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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 44 min 26 sec ago

Falling debris from decrepit apartments closes Juneau park

Tue, 2015-07-14 16:43

The burnt-out Gastineau Apartments will finally be demolished by the end of November, according to Juneau’s city attorney. In the meantime, the city says the downtown buildings are a public safety concern. It’s temporarily closed the neighboring park due to falling debris.

The city closed Pocket Park at the end of last week.

Tourists stand in front of the closed Gunakadeit Park, also known as Pocket Park, on Monday. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“One of our workers was in there the other day and noticed some broken glass in the fountain area,” says Colby Shibler, park maintenance supervisor for Parks and Recreation, “and realized that it wasn’t a broken bottle and then looked up and noticed a bunch of the windows were broken out in the building there and realized that the glass was probably falling out of the window or had been broken out from the inside, it looked like, and was concerned about glass falling on people in the park.”

Dave Lane admits people have trespassed into the apartments in the past, but now he says the buildings are more secure. Lane does construction for the owners of Gastineau Apartments, James and Kathleen Barrett.

“We as of late, and that being the past 8 months, 9 months, have been patrolling more. Almost every evening, we come through and we make sure there’s no one in here at that time. We made sure everything is secure to the best of our abilities,” Lane says.

Gastineau Apartments still have unboarded, broken windows. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

City building official Charlie Ford says the Barretts are being negligent with security.

“I had been working with Mr. Barrett to try and keep the building secured and all of a sudden, I noticed a side door was open and there was a ladder leaning up against the Rawn Way side of the building that was obviously used for access to get into the upper floors,” Ford says.

Ford sent a letter to the Barretts Monday asking them to board up more windows and clean up the remaining glass shards. He says if they don’t care of it, the city will.

Gastineau Apartments have been uninhabitable since a November 2012 fire. The city declared the buildings a public nuisance soon after. The Barretts have repeatedly missed deadlines for repairs or demolition. Part of the building caught on fire again in March.

The Barretts had until June 19 to turn in paperwork and plans for demolishing the buildings. When they failed to do that, the city sent a letter a week later stating that it would demolish them on its own. At the end of June, the Assembly appropriated $1.8 million to do that.

James Barrett says that’s hindered his own plans to sell or demolish the buildings. He says he’s talked to more than 30 companies.

“It’s just put me at a standstill when we thought we were moving forward. I’m going to see where the other contractors who are bidding are going to end up. That’s about all I can do at this point,” Barrett says.

Barrett says he’s seriously considering suing the city.

Categories: Alaska News

Report: Heroin Use is Skyrocketing in Alaska

Tue, 2015-07-14 16:35

A new report from the state health department shows a dramatic rise in heroin use in Alaska. The number of hospitalizations for heroin related causes nearly doubled in the state from 2008 to 2012.

And in 2013, 23 people in Alaska died from heroin overdose, four times the number of overdose deaths in 2008.

Source: Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services.

Dr. Jay Butler is the state’s chief medical officer:

“When we look at the magnitude of heroin deaths combined with the magnitude of deaths due to prescription opioids, we’re looking at a similar number to what we see with motor vehicle accidents. that’s a problem, but it’s one of those things that doesn’t tend to get in the news very often because it doesn’t happen all at once.”

According to the report, many addicts switch from prescription pain killers to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to find. Dr. Butler says he had a patient last year who told him he spent more on cigarettes than heroin.

Butler is working to improve access to the drug naloxone (nah-LAX-own), which can prevent overdose deaths. And he wants to make the state’s prescription drug monitoring program more user friendly for prescribers and pharmacists and more well known:

“We also need to get the word out. I’ll be honest, I’m a licensed physician with a DEA number. I didn’t even realize we had a prescription drug monitoring program until I worked for the state.”]

The state’s prescription drug monitoring program was established in 2008 to combat the misuse of controlled substances.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Gears Up for Shell’s Chukchi Season

Tue, 2015-07-14 15:23

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft

As Shell gears up to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the Coast Guard is getting ready, too. At an Arctic symposium in Washington D.C. this morning, the head of the U.S. Coast Guard outlined the difficulties the service will face in the Chukchi Sea this summer, and in the Arctic generally.

Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft says if Shell is allowed to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, the Coast Guard will be there with five ships and two aircraft. But, the admiral says, nothing about the Arctic is easy.

“We are a service that prides itself on being semper paratus – ‘always ready’– but this area really does present a challenge for us,” he said.

Policing Shell is a big part of the job. Zukunft says the Coast Guard will be there to “provide that check and balance for (the) private sector. As they exploit these riches, there is zero room for failure,” he said. “And by that I mean an oil spill in the Arctic.”

Zukunft says environmental activists may be one complication.

“We may have a run-in with NGOs if Shell gets its final permit,” he said. “Greenpeace did protest when Russia was drilling in their Arctic domain. They were in prison for about 16 months. I don’t think we’ll take as harsh measures in the United States, but we need to be there as an enforcement arm.”

The worse-case scenario is a well blowout, which he says could send 25,000 barrels a day into the ocean. Zukunft says the lack of on-shore facilities would complicate a response. Zukunft was the federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon five years ago.

“We had 47,000 responders that we’re marshaled to the Gulf of Mexico, and you can’t do that anywhere but the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “Try to put 100 people in Barrow, Alaska, and after the first 50 show up, the other 50 will be fending off polar bears. We do not have the (on-shore) infrastructure.”

Arctic operations have to be sea-based, he says, and that’s why Shell is moving nearly 30 ships to the Arctic for the short drilling season. It’s also why the company is required to have a relief rig and a well-capping stack on hand.

The ship carrying the capping stack got a lesson in the hazards of the Arctic just outside Dutch Harbor July 3, when its hull was cracked. Presumably, the Finnish-owned icebreaker Fennica hit an uncharted object. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was surveying nearby and was able to check out the Fennica’s route.  NOAA found areas that were shallower than charted, but senior Arctic advisor Dave Kennedy says it’s still not clear what the Fennica hit.

“They’re still analyzing the data but the preliminary report is there is nothing obvious that they could find that would indicate something that should have been an obstacle there,” Kennedy said.

A Shell spokesman says the Fennica will be repaired temporarily in Dutch Harbor then set out for Oregon for permanent repair. Shell says the mishap won’t delay the Chukchi Sea operation because the capping stack isn’t needed until August.

Admiral Robert Papp, a former head of the Coast Guard, says the Fennica might have hit something like an underwater spire, a natural structure he says would be hard for surveyors to spot. Papp is now the State Department’s special Arctic representative, and at the Arctic Symposium he hinted at a big, high-level meeting in Alaska next month.

“I can’t talk a lot about that today, but it will draw the attention of the world to Alaska and the Arctic, and I’m very excited about it. “

Months ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski let slip that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry plan to visit Alaska in August. The exact date, and which communities they’ll visit, aren’t publicly known. Papp says he expects an announcement shortly.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Marine Debris Stockpile To Be Shipped to Lower 48

Tue, 2015-07-14 09:59

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A massive cleanup effort is getting underway in Alaska, with tons of marine debris — some likely sent to sea by the 2011 tsunami in Japan — set to be airlifted from rocky beaches and taken by barge for recycling and disposal in the Pacific Northwest.

This undated photo provided by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, shows pelagic gooseneck barnacles (Lepas anatifera) established on a buoy off the Gulf of Alaska. The barnacles are native, open-ocean barnacles; the most common and abundant organism observed on marine debris. A massive cleanup effort is getting underway in Alaska, with tons of marine debris, some likely sent to sea by the 2011 tsunami in Japan, set to be airlifted from rocky beaches and taken by barge for recycling and disposal in the Pacific Northwest. (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation via AP)

Hundreds of heavy-duty bags of debris, collected in 2013 and 2014 and stockpiled at a storage site in Kodiak, also will be shipped out. The barge is scheduled to arrive in Kodiak by Thursday, before setting off on a roughly one-month venture.

The scope of the project, a year in the making, is virtually unheard of in Alaska. It was spurred, in part, by the mass of material that’s washed ashore — things like buoys, fishing lines, plastics and fuel drums — and the high cost of shuttling small boatloads of debris from remote sites to port, said Chris Pallister, president of the cleanup organization Gulf of Alaska Keeper, which is coordinating the effort.

 The Anchorage landfill also began requiring that fishing nets and lines — common debris items — to be chopped up, a task called impossible by state tsunami marine debris coordinator Janna Stewart.

Pallister estimates the cost of the barge project at up to $1.3 million, with the state contributing $900,000 from its share of the $5 million that Japan provided for parts of the U.S. affected by tsunami debris. Crews in British Columbia will be able to add debris to the barge as it passes through, chipping in if they do. Pallister’s group has committed $100,000. Delays due to weather could drive up costs, which Pallister said is a concern.

The cost to operate the barge is $17,000 a day, Stewart said.

Many of the project sites are remote and rugged. Crews working at sites like Kayak and Montague islands in Prince William Sound, for example, get there by boat and sleep onboard. The need to keep moving down the shoreline as cleanup progresses, combined with terrain littered with boulders and logs, makes it tough to set up a camp, Pallister said. There’s also the issue of bears.

While relatively few people visit these sites, it’s important to clean them, Stewart said. Foam disintegrates, which can seep into salmon streams or be ingested by birds, she said. There’s concern, too, with the impact of broken-down plastic on marine life.

What’s not picked up can get swept back out, she said.

“It’s like it never really goes away unless we get in there and actively remove it,” Stewart said.

Alaska has more coastline than any other state. And Alaska cleanup operations often are expensive and dangerous, said Nikolai Maximenko, a senior researcher at the Hawaii-based International Pacific Research Center.

“Even without the tsunami, Alaska is well-known for being polluted with all these buoys and other stuff from fisheries activity and from other human activities,” he said.

It can be hard to definitively distinguish tsunami debris from the run-of-the-mill rubbish that has long fouled shorelines unless there are identifiable markings. But Pallister and others say the type and volume of debris that has washed up in Alaska is different since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which killed thousands in Japan.

Before the tsunami, a lot of old fishing gear would be on the beach. But afterward, the debris included an inundation of Styrofoam and urethane, Pallister said. Objects such as property stakes and crates used by fishermen in coastal Japan also have begun showing up, he said.

Crews plan to do cleanup work in the Gulf of Alaska this summer, which will add to the material that has already been cached in heavy-duty bags above the high-tide line. All this would be loaded onto the barge.

The logistics are complicated.

Dump trucks are expected to ferry the large white bags of debris from the Kodiak storage yard to the barge after it arrives. Tom Pogson with the Island Trails Network, which worked on the Kodiak-area debris removal, said that will be the easy part.

Categories: Alaska News

Shellfish genetics could be the key to climate change adaptation

Tue, 2015-07-14 09:28

A recent NOAA study found that by 2040, Alaskan shellfish hatcheries may no longer be sustainable because of ocean acidification, unless serious mitigation efforts are put in place. We recently reported on a hatchery in Oregon that’s become a model for adapting to these different conditions. But the long term solution may actually lie in shellfish genes.

Diagram of upwelling which is a cycle of seasonal winds pushing newer oxygen-rich water off the surface of the ocean and older, nutrient and CO2 rich water rising up to take its place causing a lot of pH fluctuation. (Image courtesy of NOAA)

Evolution and resiliency are the buzzwords for a sustainable mariculture industry in Alaska, a state that is particularly vulnerable.

“And Alaska is going to be the test bed unfortunately for informing us for how the rest of the ecosystem will respond to ocean acidification,” says Jeremy Mathis, a NOAA oceanographer who worked on the recent study based at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward.

One short-term solution hatcheries are testing is injecting the acidic ocean water with carbonates that are needed for organisms like clams and mussels to develop hard shells.

But in the long term, Mathis says they may need to turn to genetics for answers.

“Ideally we can start looking at species that are more resilient to ocean acidification and adapting the commercial fisheries and commercial processing to animals that have that robustness to tolerate ocean acidification as opposed to the ones that are more vulnerable to it,” says Mathis.

That’s where scientists like Gretchen Hofmann come in. She’s a marine biology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I work on marine invertebrates and sometimes fish and we study how they respond to their environment. We would call it environment-organism interactions and lately we’ve been interested in how these organisms will respond to future changes in ocean pH and ocean warming,” says Hofmann.

She’s a leader in what Mathis calls the emerging field of genetic adaptability.

“So it really just started with a conversation with oceanographers who were thinking about this and from there, we started to do experiments, and then we started to ask deeper questions about whether or not organisms could adapt to these changes in the ocean and even if there are already genotypes and strains of organisms that are able to handle a low pH condition,” says Hofmann.

She says the first experiments they did were a bit too basic for Mother Nature. They’d take species, put them in water with different pH, and see how they’d react. That didn’t reflect natural variations in ocean conditions.

“What we found was that there wasn’t just this straight line, no pH change, but that pH was going up and down sometimes quite dramatically,” says Hofmann.

Alaskan waters, for example, are very cold and have shifting pH depending on the seasons, fresh water inputs, and how much CO2-rich glacial melt is present.

From Washington to California, the coast is subject to a phenomenon known as upwelling, which is a cycle of seasonal winds pushing newer oxygen-rich water off the surface of the ocean and older, nutrient and CO2 rich water rising up to take its place. That means a lot of pH fluctuation.

So, Hofmann says they shifted their sea urchin research to take upwelling into account.

“And we formed the hypothesis to test that the adults from the place where there was a lot of low pH exposure would be genetically different from the wimpy ones that did not experience all that pH stress,” says Hofmann.

They found that the urchins from areas with upwelling had a different genetic signature from those who weren’t and their progeny, or babies, were more tolerant of acidic water.

“It was even more interesting because it looked like the trait of being able to tolerate that low pH, that was heritable,” says Hofmann.

She points to work being done in New Zealand, where different types of green-shelled mussels are being cross-bred to develop a new resistant and adaptive strain.

So, an Alaskan hatchery, for example, could choose to make the shift from some common species being raised now to ones that selectively favor that trait.

But it also may mean letting go of consumer preference for certain types of clams, mussels, and other shellfish that just don’t measure up.

“These are things that we should be taking a strong look at because it could be that there are other strains of shellfish that could be used that would be more successful in a mariculture setting. But, it is a very thorny issue and one that I think science could bring a lot of daylight to, I think, if we work together on it,” says Hofmann.

Hofmann says it’s important for industry and scientists to start partnering now, to get ahead of the game as much as possible.

“The first thing we have to do though is get carbon dioxide emission levels under control and then we can deal with the damage that has already been done through mitigation and adaptation strategies,” says Mathis.

Because, the problem will only get worse with each coming year.

Categories: Alaska News

Suspicious Duffel Bag at Federal Building Draws Juneau’s Bomb Squad

Tue, 2015-07-14 09:26

Photo: KTOO.

A suspicious duffel bag left in the post office parking lot outside Juneau’s downtown Federal Building on Monday drew out the bomb squad.

Police cordoned off the area, but the building wasn’t evacuated.

Lt. Kris Sell with the Juneau Police Department says their initial call was “that a woman who was running for some unknown reason threw down a duffel bag and left it in the parking lot.”

Sell says the woman came back about 25 minutes later and tried to reclaim the bag, but at that point police erred on the side of caution and inspected the bag as if it were a bomb. It wasn’t.

The woman isn’t in custody and hasn’t been identified, though police want to talk to her and have surveillance video.

“If the woman who jettisoned the bag and then came back for it could contact us to talk to us, that would save us a little bit of leg work in the investigation,” Sell said. “We’d sure like to have a conversation with her and know what’s going go.  Not that she’s necessarily in any trouble.”

There was nothing illegal in bag. Sell says the investigation is ongoing.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell’s Fennica Vessel Limps to Oregon For Repairs

Mon, 2015-07-13 19:45

A Royal Dutch Shell PLC ship carrying required blowout response equipment for Arctic offshore drilling will be sent to a West Coast shipyard for repairs.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith says the 380-foot icebreaker Fennica will transit from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Portland, Ore., for repairs.

Smith says the company’s 2015 drilling schedule should not be interrupted.

The hull of the Fennica was gashed July 3 by an uncharted object as it departed for the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.

The Fennica’s primary mission for Shell is carrying a capping stack, which could be lowered onto a wellhead to stop a blowout.

Smith says Shell drill rigs can begin top-hole work and the Fennica will not be needed until August.

Categories: Alaska News

Records: Employees used leave time for charity golf tourney

Mon, 2015-07-13 19:00

Public records show nearly all of the employees of the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. who played in a charity golf tournament last month took personal leave time that day.

Stacy Schubert, a spokeswoman for the independent state agency, says some returned to work while others took personal leave for the day. She says one employee, who helped with the tournament and later returned to the office, was paid for the day.

Rep. Lynn Gattis used the event as an example of the need for agencies to exercise restraint in activities that go beyond their core missions as the state deals with large budget deficits.

Schubert says no state or federal money was used to put on the event, which raised about $15,000 for the Nome Boys and Girls Club.

Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard searches for a missing cruise ship passenger near Seattle

Mon, 2015-07-13 18:36

The Coast Guard is searching an area in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca near Seattle for a passenger reported missing from a Holland America cruise ship.

The cruise line says the 64-year-old man was aboard the ship Statendam when it sailed from Victoria, British Columbia, Sunday night, but he didn’t check off the ship after it docked in Seattle on Monday.

Petty Officer Katelyn Shearer says Holland America reviewed surveillance video and determined the man’s location was last known off the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Neither the Coast Guard nor Holland America would immediately say what the video showed.

The Coast Guard says it has two cutters, two smaller boats and a helicopter searching for the man. He’s described as a U.S. citizen who had been traveling alone.

The Statendam was on a 14-day roundtrip cruise from Seattle to Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, July 13, 2015

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:45

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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State Says Sockeye Fire Sprung From A Burn Pile; 2 Face Charges

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Two Anchorage adults have been charged with igniting the Sockeye fire, which destroyed 55 homes near Willow in June.

Marriage Ruling Doesn’t Protect LBGT Alaskans Against Workplace Discrimination

Lakeidra Chavis, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska is one of 28 states that allow workplace discrimination against someone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Calista Shareholders Vote to Enroll ‘Afterborns’

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Thousands of so-called afterborns will be eligible for shares of Calista Corporation after shareholders voted Saturday. The preliminary results from the annual meeting in Kasigluk dramatically reshape the ownership of the Y-K Delta’s regional Alaska Native Corporation.

Lessons for Alaska: Oregon Shellfish Hatchery Tackles Ocean Acidification

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

A recent NOAA study named 2040 as the date for the potential end of Alaskan shellfish hatcheries. That is, unless serious mitigation efforts are put in place to combat ocean acidification. Earlier this week, we reported on the research, done at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward. Now, we’ll take a look at what a hatchery on the Oregon coast is doing to deal with these harmful changes in ocean chemistry.

On the Nushagak, Sportfishers Struggle to Reel In the Kings

Matt Martin, KDLG – Dillingham

The Nushagak River is becoming one of Alaska’s premier destinations for king salmon sport fishermen. The king return to the Nushagak is proving stronger this year than last, and Fish and Game says they’re on track to meet the escapement goal. But sport fishing guides say the angling has been less than average.

New RX Drug Drop Gives Community a Chance to Safely Purge Meds

Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau

Starting Monday, Juneau residents will be able to walk into the police department and hand over drugs without consequence. It’s been several months since the community could safely dispose of prescription medications.

 

 

Haines Sees A Spike in Avian Rescues

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

The American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines has seen such a dramatic increase in bird rescues that they’re asking for the public’s help. The foundation plans to form a volunteer Avian Rescue Team.

Categories: Alaska News

Sockeye Fire Charges Filed

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:43

Two Anchorage adults have been charged with igniting the Sockeye fire, which destroyed fifty – five homes near Willow in June.

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The point of ignition of the Sockeye fire has been traced to an unattended burn pile on Willow property owned by Anchorage resident Greg Imig, aged 59. Imig, and Amy Dewitt, age 42 have been charged for their role in starting the 7,220 acre wildfire. According to state fire information officer Tim Mowry,  Imig and DeWitt did not have a burn permit for the debris pile located on forested lands at a recreational cabin owned by Imig.

“They were burning debris without a permit, and they did leave that fire unattended, and it is a worst case scenario and that’s why it strictly says on our burn permits, and it is what we try to drive home.. never leave any fire unattended.”

According to Mowry, an investigation conducted by the state division of forestry and the state fire marshall’s office concluded that the illegal burn was left unattended on the evening of June 13. One of several of the burn piles smoldered and crept into the woods, resulting in the blaze that swept toward Willow on Sunday, June 14, causing evacuations Sunday night and Monday.

“You know, to be clear, there was no burn suspension in place. So if these folks had have had a permit, and had followed safe burn guidelines, they would have been within the law. It’s tragic all around what happened”, Mowry says.

Imig and Dewitt are to be arraigned in Palmer District Court on July 28. Charges include three counts of reckless endangerment, criminally negligent burning, failure to obtain a burn permit, burning without clearing an area, allowing the spread of fire and leaving a fire unattended. Mowry says that Amy Dewitt did make the 911 call to fire officials.

The Sockeye wildfire moved so quickly that many evacuees had little time to gather more than a few items and rescue pets. The fire was fought with help from Hot Shot crews from the lower 48, and at one point there were 500 firefighters attacking the blaze.  Mowry says that the most recent information puts the cost of fighting the blaze at over $8 million.  That cost does not include losses of the structures.

In addition to the 55 homes lost, 44 additional structures were lost in the blaze.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines Sees A Spike in Birds Needing Rescue

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:37

The American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines has seen such a dramatic increase in bird rescues that they’re asking for the public’s help. The foundation plans to form a volunteer Avian Rescue Team to help respond to the unusually high number of injured birds.

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Eagle Foundation staff and visiting vet Michelle Oakley examine an injured eagle. (Courtesy American Bald Eagle Foundation)

The word that Eagle Foundation staff keep using to describe the spike in bird rescues is “intense.”

“Yeah it’s been a wave of birds, just very intense,” said raptor curator Chloe Goodson.

They say, in the past, they’ve been called to one or two bird rescues throughout the entire year. So far this year, they’ve done 16 bird rescues. That includes eagles, ravens, hummingbirds, and more.

“Recently there’s just been an explosion of birds,” Goodson said. “It’s not uncommon to see one or two a week.”

“I’ve been here seven years and this is busiest we’ve ever been with injured birds,” said Eagle Foundation Director Cheryl McRoberts.

The past week alone has been a record-breaking one, McRoberts says. They’ve rescued three eagles and one raven.

“For the past few eagles it’s been a lot of trauma,” Goodson said. “Like, probably got hit by a car, probably ran into something.”

Education and Outreach Coordinator Leia Minch went on the most recent eagle rescue. The foundation got a call from police about an injured bird near Mud Bay Road.

“So we went down there, put a net over it — you get control of the head to get a towel over it,” Minch said. “There’s kind of a theory with raptors that what they can’t see they can’t fear. So you want to cover up their visual senses. And then get them in a crate and take them here to do triage. You take good notes so that the vets down in Sitka kind of have an idea of what’s going on with the bird.”

There’s no full time veterinarian in Haines, so the foundation sends injured eagles to the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka. The center said on their Facebook page that June was their busiest month ever, with 20 injured bald eagles being sent in. So far in July, they’ve admitted six eagles.

The Haines Eagle Foundation staff say they don’t know what is causing the dramatic increase in injured bird calls. They say it could partly be that people are more aware that the foundation does bird rescues.

“I would lean toward that there’s more awareness going on,” Minch said. “Another thing to think about is this a really warm, dry year. So food availability might not be as good as it has been in previous years.”

Local bird watcher and counter Pam Randles thinks food scarcity could have something to do with it. She says this summer, she’s observed more desperate behavior in birds searching for food. She’s seen birds fighting over food, eagles trying to steal fish from people, and other risky behavior. It’s speculation, but Randles says that kind of risk taking could lead to more injuries.

Whatever the cause, the staff at the eagle foundation have decided they need more manpower to deal with the influx of avian injuries.

“We do need help,” Goodson said.

She says volunteers on the Avian Rescue Team will be trained in how to handle an injured bird and bring it to the foundation. Having a few more people on call to help will take some of the burden off of the foundation’s three trained raptor handlers.

The foundation has set up a cell phone that they’ll pass around to staff and volunteers. Whoever has the phone will be the on-call raptor rescuer.

“On the last eagle that we had, it was a Sunday and everybody was off [work,]” said McRoberts. “And I got the [injured bird] phone call and I was in a panic. I was running around knocking on doors trying to find help. So if we had some volunteers that would really be helpful.”

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Avian Rescue Team in Haines, you can call the foundation at 907-766-3094 or stop by in person.

Categories: Alaska News

Calista Shareholders Vote to Enroll ‘Afterborns’

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:36

Thousands of so-called afterborns will be eligible for shares of Calista Corporation after shareholders voted Saturday. The preliminary results from the annual meeting in Kasigluk dramatically reshape the ownership of the Y-K Delta’s regional Alaska Native Corporation.

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The prospect of enrolling the younger generation of Y-K Delta Alaska Natives has been discussed for years. Now after the historic vote, Calista communications manager Thom Leonard says it too will take time to bring on the tens of thousands of new shareholders, That’s expected to start in the first half of 2017.

Calista is the regional Native corporation for much of Western Alaska. (Image courtesy of Calista Corp.)

“This is going to be a long term process. It’s something that can’t happen overnight. Over the next 18 to 24 months, we’ll spend a lot of time developing and implementing the enrollment process.  We’re going to be talking to other regional Alaska Native Corporations who have enrolled their descendants, finding about materials they used to process their enrollment of descendants.”

The move extends the shareholder base beyond people born before a cutoff date of December 18th 1971. Prior to passage of the binding resolution, younger people could only receive shares through inheritance or gifting.

The company estimates that the number of shareholders could quickly increase from 13,000 to between 38,000 and 43,000.  With a tripling of shares, each individual shareholder would, on average, receive one-third of the value of shareholder dividends relative to the company prior to expansion.  Last year’s dividend averaged $380 dollars.

Board Chair Willie Kasayulie of Akiachak says the company will benefit from the new voices.

“Many of these younger people are highly educated and I think in that context, I welcome the enrollment of descendants because of their ability to provide input to the operation of the company.”

In addition to descendants, people who were eligible in 1971 but did not enroll can apply for shares. Enrollment will be ongoing after it starts in 2017.  That means newborn Y-K Delta Alaska Natives will be eligible upon birth for their corporate shares.

“The parents will be able to apply to become a shareholder for them at any time, there wont’ be any open periods or anything like that.”

Original shares will not go away and can be passed through gifting. The new shares however, are life estate, meaning that they only exist as long as the shareholder is alive.

The company takes on additional administrative overhead with the growth. Implementing the enrollment may cost a million dollars.  Establishing a quorum also becomes more complicated. While more than 60 percent of shareholders live in the Y-K Delta region, that figure could drop to 55 percent with the descendant enrollment.

Calista has grown from the 16th largest Alaska-owned company by revenues in 2010 to the eighth largest last year. The company is active in several industries, like aerospace, military contracting, real estate, and construction. They own subsurface rights to the Donlin Gold prospect.

Leonard says the company’s focus remains the same.

“Calista’s day-to-day operations and strategies don’t really change. Under ANCSA, ANC’s have two objections. One e is to be successful business. The other is to improve the lives of their shareholders. Calista will continue to work to be a successful company.”

Calista joins other Alaska Native corporations like the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Doyon, and Sealaska that have issued shares to descendants. The most recent was Ahtna in 2008.

Categories: Alaska News

New RX Drug Drop gives community a chance to safely purge meds

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:33

Adam Nelson says people inquire once or twice a week what to do with leftover prescription drugs. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Starting Monday, Juneau residents will be able to walk into the police department and hand over prescription drugs without consequence. It’s been several months since the community could safely dispose of their medications.

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Adam Nelson is the lead pharmacist at Juneau Drug Company. A quaint, old-fashioned pharmacy in the heart of downtown. He started working here when he was 14 and became a pharmacist about five years ago.

He says his favorite thing about the job is the people.

“Talking to them, finding out about their day and helping in any way I can,” he says.

But something that can be difficult to help customers with is what to do with leftover prescription pills. He says they inquire once or twice a week, “Can I drop this off here?”

“Because they went to the dentist, they give them 20 pain pills in case they need them, they only take three,” he says. “And they need somewhere to put them and most people in Juneau don’t want to throw them in the garbage.”

Trace amounts of medication, flushed down the toilet or thrown in a landfill, can wind up in your drinking water.

“Let’s say, you go to the dump and you throw in a handful of pills in the dump. All that rain water is going to turn it into liquid and it’s going to flow out into the streams and the creeks,” he says.

The RX Drug Drop is located in the lobby of the Juneau Police Department. Prescription medication is welcome. Needles and liquids are not. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Twice a year, the DEA, along with the Juneau Police Department, would round up surplus pharmaceuticals. But that program ended last year after funding was cut.

Lt. Chris Sell from JPD says disposal options were non-existent.

“People were justifiably frustrated when they were trying to do the right thing and there wasn’t an avenue to responsibly and legally dispose of their medications,” she says.

Now with the RX Drug Drop, people can walk in and safely get rid of their meds.

The model has worked successfully in other places, such as Ketchikan. The police department there has been doing it for about 2 ½ years. Sell says people can drop off medication anonymously.

“There’s no forms to fill out it’s just like a book at the library.”

Last year, JPD confiscated 374 prescription opioid pills which can elicit the same effect on the brain as heroin. Sell says addiction can start at home and lead to harder substances.

“When we talk to addicted people, they almost always started with someone’s prescription drugs.”

With the addition of the drop box, JPD hopes it won’t come to that.

Categories: Alaska News

Yukon River chinook salmon run weaker than expected

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:00

“Chinook salmon, Yukon Delta NWR.” Photo: Craig Springer, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Via Flickr Creative Commons.

State wildlife officials say the chinook salmon run on the Yukon River will be even weaker than expected.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports most of the fish are upstream already in a run that likely won’t reach between 118,000 and 140,000 chinook, an already conservative estimate.

An Alaska Department of Fish and Game news release says about 112,000 chinook salmon have been counted migrating upstream so far.

Limited subsistence fishing and other restrictions have been in place to ensure enough chinook reach Canada to satisfy goals set by the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

This summer’s chum run has been average and will likely reach 1.4 million on the Yukon.

Categories: Alaska News

State Says Sockeye Fire Sprung from A Burn Pile; 2 Face Charges

Mon, 2015-07-13 16:23

Troopers stop traffic on the Parks Highway Monday morning as the Sockeye Fire spreads. (Photo by John Norris – Alaska Public Media)

On Monday, the State of Alaska filed charges against two Anchorage residents for starting the debris burn that turned into the 7,200-acre Sockeye Fire. The fire destroyed fifty-five homes and damaged forty-four other structures, according to the state.

In a press release issued Monday afternoon, Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says that charges were filed against 59-year-old Greg Imig and 42-year-old Amy Dewitt. Charges include three counts of reckless endangerment, negligent burning, failure to obtain a burn permit, not clearing the burn area, and, ultimately, allowing the fire to spread unattended.

The Division of Forestry and Alaska Fire Marshal’s office say that Imig and Dewitt were burning debris on the evening of June 13th near their cabin at mile 77 of the Parks Highway. The state claims that the fires were left unattended, and one continued to smolder, igniting the nearby forest the next day.

The charges facing Imig and Dewitt are all misdemeanors, four of which carry maximum penalties of $10,000 and a year in jail, each. Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry says that individuals responsible for starting a wildfire can be held accountable for two-times the cost of fighting the fire. The state’s latest estimate on the cost of suppressing the Sockeye Fire is $8 million.

Categories: Alaska News

Lessons for Alaska: Oregon Shellfish Hatchery Tackles Ocean Acidification

Mon, 2015-07-13 14:54

Inside the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery – Photo courtesy of ceoas.oregonstate.edu

A recent NOAA study pegged 2040 as the date for the potential end of Alaskan shellfish hatcheries. That is, unless serious mitigation efforts are put in place to combat ocean acidification. Last week we reported on the research, done at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward. Now, we’ll take a look at what a hatchery on the Oregon coast is doing to deal with these harmful changes in ocean chemistry.

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery is located in the small town of Tillamook, Oregon.

“This hatchery was started by Lee Hanson,” says Sue Cudd, who owns the hatchery now. “It was really the first shellfish hatchery that was commercial in operation. It started in 1978.”

She studied biology in school, worked for an oyster company for a while, and then came on with Lee Hanson to learn about the hatchery world. From the 1970s until 2006, there were natural ups and downs, but overall, things ran relatively smoothly.

“Then all of a sudden, in about 2006, we started seeing some pretty major problems. Then from the end of 2007 to the end of 2008, we couldn’t produce larvae anymore,” says Cudd.

For a year and a half, they tried to produce. Even when they did manage to get some larvae, they wouldn’t survive and develop. It was a financial nightmare for the business.

“We lose money really fast because the production cost is the same without having any production. So, it was tough,” says Cudd. “We got help from some customers. The oyster growers association [helped] and one of our state senators got us some community development money, so we had time to be able to try to solve this problem. Without that, I don’t know what would have happened because we just lost money so fast.”

They weren’t sure what to do, but they figured they should start with looking at the water. They hired an oceanographer consultant and got in touch with OSU’s marine lab. They brought in specialized equipment and began evaluating the water’s pH and other levels several times a day.

Wiley Evans is a researcher at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environment Lab in Seattle. He was the project lead at Alutiiq Pride in Seward, and says what Sue Cudd is describing is now seen as a defining time in this field of research. They’ve become a model for studying and coping.

“The classic is at Whiskey Creek Hatchery on the Oregon coast,” says Evans. “The first hatchery to really start making these measurements with help from Burke Hales at Oregon State University.”

Burke Hales is the namesake of the Burkolator, an instrument now used at both sites to measure partial pressure of carbon dioxide or pCO2 in the ocean.

Cudd says the equipment brought in led them to find that the levels of carbon dioxide in the water were much higher than they’d expected. Lots of measurements seemed out of whack. But why had it taken them nearly two years of lost product to figure it out?

“We didn’t know why we couldn’t produce larvae because we really never knew why we could. We didn’t know what conditions they needed, we didn’t know what their parameters were because we never needed to. They just grew,” says Cudd. “So, then when we started having problems, we had to go back and try to figure out what was wrong with the water.”

And that’s her first piece of advice for hatcheries. If you haven’t already started taking measurements, start now. The Alutiiq Pride study is doing just that, says Evans.

“So we wanted to set a baseline because, really, the shellfish aquaculture industry in Alaska is very young. So, right now, there’s one shellfish hatchery and we’re making measurements in that hatchery,” says Evans. “We wanted to set a baseline that could be something that the industry uses for moving forward in the future.”

Cudd says based on daily and seasonally fluctuating CO2 and acidity levels, Whiskey Creek has developed a system to compensate. They buffer the water in their production tanks with injections of sodium carbonate. The carbonate helps organisms like clams and mussels develop their shells, which they can’t do in unusually acidic water. Alutiiq Pride is now considering that as an option for the future.

“It’s weird to think that 10 years ago, we were running this hatchery with no treatment and now we don’t ever run with no treatment,” says Cudd.

And that’s been the direct cost of acidification to her hatchery. The carbonate is relatively cheap, but the whole operation has changed. They’ve had to integrate lots of expensive equipment into their daily work. Staff have to constantly monitor it, maintain it, make adjustments here and there.

She asks, if such an drastic change could happen over the course of a year and a half, what could happen next?

“It’s incredible. It opens your eyes. It makes you see things very differently,” says Cudd.

And researchers and hatcheries in Alaska are now looking to places like Whiskey Creek for clues on how to deal with the serious issue that is ocean acidification.

In the next part of this series, KBBI reporter Shady Grove Oliver will take a look at the future of ocean acidification from genetic studies to water currents. Read more about the study being done at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, here: http://kbbi.org/ocean-acidification-threatens-future-of-alaskan-shellfish-hatcheries

Categories: Alaska News

Despite marriage equality ruling, LGBTQ Alaskans can still be discriminated against

Mon, 2015-07-13 14:05

The State of Alaska has a commission whose sole purpose is to eliminate and prevent discrimination, but it can’t do anything when it comes to gender identity or sexual orientation. Alaska is one of 28 states that allows workplace discrimination against these classes.

Rachel Pettijohn says she was discriminated against by two Juneau employers. The State of Alaska has no law protecting discrimination based on sexual identity or gender orientation. (Photo by Lakeidra Chavis/KTOO)

Rachel Pettijohn believes she was discriminated against and humiliated at two tourism companies she’s worked at since moving to Juneau two years ago.

“They didn’t fire me, they just cut down my hours to where I wasn’t getting any hours,” she said.

Since she still works in the industry, Pettijohn declined to name them.

During her first job, a supervisor implied that she was a pedophile, according to Pettijohn.

Her boss was horrified after she made an innocent comment about a coworker’s toddler.

 “I said, ‘Hey, your little girl is really cute,” Pettijohn said. “’And she went, ‘You said that? I can’t believe you said that.’ She thought I was meaning it, in that way,” she said, “and it was just because I was gay. She wouldn’t think it if I was a straight person.”

But Pettijohn didn’t make a big deal about it.

“I think I was kind of embarrassed about it, to be honest,” she said.

Even if she could prove she was discriminated against because of her identity, she wasn’t protected by the law. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer are not consistently protected under federal law from workplace discrimination.

Former Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, tried in 2011 and 2013 to outlaw this type of discrimination. Republican Rep. Cathy Muñoz is carrying the bill this time around.

The Alaska Human Rights Commission documents discrimination complaints each year in their annual report, but doesn’t include data on gender identity or sexual orientation discrimination.

“Very few people contact us because they’re concerned about discrimination based on lesbian, gay, transgender or queer issues because they know we don’t cover those,” according to Paula Haley, the commission’s director.

“So they don’t reach out to us, because they know we don’t have the ability to help them.”

In the past few years, Haley’s only seen a handful of cases. However, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission is beginning to accept some LGBTQ claims, according to Haley.

But this area of the law is complicated.

LGBTQ employees who work for the State of Alaska do have workplace protections, according to Department of Administration Commissioner Sheldon Fisher.

“If someone claimed they were not hired or fired due to reasons other than their ability to do the job, whatever those reasons are, that’s something we would work with,” Fisher said.

Some private sector employers may have their own policies.

Drew Phoenix is director of Identity, Inc., an Anchorage-based nonprofit that provides resources for the LGBTQ community. One of the services Identity provides is workplace cultural competency training, also referred to as sensitivity training.

“There’s no legal recourse, which is the really sad part. It’s like our hands are tied, so we can’t even report things at any point,” Phoenix said.

Requests for the training have doubled in the past year. Identity has administered more than 20 since January, according to Phoenix.

Rachel Pettijohn is now at her third company, where she says her employers are welcoming and respect her sexual orientation.

Categories: Alaska News

As cleanup ends, Chichagof Island mine goes wild in Southeast

Mon, 2015-07-13 08:14

A wooded area of the “Boomer Lands.” It’s located on Chichagof Island. (Photo courtesy of the Forest Service)

Although Alaska’s Gold Rush never really paid off in the Sitka area, that didn’t stop people from trying. On neighboring Chichagof Island, thousands of prospectors are thought to have combed the valleys and mountain sides looking for gold in the late 1800s.

Mining took place for the next hundred years or so. The last working stake on West Chichagof shut down in the 1980s, and reverted to ownership by the City of Sitka.

Now, Sitka is getting out as well. As part of the Blue Lake Dam hydro expansion, the city is trading its old mining property back the U.S. Forest Service in exchange for land flooded by the Blue Lake reservoir.

Southeast Alaska was inundated with gold miners in the 19th century — and West Chichagof was a popular destination. Although mines never approached the size and wealth of Juneau’s Silverbow Basin or Douglas, there was enough paydirt to keep people interested.

In fact, at one time the West Chichagof mine and the community associated with it were bigger than Sitka.

“In the 1800s when people settled that area they probably came from all over the place, and you had a combination of small claims, people who were pan gold finders and speculators came up,” says Andrew Thoms, Executive Director of the Sitka Conservation Society.

Thoms says eventually companies came in and bought up smaller mining claims and began larger excavations. But in time, as the gold ran out, so did the people.

The City and Borough of Sitka acquired the property in 1971, when the original land owners stopped paying taxes on it.

A map of Chichagof.

The city subsequently leased the area to an outside company, which eventually prospected the land for minerals in the 80’s and left the property badly damaged.

“The Boomer property that we’re talking about up there is not the whole mine area,” Thoms says. ” That is an inholding that somebody had as a mining claim, and they did work up there, and did some pretty bad damage up there while they were working that,” he says.

Now, Sitka is handing over the Boomer Lands to the Forest Service, but it’s not a giveaway.

When the city raised the Blue Lake dam by 83 feet last year, the reservoir grew in size and flooded the surrounding U.S.-owned wilderness. In exchange, the Sitka-owned Boomer property on Chichagof is now being surrendered back into the Yakobi wilderness and into the hands of the United States.

Making the 48-acre plot wild again is no easy task. The parties in the land swap have worked out a cleanup plan, with the help of the Conservation Society.

“The person who owned it left a ton of trash up there, some of it was toxic, just stuff you can’t have out there in the forest,” Thoms says.

The project has been in the works for a while now. Crews had to remove old sheds, a camping trailer, a bulldozer and other wastes.

The Sitka Assembly authorized $79,600 for the Boomer cleanup, which includes the cost of the junk disposal.

After the area was cleared, it was just that — empty, damaged land with no vegetation.

An area of the Boomer Lands that lacks vegetation. (Photo courtesy of the Forest Service)

“By the time the SCS and forest crew got there, it was literally a case of trying to restore the hydrology of the site,” says Luke A’Bear, Conservation and Management Resident at SCS. “The water is just running down these roads, and not flowing where it should, stopping plants from regrowing on it,” he says.

The crew started by laying down mats of vegetation sourced from around the area on top of the bare rock surface. They put down woody debris and other organic materials to serve as a nursing ground for future plants and grass to grow. Channels were also dug in the area to reroute streams into their original channels.

“We spread a native Southeast Alaskan grass seed, because it will grow quickly and stabilize the soils,” A’Bear says. “We also transplanted little spruce seedlings and hemlock seedlings from the surrounding area,” he says.

The project is now in the hands of the Forest Service’s Alaska Lands Team. When the Boomer Lands are fully restored, they will be another area people can go to enjoy the Tongass.

“A lot of people from Sitka go up to West Chichagof,” Thoms says. “People really appreciate it because it’s wild country, you can go out and enjoy the wilderness and Alaska as it was before people were here.”

The next time locals go up to West Chichagof for a deer hunt, there won’t be any worry of running across a dilapidated mining tractor.

Categories: Alaska News

In historic vote, Calista shareholders choose to enroll afterborns

Mon, 2015-07-13 08:03

Thousands of so-called afterborns will be eligible for shares of Calista Corporation after shareholders voted Saturday. The preliminary results from the annual meeting in Kasigluk dramatically reshapes the ownership of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s regional Alaska Native Corporation.

Calista is the regional Native corporation for much of Western Alaska. (Image courtesy of Calista Corp.)

It extends the shareholder base beyond people born before a cutoff date of December 18th 1971. Prior to passage of the binding resolution, younger people could only receive shares through inheritance or gifting.

The company estimates that the number of shareholders could initially increase from 13,000 to between 38,000 and 43,000. With a tripling of shares, each individual shareholder would, on average, receive one-third of the value of shareholder dividends relative to the company prior to expansion. Last year’s dividend averaged $380 dollars.

The company takes on additional administrative overhead with the growth. Establishing a quorum also becomes more complicated. While more than 60% of shareholders live in the YK Delta region, that figure could drop to 55% with the descendant enrollment.

The corporation in a Saturday news release did not indicate the breakdown of votes for descendant enrollment. The certified tally will available in the next few days. Just fewer than 58% of the company’s shares voted this year, many through online proxy votes.

Calista says they will spend the next 18-24 months developing a plan for enrollment. The actual enrollment would begin between January and June of 2017. One-hundred Class C shares are issued to descendants of original shareholders, while Class D shares will be created for Alaska Natives who did not receive original shares in 1971 with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Board Chair Willie Kasayulie in a statement said the company has for years heard from shareholders about their interest in enrolling descendants.

“With this binding vote, Calista’s shareholder base will grow tremendously, and we directors and the administration will step up to meet the increased challenges,” said Kasayulie.

Calista joins other Alaska Native corporations like the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Doyon, and Sealaska that have issued shares to descendants.

Categories: Alaska News

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