Alaska News

Homer City Council members survive recall effort

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 18:00
Homer’s canvas board counts absentee ballots in recall election. (Aaron Bolton, KBBI News)

Three Homer City Council members subject of a highly contentious recall effort will retain their seats. The political battle led to a court case with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and two political groups have formed around the issue.

Listen now

Council members David Lewis, Catriona Reynolds and Donna Aderhold all enjoyed double digit wins as the official results came in Friday.

As the canvas board counted hundreds of absentee ballots Friday afternoon, several Heartbeat of Homer supporters in the audience eagerly awaited the results. The pro-recall political action committee’s spokeswoman, Sarah Vance, sat quietly as the stacks of ballots were counted.

The three council members narrowly eked out a win Tuesday in the regular vote and needed a strong showing from absentee voters. City Clerk Mellissa Jacobsen read the results for the record and those in attendance.

Aderhold and Lewis were both favored by 57 percent of voters and Reynolds came away with 56 percent of the vote. Vance and her supporters were noticeably disappointed as they walked out of City Hall.

“Of course we are disappointed in the outcome,” Vance said. “We feel that they definitely were dishonest in their dealings over the issues, but the people have spoken and we’ll proceed from here.”

The three council members found themselves subjects of the recall effort this spring. Petitioners took issue with two resolutions they crafted and sponsored, namely an inclusivity resolution.

Petitioners argue it was the council members’ intent to make Homer a sanctuary city, damaging the tourism industry. They also claim their actions were misconduct in office.

The council members all had one word for the results, vindicated. On Friday evening, Homer Citizens Against the Recall gathered in the very place the inclusivity resolution began, Homer resident Hal Spence’s living room.

Council member Reynolds gave an impromptu speech to supporters.

“There hasn’t been anything I could do about any of this for a long time, but knowing that you were all working to show the recall was not valid, I think we did that today with the results,” Reynolds said in Spence’s living room. “We did it Tuesday with the results.”

Lewis and Reynolds both say they’re happy the special election is over. However, Lewis notes the division created by it will not dissipate overnight.

“You know I went back and read some of the articles, and we’ve been called Marxists and all sorts of stuff,” Lewis said. “That doesn’t go away.”

Aderhold, an avid writer and runner, added she is particularly excited to have time in her personal life.

Homer Citizens Against the Recall Chairman Ron Keffer explained the one-issue political action committee will be dissolved. But, Keffer noted its progressively minded supporters will remain a group.

“Because we don’t want to get ourselves into a position in which we have not been active enough and things happen and we have to play catchup,” Keffer explained. “We want to be an active part constantly at this point.”

The Homer City Council held a special meeting Monday to certify the results.

Reynolds and Lewis’ terms are up in October. Lewis, a three-term councilman, said he decided not to run prior to the recall effort. Reynolds noted the recall, as well as other obligations, pushed her away from running for reelection. Aderhold, whose term expires in 2018, said it’s too early to make that choice.

However, all is not said and done. Heartbeat of Homer is seeking reimbursement for its legal fees from the council members.

Categories: Alaska News

Sharp comments reflect ill will as Legislature starts 2nd special session

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 17:42
Most members of the House Republican minority met during a break on Thursday. The caucus criticized the swift introduction and passage of a combined capital and operating budget. The Senate didn’t consider the budget. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

On July 1, Alaska’s state government will shut down unless lawmakers can reach an agreement on a budget.

Two groups that may be difficult to bring together are the majority and minority caucuses in the House.

Listen now

House minority Republicans say they were blindsided by the majority’s late push to pass a combined operating and capital budget ahead of the end of the first special session last week.

And it led some lawmakers to denounce the majority, including Eagle River Rep. Dan Saddler.

He said the fast introduction of the 89-page budget amendment and the 2-minute limit on each House member’s comments were a travesty comparable with the attack by Imperial Japan on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into World War II.

“FDR once said that December 7th, 1941, (is) a day which will live in infamy,” Saddler said, adding that the Pearl Harbor attack “will be nowhere near June 15th, 2017, in the annals of infamy.”

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck said Friday that Saddler’s comments were misplaced.

“There’s 2,400 Americans that died … on that one day,” Tuck said. “To compare something as traumatic as that in Americans’ history is really, really over-the-top.”

Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt also condemned Dillingham Democratic House Speaker Bryce Edgmon.

Pruitt said the minority didn’t have time to read the proposed budget.

“When you think about tyrants, you think about (Vietnamese Communist leader) Ho Chi Minh, (Zimbabwe President) Robert Mugabe and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” Pruitt said to Edgmon. “Welcome to their club.”

Edgmon said the majority had a sense of urgency to pass a budget to give the Senate enough time to decide whether to pass it ahead of the end of the first special session.

The Senate majority adjourned without discussing the bill.

“When I was a staffer here in the ‘90s, I heard a lot worse,” Edgmon said. “Back before social media, and Gavel to Gavel, and this, that and the other. … I think it’s all in a day’s good work, and, you know, it is what it is.”

Criticism of the mostly Democratic House majority spilled over into the Senate.

Wasilla Republican Sen. David Wilson compared the House majority’s handling of the legislation with the laws that enforced racial segregation in the South until 1965.

“It only reminds me of issues that I can only describe, for I feel for the other side, as separate yet not quite equal,” Wilson said. “And given that, it just reminds me of those people in power that’s supposed to be a party of inclusion and a party of bringing people together is only seen as (or) best described as, a party that just wants to support Jim Crow laws in the state of Alaska.”

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner condemned Wilson’s likening procedural decisions to racism.

“There was an allusion to supporting the Jim Crow laws, and I think that’s completely out of line. And I want to refute that,” Gardner said.

Whether hard feelings over the House majority’s handling of the end of the first special session make a difference in the second special session remains to be seen.

The House minority could still exert influence if any budget agreement between the House and Senate relies on drawing money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Tapping this reserve account requires support from three-quarters of the House, or at least eight of the 18 House minority members.

The other option is to draw money from Permanent Fund earnings to pay for the operating budget, which has never been done in the fund’s history.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Department of Natural Resources tracks bear that killed Anchorage teenager

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 17:07
Black bear. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources is still searching for the black bear that killed 16-year-old Patrick Cooper on Sunday. Meanwhile, another bear attack has claimed the life of a worker and injured another in a gold mine near Delta.

In Anchorage, Cooper encountered a bear during the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb on the Bird Ridge trail inside Chugach State Park.

After a search of the trail, Cooper was found pinned to the ground by a black bear. The bear ran away after a park ranger shot it.

According to Ken Marsh of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the last fatal bear mauling in the Anchorage area occurred in 1995.

“In this situation, this is a very, very rare occurrence,” Marsh said. “This appears to be a predatory attack. This is a situation where a bear may not have been surprised, where in fact a bear actually targeted an individual.”

Two Fish and Game officers and one park ranger tracked the bear into Monday afternoon. After an initial ground search, trackers found traces of blood from the bear and believe it has moved deeper into the mountains. Marsh said, if the bear is found alive it will be put down.

Matt Wedeking from Alaska State Parks said investigators are just trying to gather information at this point. He said if the Department of Fish and Game is able to recover the bear carcass, it will perform a necropsy to determine if there was anything wrong with the bear. Wedeking reminded Alaskans to stay safe on the trails.

“Travel in groups, make a lot of noise, carry bear spray or an air horn,” Wedeking said. “Bear incidents happen everywhere in Chugach State Park and any of the state parks, so be aware and plan for it.”

Wedeking said the Bird Ridge trail can reopen if the bear is found.

Another fatal bear attack happened early Monday, June 19 at the Pogo mine, 38 miles from Delta Junction. Employees were taking geological samples several miles from camp when the bear attacked. The bear was shot and killed after Alaska Wildlife Troopers directed the mine to have it “dispatched.”

Categories: Alaska News

Former Kenai city manager dies after motorcycle crash

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 16:58

A former Kenai city manager died Sunday of injuries he sustained when he wrecked his motorcycle earlier that day on the Dalton Highway.

Alaska State Troopers say 60-year-old Ricky Koch was pronounced dead by medics who’d flown to Livengood.

According to a Trooper report posted Monday morning, Koch was riding with several friends when he lost control and wrecked at mile 39, near the Hess Creek bridge about 15 miles south of the Yukon River.

Koch’s friends brought him to Livengood, about 50 miles north of Fairbanks, where they were able to contact a resident by phone to call for help.

Koch served as Kenai’s city manager for 10 years until he left the office last year for an unsuccessful run at the Legislature.

Troopers say Koch not wearing a helmet when he crashed. A trooper spokeswoman says an autopsy will be conducted in the near future.

This was the second motorcycle-related death of a prominent Alaskan official in recent weeks. On June 11, former Fairbanks district attorney Michael Gray died after crashing his motorcycle in Canada — while driving from Alaska to a family gathering in Montana.

Categories: Alaska News

Homer recall effort fails, council members retain their seats

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 16:19
Council Members Tom Stroozas, David Lewis, Mayor Bryan Zak, Heath Smith, Shelly Erickson, Donna Aderhold and Catriona Reynolds. (City of Homer)

Three Homer City Council members subject of a highly contentious recall effort will retain their seats. Each council member was voted on individually. After the election day Tuesday, each council member obtained little over 50 percent of the regular vote.

Margins widened since the unofficial results. David Lewis and Donna Aderhold both took 57 percent of the vote and Catriona Reynolds came away with 56 percent.

All three council members had one word for how they felt, vindicated. Reynolds was notified of the results by phone.

“I felt elated at that point. I feel like this has given clear direction as to the fact that recall in this situation was not acceptable to the majority of the community,” Reynolds said.

All the council members say they tried not to focus too much on the count as the canvas board worked through much of the afternoon. The results were announced shortly after 5 p.m. Friday.

Several supporters of the pro-recall political action committee, Heartbeat of Homer, attended the entire canvas board meeting. Heartbeat spokeswoman Sarah Vance looked disappointed as she walked out of the council chambers.

“Of course we are disappointed in the outcome that they’re not being recalled,” Vance explained. “Because we feel that they definitely were dishonest in their dealings over the issues, but the people have spoken and we’ll proceed from here.”

Vance is happy with the strong voter turnout, which was around 41 percent. Vance has said Heartbeat isn’t going away, but declined to say what topics it would focus on next. Now that the recall is over, she said the town needs to be accepting of each other despite beliefs and political views.

“I hope we don’t go back to the way things were before because we need to proceed and find a new normal,” Vance noted.

Lewis, who said he’s not going to the “campfire to sing Kumbaya” at the last council meeting, still thinks it will be hard for the politically divided town to reconcile.

“You know I went back and read some of the articles and we’ve been called Marxists and all sorts of stuff,” Lewis said. “That doesn’t go away.”

Lewis, a three-term councilmember, does not plan to run again in October, a decision he came to before the recall. Council member Reynolds’ term is also up this year. She noted the recall issue made her decide not to run. Reynolds added other commitments have also led her to that decision.

Aderhold, who will remain on the council until 2018, said it’s too early to decide. Aderhold did say she’s excited to have more time in her personal life.

“I write a lot, and I’m looking forward to getting back to writing. I’m looking forward to getting back to running, doing some other things that give me peace of mind,” Aderhold said.

The city council will hold a special meeting Monday at 4 p.m. to finalize the election results.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Secretary reassigns top climate policy adviser

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 16:09
Flanked by Senator Lisa Murkowski and Governor Bill Walker, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks to reporters after signing an order to promote more drilling on Alaska’s North Slope. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is reshuffling several senior government positions, and it could affect Arctic policies in Alaska. The Washington Post reports that dozens of career officials received reassignment letters last Thursday.

Alaska’s Energy Desk was able to confirm that Joel Clement, a climate policy adviser, received one of those letters. Clement helped advise former President Barack Obama on Arctic issues.

In 2011, Clement was appointed to an inter-agency task force to look at energy development in the Arctic and climate impacts. He authorized a report detailing the effects of warming in the region, such as sea ice loss and melting permafrost.

Now Clement has been reassigned to the Office of Natural Resources and Revenue, which collects oil and gas royalties, among other things.

In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

Zinke ordered new studies of the area’s resource potential in May.

Categories: Alaska News

New equipment helps scientists keep tabs on Bogoslof now and study it later

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 15:12
Bogoslof island has changed dramatically since the volcano started erupting in late 2016. (Max Kaufman/Alaska Volcano Observatory/University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute)

Scientists have had a hard time monitoring Bogoslof volcano since it started erupting in December. The island is so small, there is no equipment on the volcano, making it difficult to predict eruptions.

No one lives on Bogoslof – the closest human neighbors are 60 miles away in Unalaska. Scientists monitor from afar and they’ve had a lot to monitor lately. The volcano has erupted more than 40 times since December.

Geophysicist John Lyons said there aren’t many volcanoes like Bogoslof in the world so he doesn’t want to miss anything.

“The interesting thing about the eruption at Bogoslof is that it’s happening underwater and then the eruption breaks the surface and goes into the atmosphere,” Lyons said.

Lyons installed two hydrophones underwater near the island — they’re essentially microphones that listen and record seismic waves during an eruption.

“Right now, we can only detect the most energetic activity from the volcano,” Lyons said. “So hopefully with these two instruments that are much closer we’ll be able to detect, understand, and study the eruption in much more detail.”

Lyons said these recordings are unprecedented. Because the hydrophones are so close to the island and in the water column, they’re especially good at registering the low level activity at Bogoslof that the faraway monitoring network has missed. He’ll have to wait a while to study them, since the hydrophones don’t transmit their data.

But there’s another piece of equipment volcanologist Alexa Van Eaton installed that will help right away – they track lightning, including volcanic lightning, which happens when static electricity builds up in ash clouds.

“Unlike ground shaking and unlike acoustic energy that can happen when there’s not a lot of ash getting into the atmosphere, lightning is unique to ash,” Van Eaton said. “That’s relevant because it’s important to aviation hazards and communities like Dutch Harbor which could be downwind.”

The new sensors are part of a global lightning system called the World Wide Lightning Location Network. The stronger network makes it easier to warn pilots that eruptions are underway. And it could help scientists understand if lightning at Bogoslof means there’s a lot of ash in the atmosphere and planes should avoid the area.

For now, the scientists are relishing every bit of eruptive activity at Bogoslof. The more it erupts, the more they can learn.

Categories: Alaska News

SEARHC land transfer advances in congressional committees

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 14:51
SEARHC CEO Charles Clement testifies before the House Natural Resources Committee in Washington D.C. Referring to the age of Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital, he said “Something’s got to happen in Sitka.” (Youtube screen capture)

A bill transferring over 19 acres of federal land in Sitka to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium — or SEARHC — has passed preliminary committees in both the US House and Senate.

House Resolution 1901 was introduced by Congressman Don Young in April. A nearly-identical version of the bill, S. 825, was introduced into the US Senate by Lisa Murkowski on the same day.

The bill transfers lands currently owned by the Indian Health Service and gives them to SEARHC at no cost. SEARHC already occupies much of the land anyway, and has been maintaining it for over two decades, according to CEO Chuck Clement.

Clement testified in Washington DC earlier this month (6-7-17) before the House subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Native Affairs. He told House members that SEARHC needed the land to replace Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital.

“Our tertiary care hospital is located in Sitka, Alaska. It’s the only hospital we operate. It was built by the Department of War approximately 70 years ago,” Clement said. “As you can imagine, over the course of 70 years in Southeast Alaska, it’s been very difficult on the facility. And there’s a great need to update, upgrade, and replace the facility. And given the current circumstances within the Indian Health Service, with regard to replacement facilities in Indian Country, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to work collaboratively with the IHS to find the best and most prudent way to go ahead and replace that facility.”

The bill transfers the land under a so-called “warranty deed,” which guarantees SEARHC full title, and protects the organization against claims by other possible owners. A quitclaim deed would only transfer title, with no guarantees.

Congressman Don Young asked Clement — on behalf of the IHS which could not send staff to the hearing — why a warranty deed was so critical.

“Something has to happen in Sitka, there has to be some level of development,” Clement said. “And in order to engage a financial partner, whether it’s the Alaska Bond Bank, whether it’s a private financial institution, whether it’s open bond markets, we are going to need to take loans on that land, and quitclaim deeds will just not cover that level of financial committment that’s going to be required.”

“I thank you for that answer.” Young responded. “We have transferred five other pieces of property under warranty deed. I was curious why they were saying it had ‘limited aspects.’ We will pass the bill with “warranty deed” with the help of the chairman and the ranking member, because you just want to build a new hospital. I’ve been in this hospital — by the way, SEARHC does a great job, but the buildings are 70 years old.”

H.R. 1901 passed the House subcommittee. A week later, S. 825 was heard in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and also passed. Both bills will likely be heard in at least one other committee in the House and Senate, before being combined into a single bill.

As part of its expansion plans, SEARHC has proposed buying out Sitka Community Hospital and converting it into a long-term care facility. All acute care in Sitka would move to Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital, and then its replacement if one is built.

Categories: Alaska News

Smithsonian representatives wrap up information meetings for Native veterans memorial

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 11:44
Ozzie Sheakley, commander of Southeast Alaska Native Veterans, welcomes The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to Southeast Alaska on Monday, June 12, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute)

In 2013, Congress authorized the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to establish a national veterans memorial for Natives.

The Alaska community consultations of that national effort wrapped last week.

More than 86,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives served in the armed forces in World War II and the Vietnam War, and about 31,000 currently are active duty, according to Department of Defense estimates.

Eileen Maxwell is a spokesperson for the museum.

An advisory committee and the museum have been conducting community consultations to seek input and support for the memorial, to find out what Native veterans want to see in a national tribute.

Maxwell said that Native Americans have served in the U.S. military since the American Revolution.

“In higher numbers than any other ethnic group per capita,” Maxwell said. “It is quite an amazing tribute to Native Americans and needs to be recognized with a national memorial in the nation’s capital.”

Alaska Native veterans, community members and museum representatives met recently at the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau.

Ozzie Sheakley was one of the attendees. He commands the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans and has researched and presented on Tlingit code talkers during World War II.

“There wasn’t really recognition about the Indian peoples in the wars,” Sheakley said. He has researched and presented on Tlingit code talkers during World War II.

The code talkers were trained Native soldiers who sent unbreakable codes based on indigenous languages.

“To me, it’s like the help of our people shortened the war,” Sheahley said. “Because of that, I feel like we were a big part of, especially, World War II.”

The museum estimates the budget for the memorial at $15 million, which includes long-term maintenance and associated educational programs. Construction and implementation will be about half of that.

National Museum of the American Indian director Kevin Gover tells community members and area Alaska Native veterans about a proposed national memorial for Native veterans. (Photo courtesy Sealaska Heritage Institute)

“There’s like 33 different tribes that are putting their ideas together,” Sheakley said. “We just want to make sure that everyone that was in the service is recognized” including the Merchant Marines and the territorial guards.

Groups met in Fairbanks in October. Juneau was the penultimate stop. The last meeting was in Anchorage at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Eleanor Hadden, curator of collections and exhibits at the center, says few attended, but it was an emotional meeting as families and veterans talked about the history and hardship of their Alaska Native relatives who served.

Hadden, whose Native name is Aan-Kee-Naa, is Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian originally from the Ketchikan area. She said her family has a long history of serving in the military, including her father who served in Korea and her spouse, whose career in the Air Force has spanned 24 years.

Hadden said at least one person asked that the memorial not portray war, but survival and life. Another idea was to include the family and community who supported the soldiers when they returned home.

Sheakley said coming up with a unifying memorial could prove difficult.

“We know it’s going to be hard for them to make a choice because they’re meeting with all the tribes,” Sheakley said. “It’s a small area they’re going to be using. To me, it’ll be good if they recognize every tribe that there is, but because it’s going to be a small area they can’t do that.”

Sheakley said one idea is to include the various code talker medals.

“What they should do is get a copy of every code talker medal and put it around the side because that’s from every tribe,” Sheakley said.

Congress recognized 33 Native groups in 2013 for their efforts during world wars. Sheakley accepted a Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of Central Council of the Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

Five individual Tlingit men — Jeff David, Richard Bean Sr., George Lewis, and brothers Harvey Jacobs and Mark Jacobs Sr. — all deceased, were honored with silver medals.

The memorial design will be selected through a juried, international competition to launch in the fall.

The memorial will be on grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington. It’s expected to be dedicated in 2020.

You can find out more about the museum at

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska looks to reform its solitary confinement practices

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-06-19 10:00
A cell in the punitive segregation unit at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. (Photo by Anne Hillman, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

The Department of Corrections and the ACLU are working together to reform the department’s solitary confinement practices. They brought in a team of experts from New York University to tour facilities and their segregation units this week and develop suggestions that will improve conditions for both inmates and staff.

Through heavy metal doors of the Anchorage Correctional Complex, down a plain white hallway, is a plain white room lined with tiny two-person cells. Day light seeps in through thin slits in the cell walls falling on shiny metal toilets that are just feet from where the inmates sleep and eat. This is the punitive segregation unit at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Inmates who live there have some access to phones, visiting hours, puzzle books, and other activities, but they’re in their white cells for the vast majority of the day.

“Segregation is known to be psychologically detrimental to those who are in there for any length of time,” Bruce Busby, DOC’s director of Instiutions said.

A 2015 report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics showed just over 4 percent of all federal and state inmates nationwide were in restricted housing in 2012. Busby said in Alaska, it was closer to 10 percent.

“The problem is it’s really easy, and I’m going to call it lazy, right?” Busby said. “An inmate does a bad thing and we just throw them in seg. It’s easy for us. It’s hard on the individual.”

But recently the department has tried to reduce that number – it’s currently at 8.5 percent. Busby said the department is looking for alternative ways to punish disciplinary problems whenever possible.

“If you have an inmate who is always going to be bashing heads out in general pop, he has no business being in general pop,” Busby said. “If it’s an inmate who has a drug problem, maybe we can intercede in another way, maybe through treatment or alternative sanctions.”

That includes things like restricting access to commissary or requiring work service.

Busby said many people also choose restricted housing because they fear for their safety in the general population. He said the department is looking at different housing options that make people feel safer.

“We want to house the goldfish with the goldfish and the sharks with the sharks,” Busby said.

And making prisons safer is one of the main goals of reforming segregation practices according to Dan Pacholke, a researcher with New York University who was invited to Alaska by the DOC and the ACLU.

“We want safe, humane environments,” Pacholke said. “You can reduce segregation rates and create safer environments both for staff and offenders at the same time.”

Those are things Pacholke accomplished during his 33 years with the Washington state corrections system. He says when walking through the Anchorage facility, he noticed that staff seemed thoughtful and inmates didn’t shout as he passed by and greeted them — all positive indicators about conditions in the institution.

The department is also learning from other institutions across the country to help inmates who are in segregation learn social skills and coping skills. Busby said they now have tables at the Spring Creek Correctional Center with handcuffs strung through them. That way inmates can sit together and have group sessions without hurting each other. Some cells also have fenced in porch-like areas that let them talk to people in the day room but not physically interact.

Other new innovations try to combat the effects of sensory deprivation.

The Green Room at the Anchorage Correctional Complex will soon be painted and allow inmates a chance to immerse themselves in nature imagery and sounds.

Soon segregated inmates will be able to sit alone in a secured, green-painted room with a giant flat screen TV and immerse themselves in sounds and images of nature – everything from snow falling to flamingos playing. Other prisons in the US have shown it reduces stress and anxiety and can de-escalate situations before they get violent.

NYU researcher Sandy Mullins said that segregation doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and over the next few months and years they’ll be looking at everything from Alaska’s policies and procedures regarding entering and leaving segregation to what’s influencing inmate behavior.

Mullins said segregation is a tool for disrupting behavior, not an answer in and of itself. She said we need to remember that almost everyone who is incarcerated, will at some point be released.

“You want to do no harm,” Mullins said. “You don’t want to create a person who’s more person than when they came in. So while prison isn’t inherently therapeutic, it can definitely be more humane. More of a generative environment where people are growing and thinking and more ready to be on the outside.”

The move toward reforming segregation in Alaska’s prisons was prompted by the local ACLU, which was concerned about youth being placed in solitary when at adult facilities. The process will include interviews with prison staff and current and former inmates, and doesn’t have a set timeline yet.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, June 16, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 17:52

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

Listen now

Walker narrows Legislature’s focus to the budget

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

A breakdown in negotiations between House and Senate legislators Thursday resulted in lawmakers not passing a state operating budget in the first special session that ended Friday. So Gov. Bill Walker immediately called for a second special session, but is limiting the agenda to only the operating budget.

As swing vote on ACA repeal, Murkowski draws attention

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – Washington D.C.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the target of a new TV ad urging her to vote against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

An Anchorage program has people role-playing in a refugee camp

Anne Hillman, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Each of the world’s 21 million refugees has a unique story, but sometimes it’s hard to see past the numbers. On Wednesday, Catholic Social Services in Anchorage set up a simulation where people role played what it would be like to arrive at a refugee camp. It was to help people try to get a sense of what it’s like to flee your home with practically nothing.

Climber dies of unknown illness descending Denali

Associated Press

The National Park Service in Alaska says a climber has died on Denali, North America’s highest mountain.

Former Fairbanks DA dies in motorcycle accident

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Former Fairbanks District Attorney Mike Gray was killed in a motorcycle accident in the Yukon Territory.

Fairbanks Borough air quality letters yield single citation

Robert Hannon, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough toughened its air regulations in advance of this spring’s EPA re-designation of much of the borough as a serious non-attainment area for fine-particulate pollution. The borough issued more than 170 air quality violation warning letters, but only one citation followed.

Alaska Highway Project: Memorializing civil rights legacy of black soldiers in state history

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Anchorage high school students will get a chance this year to learn about the work African-American soldiers did 75 years ago to help build the Alaska Highway. The retired educator who led the effort to get the district to teach that lesson said it’s important that Alaska students learn about this important part of their state’s history.

AK: World’s only urban king fishery has lines casting in downtown Anchorage

Henry Leasia, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Anchorage’s annual Slam’n Salm’n Derby is in full swing this week. Since last Friday, fishermen at Ship Creek have been competing to see who can hook the biggest king salmon.

49 Voices: Albert Scott of Anchorage

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This week we’re hearing from Albert Scott in Anchorage. Scott is a registered nurse with the Air Force who moved to Alaska from Georgia two years ago.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker narrows Legislature’s focus to the budget

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 17:42
Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, speaks at a press availability Friday shortly after calling the Alaska Legislature into the second special session of the year. Walker limited the session to one topic, the operating budget. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

A breakdown in negotiations between House and Senate legislators Thursday resulted in lawmakers not passing a state operating budget in the first special session that ended Friday. So Gov. Bill Walker immediately called for a second special session, but is limiting the agenda to only the operating budget.

Listen now

There were eight items on the first special session. The full Legislature only passed the budget for mental health before both chambers adjourned.

Walker said he is asking the Legislature to take these items in a more measured way – starting with only the operating budget.

“I received a lot of input from around the state from businesses, from business people – some actually came to Juneau to talk to me, to ask me, ‘Please, please, put one issue, put the operating budget on the call,’” Walker said.

Walker said his priority is to stop a state government shutdown, which will occur on July 1. He said it’s important not just to prevent pink slips to government workers, but to prevent harm to private industries that depend on public services.

“Commercial fishing is an example,” Walker said. “They spend a lot of money getting ready for the season. And someone said to me, they said – obviously who hadn’t commercial-fished – they said, ‘Well, if they lose 10 days, what’s the problem?’ That might be the 10 days that the fish are there. And so any day, any minute that’s lost during commercial season is very, very critical.”

The second special session began shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, after the Senate adjourned the first special session.

The Senate adjourned after budget negotiations broke down and the House combined the operating and capital budgets in a move condemned by the Senate majority and House minority.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said it’s important that the Legislature not only passes a budget, but also passes a plan that brings how much the state spends in line with the money the government brings in. He said he doesn’t want to fight the same battle next year.

“Look into calendar year 2018, and an election year political environment that’s going to be much more complicated than it is this year,” Edgmon said. “You sort of put all those factors together and, you know, you go, ‘Why wouldn’t we take decisive action now?’”

Senate leaders expressed frustration that the House didn’t negotiate through today and instead passed a combined budget Thursday night they knew the Senate wouldn’t pass.

But Senate Finance Co-Chairman Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat, said there’s time to avoid a shutdown.

“Let’s focus on the people of Alaska instead of trying to get other items onto the agenda that are not on the agenda,” Hoffman said. “Let’s close this down and let’s get the people’s business done.”

But the divisions and animosity runs deep. House members accused the Senate of not negotiating. In particular, Homer Republican Rep. Paul Seaton said the House offered a 1.5 percent flat tax on employment and self-employment income. This was less than half the size of the original tax the House passed. But the Senate rejected it.

Walker said he still wants the Legislature to consider other issues after it passes an operating budget. That includes the capital budget and a long-term budget plan, as well as a new source of revenue like a broad-based tax. And he expressed disappointment the Legislature didn’t agree on a bill intended to reduce opioid overdose deaths, after both chambers passed different versions of the bill.

These items could be added to the special session later, or addressed in a future special session. Walker also said he wants a budget for capital projects passed within a month, as soon as July 1 as possible.

Categories: Alaska News

An Anchorage program has people role-playing in a refugee camp

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 17:19
Participants in the refugee camp simulation try to build a shelter with tarps and PVC pipes at Chugach Optional School in Anchorage on June 14, 2017. (Photo by Anne Hillman, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Each of the world’s 21 million refugees has a unique story, but sometimes it’s hard to see past the numbers. On Wednesday, Catholic Social Services in Anchorage set up a simulation where people role played what it would be like to arrive at a refugee camp. It was to help people try to get a sense of what it’s like to flee your home with practically nothing.

When Annie Derthick arrives at the simulation, tents are set up randomly around an open asphalt play area. Some are labeled in English, others aren’t. At the entrance sits a pile of household items — clothes, blankets, pots and pans. Like people fleeing their homes, Derthick quickly has to decide what to take with her.

“Oh my gosh what do I need, what do I need… I need shoes,” Derthick said.

Derthick shoves random items into a pillow case then tries to figure out what to do next. She’s pretending to be an 18-year-old who is fleeing forced army service in Eritrea, a small country in northeast Africa. She’s given a sheet of paper that describes her situation.

“I don’t have a lot of options because crossing into Ethiopia is illegal and I’ll be persecuted,” Derthick said. “I can’t go back home because I would be deemed a deserter.”

So Derthick goes to a camp that’s close enough to the border that it could be hit by mortar shells. Her next stop is the registration tent where she receives her food ration card.

WORKER: “Here’s the registration form for you.”

DERTHICK: “Oh, I don’t read this language.”

WORKER: “Just do the best you can.”

It’s a common problem in the camps – refugees sometimes only know local languages which aren’t used for camp communications, and foreign aid workers can’t always translate. Annie encounters the problem again at the medical tent and the food distribution tent. Eventually she gets a small bag of uncooked rice from an aid worker.

DERTHICK: “I didn’t bring anything to cook food with me.”

WORKER: “Well that is unfortunate. So if people aren’t able to bring their own pots and pans when they flee, they have to acquire them either from aid systems.”

DERTHICK: “But I haven’t eaten in several days and all I have is dried rice?”

DERTHICK: “Yeah, that’s too bad.”

As Derthick goes through the simulation she has to give away her toothbrush to get help carrying water. Her few remaining possessions are stolen by a corrupt aid worker. And she has to find strangers who will let her live with them because the UN refugee agency won’t provide tarps and tent poles to single individuals.

Her new friends struggle to construct a small shelter without any instructions, and Derthick can’t help. In the simulation, her arm is badly infected but the volunteer doctor won’t arrive for at least a month.

Jessica Kovarik is the director of Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services. She said people have lots of misconceptions about refugee camps but conditions vary widely. Some are meant to be temporary but others, like Dadaab, in northern Kenya, have housed Somali refugees for 25 years. Part of it resembles a small, permanent town.

Kovarik said about 60% of refugees aren’t in camps – they’ve moved to urban areas of neighboring countries and have resettled there.

“So a lot of people have in their head this misperception that the majority of refugees are in Europe or are they’re coming to countries like the United States and that’s not true,” Kovarik said. “The majority of refugees are hosted by lower economically developed countries. Countries that are already resource poor and are having challenges with the people who are there currently.”

UNHCR reports that fewer than one percent of refugees are resettled by the UN in countries like the US or Canada.

Derthick said she knows a lot about refugees – she’s worked with many as a behavioral health clinician – but the simulation still surprised her. She didn’t expect the different languages or people saying they wouldn’t help.

“From a behavioral health perspective, its evidence of the resiliency that people have that even is such a chaotic and disheartening and discouraging environment, they can still kind of figure out how to get their basic needs met and get themselves resettled,” Derthick said. “It’s really quite impressive.”

There are more than 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced worldwide.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Highway Project: Memorializing civil rights legacy of black soldiers in state history

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 17:10
Retired Alaska educator Jean Pollard says the Alaska history classes she took didn’t include any information about the hard work African-American soldiers did and hardships they endured while helping build the Alaska Highway 75 years ago.
(Tim Ellis/KUAC)

Anchorage high school students will get a chance this year to learn about the work African-American soldiers did 75 years ago to help build the Alaska Highway. The retired educator who led the effort to get the district to teach that lesson said it’s important that Alaska students learn about this important part of their state’s history.

Jean Pollard is a retired schoolteacher who still proudly calls herself an educator. So when she learned some seven years ago that more than 3,000 African-American soldiers had helped build the Alaska Highway during World War II, she wondered why she didn’t learn about that little-known chapter in state history when she was a student attending Anchorage schools.

“Well, I’d never heard this before,” Pollard said. “And I graduated from high school and took Alaska studies, y’know.”

Pollard said she like most Alaskan students learned about the U.S. Army building the highway in 1942 to help defend the state from invasion by Japan. But until she saw a television documentary about the history of the highway, she didn’t know that more than a third of the 11,000-some soldiers who built it were black, serving in poorly equipped, segregated units. And neither did many of her fellow educators.

“And as I mentioned it to some social study teachers, nobody knew what I was talking about,” Pollard said.

So she contacted Lael Morgan, an Alaskan journalist and writer who was interviewed for the TV documentary. Pollard asked Morgan to help her research the subject and develop lessons to help Alaskan students learn about black soldiers’ crucial role in the highway project.

Pollard said she told Morgan that “I’m an educator. I’m feisty. We are born to educate, so we’ve got to get this story out.”

Black soldiers serving in segregated units were poorly equipped, but earned commanders’ respect through their hard work and ingenuity in building their portions of the Alaska Highway.
(Maryland Public Television)

Morgan is a writer and former University of Alaska Fairbanks associate professor of journalism who’s written extensively about the subject. She said when she began researching it in the years leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Highway in 1992, she quickly learned there wasn’t much information available about it.

“They had literally been written out of history,” Morgan said.

Morgan said more research has been done on the subject since the 50th anniversary. But she says after talking with Pollard in 2011, she realized public awareness of it had again faded.

“And Jean said, ‘Well, the only way to solve that problem is to get it into the school system.’ ”

So in 2012, she and a few others founded an organization they call the Alaska Highway Project, which Pollard now chairs. Their goals included collecting and sharing the black soldiers’ stories, building a memorial to their service and developing a curriculum that would give Alaskan students an opportunity to learn about the soldiers’ work on the highway.

Some of the 30 participants in the Anchorage School District’s Summer Academy workshop last month on developing lessons on black soldier’s role in the construction of the Alaska Highway. From left, Lael Morgan, University of Alaska Anchorage history Professor Katie Ringsmuth, Jean Pollard, Pam Orme, and teacher Amy Chase.
(Alaska Highway Project)

“I missed the opportunity, and all the rest of us missed the opportunity,” Pollard said. “And I said, ‘Oh no, this generation … they need to know this.’ ”

In 2013, Pollard and Morgan talked with Pam Orme, the Anchorage School District’s social studies coordinator, about developing lessons on the subject that could be incorporated into history classes.

“We looked at the curriculum that’s required, and we saw that it fit absolutely perfectly in a unit focused on Jim Crow in Alaska,” Orme said in a February interview with Pollard and Morgan at the Anchorage district office.

So-called Jim Crow laws were instituted throughout the United States in the years after Civil War Reconstruction to maintain segregation and second-class citizen status for African-Americans. Morgan said the black soldiers helped end segregation in the military and American society through respect they earned by their hard work on the highway project.

Govenor Walker signs his last name on SB 46 at Delaney Park Strip (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

“After the (Alaska Highway) building, our troops were sent all around to battlefields around the world,” Morgan said. “And they acquitted themselves very, very well.”

Gov. Bill Walker called the Alaska Highway “the road to civil rights” in comments he made April 30th, after signing legislation that sets an annual observance of black soldiers’ work on the project. Pollard and Morgan testified in favor of the measure, and advocated for its passage.

Meanwhile, the Alaska Highway Project has recruited sculptors who’ve designed a memorial organizers hope to erect next year in Anchorage’s Centennial Park.

And last month, Pollard and Morgan joined Orme and a group of 30 other educators in an Anchorage School District workshop to develop a curriculum about the black soldiers’ service. Orme said Anchorage schools will begin using those lessons this fall. And she said they’ll share them with other districts statewide. Fairbanks North Star Borough School District officials say they’re interested.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Borough air quality letters yield single citation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 16:53
Wood stove pipe on a Fairbanks home.
(Credit Dan Bross / KUAC)

The Fairbanks North Star Borough toughened its air regulations in advance of this spring’s EPA re-designation of much of the borough as a serious non-attainment area for fine-particulate pollution. The borough issued more than 170 air quality violation warning letters, but only one citation followed.


In March the borough passed tougher air quality measures that reduced the number of burn stages and increased fines. The borough also stepped up monitoring and following up on reports of violations. As a result Nick Czarnecki with the borough’s air quality division said more than 174 certified letters were issued to violators.

“And then if a particular individual is found to violate multiple times within a winter, then it can move up to a citation,” Czarnecki said. “Last year, there was only one citation issued.”

Czarnecki said Borough Mayor Karl Kassel would also regularly follow up certified letters with a personal phone call. Glenn Miller, who directs air quality at the borough, said that is one reason for the high ratio of warnings to citation. He said another reason is many violators are unaware of burn restrictions.

“And then the third component of that is we have only two people that are dedicated for complaint response, and they can’t be everywhere at once,” Miller said.

Miller said while there are probably violators out there that escape detection, he believes most people want to do the right thing.  He also said the process is reset each fall, so past violators start out fresh start. Staffing levels and borough tracking are sure to be topics as the assembly takes up another air quality ordinance at its meeting June 19.

Categories: Alaska News

Former Fairbanks DA dies in motorcycle accident

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 16:21

Former Fairbanks District Attorney Mike Gray was killed in a motorcycle accident in the Yukon Territory. A Yukon Coroner’s Office report said that the 64-year-old Gray was headed toward Teslin on the Alaska Highway on Sunday, when he lost control of his motorcycle on the gravel edge of the raid while traveling through a construction zone.

The Coroner’s office said Gray had left Fairbanks the previous day, headed south to a family gathering in Montana.

Gray, who began his law career in rural Virginia, most recently served as the district attorney for Bethel, and had spent the previous 20 years as a DA in Fairbanks and Kodiak.

Categories: Alaska News

As swing vote on ACA repeal, Murkowski draws attention

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 16:14
Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Photo by Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the target of a new TV ad urging her to vote against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“Sen. Murkowski, you have a deciding vote,” the ad concludes. “Alaskans need you to vote ‘no’ on health care repeal.”

It’s sponsored by Save My Care, a national health care advocacy group trying stop Congress from repealing President Obama’s signature health care law.

Murkowski is a swing vote on health care. She criticizes current law for driving up premiums in Alaska, but she wants to keep some of its provisions, like coverage for pre-existing conditions, expanded Medicaid and funding for Planned Parenthood. She said this week she doesn’t know how she’ll vote because she hasn’t seen any text of the bill her colleagues are working on.

“We don’t know. I don’t know,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski said she learns what might be in the bill from the questions reporters ask her. These days, swarms of reporters follow her through the Capitol, far more than she normally sees.

Murkowski is critical of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to bypass committees and bring a repeal bill directly to the floor. But her dissatisfaction with the process doesn’t mean she’ll necessarily reject the bill.

“I can’t speculate as to how I’m going to vote on something if I have no idea as to its contents,” Murkowski said.

The Senate is reportedly trying to soften some of the effects of the bill the House passed last month. That legislation would slash the generous subsidies that help middle-income Alaskans buy insurance plans. It would phase out funding for Medicaid expansion, a provision that has extended government-funded insurance to 34,000 lower-income Alaskans. The House bill would also lower taxes for people making more than $200,000 a year and reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion over 10 years.

Categories: Alaska News

The beginning of Prudhoe bay development

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 16:08
Conventional oil is what’s traditionally flowed through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. (Photo courtesy the Center for Land Use Interpretation)

40 years ago, the first barrel of oil started flowing down the trans-Alaska pipeline. Completing the pipeline was an epic, three-year saga that required tens of thousands of workers, great feats of engineering and perilous work on mountain passes. On the next Talk of Alaska, we’ll explore that pipeline history as part of the series Midnight Oil, from Alaska’s Energy Desk.

HOST: Lori Townsend


  • Dermot Cole – Journalist and author or Amazing Pipeline Stories
  • Dave Haugen – former Alyeska Pipeline Service Company project manager
  • Statewide callers 


  • Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcast
  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send email to (comments may be read on air)

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by emailRSS or podcast.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Albert Scott of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 15:14
Albert Scott of Anchorage (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week we’re hearing from Albert Scott in Anchorage. Scott is a registered nurse with the Air Force who moved to Alaska from Georgia two years ago.

Listen now

SCOTT: Hard to adjust, because I arrived here in December and I was actually traveling from Tampa, FL. Temperature difference was probably about 70 degrees from just a few hours on the flight. And it was dark and I think at that time, it was around winter solstice so there was only about five and a half hours of daylight. And that was definitely a huge adjustment. So it took me several months to get used to here.

Even though Alaska is part of the United States, it almost seems like you live overseas or in a different country. I guess the people here are a lot more laid back. They’re not really as interested in fashion or a lot of material things. There’s a lot of outdoor activities. Slower pace. So that’s the biggest difference.

I was invited by a few coworkers when I first got here. What we did… we went out to a frozen lake, and for some reason we walked to what seemed like the middle of it — which I was curious as to why we couldn’t fish from the bank.

They used some type of a dredger, some type of tool, to cut a hole into the ice. I think it was a few feet thick. And then you kinda just fish like what you would normally. You put a line in the water and you sit there. Big difference is a lot colder. (laughs) So it was an experience.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: World’s only urban king fishery has lines casting in downtown Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-06-16 14:01
Jared Fletcher and Bobbie D wait for bites at the Slam’n Salm’n Derby. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage’s annual Slam’n Salm’n Derby is in full swing this week. Since last Friday, fishermen at Ship Creek have been competing to see who can hook the biggest king salmon.

Down by the Ulu factory in Anchorage, men and women slip on rubber boots, unpack their fishing tackle and begin to fill the marshy banks of Ship Creek. Everybody is trying to land a big one.

Tucked between downtown and the industrial Port of Anchorage, Ship Creek is the world’s only urban king salmon fishery. It’s a place where pencil pushers can catch a 20-pound salmon on their lunch break and be back in time for their afternoon meeting.

Proceeds from the derby will go to the Downtown Hope Center, an organization that offers food, shelter and other services to underserved members of the community. Volunteer Mike Hidalgo said he helps out at the derby every year because he values the work that the center does.

“It’s been very successful in the sense that some of the folks that were homeless are now employed,” Hidalgo said. “They’re learning skills – baking and cooking – right there at the new facility we have.”

The Bait Shack at Ship Creek. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

Across the creek from the Ulu factory is a red shack where fishermen can buy bait and tackle and rent equipment. Outside, some muddy rubber boots are being hosed down on a plastic table. Inside, Dustin Slinker watches the creek from the window as a fisherman struggles to reel in a salmon.

Before Slinker opened The Bait Shack in 2011, the building had been boarded up. Running a bait and tackle shop had been a dream of his ever since he was a kid, so when he saw the space he took the opportunity to make it happen. He said Ship Creek has become a very popular destination in recent years.

“You know the way it’s been fishing in the last 3 years, 4 years could be right up there with one of the best king salmon fisheries in Southcentral Alaska is also helping draw a lot of anglers with a lot of restrictions elsewhere — sizes of fish, kings that you can’t keep out of certain drainages – you know is really what’s driving this,” Slinker said. “And the quality of the fish that we’re getting back, we’re getting bigger fish each year.”

Down by the creek, Jared Fletcher and Bobbie D have been fishing for hours. Fletcher has taken the day off and Bobbie D is taking some time to recover from an injury. So far, they haven’t caught anything. They say the most important thing to remember when fishing ship creek is to make sure to have a good line that won’t snap.

“So if you go through all this fishing and you’re here for three hours and you get a fish on and you got bad line, you’re really wasting your time,” Bobbie D said.

Fletcher said they had seen someone make that mistake moments before.

“The guy right there, the one with the camo on, same thing happened to him a few minutes ago,” Fletcher said. “He was like, ‘Fish on!’ Psh, fish gone.”

Henry Mitchell, a fisheries consultant, has had similar luck during the derby. He lost a fish when somebody casted over him, cutting his line. He said it can be tough to share a small stretch of creek with so many people.

“There’s a certain etiquette,” Mitchell said. “You do run into situations where certain people don’t know how to cast very well and cross your lines. It gets frustrating sometimes when your own bait gets tangled up with other peoples. But, you know, that’s all part of living in an urban environment with a downtown urban fishery.”

Louis Palmer fishes from the footbridge overlooking the creek. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public)

At times the fishing can be more solitary. Up on a footbridge above the creek, a man with a long gray beard and a worn blue Alaska cap fishes on his own from his electric wheelchair. 97-year-old Louis Palmer lives in the Anchorage Pioneer Home, an assisted living facility for seniors. He’s been fishing this creek for 45 years.

“I raised my family up here on fish and moose,” Palmer said. “You kind of get used to having it around. And good kings and good silvers, if you take care of them and wrap them and freeze them properly, you can have them year round.”

These days Palmer helps put food on the table for the other residents at his nursing home. He said that if he catches a salmon, he’ll bring it home and the staff will help cook it up for the others.

As the tide rolls out, the water level gets lower and most fisherman start to pack up. A few stragglers wade out into the creek, flicking their rods in a last ditch effort to hook a big one.

The derby ends at noon on Sunday. Currently the weight to beat is 32.75 pounds. First prize will receive 200 troy ounces of silver.

Categories: Alaska News