APRN Alaska News
Federal officials say they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska in 2014 than compared to 2013. State law enforcement officials say heroin gets into Bethel mainly on low-security, small airline passenger flights. This is the final story in a series about the impacts of heroin in Bethel.
Bethel City Manager, Ann Capela, says the trouble heroin is causing in Bethel requires a coordinated campaign not unlike the one that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security developed with the goal of rooting out terrorists. Although Bethel’s heroin campaign is on a smaller scale, it uses the same slogan:
“If you see something, say something,” said Capela.
Capela, who was hired about six months ago, says the city doesn’t have the capacity to take on multinational drug rings, so the community must work together to root out dealers and traffickers, who have set in motion a slew of problems impacting everything from OCS cases to fire and police calls.
“We need the information from the community. We don’t have the manpower to be, but we need to be our eyes and ears [about] what’s going on. They need to let us know,” said Capela.
Capela says the idea is to support a grassroots effort already brewing in the community. One aspect of the campaign promotes a tip line that goes straight to the Alaska State Troopers Western Alaska Alcohol & Narcotics Team- or WAANT. Capela says the city also hopes to work with social services and health care providers, tribes and others to get addicts the help they need to quit.
At a meeting in which the Bethel City Council tasked city administration with making a heroin action plan, Councilmember Mark Springer said the heroin problems have gotten so bad, that they need to call in reinforcements.
“We would be happy to see as much law enforcement pressure as possible against people who are importing narcotics into Bethel and selling them here. As I said before, it’s criminal conspiracy, it’s organized crime in no uncertain terms,” said Springer.
Alan Wilson, a supervisor with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Anchorage, says law enforcement needs tips from people on the ground in Bethel to help.
Wilson says it’s happening across the country. After regulators cracked down on prescription drugs, like Oxycontin, and reformulated them to be less attractive to addicts, heroin found a market again.
“We have drug traffickers that we know have contacts in Mexico and they purchase their heroin either in Mexico or on the border of Mexico in the United States and they ship it up to Alaska,” said Wilson.
Todd Moehring is an investigator with WAANT. He says heroin makes its way to Bethel and other bush communities, in smaller quantities.
“We’re not receiving pounds directly from Mexico on a freight aircraft or something like that, but we’re receiving user amounts. Typically what we’ve learned so far is that most of the dealers have roughly a gram of heroin or more, so that’s usually around 10 hits on a user level, maybe up to an ounce or so – again, because we are at the end of the line,” said Moehring.
Moehring says they’re after source dealers and traffickers. He says it’s coming through mail, freight services and the port. But he says a lot comes in simply on passengers on smaller airlines serving Bethel.
“Smaller airlines that operate under different federal rules, and the security screening is not the same as we get for your larger commercial jets. So folks are carrying drugs in their baggage, they’re carrying it on their person, in their clothing, they’re also doing it on internal body carry,” said Moehring.
Under federal regulation small airlines, which carry less than 50 passengers, are not required to participate in TSA screening. A spokesperson forRAVN Alaska, the main smaller airline that serves Bethel, declined to go on tape. She said via email: “It’s not our policy to search bags. If we have reasonable suspicion that someone may have an illegal substance or item in their bag, we pull the bag and call the troopers or local police authority.” City Manager Capela says she wonders if a drug dog would help.
“I don’t know whether we would require a K-9 unit that looks at the cargo when it comes down. A K-9 unit just as people are going by,” said Capela.
Troopers with the WAANT team say they have requested a drug dog for their Bethel office, but state of Alaska officials say they don’t have the resources to provide one. Moehring says the Anchorage WAANT office just got a drug dog to stop the flow of heroin and other narcotics out of the city. The dog is funded by the North Slope Borough, and will focus on that region but could also be used to follow up on tips from Bethel.
Bethel WAANT tip line: (800) 478-2294
Two 25-foot Coast Guard response boats arrived in Dutch Harbor this week. The boats will patrol waters off the coast of Dutch Harbor as oil giant Royal Dutch Shell moves forward with plans to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean.
“This is very unusual, especially for Alaska,” said Lieutenant Aaron Renschler. He’s the Chief of Enforcement for the U.S. Coast Guard in Anchorage.
“We do deploy our assets around other parts of the state, but specifically for Dutch Harbor, this is the first time.”
The Coast Guard will establish safety zones around Shell’s exploratory vessels. They’ll will use Dutch Harbor as a port of call between June and July.
“If something were to occur, we’re at least two to three weeks from getting assets into Dutch Harbor,” said Renschler, “so it’s prudent that we forward deploy them in anticipation f any activity.”
Renschler said the vessels can be used for emergency response as well as daily operations.
“They are there to ensure that the marine transportation system remains open to all users and that includes facilitating commercial traffic, recreation traffic, all your commercial fishing vessels, as well as allowing individuals to express their first amendment rights,” he said.
The boats are not required as part of Shell’s permitting process, but the oil company has subcontracted the vessels. The daily operations are being funded with money from the U.S. Coast Guard’s budget. Renschler did not have an immediate cost estimate.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Pebble Limited Partnership presented oral arguments Thursday over whether or not the EPA violated federal law, when it opted to restrict mine waste disposal in Bristol Bay.
Pebble Limited Partnership alleges the EPA formed a number of de facto advisory committees of mine critics that operated behind closed doors, rather than out in the open while writing the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. That assessment could result in the massive gold and copper prospect being restricted or prohibited.
“The way the statute works, it says that when you reach out to non-federal employees and seek their advice and bring them into the process as though they were federal employees, you have to do it according to a format that’s set out in the statute that makes sure it’s done in the open and that it’s done fairly,” Tom Collier, the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, said. “And they didn’t do that.”
The EPA disputes those claims, saying no such committees were formed and that Pebble had as many opportunities to make their views known as groups opposed to the mine.
Kimberly Williams is the executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, a Dillingham non-profit that includes tribal corporations and governments opposed to the Pebble Mine. She came to the courthouse in support of the EPA.
“We feel that, you know, they’ve come out, they’ve listened to everybody, they’ve met numerous times out in the region, holding meetings not only in Dillingham, but up in Illiamna, where Pebble was located,” Williams said. “So, we’ve had unprecedented access, just no different than Pebble has in letting our views known on large scale mining.”
The EPA urged the court to dismiss the case.
Judge H. Russel Holland took the arguments under advisement and will make a decision at a later date.
Judge Holland issued a preliminary injunction in November, halting the EPA’s 404-C process regarding the Pebble Mine, while the court reviewed the allegations.
The EPA and Department of Justice refused to comment further, as the case is still in court.
In a separate case, a federal appeals court panel upheld an earlier decision by Judge Holland, dismissing Pebble’s challenge of the EPA’s 404-C process as premature.
A small Juneau business launched a Kickstarter campaign this week to crowdsource funds for a unique line of apparel and accessories. Tidal Vision is hoping it’s onto the next big thing: garments sewn from discarded salmon skin and crab shells.
Craig Kasberg, the founder of the company, pulls out a wallet from his back pocket. It’s a muted jade color, shiny with a slightly bumpy texture.
“It’s much different than what you see when you throw a skin away in the garbage when you’re cooking up your dinner or something,” he says.
The wallet is made entirely from salmon skin sourced from a processor in Kodiak, and then sewn at a tannery in Washington State.
The odor is different than what you might think.
“I would say it smells quite similar to any vegetable tanned leather really,” he says.
The skin has gone through a 24-step process that dries it out until it turns into leather. The material doesn’t stink because the fish oils have all been removed.
“And then replace those with all natural based vegetable tanning oils.”
Alaska has a long history with fish leather. Historically, Alaska Natives across the state have used salmon and other fish skins to craft durable garments, bags, boots and other items necessary for village life. These days, a few Native artists continue the time-consuming tradition of processing fish skins.
The material was also marketed to tourists and fashion houses in the 1990s until those ventures fizzled. Over the last few decades numerous Alaska entrepreneurs have tried their hand at the fish leather business, prompting speculation that it could be a new cottage industry for the state.
Kasberg says the biggest hurdle is convincing consumers byproducts are cool.
“When people think of fish waste, they almost plug their nose in reaction. When people haven’t seen it, smelt it, felt it, I think there is a challenge there,” he says.
Kasberg owns a gillnetter and has fished commercially in Southeast Alaska for almost a decade. He recently sold his commercial fishing license to help fund the new business.
His partner, Zach Wilkinson, has a background in economic development in agriculture. He says the agriculture industry already uses animal byproducts to make high-end items, like shoes and handbags, so why not Alaska fisheries.
“Clearly this stuff is valuable and useful and we could be doing something with it,” he says.
Some seafood processors sell byproducts for pet food, fish meal and vitamin supplements.
“What I’m particularly excited about it is kind of moving those things up the value chain and producing higher value products,” Wilkinson says.
Another item Tidal Vision plans to roll out is clothing made from chitosan extracted from crab shells. The fabric is antimicrobial, so it’s perfect for socks, underwear or gym shirts.
“We’re still going to recommend you wash your clothes but as far as odor goes, you won’t have to,” Kasberg says.
The use of chitosan is common in many industries. It’s usually stripped away from crustacean shells with formaldehyde, but Tidal Vision has a patent pending on a greener, more environmentally friendly method. They’re hoping to eventually expand the product into bandages and other medical supplies.
“The sutures that dissolve into your bloodstream are made out of a chitosan,” he says.
If the products take off, Kasberg says the business could add an overall boost to revenue for fish processors in Alaska. He would be giving them a dollar a pound for the skins, which he says is 90 percent more than fishmeal manufacturers pay. And that money could trickle down to commercial fishermen who supply the processors, like Juneau fisherman Anthoney Sine.
“That would increase our price. That would increase the money that we would be getting on our end,” he says.
Sine owns a boat called the Fortune and is preparing for the upcoming gillnet season. He says the price of seafood can fluctuate; alternative revenue streams could provide more stability.
“It greases the wheels,” Sine says. “Our seasons are short, especially the salmon season. Being able to get a little more money for my product strengthens my business for sure.”
Kasberg’s Kickstarter campaign has already raised more than half of the money it needs to begin mass production. They’re starting with wallets and plan to roll out one item at a time.
President Obama discussed Alaska, climate change, and Arctic issues in a speech May 20. That came after an executive order in January creating an Arctic Executive Steering Committee to coordinate federal Arctic activities. These may be signs Arctic issues are gaining a higher profile.
President Obama told cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement they’re part of the first generation of officers to begin their service in a world where the effects of climate change he says are so clearly upon us:
“Climate change means Arctic sea ice is vanishing faster than ever. By the middle of this century, Arctic summers could be essentially ice free. We’re witnessing the birth of a new ocean — new sea lanes, more shipping, more exploration, more competition for the vast natural resources below.”
The president went on to outline Arctic priorities:
“In Alaska, we have more than 1,000 miles of Arctic coastline. The United States is an Arctic nation, and we have a great interest in making sure that the region is peaceful, that its indigenous people and environment are protected, and that its resources are managed responsibly in partnership with other nations.”
The nation’s first U.S. Special Representative to the Arctic, Admiral Bob Papp, says the U.S. is also keeping an eye on Russian efforts to build military depots all along its northern shore.
“Anytime you see a military buildup, yes, we would be concerned. But the buildup is one thing. In other words establishing capabilities, is one thing. Intent is quite another thing. How do you use those things. So we watch both of those. The intent part is a little more difficult to interpret. But in terms of capabilities, while there’s been a great deal of rhetoric and a lot of talk about building things. The economy has not been good and Russia has not been able to fund these things.”
Still, Papp says the eight nations that make up the Arctic Council have tackled two critical issues:
“When you have maritime traffic, inevitably, inevitably, particularly in the conditions that you find in Alaska, in the Arctic, weather, and seas, rocky shores. There will be an accident some day and you need to be prepared for that. So the agreement for search and rescue was a good first step. The agreement on oil spill preparedness and response is a good first step. Now you’ve got to operationalize that . You have to get out there and exercise those things. Get lessons learned.”
But Papp says much more is needed: a U.S. Coast Guard Air station, a deep water port north of the Bering Strait… and icebreakers. Papp says the U.S. is down to one medium and one heavy icebreaker, far behind other nations. But, he says, the Obama administration has not requested funding to build ice-breakers:
“I think the administration has juggled a lot of different priorities over the last few years or so. An ice-breaker is amongst those priorities but has not risen to the point where funding has been asked for. There’s been some minimal funding for preliminary survey and design of a new icebreaker. But the real money for building an ice-breaker is not there yet. We’re hopeful that will happen as increased attention is focused on the Arctic.
Navigational aids are antiquated:
“Some of the depth findings that are used on modern-day charts today were soundings that were taken by Captain James Cook and crew took in 1778 using a piece of lead on the end of rope.”
And Papp recommended some other improvements:
“Satellite navigation is pretty good because the GPS constellation is, gives good coverage for the entire globe. But communications satellites have over time been optimally positioned for the middle latitudes, not so much for the high latitudes. So, yes, aids to navigation, communications, charting, setting up traffic separation schemes, all things that will help to improve mariner safety would be beneficial to us.”
The chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates every two years and recently came to the United States. Since taking his post a year ago, Papp has been working on organizing that transfer. And , he coordinates Arctic activities among dozens of bureaus and agencies within the U.S. State Department.
From inside her bright yellow food truck called The Magpie, Amanda Cash stares across five lanes of traffic rushing past, or stopped at the light, on Benson Boulevard.
“People yell from the middle lane, ‘What kind of food do you serve?'” she says. “I’m like, ‘come get some biscuits and gravy! I want to cook you breakfast!'”
Cash makes lunch too, but breakfast is where her heart is. She’s has an omelette on the menu this week with cremini mushrooms, zucchini, basil, Swiss chard, and feta cheese – finished with a swirl of aged balsamic vinegar and Sitka sea salt.
“I really want commuters to stop by here instead of fast food, because I’m just as fast, and a lot more delicious,” she says.
Cash has had a booth at the farmers market on 15th and Cordova since 2012. This year, she decided to upgrade her cooking space and branch out to more locations. She serves breakfast and lunch four days a week from Waymatic concession trailer she found on Craigslist. Cash is considering adding a Thursday night event to her schedule called “Magpie a la mode” with homemade pie and ice cream.
“This is such a fun way to be able to do local food and go into neighborhoods and to create a sense of community by going to people instead of them coming to me,” she says.
The Magpie will be in the Allen and Peterson parking lot on Benson and the Seward highway until the end of May. Cash is currently scouting her next locations.
Some Anchorage area residents don’t think the Legislative Majority’s recent budget proposal is good enough, even though it adds money back in for education. They don’t like the plan to move around money to avoid a majority vote either. About 50 people and a group of fiddlers gathered outside of the LIO in downtown Anchorage this afternoon to sing modified versions of old camp songs.
“Mike Chenault – is this your fault? Fund schools. Kids rule,” the group crooned to the tune of Camptown Races. “Fiddle around with Alaska’s kids, we’ll think about this day.”
Great Alaska Schools organized the protest, one of many this legislative session. Statewide coordinator Deena Mitchell says they were prompted by the proposal to move Permanent Fund dollars in order to give access to the Constitutional Budget Reserve without a majority vote. She says the newest proposal from the majority still cuts $32 million from education and leaves school districts with less money than they had last year.
“This is about the future of Alaska and our children. And to cut education after making that promise of the three years of funding last year and then not be willing to discuss this with the minority is just wrong,”she said. “They’re fiddling with our future. They’re fiddling with our finances. They’re fiddling with Alaska.”
Members of the faith community also continued their weeks-long vigil asking for Medicaid expansion. Fifteen different churches are taking turns sending members to the LIO to protest.
“And we have just been eager to see it come to the floor anyway, which of course it hasn’t as yet,” said AFACT member Karol Libbey. “But we are still very hopeful that it will make it and support the 40,000 Alaskan who are uninsured at this time.”
Republican lawmakers didn’t include Medicaid expansion on the agenda for the special session.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough is holding a public meeting Wednesday on proposed rules for marijuana businesses. Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins administration will be laying out a zoning ordinance governing what types of marijuana operations will be permitted, and where.
“Trying to lay down our idea of where the commercialization aspects; the growing, the manufacturing, testing and sales can be in our community, before people select the wrong piece of property where we say that’s not going to be allowed.”
Hopkins says the borough will display maps showing local zoning as well as overlaying federal drug free zones, like those requiring a 1,000-foot buffer around schools.
“Where will businesses be allowed to set up and operate in relationship to not only our zones, but to these sensitive use areas, where the federal government and the community may say we don’t want it around certain areas. It’s already been a strong statement that (we) don’t want any of this in residential areas.”
The legalization initiative approved by Alaska voters last fall does not allow use of marijuana in public, but Mayor Hopkins says there’s no clear definition of what that means relative to businesses.
“Our proposal is not allow any of the smoking clubs or marijuana consumption bars at this time. Also, the state has been trying to bring the law forward in terms of their definition. It may not match ours, so that aspect of marijuana usage is still up in the air.”
Mayor Hopkins says representatives from the borough assembly and city councils of Fairbanks and North Pole, as well as local government staff will attend tonight’s meeting. Questions and public comment will be taken.
Busting drug dealers, sex traffickers and prostitutes is a tough job. Recently retired Sergeant Kathy Lacey did that dangerous work for 20 years as the head of Anchorage Police Department’s undercover vice unit. Lacey says when she first started in law enforcement, prostitution and drug crimes were more visible, out on the street. Now though, she says trafficking is more covert.
TOWNSEND: What attracted you to vice?
LACEY: The way it works is the first thing you do is patrol. On patrol you see everything. Its all thrown at you and after a few years, you find your interest. I was always drawn to the street level crimes, drugs, prostitution. I grew up in Spenard, that was a hot bed of street crimes and I was comfortable working in that area. I took that career path.
TOWNSEND: Had you worked in law enforcement before?
LACEY: History in public safety, my brother was a former fire chief for Anchorage, my sister was a deputy chief. It was my younger brother, Chris said, hey APD is hiring, why don’t you check it out. I got in the academy and liked it. it was challenging and physical and mental ability and I took to it like a duck to water. I have a nephew now on the department. We were always drawn to public safety.
TOWNSEND: Did you initially focus on prostitution or drugs?
LACEY: It was all hand in hand, in the old days, if you wanted to know what was going on on the street, you talked to the women who worked in the sex trade, they were the ones who knew where the crack houses were.
TOWNSEND: How has sex trafficking changed?
LACEY: A lot more sophisticated, more cash, more money, internet has exploded. The old days, visible, women on the street, everybody saw it, we worked those women, now it’s more behind closed doors, the traffickers have more money at stake, it’s more difficult, requires more to figure out who traffickers are.
TOWNSEND: Are there recruiters going to rural Alaska?
LACEY: Yes, we had a case specifically where the trafficker was going to villages to recruit, what level, how many, it’s difficult to say because so much is happening that is hidden, but absolutely he was doing that.
TOWNSEND: What about traffickers from outside the state?
LACEY: Yes, we’ve seen that a lot. We’ve made arrests of women, sometimes with the trafficker, sometimes alone, they put money on a card and he can pull it out in another state.
TOWNSEND: Are any of the victims trafficked in Alaska taken out of state?
LACEY: Not seeing that but in the massage parlor circuit, they move around, I don’t have information that they are being forced, but they’re being coerced.
TOWNSEND: How has the massage parlor aspect changed?
LACEY: It’s easy to make money as a trafficker in the massage parlor business. The only way you know is if someone goes in there and gets sex instead of a massage and there’s layers, someone has the license, someone else running. It’s hard to uncover it all. Its use has exploded.
TOWNSEND: It must have been frustrating, the facade of a legitimate business and online trafficking. How have you dealt with that frustration?
LACEY: It is frustrating and I had a fantastic group of detectives. The type drawn to this, it takes a lot, but when we get someone out of it, especially when it’s the underage kids. Its disturbing. We focus on getting them out and putting the trafficker behind bars.
TOWNSEND: Have the traffickers themselves changed? Is the treatment worse?
LACEY: Each case is individual; I think it stays about the same. People say let’s legalize this, its consenting adults, there’s a segment that says that and then there is what we see which is always a level of control and usually a level of violence between traffickers and the women they traffick. Always going to be coercion and a level of force. To keep them in line, often the trafficker will use force.
TOWNSEND: Are there areas of Alaska that are hot spots?
LACEY: Western Alaska, we’ve had more cases there than anywhere, there’s not one spot. Anchorage, and if we work it hard, they get pushed to Fairbanks, they might then force them somewhere else, they might go to the valley. Anchorage is the hub.
TOWNSEND: In 20 years of law enforcement, would you say the city, is the city becoming a more violent place beyond the demographics, the sexual assault rate is higher here and stays that way. Why do you think that is and looking back where are we now with the amount of violence now?
LACEY: I would say, it has become more violent. I know we’re seeing a real spike in violent crimes. I attribute that to deployment of the department. Drug crimes fuel property crimes. There’s been a shift away from these areas and I think that’s a mistake. You know where the elements are and you have to keep pressure on those factions or they start to escalate and I think we’ve seen that. There has to be a refocus on street crime suppression.
TOWNSEND: New mayor-elect Ethan Berkowitz – what would you want him to focus on immediately?
LACEY: From what I’ve heard of what he’s said, I think he’s very smart and he’s talked about reinstituting the gang unit and those are important steps. You have to have the staffing to make these things happen. Those units are really important to keep the overall crime rate down. He understands that, hiring more is key, and I’d like to see focus on retention of the officers they have. You have a lot of experience walking out the door and all the officers you hire aren’t going to make it through the training, let’s focus on retaining and that’s not happening, people are walking out the door and you’re losing all that experience. They’re missing the bet right there. I’m excited about what Berkowitz is talking about.
TOWNSEND: What advice would you give to parents to keep their kids safe?
LACEY: Be involved, ask questions. I have a daughter that just graduated from high school last week. You need to have discussions with your kids, what’s going on at their school. Ask their opinion, my daughter has good opinions. I see things that I think are inappropriate, she says no. I think it’s interesting to get their perspective. I talk to my kids about everything, they know about prostitution, they know about street level drugs. You have to be their voice of reason, they can get everything online.
TOWNSEND: There’s been a lot of back and forth about ‘Erin’s Law,’ legislation here has changed making it optional. What do you think is appropriate and should be in schools?
LACEY: I think we’re missing the boat by not getting to them sooner. They have the world at their fingertips on their cell phone and we need to talk to them. I worked with the STAR program and was shocked that they’re not in every school. I think it needs to be mandatory when its not there. We’re doing a disservice when we’re not having this discussion, look at our rates, why are we afraid to talk about it.
TOWNSEND: Consulting on “Frozen Ground” and exploring new avenues… tell me more.
LACEY: Approached by producers several years ago. They were interested in my vice work and sex trafficking. They are enamored of Alaska and see it as unique. They liked that it was an undercover unit run by a woman. It’s a way for me to continue my human trafficking work even though I’m no longer in law enforcement. JUST RAISING AWARENESS? Exactly, keep in mind it’s Hollywood…..
Retired APD Sergeant Kathy Lacey is now a consulting producer on a developing television series that will feature vice crime in Anchorage.
The King of Norway visited Anchorage on Wednesday bearing a message of goodwill, and the message that climate change is a priority for all Arctic nations.
After visiting the Anchorage Museum, the Norwegian monarch, King Harald V, spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Alaska World Affairs Council, where he urged the value of science and study in the far north:
“Research and reliable data is essential in our struggle against climate change. The projects at the poles give us valuable knowledge in finding solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time.”
And to hit that point home, Harald reiterated the words of a famous Norwegian explorer:
“Roald Amundsen once said, I quote, ‘Victory awaits him who has everything in order. Luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time. This is called bad luck.’
“Take Amundsen’s advice seriously. Let no stone be unturned as you seek to increase our understanding about the Arctic. Work hard. Be prepared. And you will have, as Amundsen put it, good luck.”
Harald’s two-day visit to Alaska culminated today in Anchorage.
House Republicans: Take It Or Leave It
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
After weeks of an impasse, House Republicans have a new message for Democrats: Take our latest budget package, or we’ll go around you.
Protests Continue Over Education Funding, Medicaid Expansion
Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
Some Anchorage area residents don’t think the compromise is good enough, especially not for education funding. They don’t like the plan to move around money to avoid a majority vote either. About 50 people and a group of fiddlers gathered outside of the LIO in downtown Anchorage this afternoon.
Heroin Hits Home: City of Bethel Forms Heroin Task Force
Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel
Heroin use in Alaska is on the rise. This is the second in a series of three stories about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how the community is fighting it. The City of Bethel is organizing a multi-agency heroin task force.
Fairbanks Navigates Pot Legalization
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Fairbanks North Star Borough is holding a public meeting Wednesday on proposed rules for marijuana businesses.
Going Undercover With APD Vice’s Kathy Lacey
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Busting drug dealers, sex traffickers and prostitutes is a tough job. Recently retired Sergeant Kathy Lacey did that dangerous work for 20 years as the head of Anchorage Police Department’s undercover vice unit. Lacey says when she first started in law enforcement, prostitution and drug crimes were more visible, out on the street.
Norwegian Monarch Visits Alaska, Urges Action on Climate Change
Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage
The King of Norway visited Anchorage on Wednesday. He bore a message of goodwill, and the message that climate change is a priority for all Arctic nations.
Yup’ik Singer, Drummer Performs in WDC
Ellie Coggins, KYUK – Bethel
Yup’ik singer and drummer Byron Nicholai performed in Washington, D.C., this past week in front of Secretary of State John Kerry.
Chemical Tags in Ear Bones Reveal Chinooks’ Life Histories
Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham
When a salmon is caught in Bristol Bay, it’s difficult to know where it came from. That’s long been a challenge to fishery managers in Bristol Bay and worldwide. New research on the Nushagak River – one of the largest king salmon runs in the world – uses chemical tags in a fish’s ear bone to tell where it was born and raised.
Federal officials say they intercepted nearly ten times as much heroin coming into Alaska in 2014 than compared to 2013. Once in Alaska the narcotic quickly reaches rural communities, which are now organizing to push back. This is the second in a series of three stories about the impacts of heroin in Bethel and how the community is fighting it. The City of Bethel is organizing a multi-agency heroin task force.
Heroin-related calls are putting a strain on city services and the Bethel Police, according to Chief Andre Achee. He says the department isn’t intercepting much heroin on the streets, but they are responding to an increasing number of thefts.
“What we’re dealing with is the events that are sort of a nexus to heroin: the thefts, the burglaries, the domestic disturbances, stuff being sold through various individuals online, offline, things being stolen even from family members,” said Achee.
He says addicts steal things they can turn over for quick cash.
“Anything from fire arms to vehicles – any type of property that people could sell,” said Achee.
Achee says, sometimes thieves resort to stealing traditional Alaska Native subsistence foods.
“We’ve had thefts of berries: salmonberries, blueberries being sold just for people to get enough money for their dependency,” said Achee.
When the victims are family members, they often don’t want to press charges, says Achee, they just want their items back, which he says perpetuates the cycle and keeps the understaffed police department racing from call-to-call. The fire department’s ambulance crew is also seeing more heroin-related calls, according to city officials. Heroin is also taking a toll on children and families according to Fennisha Gardner, who has worked in and out of the Office of Children’s Services in Bethel since 1999. She says she had never seen the drug come up in their cases until recently.
“I didn’t even see the presence of heroin when I was here the first time or the second time. It has been an explosion of heroin coming into this community and affecting the families,” said Gardner.
The result, Gardner says, is more neglect and other situations that put kids in danger.
“Using substances while having your children in the household, having a criminal element in the household while using with your children there. We also have had children born with heroin in their system,” said Gardner.
The Western office of OCS is handling an increasing number of cases involving babies withdrawing from heroin, Gardner says, and trying to insure they get proper treatment once they’re born.
The City Council has taken notice of the problems and one council member, Byron Maczynski, has been using his position to work on the issue, bringing it up in discussion at city council meetings. That recently resulted in a threat. One morning he found a type-written note in the driver’s seat of his Jeep. It said:
“You’d better back off the heroin issue before you end up killing yourself. If you call the police we will know about it, haha and the next time I see you walking outside your shop, you won’t make it back in,” said Maczynski.
Police are investigating. He says the threat was unnerving, but it just made him want to push harder. At a recent Bethel City Council meeting he did just that.
“Next on the agenda, Action Memorandum 1516, Community Action against heroin and other elicit drugs,” said Bethel Mayor Rick Robb.
Bethel Mayor Rick Robb introduced Maczynski’s Action Memorandum, directing the administration to work with community groups to address the heroin problem. Maczynski read a list of possible things the city could work on:
“Provide anti-drug education in middle school and high schools, disseminate information to community members on how to obtain help, educate community members about what to look for to determine drug use and sales, to include how and where to report,” said Maczynski.
Maczynski called on the city to act.
“Sometimes it’s too late, but it’s not too late for a lot of people out there. And we could really help these people. I hope this community could come together. It’s sad. We need to do something,” said Maczynski.
Council Members discussed the need for a treatment center specifically for heroin addiction in Bethel and agreed the city needs to work with law enforcement to crack down on drug dealers. Since the meeting, Bethel’s City Manager, Ann Capella, says she has been working on putting together a multi-agency community task force to address Bethel’s heroin problems.
After weeks of an impasse, House Republicans have a new message for Democrats: Take our latest budget package, or we’ll go around you.
The proposal Republicans unveiled Wednesday addresses two key sticking points for Democrats. It restores education spending to Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed levels, but keeps a reduction of one-time funding that Democrats had hoped to counteract. Their proposal also maintains the cost-of-living increases guaranteed in state employee union contracts. It balances those add-ins by directing the governor to make a $30 million cut to agency operations.
While explaining the new bill, Republicans on the committee talked a lot about compromise, including Dan Saddler of Eagle River:
“I just want to make the observation that any budget is a compromise and that there are unlimited needs and desires in state government. We are in the unfortunate situation of having less money than we’d like to have and so you can’t have everything be a number one priority, it’s necessary to make compromises, accommodations and allocate.”
But Democrats, like Rep. David Guttenberg of Fairbanks, do not think that ‘compromise’ accurately describes the new bill.
“When we talk about compromise, usually we have two people talking or two parities talking face to face, talking about what the compromise is. I just want to make sure- from my caucus’s perspective that didn’t happen. One side decided what the compromise is and asking or telling the other side here’s what your compromise is.”
If Democrats do not support the legislation, the Republican majority has found a way to circumvent them. While they currently need a three-quarter vote to access the state’s rainy day account, they are able to reduce that threshold by shifting money around in the Permanent Fund so that it can’t be spent.
If the Legislature does not find a way to plug its multi-billion-dollar deficit through its savings, the state government could partially shut down on July 1.
No one was injured and no shots fired during a police standoff of more than three hours outside a Ketchikan home on Memorial Day.
At approximately 6:40 Monday morning, police responded to a report of loud noise coming from a Monroe Street residence. Deputy Police Chief Josh Dossett says when officers arrived they could hear loud music and people inside yelling and arguing. He says officers contacted 63-year old Corrine Graham in front of the residence.
“She was having a verbal argument with her adult son who lived in the residence also. She wanted to have him removed, but since they’re both residents of that house, neither of them could be made to leave under state law.”
Dossett says because no crime had been committed, officers left the scene. He says police were called back at about 8:00 am on a report of an alleged domestic dispute.
“When officers arrived, Ms. Graham barricaded herself in the main bedroom of the residence. Officers learned she had been brandishing a handgun, waving it around in front of her husband and her son. At that point, officers attempted to make contact with her. She wasn’t responding from the bedroom, which was locked. We secured the scene, outside and inside, and began removing residents from the homes directly next to her residence.”
Dossett says three nearby homes were evacuated and a negotiator brought in. He says Graham allegedly would not respond back or acknowledge the officer. Dossett says after about three and a half hours, Graham exited the home.
“Officers initially contacted her. She ran back inside. Within a minute or two she came out the door at which point she was placed on the ground and placed in restraints. She was pretty upset, she was still pretty agitated from the incident earlier that morning. But then she was escorted to a vehicle and transported to the police station for an interview.”
Dossett says a search warrant was issued and a firearm found in the bedroom allegedly believed to be used in the incident. Dossett does not believe drugs or alcohol were involved.
“It just appeared to be a very heated domestic situation which, in our line of work, can be some of the most dangerous because it’s very emotional. It’s very emotionally charged for the people involved.”
Graham was arrested and held, without bail, at the Ketchikan Correctional Center. She is charged with 3rd degree domestic-violence assault.
Five independent candidates are challenging five incumbents for seats on Sealaska’s board of directors. The election is quieter than last year’s, but not without controversy.
Sealaska’s board reorganized after last year’s election under a new president, Juneau’s Joe Nelson. A new CEO, Anthony Mallott, took the helm around the same time, and some other top officials have been replaced.
But there’s still plenty of conflict over the Southeast regional Native corporation’s practices. That includes five straight years of business losses.
The incumbents say the corporation is healthy. And they express confidence shared by Mallott, who says Sealaska is headed in the right direction.
“That’s financial progress. That’s strong operational platforms. That’s comfort that we can create increasing benefit for our shareholders,” he said in a recent interview.
Two incumbent board candidates live in Juneau. Nelson is a University of Alaska Southeast official. Barbara Cadiente-Nelson is a grants administrator and tribal government treasurer.
Former state senator and longtime board chairman Albert Kookesh of Angoon is another incumbent. So are former state representative and fisherman Bill Thomas of Haines and attorney Tate London of Bothell, Washington.
Most of the challengers are critical of the corporation’s programs and business operations.
Two of the five independent candidates are from Juneau. Karen Taug is a controller and former board chairwoman of an urban Native corporation. Brad Fluetsch is an investment adviser and former Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp president.
Ray Austin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who works in information technology, is also running as an independent candidate. So are social service program manager Catherine Edwards of Woodland Hills, California, and Yakutat Tlingit Tribe office manager Ralph Wolfe, a former Sealaska youth board member.
In addition to the incumbents, several of the challengers have run before.
One not on this year’s ballot is Mick Beasley, the independent with the highest vote count in last year’s election. He says three times is enough.
“You don’t want to get toxic. You want people to believe what they say. So to go and ask people repeatedly and repeatedly, I just don’t think that’s proper,” he said.
Also missing this year is an opposition slate.
Carton Smith, a Juneau real estate company owner, was one of the four. He may run again in the future, but not this year.
“My concern last year was that the corporation was reeling for the losses posted in the 2013 financials. And now there’s new management, so let’s see what they can do,” he said.
Taug is the only member of that group running this year.
Many of Sealaska’s approximately 22,000 shareholders have already cast their proxy ballots. Results will be announced at Sealaska’s annual meeting, June 27 in Juneau.
Alaska’s Orthodox Bishop, David Mahaffey was in Unalaska last week. He has held his post in Alaska for just over a year. He said in that time, he’s placed more focus on work with the Regional Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor Training Program, or RADACT, to address issues of substance and alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
“They’re doing more with our seminarians so that when they graduate,” he said. “When they go back to villages, they are better equipped to deal with people with these issues. I have petitioned the governor to have more VPSO’s in the villages.”
But Bishop David said it’s unclear how successful that petition may be in light of cuts to the state’s budget.
Bishop David said there was something particularly special about his visit to the cathedral in Unalaska, one of the oldest in the country. A chapel in the church is dedicated to St. Innocent, who served as the first Orthodox bishops in the state beginning in 1840.
“When I came here and walked in the doors of this cathedral, the feeling that I had of just the overwhelming presence of St. Innocent and that was to me so spiritually uplifting,” he said. “I would have been happy to not do anything else, but stand in the church all day. This cathedral has that effect on me.”
Bishop David came to Alaska from Pennsylvania first in 2012. He still grapples with the distance.
“I heard something the other day… a man was telling a story about a man who wanted to be a missionary but his wife didn’t want to go where he wanted to go and he kept saying ‘well, I either pick her for a wife or I go to this country to be a missionary,’” explained the Bishop. “He said it wasn’t until her realized he wasn’t picking between the woman and the country, he was picking between the woman and God and I kind of thought ‘yes, that’s what I was doing. I was saying Pennsylvania or Alaska when I should have been saying ‘Pennsylvania or God?’” he said.
Bishop David said he doesn’t regret his decision. He was in Unalaska to mark the Feast of the Ascension. In Russian Orthodox tradition, the celebration takes place 40 days after Easter.
Bishop David also made visits to other Aleutian chain communities including Adak and Nikolski.
Lisa Unin, a resident of Chevak, has received an award from the Rasmuson Foundation for her traditional Cup’ik parkas.
Using this money, Unin will make two full-sized parkas.
When she found out she’d received the award, Lisa Unin felt shocked.
“At first I couldn’t swallow it because I didn’t expect to get an award. Later on I was getting excited and more excited,” said Unin.
Unin, a resident of Chevak, received a Rasmuson Project Award of $7,500. Using this money Unin will make two full-sized parkas. She will speak with elders on how they make the traditional Alaska Native jackets. Once her parkas are completed, Unin will donate them to Alaska museums.
The sealskin and seal gut parkas will be the first Unin will make large enough for a person. Unin typically makes miniature clothes for the dolls her husband makes. She started making these around the age of thirty.
Jayson Smart, with the Rasmuson Foundation, says they choose to give Unin a Project Award because of her commitment to preserving Native culture.
“Overall I think that the panel who reviewed her application was really struck by her commitment to looking at this specific art form and evaluating the importance of trying to keep it alive and supporting somebody like Lisa who’s incredibly skilled at what she does as a skin sewer and in this traditional art form,” said Smart.
The Rasmuson Foundation works to improve the quality of life in Alaska through art. Each year Rasmuson names twenty-five Project Awards, ten Fellows, and one Distinguished Artist. Unin shared the Project Awards with a variety of different types of artists, from traditional Native craftspeople to classical musicians to contemporary sculptors.
The Marine Stewardship Council will facilitate mediation for the salmon processors who disagree about who can participate in the client group that has the council’s sustainability certification. Back in April, ten of Alaska’s major salmon buyers asked to rejoin the label they dropped in 2012, saying it will help them tap back into picky European markets.
Chris Hladick, the state’s new commissioner of commerce, community and economic development, said the department is keeping an eye on the process.
“They will provide a mediator in Seattle between the groups,” Hladick said. “APSA is the group that has the MSC certification, and then there’s a host of other processors that want to join in to the MSC certificate so they can sell their fish in Europe this summer.”
Alaska Governor Bill Walker sent a letter to the MSC on May 18 about the issue. Hladick said the state doesn’t have a role in the mediation process, and doesn’t plan to apply for certification right now.
“The letter was sent strictly to try to get some movement on the issue,” Hladick said. “Of course the issue is, for the state of Alaska, we want to sell salmon.”
Hladick says the European markets are important for selling Alaskan fish, particularly given the strong runs forecast this summer.
A 52-year-old Fairbanks man has been taken into custody on suspicion of attempted arson and domestic assault.
Alaska State Troopers say the man, who has not been formally charged, was taken into custody Monday.
Police just after 4 a.m. took a 911 call reporting someone pouring gasoline around a structure that was occupied.
Troopers arrested the man and he’s being held without bail at Fairbanks Correctional Center.
Online court documents Tuesday say charging documents are pending.
According to reports from the Alaska Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the City and Borough of Juneau is declining.
The Juneau Empire reports that The Alaska Department of Labor report states that the population declined by four people from 2013-2014. The federal figures released last week showed a decline of 220 people.
Also during that time, Alaska posted its first population decline since the oil bust of the mid-1980s. The state report shows the state lost 61 people, largely due to deaths outpacing births. The federal report showed the state losing 527 residents.
The difference between estimates is due to variations in the way the figures are calculated.
According to state estimates, only the Anchorage/Mat-Su and Gulf Coast regions of the state posted population gains.