Alaska News

World’s largest collection of Yup’ik and Cup’ik videos now available online

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-11 16:14
Mary Worm of Kongiganak laughs while telling a story during KYUK’s “Waves of Wisdom” series, featuring interviews with YK Delta elders. This video and others are now available online through the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.
(KYUK image)

Remember KYUK’s old TV shows from decades past? “Waves of Wisdom” with Yup’ik elders, “Tales of the Tundra” ghost stories with John Active, or “Ask An Alaskan,” KYUK’s game show? Selections of these programs and more are now available online. KYUK has begun adding its self-proclaimed “world’s largest collection of Yup’ik and Cup’ik videos” to the internet. The collection captures glimpses of nearly half a century of life on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and for the first time it’s available to anyone searching the web.

In one video, an elder, Neva Rivers of Hooper Bay, is sitting on a floor strewn with dry brown sea grass. She’s using the grass to sew together stripes of dried, translucent seal gut. She tells the camera in Yup’ik that she takes care of everything that she’s going to use, from the seal to the blades of grass.

John Active has worked for KYUK for 40 years and helped film many of these videos. Watching the screen he said, “When they started talking, we tried to keep quiet so they wouldn’t lose their train of thought. Because they were becoming a lost art. They’re a lost art now. I don’t know of any elders right now who sew seal intestine rain coats.”

Another video opens on a laughing elder in her 80s, wearing large glasses and a red sweater. Mary Worm, from Kongiganak, shared her stories as part of KYUK’s “Waves of Wisdom” series.

In Yup’ik she says, “You know how they tell us when we’re young that you’re going to get married and then the child says, ‘I’m not going to get married.’ That’s what I thought.” Then she talks about her husband. The video tells a story about how elders’ advice to the young is valuable, but often unheard.

John Active remembers holding this interview with Mary Worm at her home.

“I walked into her house, knocked on the door, no answer,” Active said. “So I opened it and heard music in the background. There she was, sitting in front of the TV set watching Jaws. And she pointed at the screen to Jaws and said, ‘That fish in there is very wise. It knows how to catch people and sink boats.’ So I had to watch it with her before we did the interview.”

That’s one of many videos that feature John Active. Another is a New Years segment from the 1980s.

In the video, a young John Active, sporting a full head of black hair, sits at a desk strewn with papers. Looking at the camera, he says, “Burning illegal firewood brings excitement and intrigue during otherwise cold and dreary winters like we have here.”

Active goes on to instruct people downriver on how to steal trees from upriver.

“Because those upriver Eskimos didn’t want us downriver Eskimos to go up and cut their wood,” Active explained, watching the video.

The young Active continues, “The best time to gather these clandestine logs is at night, when most everyone is at bingo, church, watching R-rated programs on cable or satellite TV.”

The video is from “Frost Bits”, small segments used to fill out the half-hour newscast. TV was still new for many people at the time, and the news team used the often irreverent “Frost Bits” to hook viewers.

About 170 KYUK videos are available on the American Archive of Public Broadcasting website. KYUK still has 2,700 hours of video to add and is raising money to do so.

But money is not the only problem; memory is another.

KYUK needs help. Over the decades, labels were lost and we don’t know who the people are in many of the online videos, or where they were filmed. Many were elders who have passed.

One example is a video of a man talking about moose hunting near Kwethluk. He explains how he would store his dried foods in the bluffs where he’d sleep during the August hunt. Unidentified wooden tools lie in front of him. If KYUK knew his name, then his grandchildren could search his name and hear his story, as could schools, villages and others searching for traditional knowledge.

To help identify people featured in the videos, email KYUK’s Multimedia Director Katie Basile at katie@kyuk.org.

Categories: Alaska News

Industry, environmental groups speak out as Hilcorp paves the way for drilling in federal Arctic waters

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-11 15:50
A 3-D rendering of Hilcorp’s proposed Liberty project as represented in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s draft environmental impact statement. (Image elizabeth

Regulators are taking input on what could be the nation’s first oil production platform in federal Arctic waters.

The oil and gas company Hilcorp wants to build a gravel island in shallow waters in the Beaufort Sea, east of Prudhoe Bay. The Liberty project would be similar to several gravel islands built to produce oil in nearby state waters.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, held its last hearing in Anchorage, on Tuesday, asking the public to weigh in as it prepares its environmental impact statement.

Many of the speakers were from industry or trade groups, who all argued in favor of the project.

“The Liberty Project represents a positive step towards perpetuation of the oil and gas industry in Alaska by curtailing oil production decline at this crucial time in Alaska’s history,”  Bob Stinson said. He’s with Price Gregory, a company constructs pipelines.

Most of the speakers echoed Stinson, saying the Liberty project would give a much-needed boost to the trans-Alaska pipeline. The pipeline is now running at about 500,000 barrels per day. Hilcorp plans to produce up to 70,000 barrels per day from Liberty.

There were a few dissenters. Protesters with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, briefly held up a banner in the hallway reading, “NO ARCTIC DRILLING.” During the hearing, the Center’s Blake Kopcho argued Hilcorp’s record in Alaska should disqualify it from a project in the Arctic Ocean.

“Hilcorp has a documented history of accidents and safety violations, which heighten the numerous inherent risks with offshore drilling in the Arctic,” Kopcho said.

Hilcorp was responsible for a months-long natural gas leak in Cook Inlet this spring.

The company did get a vote of confidence from a top state regulator. Andy Mack, who leads the state Department of Natural Resources, delivered the final public remarks.

“There’s no doubt — there’s no doubt at all — that the economic benefits are substantial,” Mack said. “It’s one of the projects in Alaska that’s been studied very, very extensively and I think that it’s a good project.”

The public comment period for the Liberty Project ends November 18.

Categories: Alaska News

Citing safety concerns, airlines refuse to fly to Tununak Airport

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-11 15:26
Local airlines are no longer flying into Tununak’s small airport. (Courtesy of Andrea Pokrzywinski)

About a year agoTununak opened a $19 million, state-of-the-art airport. But now, local airlines are refusing to fly there. The village’s shifting permafrost is buckling the runway, and both Ravn Alaska and Grant Aviation say that it’s too dangerous for pilots to land on it safely.

According to Gordon Tester, Tununak’s school principal, the airport has been effectively shut down since last Thursday. Community members weren’t really told what was happening.

“We were calling the airlines [and] asking when the next plane was coming in,” Tester said. “And they just said they’re not landing until further notice. Well, then you have to ask, ‘well what is further notice?'”

It was only then, said Tester, that Tununak residents discovered that Ravn and Grant had stopped flying to their village altogether.

Like most Alaskan communities off the road system, Tununak relies on air travel for many goods and services.

“It’s impacted the community because the shelves on the store are pretty much empty,” Tester said. “We haven’t received mail in over a week or so.”

According to Tribal Administrator James James, several elderly residents are concerned about receiving their medications, some of which need to be refilled by mail.

For now, community members are driving across the tundra on four wheelers to pick up their groceries and mail in Toksook Bay. Tester drove himself there the other day to pick up vegetables and an order of plastic lunch trays for the school.

People have been joking about their bumpy flights in and out of Tununak for a while now, and Tribal Administrator James James said that he notified the Department of Transportation about the faulty runway earlier this year. The lower third of it is riddled with potholes, and now it’s starting to sink.

According to Department of Transportation spokesperson Shannon McCarthy, the melting permafrost may be buckling under the airport’s weight.

“We do expect some of that settling whenever we’re building on tundra or ice-rich soils,” McCarthy said. “We did expect some, but we didn’t expect this level of settling.”

Tununak’s old airport didn’t have these sorts of problems, but McCarthy said that it still needed to be replaced. The old runway was built near the coast, and winter weather conditions made it difficult for planes to land there.

As far as the new airport is concerned, McCarthy said that the Department of Transportation is sending one of its expert grader operators to Tununak with construction workers to assess the situation, but that their flights have been delayed by the autumn storms. Because their assessment has been delayed, McCarthy said that the Department of Transportation does not have a timetable yet for when Tununak’s runway will be fixed.

Categories: Alaska News

On SB91, Anchorage officials want for reforms, not repeal

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-11 14:39
Anchorage Assembly members debate a resolution on SB91, October 10, 2017 (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)

Amid growing criticism of the state’s new criminal justice laws, officials in Anchorage are asking lawmakers for reforms, not a full repeal.

During its Tuesday night meeting, the Anchorage Assembly debated dueling measures concerning Senate Bill 91, the omnibus crime overhaul signed into law last summer. One of the non-binding resolutions asked lawmakers for specific improvements to rules that are on the books or set to go into effect soon.

The other resolution told lawmakers to scrap SB91 and start over from scratch, incorporating only a handful of tougher penalties for serious crimes laid out in the original bill. That effort was lead by conservative Assembly member Amy Demboski of Eagle River, who said SB91 is fundamentally flawed.

“Essentially what we’re doing is taking a pile of mud and trying to turn it into an apple pie,” Demboski said of the reform effort under discussion. “I’m not going to pretend all these little amendments are going to fix SB91. It’s not.”

The effort failed three to eight. Instead, the Assembly incorporated several amendments into a measure that is intended to instruct state lawmakers on local issues arising from parts of SB91—not all of which have gone fully into effect.

Liberal-leaning Assembly vice-chair Forrest Dunbar thinks the move encourages state lawmakers to continue down the same path they have already started on when they take up Senate Bill 54, the legislative vehicle for further changes to state criminal law.

“I think this is a strong resolution, a strong message to the Legislature, that we want you to take this step, pass SB54, and then let’s talk about other issues as well,” Dunbar said. “Let’s talk about staffing, let’s talk about treatment, let’s talk about the bail schedule.”

The measure urging specific reforms passed the Assembly 10 to one.

Categories: Alaska News

Laying the groundwork for housing solutions

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-10-11 14:18
The Housing First Project under construction on November 17, 2016. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

Some solutions for Alaska’s housing shortage are exciting and innovative small-scale projects, like student-built housing in the village of Nikolai. Others are steadfast, long-term solutions that lay the groundwork for housing development statewide.

Brian Wilson is the Executive Director of Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness and knows about some of those long-term ideas. Full disclosure – Brian is married to another reporter you hear on Alaska Public Media, Elizabeth Jenkins from Alaska’s Energy Desk.

Anne Hillman: Brian, communities around the state talk about housing and homelessness. Is that actually a problem?

Brian Wilson: Yes, it’s a big problem in the state. You know, in the last two years we’ve really made a lot of improvements in our data reporting system that tracks homelessness across the state, and we’ve mapped out where our resources are. We’ve really seen that there’s been a rise in chronic homelessness in our state — so people who are consistently homeless and are trying to find a solution to that through a Housing First or a permanent supportive housing intervention.

But we’ve also seen that those interventions just don’t exist, especially in the balance of state [which is everywhere outside of Anchorage.] The resources that we do have are in our urban hubs – Fairbanks, Juneau, and Anchorage for the post part. But for many areas, if someone is presenting as homeless, their closest intervention could be a thousand miles away.

AHFC’s new affordable housing development in Russian Jack, Susitna Square. (Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

Anne: Other states have come up with different ways to address that. How do we develop the specific solutions? Is there a policy to look at?

Brian: The first thing that we’re trying to advocate for is to get this conversation happening on a consistent basis at the legislative level. We’re one of the few states that doesn’t have a legislative committee assigned to housing and homelessness issues. And so what we’re really trying to push right now is to get that conversation happening consistently at the statewide level.

In addition, we really want to have communities have this conversation at the local level. Every community by state statute is required to have a comprehensive plan in place. And those things typically cover land use, transportation, community facilities. The reason why they include those similarities is because that’s what’s required of them in their planning process by the statute. What we’re advocating for is to amend that statute to include housing and homelessness issues in there as this is a problem that every community is facing.

Anne: So we have the conversation on the state and local levels, we figure out our needs. Then, how do we pay for it?

Brian: As it stands right now, there are a lot of different agencies that address homelessness in some way through existing grant streams. But the problem is that those different grant streams are not really connected in an easy way for folks to access and leverage those funds together to put up new programs.

And so what we’re calling for is called a funder’s collaborative. This is a best practice from many different states, where all the different agencies identify that the lack of supportive housing in our state is a problem and it’s a priority area. And we’re going to look at this from an interagency perspective where we work together to ensure that the funds that we do have, that we manage right now to address this issue, are as accessible as possible to communities that may have a very limited knowledge of how to access those funds.

Anne: Will collaborating and coordinating funding streams be enough to solve Alaska’s housing problems, or do we need another source of money?

Brian: We don’t have this pot of gold that we’re sitting on and not disbursing out. A lot of these existing grant streams are just keeping existing programs afloat. And there’s a lack of new programmatic money out there.

What we’re trying to do — the long-range plan is how do we create a fund where we can have money for new programs out there.

Alaska is one of only three states in the entire country that does not have a statewide housing trust fund or a statewide fund that is earmarked to address housing and homelessness issues on an annual basis. That’s something we need to start thinking about, even in these tough financial times, we need to start planning for how to solve this problem. Because if we don’t start investing in housing, we’re just going to continue to see more of the same, or even worse, the problem elevate to a larger level.

 

Categories: Alaska News

How Trump nominees talks about climate; what it means for Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-10-10 17:51
The village of Kivalina is one of several Alaska locales threatened by eroding coastlines and rising sea levels. Photo: Joaqlin Estus KNBA

When asked about climate change, the nominees for senior posts at the departments of Interior and Energy have very similar answers – the climate is changing, and humans play a role. But how big a role, they can’t say.

“Mr. Walker, do you believe that human activity accounts for the majority of climate change since the Industrial Revolution?”  Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked Bruce Walker at his confirmation hearing last month.

“I think there is a contribution from man. I couldn’t quantify exactly what that is,” Walker, now an assistant secretary of Energy, said.

And here’s Douglas Domenech, a new assistant secretary at Interior: “I do agree that the climate is changing and man has a role in that.”

Their written responses were even more uniform.

Susan Combs, an Interior Department nominee: “I believe that the climate is changing and that man has an influence.”

Brenda Burman, another Interior nominee: “I believe that climate change is not a hoax and that man has an influence.”

Joe Balash, an Alaskan nominee for Interior: “I believe climate change is not a hoax and that man has an influence.”

Paul Dabbar, the nominee for undersecretary of science at Energy: “I believe the climate is changing and we have some impact on it. If confirmed, I look forward to getting a better understanding of these dynamics.”

Over and over, the nominees acknowledge humans have “an influence or “some impact” on climate. But they won’t go as far as American science organizations which have for years said human activity is the “primary driver.”

White House Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert said the administration is committed to dealing with the impact of climate change – just not the causes.

“I will tell you that we continue to take seriously the climate change, not the cause of it, but the things we observe,” Bossert told reporters last month.

David Hayes was Deputy Interior Secretary in the Obama and Clinton administrations. He said the uniform responses of Trump’s nominees suggest senior staff will not be free to make decisions based on climate science or help communities.

“That signals to me that they’re not going to have the discretion, the wherewithal, the air cover, to bring the resources to the table to help those Alaskans that are rightly very concerned about what’s happening to their coastline, to their fire risk, to their wildlife et cetera,” Hayes said. “And that’s that’s just not right. ”

President Obama made climate change a major emphasis of his second term. For evidence, he repeatedly pointed to coastal erosion in Alaska villages. But the boost in high-level attention on rural Alaska was not paired with a lot of funding to meet the need. And now the White House attention is gone, too. President Trump has called climate change a hoax and has announced he will pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement. He shows no sign of making climate change a priority.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things: the public doesn’t care that much about global warming,” Frank Maisano said. He’s a communications specialist at the Washington policy shop of the law firm Bracewell, where his clients include energy companies. He used to work as a press secretary for GOP members of Congress and says when Republican politicians and nominees say “man has some impact” on climate, they may mean a range of things and they have different levels of knowledge. (He also said nominees have assistants to help keep their written answers in line with the administration, which explains the uniformity.) Maisano said many Lower 48 Republicans just don’t have much experience talking about climate change.

“Because this isn’t that big of a priority issue for them,” Maisano said. “And they see it as not that big of a priority issue because the politics surrounding it hasn’t been a priority issue for their supporters.”

Maisano said Alaska leaders seeking government help for the effects of climate change should make their most compelling case, but he points out Republicans and Democrats like infrastructure projects.

I think certainly the climate change case is going to be less … well received in this administration, because this administration is different than the previous administration in terms of where they stand on it,” Maisano said. “And no one should be surprised by that.”

One outlier among the Trump nominees is David Bernhardt. He has the No. 2 spot at Interior, deputy secretary. At his confirmation hearing, he agreed with the statement that most of the increase in global average temperatures since the middle of last century is very likely man-made.

“And I personally believe the contribution is significant,” Bernhardt said. “Very significant.” But he said his personal view won’t carry the day in the department.

“We’re absolutely going to follow the policy perspective of the president,” Berhardt continued. “And here’s why: That’s the way our republic works and he is the president.”

Whatever the rhetoric, there hasn’t been a complete about-face on the ground. State of Alaska employee Sally Russell Cox works on village relocation. She said so far, the same federal agencies are still cooperating with her.

“I don’t want to jinx any of it, because maybe it hasn’t come to somebody’s attention. I don’t know,” Cox said.

That could change. The Trump administration is not fully staffed yet. At Interior, only three presidential appointees had been sworn in by early October, out of 17 positions requiring Senate confirmation.

Categories: Alaska News

State and Park Service look to make Parks Highway safety improvements

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-10-10 16:23

The State and the National Park Service are teaming up to improve safety on the Parks Highway near the entrance to Denali. Alaska Department of Transportation project engineering manager Carl Heim said the area around milepost 231 where the highway crosses a bridge over the Nenana River, is a popular place with park visitors walking to trails on the other side.

”There’s a large amount of pedestrians that walk up on the road onto the bridge,” Heim said.

Heim said the state plans to rebuild the bridge with an attached sidewalk.

”We’re basically building one bridge and we’re just gonna separate the traffic from the pedestrians,” Heim said.

Another part of the project will use a different means to separate people crossing the highway from vehicle traffic.

“We’re gonna put a tunnel under the road,” Heim said.

The National Park Service is proposing to build new visitor amenities along the same stretch of the Parks Highway. Denali National Park outdoor recreation planner Molly McKinley says the plan calls for a highway wayside on two-and-a-half acres of park land.

”That would have parking as well as trailheads and restroom facilities,” McKinley said. “And then there would be connector trails that leave the wayside and tie into existing area trails.”

The $2-million-wayside will be paid for by the Park Service. The state’s road, bridge and tunnel work are estimated to cost $26 million. An environmental assessment for the combined project is available for review and public comment. The DOT’s Heim anticipates construction will occur in either 2019 or 2020.

Categories: Alaska News

Haines Assembly asks university to press pause on 400-acre timber sale

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-10-10 15:46
The proposed timber sale area on a map created by Haines Planner Holly Smith. (Image courtesy Haines Borough)

The Haines Assembly is asking the University of Alaska to press pause on a proposed timber sale which has alarmed local residents.

A couple weeks ago, the university put 400 acres of its Chilkat Peninsula land up for bid.

The timing of the sale was motivated by the threat of new local regulations.

At a recent special meeting, Assembly chambers were filled with residents who live out Mud Bay Road, south of Haines.

They were surprised that a timber sale of this this size could be allowed in their quiet neighborhood.

“It seems unbelievably clear that the intention and all the ordinance and code around it is not to have this kind of resource extraction or commercial use of the land in this area,” Heidi Robichaud said.

But that’s the problem that triggered this 400-acre proposal.

Mud Bay zoning code does not explicitly allow or restrict resource extraction.

Borough attorneys say the general rule in regulating private property is that unless something is explicitly prohibited, it’s allowed.

Since discovering this apparent oversight a few months ago, the planning commission has brainstormed what restrictions, if any, to implement in Mud Bay code.

“The public testimony by and large thought that small-scale resource extraction was fine, people selling a few trees or a few truckloads of trees to support local businesses was fine,” planning commission chair Rob Goldberg said. “People were generally opposed to large-scale resource extraction.”

But as the commission moved toward regulations on resource extraction, the Alaska Mental Health Trust and University of Alaska objected.

Both agencies own significant acreage in the Mud Bay area. And the university’s board of regents took action. The group put 400 acres of land up for timber sale.

The university uses money from sales like this to fund student scholarships.

A couple Haines residents, including Andrew Gray, spoke in support of the university’s right to profit off its land.

“If you do attempt to restrict this, I want to remind you that it would be incredibly clear message to send to the state of Alaska when we are fighting for services, to deny one of the state agencies who is attempting to profit off an allowed use of their land,” Gray said. “I don’t think that bodes well in terms of us fighting for state services.”

But Assembly members agreed with the concerns of Mud Bay residents – the timber harvest seems out of character with that area.

Assemblywoman Heather Lende is one of several people who questioned whether the borough really needs explicit restrictions on resource extraction to prevent this type of sale.

Lende pointed to other parts of code which indicate the Mud Bay service area is intended to prioritize residential over commercial uses.

“An outside entity proposing a 400-acre timber sale, I don’t know how that fits in with the intent of rural residential,” Lende said.

The Assembly wants to have a conversation with the university about all of this.

The group voted unanimously to request an in-person meeting with both the university and the mental health trust. The Assembly also is asking the university to delay awarding a contract for the timber harvest until after this discussion occurs.

The timeline right now is tight. The university is accepting comments and bids on the sale until Oct. 23.

Assembly member Tom Morphet said there might be room for negotiation. He quoted from a letter written by university land manager Christine Klein.

“‘UA advertised its Chilkat Peninsula Competitive Timber Sale to protect out interests because the Haines Borough Planning Commission was not engaging us,’” Morphet read. “To me that suggests that the university is maybe not a in a big rush to log out there, but put forward this sale to a certain extent to get our attention.”

If the university doesn’t postpone the timber sale, the Assembly may consider legal action.

The group met in executive session with the borough attorney for more than an hour to discuss the issue.

Members did not say anything publicly about what they discussed with the lawyer.

Categories: Alaska News

Human and robot companions retrieve equipment lost at sea

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-10-10 15:10
An example of one type of ROV. NOAA-owned model, Deep Discoverer, gets a closer look at a ferromanganese-encrusted outcrop on an unnamed seamount in the eastern region of the Samoan Exclusive Economic Zone. (Photo by NOAA Ocean Explorer / Flickr)

Sometimes companies or agencies lose their equipment at sea. And rather than leave an expensive investment behind on the ocean floor, they send in the troops.

In this case, “the troops” is one Kodiak local.

ROVs, or remotely operated underwater vehicles, come in various forms. Mark Blakeslee says he’s got several of those.

“There’s big expensive ones costing millions of dollars in the oil industry that have lots of capabilities,” Blakeslee said. “There’s also inspection class ROVs.”

Blakeslee contracts with different companies to retrieve their gear. Things like acoustic doppler current profilers, which measure water speed and direction, and a lot of other high tech instruments.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration most recently hired Blakeslee to rescue a data collecting tool they had dropped in the waters of Barrow Canyon.

“They were towing a winged object. Sort of a cage with wings on it,” Blakeslee said. “They could command it to go up or down in the water column through this tow cable, but the cable broke and they dropped it in 500 feet of water.”

Blakeslee said they went out on an oil response boat and tracked the machine by following its cable.

The mission wasn’t without complications, including bad weather and technical difficulties.

“The first day we got down and I lost a thruster,” Blakeslee said. “I saw a small white flash of death, but it was just the death of a thruster, so that was disappointing, but I had enough maneuverability to go around in big circles.”

It took a few days, but Blakeslee said on the third try the lost object popped up on sonar. Blakeslee said he’d like to expand into tourism with his ROVs. He’d wants to take people out and give them a look under the ocean surface.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Sullivan says he’s hopeful about tax changes, but cautions Trump on tweets

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-10-10 09:27
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican, speaks with business leaders in a meeting at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Monday. His wife Julie is on the right. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said Monday his top priorities for changes to federal tax law are making sure they’re good for Alaska and that they promote economic growth. But he also said he’ll consider the size of the national debt.

Sullivan met eight Juneau business leaders as part of a swing through Southeast Alaska this week. He sought their input as he prepares for the Senate debate this fall over changes to federal tax laws.

Sullivan said he’s optimistic about the how President Donald Trump’s administration’s policies and appointments will affect the economy. Along with the tax changes, Sullivan is hopeful about infrastructure, permitting and energy policies.

But Sullivan said Trump doesn’t always help himself. He responded to a reporter’s question that referenced Trump’s latest quarrel with Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican.

“The president’s insults or tweets … are not helpful and, you know, I’ve tried to encourage the White House to stay focused, disciplined and credible,” Sullivan said. “If we’re going to get tax reform done, if we’re going to grow the economy, you know, going after Bob Corker – who’s a good senator – it’s just not helpful.”

Congress and Trump’s administration are considering a framework for changes that include lower corporate taxes and fewer deductions.

“Unlike health care, where a lot of the issues are very partisan, a lot of the policies that have been introduced in this framework are bipartisan, or should be bipartisan,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he’ll consider the effect of tax changes on the national debt.

“We’re going back now to deficits of a trillion dollars a year, so in the last 10 years, we’ve doubled our national debt,” Sullivan said. “So, I worry about it. A lot.”

But Sullivan said the changes’ effect on growth will be most important. He pointed to the 1960s and 1980s as decades when tax cuts occurred before fast growth in the economy.

“One of the most important things, when you look at the debt and the deficit … from my perspective there’s a lot you can do to address it,” he said. “But the most important way to address it – by far – is to be able to grow out of it.”

Sullivan would like to see tax reform reduce the number of deductions and other loopholes. But he said it will be a challenge.

“You know, everybody’s saying, ‘Health care was really hard. Tax reform’s going to be real easy,’” Sullivan said. “And I don’t believe that, right? I think it’s not going to be easy.”

The business leaders who met with Sullivan came from different backgrounds.

Rick Shattuck is an owner of Shattuck & Grummett Insurance. He expressed concern over whether the tax changes would affect all businesses equally. The framework includes a top individual tax rate of 35 percent, a rate for some businesses owned by individuals and partnerships of 25 percent, and a corporate rate of 20 percent.

“Well, I think any time the rates are going down, that’s good, but I question why the tax code should pick winners and losers,” Shattuck said.

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. CEO Angela Rodell said she’ll be watching how other countries react to changes the U.S. makes. For example, if Congress closes loopholes that benefit foreign investors, other countries could react by closing their loopholes that benefit the permanent fund.

Sullivan will also visit Sitka and Ketchikan this week. He also met with Alaska Airlines executives in Seattle during this trip.

Categories: Alaska News

Residents rail against SB91 at rare Anchorage meeting

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 18:11
The Anchorage Assembly chambers at the Z. J. Loussac Public Library in Anchorage. (Staff photo)

Amid growing frustration over an uptick in crime, officials in Anchorage are weighing what kind of solutions they want from lawmakers in Juneau. The Anchorage Assembly took the rare step of holding a meeting Saturday to hear public testimony on what residents would like to see done about Senate Bill 91, the omnibus criminal justice reform measure signed into law in July of 2016. Almost immediately after the bill passed, a debate began over whether its provisions were worsening the city’s levels of property and violent crime. That argument is now boiling over in community councils, Assembly meetings, and listening sessions arranged by state legislators.

Listen now

One resident with a negative view of the bill’s reforms is Cindy Moore, whose daughter was killed by her boyfriend in 2014. Since then, Moore and her husband have been persistent advocates for changes to the criminal justice system in Alaska.

“Our system was broken before SB91. Now that SB91 has passed, it’s worse,” Moore said during emotional testimony at Saturday’s meeting.

The Assembly’s public safety committee is currently assessing two resolutions to send to state legislators. The measures are non-binding, but could influence how Anchorage’s large delegation pursues reforms in the coming special session and beyond. One proposal from the committee’s chairman, Eric Croft, himself a former prosecutor, asks for an increase in funding for alcohol and drug counseling promised under the law, along with modest revisions to the legal code. A competing resolution from Assembly member Amy Demboski asks for a full repeal of SB91, which Demboski believes is too broken to be fixed. Nearly everyone who spoke during four hours of testimony demanded a full repeal.

Richard Evans has lived in Anchorage most of his life, and is frustrated by the years-long rise in crime coupled with what he says is an inadequate response from police that leaves citizens and business owners like himself ready to take security into their own hands.

“I’m not going to call Anchorage Police Department if someone breaks into my house. I will not call them to stop the crime, I will not call them to deal with the people coming into my house. I will be calling them to pick up a corpse,” Evans said to wide applause from the audience.

When SB91 passed, its aim was to save taxpayers money by reducing jail time for non-violent offenders, and put the savings into treatment and anti-recidivism programming. Elected officials in Anchorage say they are not receiving that state money for substance abuse treatment. And some prosecutors believe scaling back on penalties for misdemeanor crimes like shop-lifting and low-level theft has emboldened criminality while simultenously making their work harder.

“From a prosecution level it has dramatically impaired the tools that we have to effectively hold people to account and that’s what we do,” Michael Schaffer, a lawyer in the Municipal Prosecutor’s office, said.

Schaffer testified the office is facing pressure from multiple fronts. The state District Attorney’s office, which handles more serious felony crimes in Anchorage, has less capacity because of cuts from legislators to the Department of Law. As a result, Schaffer said the DA’s office declines a greater number of serious cases that are passed back down to municipal prosecutors and added to already-heavy caseloads.

A small number of those who spoke Saturday cautioned against using SB91 as a scapegoat for a number of overlapping issues facing Anchorage and the state. One of them was Sean Dabney, who testified he’d spent most of his adult life behind bars from drug offenses in his early 20s. Dabney sees blame being heaped on SB91 as people look for explanations to overlapping social ills.

“It seems like right now it’s just a witch hunt. SB91’s the witch, and we’re trying to get rid of it,” Dabney said. “But you can’t just throw people away. And if you just repeal SB91 then, to me, you’re still (locking) people up, (throwing) away the key.”

Both resolutions on SB91, the reform and the repeal options, will go to a vote before the full Assembly during it’s Tuesday night meeting in the Loussac Library.

Categories: Alaska News

Judge overrules state, says salmon initiative can go forward

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 16:48
A ballot initiative aimed at making salmon habitat protections more stringent will likely result in a fierce fight over the right use of state resources. (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A controversial ballot initiative intended to protect salmon habitat has cleared a major hurdle, setting up what could be an intense political fight.

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A judge in Anchorage on Monday ruled that Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott was wrong to deny the initiative, organized by the nonprofit Stand for Salmon.

Mallott rejected the ballot measure in September, arguing it would tie the state’s hands and prioritize salmon habitat over other potential uses of state land, like mining or oil development. The state said if it’s enacted, the measure could complicate efforts to build projects like roads, pipelines and the proposed Pebble Mine. The initiative is also opposed by a wide range of industry groups.

At a hearing last week, Valerie Brown with Trustees for Alaska, who represented Stand for Salmon, argued the ballot initiative isn’t aimed at prohibiting development, though it would add to the permitting process.

Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner agreed. In his ruling, he called it “pure speculation” to predict the impact of the initiative.

“The court has no competent evidence regarding the impact of the initiative,” Rindner wrote. “Nor does such evidence exist.”

Rindner said the initiative leaves enough room for the legislature to decide how resources are used.

“Because the impact of the initiative can only be determined after legislative action occurs, the court finds, as a matter of law, that the initiative is not an allocation and is thus constitutionally permissible,” Rindner wrote.

Mike Wood, one of the ballot measure’s organizers, applauded the decision.

“I think the ruling that the judge had was awesome,” Wood said. “Set politics aside and read it for what it is. And I think he did that.”

Wood, a commercial fisherman, was involved in opposition to the Susitna Dam. Two of the initiative’s other organizers, Gayla Hoseth and Brian Kraft, have been involved in fighting the proposed Pebble Mine.

Marleanna Hall is executive director of the Resource Development Council, one of the groups opposed to the ballot initiative. Hall said she’s disappointed, and her group is asking the state to appeal.

“Unfortunately, this initiative, as it is, poses a grave threat to community and resource development,” Hall said. “It puts economic activities highly at risk.”

Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar said the state is evaluating whether to appeal the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

“Clearly we disagree with the court’s legal conclusion that the measure is a constitutional use of the initiative,” Bakalar wrote in an email. “Whether to appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court includes an evaluation process that will take several weeks to complete, and that process is underway. In the meantime, we are complying with the superior court’s order and working on printing petition booklets for circulation as quickly as possible.”

Stand for Salmon can now begin collecting signatures. It aims to get the initiative on the ballot in 2018.

Barring a Supreme Court decision blocking the initiative, Brown of Trustees for Alaska said, “the next decision is whether this is a good idea or not. That’s the decision of the voters, not of the Lieutenant Governor.”

The initiative isn’t the only effort to make state laws protecting salmon habitat more stringent. It’s similar to a bill that Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes and Anchorage Democratic Reps. Andy Josephson and Les Gara introduced this spring.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF joins in Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 16:14

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is also holding events to honor Indigenous Peoples Day, today — from 4 to 9 p.m. — highlighting Alaska Native cultures. UAF vice chancellor of rural, community and Native education Evon Peter said it arose out of support from across the university community.

”We had a ground swell of student government organizations, formal resolutions from UAS and UAF student bodies and then later the staff alliance and the faculty alliance submitting letters to President Johnsen encouraging a recognition within the UA system,” Peter said. “President Johnsen did sign a memo saying we’re going to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day in alignment with what came out of the state government.”

Peter said the evening program features Native dancing and singing, comments from community leaders, and UAF professors speaking in three Alaska Native languages: “Gwich’in, Yupik and Inupiaq.”

Peter said the university is a natural venue for the Indigenous People’s Day celebration because it brings together peoples from across the state.

”We serve a really broad swath of the state, and we have something like 13 indigenous languages that are a part of that geographic spread,” Peter said. “And so not only is UAF an institution here in Fairbanks — or “Tanan” as we call it it Gwich’in — but we also have these different campuses spread throughout the state.”

Peter said UAF has been investing in Alaska Native arts and education over the last several decades, and today offers everything from a certificate in tribal management to a Ph.D in Indigenous Studies.

Categories: Alaska News

Petersburg resident receives medal from King of Norway

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 15:59

A Petersburg resident has been recognized by the King of Norway for her dedication to promoting relations between Norway and the U.S. The Ambassador of Norway to the United States was in Petersburg last week to hand out the Medal of St. Olav.

A handful of Petersburg residents are gathered at Glo Wollen’s beach front home to have a cookout. Wollen is the current President of the local Sons of Norway lodge and she’s also the town’s Harbor Master.

At this point, she had no idea she’s getting an award. As far as Wollen’s concerned, she’s just hosting important visitors. The last time the Norwegian Ambassador visited Petersburg for the Little Norway Festival in 2016 Wollen also hosted a BBQ at her place.

Ambassador of Norway to the United States, Kare Aas, and Glo Wollen pose for a photo after she was award the Medal of St. Olav, Sept. 28. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

“We’re hosting the Ambassador of Norway to the United States of America here and his assistant and our Norwegian consul that is located up in Anchorage,” Wollen said. “So, we’re having a little Alaskan party. And we also have the Lt. Governor of Alaska as well.”

Southeast Alaska’s Senator Bert Stedman was also there.

People were socializing in the back yard while local black cod, salmon and shrimp are grilled over a fire.

Soon, people are called around the deck because Ambassador Kåre Aas wants to publicly thank Wollen for the hospitality. He says he is also here for another reason.

“His majesty King Harald V has told me to come here,” Aas said. “When his majesty wants to honor a person or persons he gives them the Medal of St. Olav.”

The medal is round and silver and hangs from a red, blue and white ribbon. Wollen also receives a diploma.

Aas said the medal is given to Norwegians or foreigners who have been working hard to strengthen the relationship between Norway and another country — in this case, the U.S. He said he nominated Wollen for the medal.

“Since you were born–your mother is here–you grew up in a fishing family, and your father he told you a lot about values, Norwegian’s values,” Aas said. “Your mother, she told you about how to interact with other persons, how to sew and how to cook.”

Petersburg resident, Glo Wollen, received this Medal of St. Olav for her work to strengthen the relationship between Norway and the U.S. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

After the award is given, Wollen received hugs from friends and poses for photos.

Aas said the king’s medals are seldom given out, maybe one a year to Americans.

“It’s really a recognition of what Glo has been doing in working and promoting and maintaining Norwegian values in Alaska,” Aas said. “But also really emphasizing what many Norwegian Americans think about their relationship to Norway historically, politically but also culturally. And his majesty, he really honors those who are really advocating [for] our two countries.”

Aas said that based on this recognition he believes that when Wollen visits Norway – which she hopes to do – she will be able to meet the King of Norway himself.

Wollen herself didn’t give any speech after receiving the award but besides wearing a new medal on her chest, she also had a beaming smile on her face.

Categories: Alaska News

$250K bail for Ketchikan man charged with first-degree murder

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 15:51

A 42-year-old Ketchikan man was arrested and charged Friday with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence for allegedly killing 55-year-old Richard Branda on Thursday evening.

Joshua Kenneth Bliss had his first court appearance over the weekend. Bail was set at $250,000, and a public defense attorney was appointed to represent him.

Some details into the alleged crime were available in a complaint filed in court by Ketchikan Police Sgt. Mike Purcell. He writes that police received a call at about 11:30 Friday morning reporting a man apparently asleep off to the side of Water Street.

Purcell writes that police found Richard Branda dead with a large stab wound on the right side of his neck. The complaint states that the wound was about two inches long, and there was a large pool of blood under Branda’s body.

The complaint states that Bliss called the police station later on Friday to report his involvement. Police say Bliss told officers he had stabbed Branda in the neck on Thursday evening during an argument. Bliss also allegedly told police that he threw the knife he had used into the ocean the next day.

Bliss’ next scheduled court appearance is 9 a.m. Friday in Ketchikan District Court.

Categories: Alaska News

‘I am proud to be Iñupiat’: Alaskans celebrate first official Indigenous Peoples Day

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 15:37
Dozens of people gathered on the second floor of the Atwood Center on Alaska Pacific University’s campus to celebrate the first official Indigenous Peoples Day in the state of Alaska by eating, drumming and singing. (Photo by Samantha Davenport, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

The second floor of the Atwood Center at Alaska Pacific University was packed shoulder to shoulder with dozens of Alaskans who gathered to celebrate the first official Indigenous Peoples Day in Alaska.

The celebration at APU featured an opening blessing, buffet lunch and music and dance performances. “BYOD,” or “bring your own drum,” was a commonly quoted term at the event.

In June of this year, Gov. Bill Walker signed legislation recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day in Alaska, replacing Columbus Day. Alaska is the second state in the nation to make the official change.

Elizabeth Rexford was a First Alaskans Institute Fellow who worked with Representative Dean Westlake of Kotzebue. Westlake was one of the representatives who sponsored the legislation that created Indigenous Peoples Day within the state. Rexford mirrored the excitement of the day’s gathering.

“You know, it warms my heart to see everyone coming together and to be proud of our histories, our cultures, the diversity here in the state,” Rexford said. “And today, a lot of people are wearing their atikluks, their kuspuks, their regalias, their native bling earrings and berets and things like that. And I think that every year it’s only going to grow from here on out,” Rexford said.

Indigenous Peoples Day will be celebrated each year in Alaska on the second Monday of October.

Categories: Alaska News

Ridle to focus on costs as administration commissioner

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 15:09
Gov. Bill Walker announced Friday that he appointed Leslie Ridle to be commissioner of the Department of Administration. Ridle said her focus will be on the bottom line.

Gov. Bill Walker announced Friday that he appointed Leslie Ridle to be commissioner of the Department of Administration. Ridle said her focus will be on the bottom line.

“Our priorities are to create as many efficiencies as we can for the state,” Ridle said. “We’ve been working really hard to provide service to the public and to our internal agencies, to save money and to reduce costs and do as much as we can to help with the state budget.”

The Department of Administration serves other state agencies, including overseeing labor relations. It also provides indigent defense and children’s legal advocacy.

Ridle has served as the acting commissioner for the past month, after serving as the deputy commissioner for more than two years.

The department will negotiate contracts with seven labor bargaining units in the coming year. Ridle didn’t say whether the administration will pursue pay freezes supported by some lawmakers.

“We’re just getting started on most of them this fall, so of course pay will be a topic of the negotiations,” Ridle said. “I don’t know for sure what all will come up at this point. I can’t negotiate here on the radio with you, but everything’s on the table in the beginning, of course.”

Ridle is a Juneau resident. She has worked for Mark Begich when he was a U.S. senator and Anchorage mayor. She was also an eighth-grade social studies and English teacher in Eagle River.

Categories: Alaska News

Goldbelt Heritage may inherit city-owned Aak’w Kwáan site

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 14:06
A rocky outcropping at the end of Indian Point on Oct. 3. This area is one of the oldest known village sites of the Aak’w Kwáan in the region and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

Indian Point, a former Tlingit village site on Auke Bay, may be ceded to a nonprofit dedicated to Aak’w Kwáan heritage.

The land was controversially acquired by the federal government before ending up in municipal hands in the 1960s.

At the southern-most point of Auke Cape, a rocky outcropping offers sweeping views of Indian Cove and Indian Island. Auke Cape is commonly known as Indian Point. These names give away this area’s history.

“This is a south-facing, waterfront lot with beautiful views of Auke Bay,” Greg Chaney, lands manager for the City and Borough of Juneau, said. “Which is the exactly the reason that the Native people selected it for their village site so many centuries ago.”

The cape’s southern tip has been city-owned since the 1960s. It picked up a third tract in a three-way swap in the 1990s and now holds most of the cape and is looking to return it to the descendants of its original inhabitants.

City and Borough of Juneau Lands Manager Greg Chaney walks along the shoreline off Indian Point on Oct. 3. About 52 acres of city-owned land may be transferred to the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

“It’s very much like finding a wallet that somebody has – you pick it up on the street and you think, ‘Oh, this belongs to somebody,’” Chaney said. “And so then, you know, I think most people would agree the proper thing to do is to return it to the rightful owners.”

Randy Wanamaker, a former Juneau Assemblyman wrote to the Assembly last month recommending that the city give Indian Point to the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation. The 73-year-old recalls spending time there as a boy with his grandfather who was born on Auke Bay.

“We used to put branches in the water for the herring eggs and dip nets in the water and get the herring out,” Wanamaker said by telephone from Seattle where he now lives. “That was a practice that was going on for thousands of years, but it got wiped out by the commercial fisheries.”

Goldbelt Heritage shouldn’t be confused with its sister organization Goldbelt Inc., a for-profit Native corporation. The nonprofit’s mission is cultural stewardship.

“They do a lot of things that honor and respect the culture and history of the original inhabitants,” Wanamaker said.

The story of how Indian Point became government land is typical of what happened to many Native villages across Alaska.

By the 1920s, much of the Native population around Auke Bay had moved to Juneau and Douglas to work in the mines, though they would periodically return to Auke Bay to hunt, fish and gather food.

“They were practicing a lifestyle that was in balance with nature. But the Forest Service in Southeast Alaska always said it was not used and it had been abandoned and that would be their justification when they acquired it for the federal government,” Wanamaker said. “The federal government did not consult with the Alaska Native people when they dispossessed them of their land. They just took it away.

As recently as 2002 in the Forest Service’s official history in Alaska asserts that Auke Bay villages were abandoned.

Anthropologist Tom Thornton, investigated the cultural value of Indian Point on behalf of the federal government in the 1990s, said it wasn’t so simple.

“There was sort of a larger campaign to move Native people off of the Tongass forest land, and burning cabins and things like that. And the Forest Service always denied that until they stopped denying it and then apologized for it,” Thornton said in an interview from the University of Oxford where he’s a professor.

Thornton’s research helped get Indian Point listed last year on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Forest Service first acknowledged in 2008 that it had wrongly removed fish camps and smokehouses, vital for the subsistence lifestyle, in the early 20th century.

Tongass National Forest spokesman Paul Robbins Jr. said in a statement that the Forest Service acknowledges that the destruction wasn’t limited to fish camps.

“As we continue our dialog with the Aak’w Kwáan and various other tribes in this region, the Forest Service is going to remain open to all new information as historians continue to delve into the storied past of Southeast Alaska.”

The 52 acres on Indian Point is perhaps the most valuable — in real estate terms — that the city owns.

“That’s why we have to be very careful about transferring it to an organization that’s going to look out for the cultural interests of the Aak’w Kwáan and not just look at it as a multi-million dollar asset,” Chaney said. “In our current generation, we have the opportunity to right a wrong that was done generations ago. This was the old village site, this was a sacred site, and we could return it to the Aak’w people in our time.”

Indian Point was almost cut up in the 1960s for a housing subdivision. Opposition by the Alaska Native Brotherhood and others put a stop to that.

A half-century later, the possible fate of Indian Point again lies with the Juneau Assembly.

The lands committee is slated to consider the transfer later at its Oct. 23 meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

E. Coli present in popular Haines water source, but residents continue to fill up

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 11:51
RaeAnn Galasso fills up buckets of water at the Mud Bay spring to use for drinking and cleaning. (Abbey Collins)

This summer, a popular water source in Haines tested positive for E. coli. The Mud Bay spring is not regulated by the borough and is not regularly tested. But it’s where a lot of people get their drinking water. And some residents are not planning to stop.

The so-called spring is on Mud Bay Road, just before Letnikof Cove. Two pipes stick out of the hillside, with rocks built up around them. It looks pretty official, but it’s not. I drove out to the spring on a summer afternoon to take a sample of the water. I got there just as a bunch of tourists were finishing up. The visitors were sipping the water out of paper cups.

I tested for arsenic, nitrates, nitrites and total coliforms.

RaeAnn Galasso is filling up several buckets of water and loading them into the back of her car. She said she’s been drinking this water for a long time.

“Sometimes for cleaning,” Galasso said. “I have a dry cabin, so it’s all this water. I’ve been using it for over 20 years. My plants do really well. I like it. It tastes great.”

But, Galasso said it is concerning that it’s not tested. That concerned me too. I sent samples to the Juneau-based water testing company Admiralty Environmental.

The lab results show no significant levels of arsenic, nitrates or nitrites. But they did find E. coli. The test doesn’t show what strain of the bacteria is present. Cindy Christian is a drinking water specialist at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. She said E. coli is not always bad for you. There are strains that are harmful but some that are benign.

“But they’re all associated with fecal matter that comes from mammals,” Christian said. “And some other organisms. Birds and things can carry E. coli also. In drinking water, they are not supposed to be there at all.”

Christian said E. coli is an indicator bacteria. It could mean other nasty stuff is in the water, too. Like salmonella or giardia.

With waterborne diseases like these, Christian said the symptoms are usually gastrointestinal. You might have diarrhea, abdominal cramping or lose your appetite. Some strains can cause more severe health problems.

Let’s back up a bit to how we came to test the water. We asked listeners to send up things they’ve always wondered about this area. One person sent a question asking: ‘Is the Mud Bay Spring really a spring? Or should it be called the Mud Bay runoff?’ I grabbed a friend and hiked in to the woods, trying to trace the pipes and creeks to the source.

But we couldn’t find it. So, I dug back further into the water’s history.

Haines resident Randy McDonald said he’s the one that put in the pipes, and built up the rock around them. He said he installed the pipes in the mid-1980s. McDonald said people were already getting water at the spot, but he made improvements to increase the water flow.

Someone did take measures to keep animals away from the water. But, the fencing has fallen over since then.

Christian, with the DEC, said Haines isn’t alone. She’s come across similar unregulated drinking water sources around the state. She said in terms of monitoring water quality, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a spring or runoff.

“Springs are usually treated as surface water also, so even if it were a natural spring, it would still – may not be suitable for drinking water unless it’s treated,” Christian said.

Christian said the safest bet for people who want to keep drinking the water is to boil it.

But many residents who have depended on the water source for years aren’t scared away by the E. coli. Krystal Norberg lives out Mud Bay and is even more reliant on the water because she has a dry cabin.

“I’ve drank it for 10 years,” Norberg said. “I’ve never gotten sick. Nor have I ever known anyone to have gotten sick.”

After we reported on the presence of E. coli in the water, the Haines Borough started looking in to testing it. At a recent meeting, the assembly voted unanimously to conduct a test.

But, Christian said no matter how many tests you do, one thing isn’t likely to change. She said because the so-called spring is untreated surface water exposed to elements and wildlife, it’s always likely to have bacteria like E. coli.

Categories: Alaska News

Herb Didrickson 1926-2017: Alaska’s ‘Jim Thorpe’ put family before fame

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-10-09 10:15
Herb Didrickson accepts a proclamation from Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell at banquet honoring his induction into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. The gymnasium at the Hames Center is named for Didrickson. (Dan Evans photo)

Sitkans paid their final respects last week to Herb Didrickson.

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The 91-year-old Tlingit elder died in Sitka on September 25. In many ways Didrickson was everything you’d expect of a man of his generation: A 1946 graduate of Sheldon Jackson High School, who married his sweetheart Pollyanna. He subsequently earned an Associate of Arts Degree from the college of the same name. He spent 30 years working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as an Industrial Arts instructor at Mt. Edgecumbe, coaching sports and refereeing basketball.

But Didrickson was also something most can never claim to be: The greatest athlete ever produced in Alaska.

The stories have always sounded like myths. As an older man, Herb Didrickson would be in the stands cheering on the Mt. Edgecumbe Braves.

Invariably someone would point to him and tell point out that Didrickson had been a huge star in his day, and that at 5’10” he could dunk a basketball from a standing jump, and maybe bump his elbows on the rim.

Yet people who saw and played against Didrickson in his prime don’t dispute any of the stories.

Sheldon Jackson School in 1944 fielded one of Sitka’s finest basketball teams. Back row, left to right: Ernie Young, Harris Atkinson, Jack Booth, Ed Benson, Ken Hanson. Front row, left to right: Ray Booth, David Leask, Herb Didrickson, Roger Lang, Alvin Faber. (Photo courtesy Gil Truitt)

Gil Truitt was just a couple of years behind Didrickson in school.

“He had the ability in all sports — things coaches tried to teach, to Herb came naturally,” Truitt said. “He didn’t have to work hard, but I never knew anyone who worked harder in any sport than Herb. He was continually trying to improve himself as an athlete.”

Didrickson honed his skills as a student athlete against the big military teams stationed in Sitka during World War II. He averaged around 30 points a game in his student days. Later, playing Gold Medal Basketball for Sitka’s ANB team, Didrickson’s average dropped, as he developed his mastery of the assist, and a style of basketball that would later become associated with NBA greats like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

“There’s not a team in America — not a team in America — he wouldn’t have started for as a point guard,” John Abell said.

Abell is also something of a basketball legend. Growing up in Sitka he watched Didrickson play Gold Medal. Abell graduated from Sitka High in 1954, and went on to play for Oregon State University, and eventually coach for the 1964 Olympics.

“I’ve seen worldwide athletes, worldwide basketball players. And it can be etched in stone that I never saw a basketball team at any level that Herb Didrickson couldn’t have played for,” Abell said. “As a point guard, Herb Didrickson was 40 years ahead of his time.”

In 2012, Abell and Truitt nominated Didrickson for the the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. Didrickson was already in the Gold Medal Hall, as well as the Alaska High School Hall, but he was never really tested outside of the state. It was important to frame Didrickson’s nomination against other inductees like Carlos Boozer and Libby Riddles.

“I look around and I see players now at the college level, and there isn’t any doubt in my mind that he would have been able to play with them in today’s game. That’s a big statement, I understand that,” Abell said. “I’ve watched him, and year after year I would see things develop, and I’m thinking, “My gosh, I saw Herb do that back in the 50s!”

Didrickson attended college at Sheldon Jackson, joining Sitka’s ANB team for annual Gold Medal play. The Gold Medal Tournament remains a Southeast institution.

Gil Truitt said that Didrickson and his teammate Moses Johnson perfected what they were calling the “lob pass,” but is nowadays referred to as the “alley-oop.” Basically, a player sprints for the basket and jumps, just as his teammate has lobbed up the ball. Done right, it results in a dunk, or an elegant tip-in.

Although Didrickson was only 5’10”, Truitt said he could do either.

“Standing under the basket he was able to jump and dunk the ball from a standing position,” Truitt said. “And he did mention that he bumped his elbow on the rim a few times.”

But despite the sheer physical prowess, Truitt argued that Didrickson brought many gifts to the game: He was an extraordinarily quick ball handler, often the fastest person on the court. He had long arms and defensive instincts that made him impossible to challenge. Truitt remembers opposing coaches instructing their players to turn and pass the ball anytime Didrickson came near. And there’s this: Win or lose, he’d visit the other team after the game in their locker room to congratulate them.

Unlike many athletes of the era, Didrickson’s career was not interrupted by war.

“Personally, I thought Herb had a great life and family. And he enjoyed where he was living,” Abell said. “And remember they didn’t have — especially professionally, hell, I knew (Jim) Barnett, he got $4,200 for going to the Warriors — they didn’t have the big bucks they have now. If they had seen Herb in today’s market and said, ‘Herb, you know, x-number of millions…’ it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Herb said, ‘Thank you. That’s very generous. But I’m happy where I live. I’m happy with my friends here, and I don’t want to give that up for money.'”

While college is a stepping stone to pro basketball, it’s not for other sports. The Alaska Sports Hall of Fame said the Seattle Rainiers minor-league baseball team also made an unsuccessful attempt to recruit Didrickson to be a centerfielder.

Just one more reason, according to the Hall of Fame, that it considers Didrickson to be “the Jim Thorpe of Alaska.”

Categories: Alaska News

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