peace by revisiting their old battle grounds in the decades to come. Only time will tell.