The village of Newtok is disappearing as it loses land to a combination of thawing permafrost and coastal erosion. Newtok’s 400 people have been trying to relocate for years, and for years the main obstacle has been the same: money. Now, they’re almost out of time. And residents and officials say, at this point, moving Newtok may take an act of Congress.
People say Newtok is dealing with “erosion.” But walk along the bank of the Ninglick River, and you realize that word doesn’t do it justice. “Erosion” sounds like something slow and steady, wearing away at the land. What’s happening here is crazier.
Andrew John is Newtok’s tribal administrator. First thing this morning, he says he came out here to the river with his measuring tape.
“I took some measurements and oh my goodness,” John said. “I don’t recognize any of this. In just five weeks!”
That’s because the land here is breaking off in giant chunks. The river is eating away at the permafrost beneath the tundra, undercutting the bank. During a big storm, whole blocks will break off, and the village can lose 10 or 20 feet at a time.
The nearest house is about 40 feet from where we’re standing right now. That means people are living just one or two big storms from the edge.
And that’s why pretty much everyone in Newtok agrees: it’s time to go.
The village wants to relocate to a new site. It’s a 20-minute boat ride upriver — or, on this frigid November day, a very bumpy half-hour ride into a brutal wind. That doesn’t bother John.The nearest homes are now just 40 feet from the edge of the Ninglick River. The village could lose that amount of land in just one or two storms. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
“We’re going to heaven!” John shouted over the sound of the engine. “That’s what it feels like when we’re there. It’s beautiful!”
Heaven is Mertarvik — the new Newtok. It sits across the Ninglick River, on Nelson Island, up on the side of a low mountain. In other words, it’s not about to erode away.
Newtok got this land in an exchange with the federal government in 2003. Since then, they’ve been trying to piece together enough funding to build homes and infrastructure. And over the years, they have managed to get some things built.
As we approach the new site we see what looks like a proto-village. From the water you can see a handful of houses along a makeshift road. There’s the foundation built for the Mertarvik Evacuation Center, which will someday, maybe, be the school. There’s a row of heavy equipment waiting for the next construction season.
As we walk up the hill, John lays out Newtok’s plans for this site: Roughly a hundred homes, gravel roads instead of the sinking boardwalks at the current location and running water, which the current village doesn’t have. That will be a luxury, John says.
“Something as simple as washing your face in the morning,” John said. “Warm water coming out of a faucet!”
But to see the site’s real point of pride, we load into a four-wheeler and head out to the rock quarry. It was just finished this summer. John can hardly restrain himself as we pull up. He stands up in the back of the four-wheeler to get a better view.
“I am so impressed! I am so impressed!” John said. “Because this time last year, all this was, was just a dream.”Of the rock quarry, Andrew John, Newtok’s tribal administrator says, “This time last year, all this was just a dream!” Pictured with his son, Jason, at right, and Dalen Ayuluk, center. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
It’s just a pit, gouged out of the hillside. But this is the whole reason for moving to Mertarvik: it’s built on rock, not spongy tundra. The river won’t destroy it. And this quarry can provide the gravel for construction.
From here, you can see for miles. John explained why this view matters.
“It’s a part of who we are,” John said. “This is our land. Upriver from the current village of Newtok are my ancestral roots. Sod houses built by my grandmother’s grandfather, and his father and their fathers before them.”
Newtok is a pretty traditional Yup’ik village — one that relies on hunting and fishing. If the village can relocate to this site, close enough to the old one, they can continue that way of life.
The problem is, it’s not clear this new village will be ready before the old village is destroyed. And that’s just a few years away.
Romy Cadiente is Newtok’s relocation coordinator.
“We don’t have time,” Cadiente said.So far, the village has managed to piece together funding for a handful of houses and a rock quarry at the new site. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
The construction at the new site has been pieced together bit by bit over the last decade. But Newtok doesn’t have anywhere near enough money to build everything they need: housing, an airstrip, a school, a power plant. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that price tag at $130 million dollars.
In a village where more than 40 percent of the community lives below the poverty line, that money will have to come from outside.
But state and federal agencies have turned down Newtok’s requests for disaster relief and other grants.
If it’s not possible to relocate together, families could simply scatter, to Bethel or Anchorage. Cadiente says that’s unacceptable.
“We will do whatever we have to, as fast as we have to,” Cadiente said. “We will live in yurts, do anything, but we will not [separate]. Because essentially, what you’re really talking about is the preservation of the Yup’ik community, its traditional values, its identity.”
Joel Neimeyer heads the Denali Commission, the federal agency most closely involved in Newtok’s relocation efforts. He says this problem is bigger than Newtok.
“We have these examples all across the country where you’re having extreme weather events,” Neimeyer said. “And as a country we haven’t yet resolved the question of how we want to respond to these.”
Neimeyer says Congress never envisioned relocating whole communities. There’s no agency in charge of it. There’s no pot of money to fund it. And yet, as climate change hits coastal communities around the country with flooding and erosion, it’s a problem we will likely see more and more.As the Ninglick River melts the permafrost layer, it undercuts the bank, causing blocks of land to break off during storms. The village of Newtok can lose 10 or 20 feet of land at a time. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
Neimeyer believes Congress needs to make a decision: In these situations, is it U.S. policy to move whole communities? Or just move families? Or do nothing?
“Obviously moving a village is more expensive than moving families,” Neimeyer said. “But when you move families, you are dispersing a community, you’re dispersing a tribe, you’re dispersing a culture. And you’ll lose that. So that is a very real policy decision Congress needs to grapple with.”
Returning from Mertarvik, the boat pulls up to Newtok’s deteriorating shoreline. From the water, the scene takes your breath away. It’s dusk, and lights are coming on in the houses near the shore. Just steps from those homes, the land is literally crumbling away, the black earth sloughing off into the water. The waves roll over three old snowmachines and the remains of a road, casualties of this fall’s storms.
By this time next year, the water will reach those homes.
Andrew John says he doesn’t understand why this isn’t enough to deserve help.
“We’re Americans, too. And I, as a veteran have fought in the forces to safeguard our country and our way of life,” John said, choking up. “And now I’m home, fighting for my people and our way of life.”
It’s a fight that may ultimately be won or lost nearly 4,000 miles from here, in the halls of Congress.
This story is the second of two parts. The first part looks at what what would be lost if Newtok disappears.
Tom Clancy the author died in 2013, but Tom Clancy the fiction series powerhouse is very much alive and well. The continuation of Clancy’s thrillers are now in the capable hands of an Alaskan author-Eagle River resident Marc Cameron, a best selling author in his own right, Cameron has just released his first Clancy book — Power and Empire features Clancy characters President Jack Ryan and his son, Jack Ryan Jr., who works for a secret intelligence agency. Cameron is a retired federal marshal, he says years ago, when he was in law enforcement, he started gathering ideas for his novels.
A Ketchikan-bound fuel barge loaded with a million gallons of diesel and gasoline that detached from its tug is now anchored with a protective boom around it while it awaits inspections by Canadian authorities.
The Zidell Marine 277 barge detached from its tug Sunday while transiting through the Canadian portion of the Inside Passage.
A second tug was able to re-attach the 430-foot barge early Monday. Now it’s anchored off Campbell Island near the community of Bella Bella, British Columbia.
Fuel transport through the notoriously narrow Inside Passage is controversial among First Nations communities and environmentalists.
A fuel barge ran aground in the same area after departing Ketchikan last year. It spilled about 29,000 gallons of diesel that closed a nearby clam fishery.
The federal government has given an Italian company the go-ahead to explore for oil in Arctic waters this winter.
It’s the first oil exploration in Arctic federal waters since Shell abandoned its campaign in 2015.
The company, Eni, aims to begin drilling in December. It will operate from an existing man-made gravel island called Spy Island. Spy Island is about three miles offshore, in state waters west of Prudhoe Bay.
The prospect is about four miles away from the island, so Eni plans to use extended-reach drilling. According to the company, it will be be the longest extended-reach well in Alaska.
Eni already produces about 20,000 barrels of oil per day from its facilities on state land. If the exploration in federal waters goes well, Eni thinks it could double production.
Eni secured its leases before the Obama administration’s decision last year to remove the Arctic Ocean from new oil and gas leasing for five years. The Trump administration is currently reconsidering that decision.
In a statement, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Alaska Region director Mark Fesmire said, “Exploration must be conducted safely and responsibly in relation to the Arctic environment and we will continue to engage Eni as they move forward with drilling its exploratory well.”
At least one environmental group is worried about the approval.
“Offshore drilling threatens coastal communities and wildlife and will only push us deeper into the climate crisis,” Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement.
There are still stacks of construction materials inside the two-story industrial building that the Native Village of Port Heiden hopes will soon be an operational fish processing center. The village’s target to finish renovations and install freezers is summer 2018.
The Meshik Processing Center, a project that has been in the works for several years, is funded largely through the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and through the village itself.
“The hope is that we can have a longer fishing season that’s not as hectic, and the hope is that we can pay our fishermen a higher and more fair [price] per pound for their fish and that our workers get paid a decent amount and that those dollars will stay in Port Heiden,” Adrianne Christensen, a consultant for the village, said.The village still needs to install freezers and finish facility renovations before Meshik Processing Center will be operational. (Avery Lill/ KDLG)
With six to eight workers, Christensen anticipates the plant will be able to process 10,000 pounds per day at maximum capacity. They are marketing the fish within the United States.
Currently the handful of permit holders from Port Heiden mostly fish in Ugashik for a month during peak sockeye season. The goal of the Meshik Processing Center is to run from May to September, providing a local market for fishermen during shoulder seasons.
Jimmy Christensen is one of the commercial fishermen looking forward to being on the water longer and closer to home. He used to fish silvers from Port Heiden over a decade ago when more frequent air freight service allowed him to ship fish out more easily.
“We used to get anywhere between 20 and 40 thousand pounds a piece of silvers. That’s a big income per person for a village, and now we don’t have it. So this would be a big improvement for us,” Jimmy Christensen said.
Adrianne Christensen said it will be several years before the processing center turns a profit. When it does, the proceeds from the tribally-owned business will go toward services for the Port Heiden community.
A North Pole woman is dead, and her son is charged with her murder.
Alaska State Troopers report that 59-year-old Vivian Osborne was found deceased, the victim of an apparent homicide, at a North Pole home Sunday afternoon.
They say her son, 33-year-old Travis Reed of Fairbanks, was located in a locked bedroom at the residence, arrested and charged with first degree murder.
Troopers say they were called on to check on Osborne Sunday. A family member reported not hearing from her since Thanksgiving, and that Reed may be at the home, and possibly under the influence of methamphetamine.
Osborne was the owner of Arctic Qiviut, the first fiber mill in Alaska.
Vivian Osborne was the subject of Alaska Public Media’s 49 Voices last year.
A forum discussing the value of education in a democracy takes place at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus Tuesday evening. The panel features former Alaska Supreme Court justices, doctors, education and immigration experts and others. Professor Sheila Selkregg teaches policy making in the public administration master’s program at UAA. She says education is a unifying force.
SELKREGG: Who we are is reflected in what we understand as we grow up and see the world. And so, as we create messages through education that are messages grounded around our history, which is really a wonderful history in many ways of a nation of people who came here and didn’t do so well taking care of the people who were here, but for newcomers it was a place to come where people could change their lives and do great things. So, education’s a big piece of all that.
TOWNSEND: Following along that same line, why do you think people need to be reminded of the value of education? What’s going on that they need to have this conversation now?
SELKREGG: Well, there’s a couple of things that are really important right now. One of them is that every poll you look at, we’re extraordinarily divided and we have two different views of the country. We’ve got this 50-50 view and one of it is that government is bad and we need to get rid of the guys in Washington and we shouldn’t have to pay, and every man for himself because that’s where we’re going. And the other is a sense of commitment to community and pulling together. And in a sense, those things have always been a part of our history. And that tension, in some ways, keeps us healthy. But I think what’s happened is… I can remember when people disagreed with each other and learned from each other from conversation. And we are now really creating this sense of demonizing both sides. So, it is really important for us to find the things that matter to all of us, and education matters to all of us. It’s our children, it supports our economy, it trains our nurse, it trains our doctors, it trains our lawyers, it trains our people who build our roads. It’s so important, and for a long time, we had more of a sense of unity around funding education, but what we’re seeing is that divide really result in underfunding or reducing the funding for education across our country in a big way. And in the end, nationally, that doesn’t position us well to compete in the world.
Sheila Selkregg teaches policy in the graduate program at UAA. The Value of Education in a Democratic Society public forum takes place at the UAA consortium library Tuesday evening from 6 to 9.
Haines is a scenic town, surrounded by the ocean and towering mountains. But there’s one big eyesore that’s taken over parts of the area: garbage.
Like some other cities, illegal dumping is a problem the community can’t seem to get a handle on.
But, there’s hope that could change with a different system for waste disposal.
About 25 miles out the Haines Highway, there’s a pullout.
From the road, a large sand pile obstructs trails leading to the Chilkat River. In the summer they provide a short route down to the water. In the winter, a popular cross-country ski track.
Over the years, the area has also become an informal and illegal dump.
Takshanuk Watershed Council interim director Derek Poinsette lives out the highway and drives by the 25-mile eyesore regularly. He said illegal dumping here has been an issue for as long as he can remember.
The watershed council runs community cleanups, and Poinsette says this particular trash pile gets removed every couple years.
Poinsette said it’s not just an eyesore, illegal dumping causes environmental concerns as well.
So, why would people bring garbage here instead of the sanctioned landfill? Poinsette points to money.
“I think it’s just expensive,” Poinsette said. “Anything that has any weight to it is expensive to get rid of.”
That’s been a driving factor in the conversation a local working group started last year. The question before them: is there a better way for Haines to deal with solid waste?
Right now, Haines has one option for garbage disposal, privately owned Community Waste Solutions. Many residents load their garbage in their car or truck, drive it to the landfill, and pay by weight. Mixed waste costs $0.27 per pound.
There’s one other option for some items, the non-profit Haines Friends of Recycling also will take things such as refrigerators and washing machines for a fee.
For people who don’t generate a lot of trash, or get rid of waste by burning it or recycling, the garbage company’s pay-by-the-pound is a pretty cheap system. But that’s not true for everyone.
“It’s expensive to get rid of your trash here,” Darsie Culbeck said.
Culbeck chairs Haines’ solid waste working group. He said illegal dumping isn’t the main motivation for the conversation they’re having.
But it’s a symptom of the bigger problem.
“I’ve been here 30 years, as a wilderness guide and a person that’s out in the bushes quite a bit,” Culbeck said. “It’s a big problem. There’s lots of trash out in the – if you do the community cleanups in the spring and walk the ditches there’s garbage all over the place, it’s disgusting.”
That’s the weird thing, right? This has been a problem for a long time. It’s common knowledge that there are trashed appliances sitting out at 25 mile, and garbage in pullouts along the highway.
So, why is it still happening?
“Usually things are deposited in the dead of night by people who don’t leave their names behind,” Haines Borough Manager Debra Schnabel said. “It’s impossible to identify who was the previous owner. And that’s the nature of it.”
Schnabel grew up in Haines and she does remember a time when this wasn’t such a big issue. She points to what she sees as the turning point: when the borough ended mandatory trash pickup.
Reinstating mandatory pickup isn’t necessarily the answer here, Schnabel said. But she does think accountability should be introduced back into the system.
“You can have an account with the borough but you can manage it yourself,” Schnabel said. “You can choose to take it to the dump. You can choose to recycle 100 percent or 90 percent. As long as we know what you’re doing with your garbage. I’m not telling you what you have to do but it has to be done in a safe manner.”
Illegal dumping is a problem that persists throughout Southeast.
In the last year, Tongass National Forest law enforcement officers responded to nearly 30 cases.
Public Affairs Officer Paul Robbins said it’s a consistent problem. There are particularly problematic areas, such as Sitka’s Harbor Mountain Road and Ketchikan’s Brown Mountain Road.
In Haines, the solid waste working group has struggled to find the right answer.
“Remember we’ve been talking about this for a year,” Culbeck said at a September meeting. “Or, some people 25 years or however long. And it’s political. This is going to be hard to move through and we need to keep it as simple as we possibly can.”
The issue is political for a couple reasons that mostly come down to cost.
Residents who don’t generate a lot of trash worry about paying more for disposal – through taxes or a utility fee.
In Haines, the waste group has a recommendation for the assembly that includes setting up a transfer station in a central location, funded through a sales tax hike. That would reduce the cost per-pound to just $0.02 to $0.08.
Illegal dumping brings penalties.
Fines for littering range from $50 to $100. But, because it’s so hard to figure out who’s doing it, they don’t serve as much of a deterrent. Whether a new strategy for waste disposal is the light at the end of the trash-filled tunnel remains to be seen.
It’s official– Sadie Bjornsen is headed to her second Olympic games. The Alaskan cross-country skier qualified over the weekend with a second place finish at a World Cup sprint race in Ruka, Finland.
Under the bright, white lights, Sadie Bjornsen toes the line alongside five other women in the finals for the Classic Sprint race.
In her blue race suit speckled with stars, Bjornsen looks focused.
The buzzer sounds and they’re off. Snow flies through the air as the skiers sprint up hills and around tight corners.
At one point Bjornsen is balancing on one ski, but eventually stabilizes.
Bjornsen has her head down and leans forward on a massive hill near the end. She’s on her toes climbing the hill alongside Swedish skier Stina Nilsson.
“Sadie Bjornsen– that is the effort of her life,” the commentator explained. “[She’s] so strong through her arms [and] she needs to keep that strength now in the double poling.”]
Bjornsen poles furiously down the final stretch and lunges across the finish line, three-tenths of a second behind Nilsson.
It wasn’t quite enough for a win, but enough to get Bjornsen on her first World Cup sprint podium and a spot on the Olympic team heading to Pyeongchang in February.
“It’s definitely pretty crazy that that happened so fast right away in the first couple of races,” Bjornsen said.
Bjornsen has actually never made the finals in a World Cup sprint race, so she said this was a pretty big deal for her. She and her teammates celebrated her second place finish.
Bjornsen said her wax technicians deserve a lot of credit for her race.
“It was a tricky day– it was snowing– and sometimes it’s hard to find the perfect wax and they did an incredible job,” Bjornsen explained, “So it was more of a celebration for everyone.”
Another U.S skier with reason to celebrate is Sophie Caldwell. The Vermont-based skier placed 8th in the sprint. Any top 8 finish in World Cup races featured at the Olympics are automatic qualifiers for the games.
There are seven Alaska Pacific University skiers racing the World Cup circuit in Europe right now. Bjornsen said they’re prepping for the races this weekend in Lillehammer, Norway and she said, she’s not nervous for what’s ahead.
“Anything can happen any weekend, and now I know what the limit is up there– the sky– which is really cool,” Bjornsen said.
The classic sprint race is one of the events at the 2018 Winter Olympics, so Bjornsen knows she could be toeing the line in those finals come February. this might not be her last chance at major podium this season.
Arctic temperature data has nullified a perceived 14-year pause in global warming. Work by a University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher shows global warming did not slow between 1998 and 2012, as previously calculated. UAF atmospheric scientist Xiangdong Zhang says the falsely indicated moderation in warming resulted from a lack Arctic temperature data.
”Our new global data includes a much improved representation of our Arctic surface air temperature,” Zhang said.
UAF’s Zhang says he and colleagues in China used readings from remote sensing buoys deployed in in the Arctic Ocean, and worldwide NOAA sea surface temperature data and calculated a continued increase in warming.
Zhang says average global air temperatures continued to rise at over a tenth of a degree per decade during the suspect 14-year time span, a trend driven by a far greater rate of warming in the Arctic.
”Through this time period, the Arctic warming rate is about six times the global average warming rate,” Zhang said.
U.S. and Chinese government agencies, including the National Science Foundation, supported the research, which is published in the Journal Nature Climate Change.
The village of Newtok in Western Alaska has become a global symbol of climate change as thawing permafrost and erosion eat away at the land.
But that international exposure hasn’t yet led to a solution — and the village now has only a few years left.
Newtok is a 45-minute flight from Bethel over a landscape so flat and riddled with lakes and sloughs, it seems like more water than land.
From above, the village looks unbelievably fragile: an airstrip, a water tank and a cluster of houses clinging to the edge of a river — it’s a tiny human toehold in a vast landscape.
And that toehold is shrinking so fast, it even surprises the people who’ve been watching it for years.
“This is way closer than I thought,” Dalen Ayuluk told me as we stood by the pond the village uses for drinking water. Ayuluk works for the Newtok Village Council. The river, once at least a half-mile off, is now just 25 feet away.
“This is closer than the beginning of October. I didn’t expect it to be this quick,” Ayuluk said.Dalen Ayuluk, 30, points out where the river has melted permafrost beneath the tundra, undercutting the shoreline. Newtok can lose ten or twenty feet in a single storm as undercut chunks of land like this break off. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
In fact, the erosion is right on schedule. About a decade ago, the Army Corps of Engineers estimated Newtok would be uninhabitable by 2021 at the latest. Residents now think the river could reach the school and airport runway within the next two years. When that happens, the village will likely have to be abandoned.
Newtok is home to just about 400 people. There are no roads — just boardwalks. The only running water is at the school. You can walk from one end of town to another in about 10 minutes.
Ayuluk married into the village. He moved here from Chevak, which has about 1,000 people.
“I was so amazed by this place, you know,” Ayuluk said. “Coming from my hometown to another village that’s smaller.”
Ayuluk says even compared to other communities across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Newtok is more traditional. The Yup’ik language is stronger here. Traditional foods are more common. And that’s how he wants to raise his two young daughters.
“The traditional way of what a woman would do, cutting seals, cutting moose, preparing the fish,” Ayuluk said. “It’s more of a cultural thing, you know, it’s embedded in our blood.”
Ayuluk says this is a place where you don’t have to choose between the modern and the traditional.
Take Ayuluk himself.
One moment, he’s regretting he didn’t take the day off work to go seal hunting. The next, we stop by the village store, where Jennifer Carl is behind the counter. Ayuluk immediately starts talking to her about the video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops III.”
“As soon as I got on to play, you got off,” Ayuluk said. “I was just about to join you guys…”
Carl says as long as the Internet works, you can play with people from Canada, Scotland and even Australia. She says when people find out they’re playing someone in Alaska, they’re surprised.
“They’ll ask about igloos and stuff like that,” Carl said with a laugh.
A five-minute walk from the store is the Newtok school, which runs a dual-language program. This morning, the third and fourth graders are reciting the pledge of allegiance — in Yup’ik.
Across the hall, Bosco Charles is teaching his 9th grade class to introduce themselves in the traditional way.
Charles grew up here; he graduated recently. At 20, he isn’t much older than the kids he’s teaching. But he’s serious about this job.Bosco Charles, 20, leads his freshman class in singing and drumming. Bosco says he worries that younger kids don’t speak Yup’ik as well as even young people his own age, in part because phones, video games and TV are all in English. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)
Partway through the morning, he halts the class and sits down at the front of the room. The kids stop fidgeting and lean in as he reminds them to listen to their elders.
“Don’t be the generation that kill our culture,” Charles tells them.
It’s a heavy thing to lay on the shoulders of ninth graders. But Charles says it’s something they have to hear.
“My generation, in some villages, don’t even speak the language,” Charles said. “That’s one of the main reasons why I keep myself motivated to speak Yup’ik, and to keep it in our village, and to our people.”
At the moment, the price tag for this way of life is roughly $130 million. That’s how much the Army Corps estimates it would cost to relocate the entire village to a new site they’ve picked out nearby.
But so far, neither the state nor the federal government seem willing to pick up the tab.
So when the river takes the first houses, the village could start to scatter. And Newtok’s blend of the modern and the traditional could erode away with the land.
One of the first houses to go will be the one where Dalen Ayuluk lives.
It’s a three-room house owned by his mother-in-law. About nine people live here. Tonight, Ayuluk’s wife, Katie, is serving dinner – baked salmon and duck. The TV is on in the background, and their two-year-old daughter is toddling around in her diaper.
If you sit at the kitchen table and look out the window, all you see is water.
Katie Ayuluk says when she was little, the river was so far away it was barely visible.
“It’s scary, really scary,” Ayuluk said.
“You’re looking at huge swells during a storm. And when those swells hit the side of the land, you’ll see water shoot up,” Dalen added.
“Even up to this day, it surprises me there’s big waves, even though I’ve seen it every day of my life,” Katie said. “So every day I’m scared… I need to move. I want to move.”
But for now, people in Newtok are at the mercy of the waves.
Ayuluk says it’s frustrating the rest of the country hasn’t decided that this community is worth saving.
“What would you do if your home was being taken away? I mean, where you grew up,” Ayuluk said. “Everything cultural, traditional. We grew up here. We fish here, we hunt here, our community doesn’t want to separate. We want to live together. So it’s like asking, why destroy that?”
This story is the first of two parts. Part two will look at what it would take for Newtok to relocate — and why it might require an act of Congress.
A federal study details contamination inside a deteriorating downtown Fairbanks landmark.
Fairbanks City Councilmember David Pruhs says the more-than-732-page Environmental Protection Agency analysis catalogs a range of contaminants inside the long vacant Polaris Hotel.
“We have black mold, green mold, asbestos, the things that are in light bulbs that (have) exploded,” Pruhs said. “We have all sorts of those things in every floor, every room of the building.”
Pruhs says the so-called Brownfields study is needed to move ahead with a plan to demolish the 11-story Polaris. Built in 1952, Fairbanks tallest building has suffered from vacancy and neglect, and was condemned in 2012. Mold and asbestos have long been known to be issues, and Pruhs says the EPA report is missing some specific information.
“The report showed the locations and types of every (contaminated site) there,” he said. “But what they didn’t do was give the amounts of each one that was there, and the estimated cost to remediate. And that’s what we really need.”
Pruhs said the city has asked for the additional information. He chairs a group that’s working toward demolition of the structure, which is owned by Anchorage businessman Mark Marlow. Marlow has failed to secure financing to realize a plan to redevelop the property into apartments.
The city has envisioned building a performing arts center at the downtown Polaris site, but estimates put the cost of demolition alone at around $6 million. Pruhs says there’s potential for federal funding, as Senator Lisa Murkowski is requesting a $70 million appropriation for a comprehensive solution.
“Everything that would be ever involved with the city, in knocking down the building, acquiring an entire block and acquiring the block across the street, and doing studies of what should be there,” Pruhs said.
Pruhs emphasizes there’s no guarantee the money will come through, and that the city continues to work with Marlow to address the Polaris.
An apparent close call involving an Alaska-bound fuel barge in Canadian waters has renewed concern about petroleum shipments through the Inside Passage.
Provincial authorities in British Columbia reported a barge laden with at least a million gallons of diesel and gasoline detached Sunday from its tug in stormy seas.
Canadian Navy Lt. Melissa Kai of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Center in Victoria said the next morning that a second tug had regained control of the 430-foot barge.
“The line is holding and the tug is underway,” Kai said Monday morning. “At this point they’ve managed to lift her anchor and have her secured which is great news.”
Officials did not report any damage or spill from the vessel, identified as the Zidell Marine 277.
It wasn’t immediately clear Monday afternoon which Alaska port it was bound for or where it’s being towed.
Messages left with the company weren’t immediately returned and rescue officials wouldn’t say.
“That’s for the company and Transport Canada to decide,” Kai said, “based on weather conditions, and obviously the ultimate goal is to bring her into port at the safest possible location.”
But the incident comes little more than a year after a similar mishap involving a fuel barge servicing Alaska ports.
“The inner passage has some spots that are very tricky. They have currents of up to 12 to 14 knots,” Delores Broten said. She’s editor of the Watershed Sentinel, a Vancouver Island-based environmental magazine. “In the last three years we’ve had two close calls. One was actually a fuel spill, but it was an empty vessel so the impact although it was bad locally, it wasn’t as bad as it could be. And this most recent one, it sounds like we’ve averted disaster but I don’t think they’re quite safely in port yet.”
That earlier incident involved the tug Nathan E. Stewart, which ran aground 13 months ago while towing a mostly empty fuel barge from Ketchikan. It spilled at least 26,000 gallons of diesel near Bella Bella, a community of about 1,600.
“To this day we still have clam beaches closed,” Marilyn Slett, chief councilor of the Heiltsuk First Nation tribe in Bella Bella, said. “That has affected the local economy for clam harvesting and we’re still carrying our own environmental testing. It’s such a concern for us.”
Slett says, at the very least, her community should be equipped with its own spill response gear.
“Right now there is no official role for us,” Slett said. “But we are the first responders, we are the first people out there when incidents occur. We live here, it’s our back yard.”
The Canadian portion of the the Inside Passage is a voluntary exclusion area for larger oil tankers. But the route is popular with smaller U.S. and Canadian-flagged fuel barges that are routinely granted an exemption from having a Canadian pilot on board to guide them.
There’s legislation pending in Ottawa that could toughen shipping restrictions in the area. But under the current draft, fuel barges such as those that serve Alaska ports, would remain exempt.
The Sitka Tribe of Alaska has landed over $2 million in federal grant money to aid victims of domestic violence. The money is being awarded in three separate grants and will create five new positions to support women and children in Sitka.
The first grant puts $600,000 towards facility improvements at Sitkans Against Family Violence (SAFV), which provides shelter for domestic violence victims.
The money comes the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Grant administrator Rachel Henderson says Sitka Tribe works with SAFV frequently, and this grant provides direct support for the shelter and the people it serves.
“65 percent of the people that use the SAFV shelter are Alaska Native. So we thought it was important in that regard to help tribal citizens,” Henderson said. “Also, most of the people that go there have low-to-moderate income, so it’s just helpful to the people in general that SAFV has an expanded or renovated facility.”
The SAFV shelter was built in the 1960’s. SAFV bought the building in 1995 and made some changes, but no large renovations to the floor plan. With this money, SAFV will expand the facility’s square footage and renovate the existing living space to accommodate more people. Currently, SAFV has space for 24 women and children.
“It’s going to add an area for animals so people who are coming to the shelter can bring their animals with them,” Henderson said. “It’s going to have expand eight bedrooms so they can have 4 family size bedrooms. It’s going to improve the bathrooms so that one of the bathrooms is more handicapped accessible.”
STA also received two grants from the US. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. The first — for just over $899,000 — will be used to fund three positions for the next three years: an advocate for victims’ services at SAFV, a transitional housing program manager at STA and a domestic violence investigator at the Sitka Police Department. All three positions will share a common goal of aiding victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Melanie Boord, social services director for Sitka Tribe of Alaska, says there was a crucial need to work with Sitka Police and SAFV to address the needs of women in the community from multiple angles.
“There’s been a desperate need for transitional housing for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Boord said. “There’s definitely a need for a more effective approach to investigating crimes of domestic violence. And also because of the diminished shelter funding, there’s also a need for enhanced victim’s services.”
The second DOJ grant, the Legal Assistance for Victims grant, allocates $599,000 over the next three years to fund two positions. Naomi Palosaari of STA says the money will first pay for a full-time attorney who will work out of STA.
“They will see clients, they will screen them for eligibility, they will represent them in court, they will draw up paperwork,” Palosaari said. “They will be providing all legal services in recovery from domestic violence or assistance with domestic violence issues.”
Sitka Tribe is now advertising for a family law attorney to fill that position. All other grant funded positions took effect on October 1.
A Wasilla man has been sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for sex trafficking.
According to a release from the Alaska’s US Attorney Bryan Schroder, In January of 2016 Alaska State Troopers searched the home and truck of 44-year-old Terry Lee Keehan, II. In their search, troopers identified several women that Keehan recruited to work for him as prostitutes in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
The release says Keehan specifically recruited drug-addicted women, and that in exchange for lodging, food and drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, the victims worked as prostitutes for him, providing him with money and sexual favors.
The troopers also search his truck, where they found a bag with drug paraphernalia, including a digital scale, glass pipes and unused baggies commonly used to distribute drugs.
Terry Keehan was sentenced to serve 13 years, 10 months in prison for two counts of sex trafficking through force, fraud and coercion.
Operating a landfill off the road system in Southeast Alaska has its own challenges.
But what if the community is next to a national park that gets thousands of visitors each summer? That’s the lay of the land in tiny Gustavus.
In this town, there’s a joke that nothing’s ever free. Because even if someone gives you something, you’ll eventually have to pay to throw it away or recycle it at the city-run landfill.
“I marvel at it, that someone will spend $0.60 a pound to recycle their TV,” Paul Berry said. Berry is the main architect of the city’s Disposal & Recycling Center. We’ll hear more from him in a minute.
Because one of the main challenges here comes from Glacier Bay National Park. A half-million people visit the park each year, most by cruise ship. But those flying or ferrying in leave behind what they don’t want or need. For decades the National Park Service had its own dump but then the inevitable happened. Mark Ortega is the park’s utilities supervisor.
“We basically ran out of room, footprint-wise,” Ortega said.
The Park Service turned to the city of Gustavus, which is small, with less than 500 year-round residents.
The park service pays the city to take its waste – but first it’s meticulously sorted. That’s national park maintenance worker Dan Grivois’s job.
“We typically get around anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds of trash every day,” Grivois said. “My job is basically to get the biggest diversion rate out of that as I can.”
To cut down on space – and expense – the park burns its waste in a towering incinerator.
Internal temperatures reach a biblical 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit.
The remaining white ash is delivered to the city’s Disposal and Recycling Center.
Manager Paul Berry is proud of the operation.
“Food waste composting and 60 to 70 percent of your material coming in that building being recycled one way or another,” Berry said. “I mean that’s Seattle and San Francisco standards. That’s not something you’d typically see in rural Alaska.”
There are more than a dozen bins for sorting recycling, each number of plastic, cardboard, appliances, metals – even dirty diapers — have their place.
Yet aside from the faint smell of mulch from the compost heap, there’s almost no odor.Glacier Bay National Park utilities supervisor Mark Ortega walks past a row of recycling bins on Sept. 5 near the National Park Service’s visitors center at Bartlett Cover (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)
“You have a food waste composting operation and an active landfill and there are no resident seagulls, there are no resident ravens,” Berry said. “We haven’t had a bear inside the facility since 2001 and that was the year we put up the electric fence.”
It wasn’t always like this.
Berry recalls his first visit in the early 1980s. It was a different scene. Imagine a shallow pit filled with household waste and diesel fuel.
“If it wasn’t already burning or smoldering you would light it and leave,” Berry said. “You know, there was some salvage. I remember seeing a TV set there. But it was pretty bad and my impression at that time was … yuck.”
The state owned it back then.
When the federal EPA tightened up landfill regulations, the community had to clean up its act.
The city incorporated in 2004 and one of the first things it did was take over the dump.
The city soon realized that if things didn’t change, the landfill would fill up in a few years.
And there aren’t exactly other sites.
“You see, Gustavus is surrounded by national park wilderness,” Berry said. “You can’t go out of town like you usually do in a lot of communities and start a new facility on state land somewhere. It just ain’t there.”
Gustavus is remote. It only got state ferry service in 2010.
Yet it gets about 20,000 annual visitors who stay at lodges and step off tour boats.
To stay on top of this influx, it aggressively recycles. About 40 tons are shipped annually to Seattle.
It raises as much money from the recycling as it can. Still, that’s only 4 percent of the operation’s income. Because back to the joke – everything costs money to dump or recycle here.
Well, almost everything.
They’ll take aluminum cans. But what most people in the country drop off for free – such as plastic water bottles and cardboard – in Gustavus they’re charged 19 cents a pound — even more if it’s unsorted.
“We are funding it by charging people to recycle, which strikes some people as like, ‘What?!’” Berry said.National Park Service maintenance worker Dan Grivois loads the park’s waste incinerator on Sept. 5. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)
That’s the secret to Gustavus’s success, Berry said. Community buy-in. So how could other places replicate this?
Berry says it takes three things.
“You have to have an individual who is willing to do it,” Berry said. He’s talking about himself.
“You have to have a small group of people with influence in the community to support that individual,” Berry continued.
That would be Gustavus’s grassroots landfill committee that began organizing in the 1990s.
“And then finally, you have to have a community that’s willing to do it,” Berry said.
Despite the high recycling rate, this landfill will likely be out of space in four to eight years.
With few choices for a new site and little room to expand, Gustavus will probably start barging its solid waste to a landfill in the Lower 48.
If you need health insurance, you’ve got three weeks left to shop for it on the federal health care exchange. Then, open enrollment closes.
Jessie Menkens is the coverage initiatives coordinator for the Alaska Primary Care Association. That means she oversees health care navigators statewide, and she keeps a close eye on health care enrollment numbers. She says she’s pleased with the latest tallies.
“Just Wednesday morning, we saw the numbers for week three here in Alaska. We’re up 49 percent in participation compared to where we were at this time last year,” Menkens said. “Last year, we had 3,805 individuals in Alaska covered. This year, we have 5,667 people covered with a healthcare.gov plan.”
To hit parity with last year, Menkens said they’ll need about 11,000 more sign-ups by the deadline. She said she’s hoping for 12,000 or more, and thinks it can happen because insurance prices have fallen this year.
However, the amount of time to sign up was halved to 6 weeks from last year.
“We have a very short amount of time, so again, it’s just really important for Alaskans to not wait,” Menkens said.
The deadline is Dec. 15, and the uninsured are subject to federal income tax penalty under the Affordable Care Act.
Though Menkens’ organization lost a lot of grant money for enrollment outreach, she’s still finding potential enrollees one at a time. Amid Christmas music and artists’ booths at a holiday craft fair in Juneau on Friday, Menkens handed out pamphlets, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and answered a lot of health care questions, including some from Sue Clayton.
Clayton gets health care through a tribal health system. After talking with Menkens for a few minutes, Clayton explained that she’s interested in supplemental coverage through the exchange.
“Yeah, I picked up two-program information things here, and the tribal affiliated program sounds like it’s the one I need to sign up for first,” Clayton said with pamphlets in hand. “And then later on down the line, Medicare will kick in.”
Clayton may be the latest tick mark for Menkens’ enrollment tally.
Enrollment information is available at www.GetCoveredAlaska.org, including contacts for one-on-one help in communities across Alaska.
How to reach health care navigators in Alaska
- Alaska Primary Care Association – Get Covered Alaska
- Helpline: 1-844-PLANSAK
During the Vietnam war, the use of a defoliate known as agent orange was supposed to affect vegetation not soldiers, but it made them sick and serious health conditions resulted in a long fight for recognition and compensation. Gulf War vets also had to fight the military over health problems linked to military toxins. What’s changed since these illnesses came to light?
HOST: Lori Townsend
- Ric Davidge – Vietnam Veteran
- Bill Bartee – Vietnam Veteran
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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
This week we’re hearing from Eileen Starr in Anchorage. Starr is a site coordinator for the Mountain View site for Anchorage Thanksgiving Blessing. On Monday, she and hundreds of volunteers helped give families across Anchorage food for Thanksgiving.
STARR: There’s a great need in our community. A lot of people have financial needs in many different ways. Even if they have jobs, they may not be good jobs. Whether they have great needs or little needs, we just want to bless people.
Everyone is welcome. We encourage you to go to the site that serves your zip code if you can, but we won’t turn anybody away at any site. If you want to have this food, we want to give it to you. You don’t have to prove that you’re poor. You don’t have to rove that you have a particular need.
We’ll have four or five hundred volunteers that will come and serve by shopping with people, by stocking the shelves, by breaking down cardboard, by serving cookies, by registering people… a lot of different jobs that we do. You’ll be in and out, almost everybody will be in and out in 30 minutes.
We pair them up with a personal shopper who takes them down the food line and says, “You can have four of these, do you want beans or do you want corn? Do you want to have cranberry sauce?” So they help them make choices. That way, everybody gets served and treated like they’re important, number one, and number two, we can keep our lines moving pretty fast, because we will serve almost 3,000 families today.
It’s a tremendous amount of work, yesterday and today and all the stuff we have to do ahead of time. But it’s so much fun because the families that come are happy, they are feeling blessed. They know what they’re going to get, and they know they’re going to get the same thing as everybody else. They know they’re going to get treated with respect. And the people who come to serve are happy to be able to do it. So everybody in the building is happy.
You can’t have a better day than that if you’re serving 3,000 families.
I’m happy that people serve Thanksgiving dinner at Bean’s [Cafe] and at other places, but it’s nice that they have the food, they can take it to their own homes, serve their wn families, prepare it how they want to do it and it makes them feel like thy’re blessed in they’re own family.
The holidays are a time of tradition, but also reflection for why we celebrate the way we do. And in Sitka, no holiday is as much of a lightning rod for cultural debate as Alaska Day. Historically, October 18th marks the day Russia transferred Alaska to the United States. But in the Alaskan Native community, many regard it as the day their land was lost — bought and sold by colonial powers. KCAW’s Emily Kwong reports on how two perspectives for one holiday collided on the very same hill.
“The time is October 18th, 1867.”
The year is 2017, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance. There’s beards and bonnets and soldiers lining the rim of Castle Hill with guns pointing to the sky. This year’s Alaska Day is the big one for Sitka – the 150th – and even the gun salute will be historically accurate: 42 cannon shots echoing off the mountains.
Head bent over a script, Harvey Brandt narrates the historical moment when the Russian flag is lowered and the American flag is raised.
“It was an unusually fine day. Like this. Maybe not quite as nice as this,” Brandt said.
How by 3:30, a large concourse of people had assembled.
“Comprising Americans, Russians of all classes, Creoles and Indians, all eager witnesses of the ceremonies,” Brandt continued.
That’s a direct quote from the New York Times on that day. The script is rich with primary source material, folded in by the Alaska Day Committee to make this year’s reenactment as accurate and inclusive as possible.
But venture a few paces to the bottom of Castle Hill and there’s a group of people gathered for whom this moment brings a great deal of pain. Dionne Brady-Howard is a member of the Kiks.ádi clan, original occupants of the land.
“There’s never really been a time of healing, whether we’re talking about the cultural genocide, the taking of our languages across the state, and all of the trauma that came from being told who we were wasn’t good enough and who we were wasn’t who we should be,” Brady-Howard said.
Through social media and word of mouth, her family organized a counter ceremony this Alaska Day to drum and sing their sorrow out loud. The crowd is much smaller than the one atop Castle Hill, but listening intently. Some are Native, some are non-Native. A few are crying.
“Anytime race relations are brought up, too often people of color are told how we shouldn’t feel,” Brady-Howard said.
Brady-Howard, who is a social studies teacher, goes on to say, “It’s like our African American brothers and sisters in the Lower 48 who are told to just get over slavery.” She then leads the group in an Eagle sorrowing song from the Kaagwaantaan clan.
“I couldn’t walk up the steps to the hill and I’m glad I didn’t have to,” Brady-Howard said. I’m glad I could be right here.”
Jennifer Carter is a history-buff of Russian descent, who has always attended the Alaska Day reenactment in the past. But she’s still shaken by a confrontation she saw last year, when a friend brought a sign to Castle Hill thanking her ancestors and was told by one organizer it was disruptive.
“And she was treated very rudely,” Carter said. “I just vowed that I couldn’t be a part of that anymore, so I’m very grateful to have the chance to be here observing the other part of the story that isn’t vocalized.”
And Carter plans to attend this sorrowing ceremony, if it happens again, every Alaska Day. You could say that October 18th, 2017 was an unprecedented day in this respect: the historical reenactment was split in two. Some, like AJ Bastien sitting with her kids atop a stone wall, were a little disappointed by that.
“It should all be together, so that the children especially who were growing up together should see that we’re all making better choices now than in the past,” Bastien said.
While others, like Peter Bradley, protested the reenactment altogether. He passed out a resolution calling for the re-naming of Alaska Day to Reconciliation Day.
“There’s a lot of people that are left out of Alaska Day right now, the original people of this land that cared for it for a long time,” Bradley said.
Make no mistake: Alaska Day in Sitka is a visibly joyful one: parents off work, a big parade and pie sale. But charged moments like this show that beneath the surface, the traditions surrounding the holiday are fraught. And for Brady-Howard, the traditions are an opportunity to have a conversation.
“It’s not necessarily about the Transfer ceremony itself,” Brady-Howard said. “I think it’s going to continue to be a thing in Sitka. For me what, it’s more about an ability to see another person’s perspective and to not automatically go to that defensive place that prevents progress.”
Suggesting that though holidays like Alaska Day come around every year, how they’re commemorated isn’t set in stone.