Alaska News

Beluga whale harvested near Dillingham Sunday evening

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-07-31 16:39
(Avery Lill/KDLG)

A beluga whale was harvested Sunday evening near Dillingham. It was the whole hunting party’s first time to take a beluga.

The community showed up in force. Lines of cars brought people with their totes and trash bags. The successful hunters shared meat with everyone who came. It took about two hours to process the animal.

It was the whole hunting party’s first time to take a beluga. The three were commercial fishing for silver salmon when they saw a pod of belugas.

“We noticed one was nosing up to the beach and trying to get salmon, so we went up right to it and fired one shot, missed and got it with the next one,” Cade Woods said.

In Little Diomede, more than 500 miles away, Rebecca Ozenna’s family celebrated the catch with a traditional dance.

“Right after we landed the beluga, I called home,” Ozenna said. “I asked them to announce it so they could celebrate for us because usually when they land whales they have a really big Eskimo dance celebration and other people from different villages come in and Eskimo dance and celebrate and feast. I’m really happy they are celebrating for us.”

In Bristol Bay, an average of 23 belugas are reported harvested each year. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the population of belugas in the bay is stable and that number is well within a sustainable harvest size.

Categories: Alaska News

State fire service battles blazes north of Ft. Yukon

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-07-31 16:35

Wildfire season is holding on in Alaska as warm dry weather persists later than normal. The Alaska Fire Service reports that water scooping planes and smoke jumpers corralled a new blaze north of Ft. Yukon over the weekend.

The Shovun Lake fire was detected Saturday afternoon, burning within a mile and a half of Native land allotments. The AFS said four water scoopers made drops on the fire, which was mopped up Sunday by smoke-jumpers at under four acres.

Another new blaze southeast of Ft. Yukon was discovered Sunday morning. The Sucker River Fire is burning in a remote area of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, and being monitored.

Categories: Alaska News

Man killed with hatchet in Fairbanks bar

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-07-31 16:28

A Fairbanks man is dead following a hatchet attack at a local bar. Fairbanks Police report that 54-year-old Mark Allen Mitchell died Monday morning following the attack last night at Club Manchu. Police spokeswoman Yumi McCullough said its unclear what motivated the suspect, 49-year-old Brett Matthew Gilbert.

”The initial investigation video surveillance show that without any warning or provocation inside the Club Manchu, the suspect struck the victim in the side of the neck and he fell to the floor,” McCullough said. “The suspect continued to strike him several times in the face and neck with the hatchet.”

McCullough said the attack was halted by another person, and Gilbert fled the bar. He was later taken into custody without incident at his home and is charged with first degree murder. She said it’s unclear if there’s any connection between Gilbert and Mitchell, and if drugs or alcohol played a role in the attack.

This is the 7th murder in Fairbanks so far this year.

Categories: Alaska News

State looks to update Bicycle and Pedestrian plan

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-07-31 16:22

The Alaska Department of Transportation is working to update the state Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. The Bike and Ped plan is a policy document that guides road design and education surrounding non-motorized transportation. The plan was last updated in 1995.

As part of their process, the DOT is seeking input from Alaskans about what they want to see in terms of bike and pedestrian access.

Marcheta Moulton is a statewide Bike and Ped Plan coordinator. She said DOT wants input from communities of all sizes.

“On the urban areas like Anchorage and Fairbanks, there’s already a good infrastructure there, there’s roadways, there’s pathways,” Moulton said. “Farther out in the rural areas and the remote areas, you know, we’re dealing with gravel roads. We’re dealing with trails. So there’s a lot more interaction between smaller, off-road, vehicles and pedestrians.”

The DOT is accepting input at

Categories: Alaska News

Sand Point loses entire police force

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-07-31 16:10
A police car sits unused in Sand Point. (Zoe Sobel/KUCB)

Sand Point faces a problem with its police force: It doesn’t have one any more.

In just three weeks, all its officers resigned.

City Administrator Andrew Varner said the first officer wanted to be closer to a spouse who is in the military. A week later, two more officers, a married couple, left because of a “family decision.”

Varner said that left Police Chief Roger Bacon — who was scheduled to vacation in Scotland — as the island’s only law enforcement.

“There was sort of a mutual understanding that if he left to go for a month-long journey — leaving the community with no law enforcement — that if he came back, he would not be an employee of the city,” Varner said. “Within a day or two, he had turned in his resignation.”

All Bacon had to say about his departure was, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.” and that he was headed to Scotland.

According to city officials, there is a contingency plan. An Alaska State Trooper will be in town next week, and Sand Point is vetting an interim police chief.

Varner acknowledged losing the entire force in such a short time period might seem unimaginable to outsiders. But in Sand Point, struggling to hire and keep officers is the norm.

“Losing an officer in Sand Point, that’s certainly not new,” Varner said. “It’s certainly not new in rural Alaska either, especially in law enforcement. It’s kind of tough to keep officers around. Our department has basically been understaffed for years.”

After spending most of last year working to fill the now-vacant positions, Varner said not one of the officers worked on the force longer than six months.

Seeing every officer resign for family or travel illustrates Sand Point’s challenges as an isolated town of 1,000 residents, where round-trip tickets to Anchorage can cost more than $1,000. Varner said it’s difficult to provide enough compensation and flexibility to convince non-locals to stay.

“So we’ll bite the bullet, metaphorically,” Varner said. “We haven’t hit desperation mode yet, but if we don’t have any officers or a new chief within a couple months, then I think we would worry.”

Before the resignations, Varner said police were focused on dealing with Alaska’s opioid crisis and managing the seasonal population increase due to commercial fishing.

Categories: Alaska News

Test missile launches from Kodiak

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-07-31 14:38
A terminal high altitude area defense, or THAAD, interceptor is launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska, during Flight Experiment THAAD (FET)-01 on July 30, 2017. (Photo by Leah Garton/Missile Defense Agency)

The Alaska Aerospace Corporation just completed its second missile test of the summer as part of its partnership with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

People in the area at the time report having seen the launch overnight between Saturday and Sunday.

According to an agency news release, this weekend a U.S. Air Force C-17 air-launched a medium-range target ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean.

The release said that the terminal high altitude area defense weapon, or THAAD, system at Narrow Cape successfully located and intercepted that test missile.

As detailed in the release, the experiment was done to “gather threat data” from the interceptor, and will help the agency to improve the THAAD system and to “stay ahead of the evolving thread.”

According to the release, the agency has completed 15 tests of the THAAD system, all of which have been successful.

Categories: Alaska News

The state budget and the future

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-07-31 11:44
Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, speaks at a press availability shortly after calling the Alaska Legislature into the second special session of the year in June. Walker signed the operating budget on Friday. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

State lawmakers called themselves into a third special session in order to pass the smallest capital budget in 17 years. Legislators reached  compromise — but still don’t have a long term budget plan for the state’s future. Will they call a fourth special session?

HOST: Lori Townsend


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Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski in Sitka hours after critical health care vote

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-07-31 10:17
Sen. Lisa Murkowski flew to Sitka hours after casting a deciding vote on health care repeal legislation. She got a hug from Alaska Airlines Sitka Airport Manager Mandy Odenheimer (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Less than 24 hours after casting a critical vote on healthcare, Senator Lisa Murkowski was back in her home state of Alaska. She had choice words about voting her conscience, despite pressure from the GOP and President Donald Trump himself.

She had planned a fishing trip in Sitka a month ago. But before chasing salmon, she met with city staff, tribal officials and leaders from the local business and non-profit sector of Sitka. Murkowski also toured SEARHC’s Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital, where she’s sponsoring a Senate bill to convey 90 acres of federal land.

Constituents there reminded her how a hastily packaged repeal bill would have affected them, confirming her decision to break party rank and buck pressure from colleagues.

“What I heard repeatedly was, ‘I’m worried. It seems like it’s moving so fast and no one really know how it is going to impact me. Can you slow it down?’” Murkowski said.

Before casting their votes, she said she visited with Arizona Senator John McCain on the floor. “He said, ‘Lisa, do what you know is right. Sometimes around here, it’s just hard to do the things that are right because politics just gets in the way.’ And it reminded me of the old [Alaska Senator] Ted Stevens phrase. He would say, ‘To hell with politics. Just do what’s right for Alaska.’”

In her first extensive interview since the health care vote, Senator Lisa Murkowski said that Secretary Ryan Zinke didn’t threaten Alaska’s energy and resource development. The Alaska Dispatch News reported that he called both her and Senator Dan Sullivan on Wednesday, following a Tweet from President Trump that she “let Republicans and our country down.”

Of that call, Murkowski said Zinke was acting as a messenger for President Donald Trump — who later pressured her with a personal phone call.

“That was a hard phone call,” Murkowski said. “I don’t disagree with the President of the work that we need to do with the ACA [Affordable Care Act.] We have to reform the ACA because we agree that the status quo isn’t acceptable. Where the President and I disagree is with the process, and whether or not the Senate was ready to go to the floor. I didn’t believe that we had a product that had sufficient votes.”

Late Thursday evening, Murkowski – along with McCain and Senator Susan Collins of Maine – voted against the Republican majority and bringing their effort to repeal-and-reform to a screeching halt.

Categories: Alaska News

NSSP plant in Nome violated processing discharge permit, agreement reached with EPA

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 18:08

Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC) will pay $51,050 in penalties after reaching an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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According to a Wednesday release from the EPA, during a 2016 inspection it was found that NSEDC’s Norton Sound Seafood Products (NSSP) plant in Nome, violated the company’s seafood processing discharge permit.

The EPA said violations included exceeding the dimension requirements for seafood processing waste residues, failing to complete required record keeping and not adequately monitoring the processing plant’s waste conveyance system.

Tyler Rhodes, chief operating officer for NSEDC, responded by saying the corporation takes its responsibility to the environment seriously. In an emailed statement, Rhodes said NSEDC has, “fully cooperated with the EPA in this matter which has primarily dealt with record-keeping protocols.”

Ground waste from seafood processors can include entrails, bones, fins and other unmarketable trimmings.  The EPA said strong tides and water currents don’t always disperse the waste coming from the Norton Sound facility, and if this is not managed properly, it can at worst create “dead zones” on the seafloor.

Rhodes said NSEDC is confident it will continue to protect the marine environment and satisfy regulatory requirements going forward.

Categories: Alaska News

New capital budget is much lower than previous budgets

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 18:07
A conceptual rendering of the Knik Arm Bridge. Construction industry advocates support the project, but Gov. Bill Walker hasn’t pursued it. (Image courtesy Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority)

State lawmakers who voted to pass the capital budget Thursday said it will help the economy. But it will provide less help than it did just a few years ago.

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It was more than twice as large then — $3.6 billion in 2013, in contrast with $1.4 billion in the new budget.

When oil prices fell in 2014, so did the amount of money available for Alaska to repair and expand roads and other infrastructure.

The state spent more than $2 billion on the capital budget in 2013. The new budget includes less than a tenth of that.

Fairbanks-based Exclusive Paving contract administrator Sarah Lefebvre noted the state has stopped funding its own construction projects.

Now, most of the capital budget comes from federal spending.

“Once upon a time, the state was able to do state-funded transportation and infrastructure projects,” Lefebvre said. “That would include not just highways, but airports and that type of things. … Those state-funded projects are done.”

This decline has contributed to an overall decline in construction jobs across Alaska.

According to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, there’s been a one-sixth drop in construction jobs over the past three years.

Some trades have been hit particularly hard.

Juneau district representative Corey Baxter expressed anguish on the effect on the members of his union, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302.

“It’s huge for our members,” Baxter said. “I’d say over 90 percent of our work has to deal with the capital budget. And with the huge cut we’ve had over the last couple of years, it’s hurt us big time. A lot of our members are thinking of moving out of state.”

The capital spending decline has hit regions in different ways. Southeast Alaska already was affected by the overall decline in state spending.

Rain Coast Data director Meilani Schijvens said the region lost roughly 50 construction jobs last year and could lose a projected 100 this year.

“You’re having an enormous impact, a negative downward impact on jobs, on population, on spending, and so it’s been really frustrating and disappointing to watch,” Schijvens said.

Without a sudden surge in oil prices, the state won’t be able to fund projects like it used to.

There are steps that the Legislature can take to increase capital spending, according to some construction industry advocates.

Associated General Contractors of Alaska executive director John MacKinnon said state support for three often-maligned mega-projects would help. They are the Juneau Access road, the Knik Arm bridge and the Susitna-Watana dam.

Gov. Bill Walker has decided against pursuing the projects.

MacKinnon said $150 million in state spending for those projects would draw much more federal spending that would put contractors to work.

“If you look at some of the greatest projects that have been done in this country – the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the coastal highway that went down through the Florida Keys – the projects were done in and around the depth of the Depression,” MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon’s wife Anna MacKinnon is a Republican senator who oversees the capital budget as co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

John MacKinnon said the capital budget decline has affected private spending.

“Part of that has to do with the optimism out there of investors, private investors and private money,” MacKinnon said. “You don’t see a lot of private money being spent out there.”

But the oil price decline has also had a large effect on private construction.

The Institute of Social and Economic Research at University of Alaska Anchorage projects overall construction spending will be down $700 million dollars this year.

Most of the decline is from the private sector.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Friday, July 28, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 17:55

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

New capital budget is much lower than previous budgets

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

Observers note the state has largely stopped funding its own construction projects. Now most of the capital budget comes from federal spending.

$5 million in capital budget designated for UA renovations and repairs

Quinton Chandler, KTOO – Juneau

$5 million is included in the capital budget for the state’s university system to spend on major building renovations and repairs.

Pilot recovered from wreckage of Regal Air Cessna 206 north of Lake Clark

Allison Mollenkamp, KDLG – Dillingham

The body of a pilot was recovered Thursday night after his plane crashed yesterday in Lake Clark National Park.

State OSHA investigation targets Silver Bay Seafoods in Naknek

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

A state OSHA investigator is looking into claims of workplace health and safety issues at the Silver Bay Seafoods processing plant in Naknek. While many of Bristol Bay’s salmon processing companies had issues with their workforce during this record-setting season, only Silver Bay has drawn the state’s attention so far.

NSSP plant in Nome violated processing discharge permit, agreement reached with EPA

Davis Hovey, KNOM – Nome

Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC) will pay $51,050 in penalties after reaching an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Review finds Fairbanks officers justified in May shooting

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A state review concludes that Fairbanks Police officers were justified in fatally shooting a local man in May.

Competition for airspace between drones and eagles intensifies in Unalaska

Berett Wilber, KUCB – Unalaska

While Unalaskans may be resigned prey for eagle attacks, advances in technology have introduce a less prepared victim: drones.

Caterpillars spike around lakes and rivers near Aleknagik and Dillingham for second year

Avery Lill, KDLG – Dillingham

For the second year in a row, people around Dillingham, Aleknagik and Wood-Tikchik State Park and the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge are reporting a massive outbreak of caterpillars.

AK: Russian adventurers look to retrace Alaska route of past countrymen

Allison Mollenkamp, KDLG – Dillingham

This summer, an expedition of Russian adventurers arrived in Dillingham to retrace an historic route taken by Russian explorers in 1830, when Alaska was under the control of the Russian Empire.

49 Voices: Casey Ketchum of Anchorage

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This week we’re hearing from Casey Ketchum in Anchorage. Ketchum is the head cook at City Diner. This weekend he’ll defend his 1st place title at Anchorage’s Beer and Bacon Festival.

Categories: Alaska News

$5 million in capital budget designated for UA renovations and repairs

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 17:10

$5 million is included in the capital budget for the state’s university system to spend on major building renovations and repairs.

The Legislature passed its capital budget Thursday and it’s waiting for the Governor’s signature.

University of Alaska officials say the Board of Regents will decide how to distribute the money to Alaska universities at their August 9 meeting.

Michael Ciri, vice chancellor for administration at the University of Alaska Southeast, said capital project dollars typically go to major building projects. For example, he said an operating budget would pay for fixing a damaged roof, but a roof replacement is paid for through the university’s capital budget.

Ciri said UAS generally spends money on capital projects to save money on upkeep over time.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski’s healthcare vote causes a stir in Washington and Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 17:04
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with reporters following her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 22, 2017. Murkowski is skeptical President Donald Trump can negotiate a better climate deal after pulling the U.S. out of the Paris accord, she said during a visit to Juneau on Thursday. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The Alaska Dispatch News is reporting that the Trump Administration threatened to target Alaska as retribution for Senator Lisa Murkowski’s stand against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act this week.

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The story stated that Senator Murkowski and Senator Dan Sullivan received calls from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week. During that call, Zinke reportedly told Sullivan that issues like the King Cove Road, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the placement of Alaskans in leadership positions at the Interior Department could be at stake.

Sullivan responded to an NBC reporter asking about the call regarding Murkowski’s healthcare vote.

“The sooner we can get back to cooperation between the administration on these issues and the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee the better it’s going to be for Alaska and the better it’s going to be for the country. Particularly on the issues of resource development, energy dominance that the Secretary talks about — that has to include Alaska,” Sullivan said.

Murkowski is chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

A spokesperson for Sullivan has not returned several calls for comment. The Interior department also has not responded to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Senator Murkowski’s office confirmed that she received a call from Interior Secretary Zinke. The spokesperson said Zinke told Murkowski that the President was displeased with her vote on the healthcare bill, but the spokesperson declined to elaborate further.

This follows a tweet from the President criticizing Murkowski’s vote, stating that she “let the Republicans and our country down.”

In an emailed statement, Murkowski said, “while I have disagreed with the Senate process so far, the President and I agree that the status quo with healthcare in our country is not acceptable and reforms must be made.”

The Senator added she is committed to pushing for an open process to ensure Alaskans receive affordable healthcare. On Friday, she was one of three Republican senators who voted against a partial repeal.

So how do Alaskans feel about all this?  At the busy Fred Meyer in Midtown Anchorage, Zachary Stephens was picking up water before a fishing trip when he stopped to talk about Murkowski’s vote.

“I think that she is a Democrat posing as a Republican and she should have voted on the complete repeal,” Stephens said.

Stephens said he thinks Murkowski should act based on what Alaskans want, not just on what the Trump Administration wants her to do. But he doesn’t think Murkowski should ignore the potential consequences of her vote.

“I hope that Sen. Murkowski does what’s in the best interest of Alaska, and so if she’s getting that kind of pressure about energy and stuff from the Presidential administration, that she does what’s going to be right for her constituents,” said Stephens.

Anchorage resident William Gooch, who was also on his way in to Fred Meyer, had a different view on Murkowski’s stand.

“I think, you know, she’s got some principles, bearing in mind we’re grading on a curve. So I’m glad she did the vote,” Gooch said.

Gooch didn’t have much time for the Interior Secretary’s actions.

“That’s bulls—,” Gooch said.  “I’m not paying much attention to what these guys are tweeting on their little tweeters.”

Murkowski isn’t up for re-election until 2022.

Categories: Alaska News

Competition for airspace between drones and eagles intensifies in Unalaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 16:59
A bald eagle takes off near Unalaska Bay.(Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Before sending a $6,000 drone to record aerial footage in Unalaska, Emmett Fitch warned the pilot he might want to reconsider one thing.

“It was black with a white body,” Fitch recalls. “I said, ‘That looks a lot like an eagle. We should maybe paint it a different color.’”

Fitch, who runs local Wi-Fi provider Optimera, was helping an advertising agency shoot promotional footage. The Robertson & Partners team flew up from Las Vegas to film on a bluebird day.

But things didn’t go as planned.

“All of a sudden they just lost communication with the drone,” Fitch said. “[The pilot was trying to] figure out what’s going on, frantically hitting the button that says return home, return home.”

The drone did not return.

The team was worried. The pilot wanted to prove he wasn’t at fault, so the drone’s insurance coverage would kick in. But none of them were exactly sure what happened.

“So he was able to go back and look at the footage in slow motion, right toward the end,” Fitch said. “And it just —  you can see it: the yellow part of the eagle talon. And then — it’s gone.”

Fitch said they couldn’t believe it. Their footage was gone and their plans were ruined.

After it happened, it was kind of like we all lost a member of the team,” Fitch said.

While eagle-drone interactions are unusual, they are not unheard of. Police in France and the Netherlands have trained the raptors to snatch drones from the sky. Unalaska gets that service for free. This time, it’s paying local dues. With the machine out of commission, a local drone pilot says the company turned to him for footage instead.

As for the future of drones in Unalaska? Fitch feels there’s a clear solution.

“They should be made to look different than birds of prey,” Fitch said.

Categories: Alaska News

Caterpillars spike around lakes and rivers near Aleknagik and Dillingham for second year

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 16:55
Noctuid caterpillars munch on plants in Wood-Tikchik State Park. (Photo courtesy Daniel Schindler/University of Washington)

Visitors to Wood-Tikchick State Park were greeted by an unusual sight this summer.

Alders that are normally dense, green and leafy were bare.

University of Washington professor Daniel Schindler is an aquatic and fisheries science researcher in the park.

“It looks almost like fall came early, so everything’s kind of brown and without any leaves on it,” Schindler said.

It is the second year in a row that people around Dillingham, Aleknagik, Wood-Tikchik State Park and the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge are reporting a massive outbreak of caterpillars.

Schindler is seeing at least two species, one bright green and one brown with dark stripes. They likely belong to the family Noctuidea.

In the state park, the caterpillars’ appetites left their mark along the entire chain of five lakes.

Up to the second lake, Schindler said the alders were completely defoliated up to 1,000 feet in elevation.

It is the most damage to alders and willows from caterpillars he has seen in roughly 20 years working in the region.

As the summer draws to a close, caterpillars are dropping off plants to burrow into the soil where they will winter over in their pupa form.

In the spring they will emerge as moths.

Before the caterpillars hunkered down for winter, gulls, fish and bears had a heyday.

“Usually just before the salmon show up, the rainbow trout are pretty skinny, and this year they have big extended bellies on them,” Schindler said. “When we sample what they’re eating, it’s mostly caterpillars. Even the bears are eating them. The bear scat is full of caterpillar remains.”

Now that the very hungry caterpillars are disappearing, the alders are quickly regrowing their leaves.

That’s something Schindler notes that they did last year as well.

“By middle of September when most of the vegetation was starting to go yellow and brown,” Schindler said. “The stuff that resprouted was still going gangbusters and was bright green. It’s pretty clear that the plants have some sort of evolutionary history with them. My wonder is whether the plants can handle two, three years of this in a row. That’s where there may be some long-term damage to the vegetation.”

Still, it is unlikely that this huge caterpillar population will remain at its current size in the years ahead.

Noctuid moths tend to go through a boom-bust cycle.

“In Scandinavia where people have studied them a long time, it’s often a decade between major outbreaks,” Schindler said. “They’ll explode for a year or two and then disappear for a long time.”

When the population will hit its peak and decline is unclear, but it does seem that the area will see another spring full of moths.

Categories: Alaska News

State OSHA investigation targets Silver Bay Seafoods in Naknek

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 16:48
Silver Bay Seafoods (KDLG photo)

A state OSHA investigator is looking into claims of workplace health and safety issues at the Silver Bay Seafoods processing plant in Naknek. While many of Bristol Bay’s salmon processing companies had issues with their workforce during this record-setting season, only Silver Bay has drawn the state’s attention so far. The company is also on the receiving end of some particularly bad press in Puerto Rico, where a number of its seasonal workers came from this summer.

Processing Bristol Bay’s annual salmon harvest takes the blistering effort of thousands of employees working at about a dozen major companies. Seafood processing is an “emphasis industry” for the Labor Standards and Safety Division of the state Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development, division director Deborah Kelly said.

“Because of the hazardous nature of the work, the short seasons, long working hours, and transient workforce, we do try to emphasize our enforcement inspections, and also our consultation services to assist employers to keep their workers safe and healthy,” Kelly said.

Most of Bristol Bay’s processing companies had workforce problems at their plants this summer. The run came in much larger than expected, and as the fleet hauled in huge catches day after day, the demands on the processors to keep up were high, and the labor force was stretched thin.

This photo, posted on the Twitter account of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Nevares, shows him delivering a letter to Alaska Gov. Bill Walker in Rhode Island earlier this month. The letter details his concerns about workplace health and safety issues at Alaska seafood processing plants.

Still, only one company has so far caught the state’s attention.

“We sent an investigator out to inspect the complaint items, inspect the workforce, and look for hazards to employees there at Silver Bay Seafoods in Naknek,” Kelly said.

Who made the complaints and what they alleged has so far not been made public. Naknek residents and Silver Bay fishermen who spoke with KDLG throughout the season described an unusually high washout rate from the processing plant, which was new to Bristol Bay as of 2014. Complaints of poor food, poor treatment, high numbers of injuries, and large walk-offs circulated around the Bay.

Governor Bill Walker was personally made aware that employees from Puerto Rico had gone home from Silver Bay with some serious complaints and allegations. The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello Nevares, delivered a letter with his concerns to Walker at a governor’s conference in Rhode Island earlier this month.

Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, published an exclusive accounting of three Puerto Rico employees who returned from Naknek saying they had been mentally terrorized and physically abused. Some of their allegations tend towards the outrageous, suggesting the company housed employees in ghettos based on ethnicity and had armed guards monitoring their movements.

The three unnamed former workers interviewed by El Nuevo Dia also say the long hours, poor food and cramped quarters were not what they were expecting.

Roy White from Naknek agrees with these latter complaints. He worked at Silver Bay Seafoods Naknek for a few weeks this season.

“Working conditions are horrible,” White said. “I mean they’re sixteen hours straight, seven days a week … they gave us just five minutes, a five minute break, and then you’re right back in there putting your rain gear on.”

White said the food served to employees was much worse than he had eaten at other processing plants he has worked at.

The whole short summer work program was not what he was expecting.

“No, because they’re description on the computer was way different than what was actually how it is,” White said.

White and his girlfriend said they both sought treatment for minor work-related injuries, then quit their jobs. He said he will not be reapplying anytime soon.

“People are the lowest thing on that list in that whole business. We are expendable,” White said.

According to El Nuevo Dia, the matter has been brought to the attention of authorities in both the U.S. and Puerto Rican governments. It’s unclear what other investigations may be underway, but Director Kelly said the state’s OSHA investigation could take between a few weeks to six months to wrap up.

“Once the investigation is complete, we will inform the complainant of course of what we have found. At the time everything is final, the case and all the information within becomes public record,” Kelly said.

If the state finds that Silver Bay Seafoods violated safety and health standards in the workplace, Kelly said they could face fines of tens of thousands per violation.

Kelly said she could not yet comment on the merit of the complaints being investigated.

Silver Bay Seafoods CEO Rich Riggs refused numerous requests for comment this week.

Categories: Alaska News

After a rocky start, Unalaska’s subsistence salmon run hits target escapement

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 15:42
So far more than 11,000 sockeye have passed through Unalaska’s McLees Lake weir. (KUCB)

While Unalaska’s biggest subsistence salmon run got off to a slow start this season, it’s now at a sustainable level.

The start of the McLees Lake run was so low, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order early this month to protect the area around the mouth of the creek.

While there are a lot of factors at play, biologist Colton Lipka said low water could have affected the run and they are seeing that in places like the Orzinski Bay Weir near the Shumagin Islands.

“They’re facing a similar situation as far as kind of low water,” Lipka said. “The fish are doing a trickle in rather than big pulses and pushes.”

In Unalaska, the McLees run met the goal for minimum escapement on Friday and restrictions have been lifted. So far more than 11,000 sockeye have passed through the weir.

While Lipka said this year’s run is below average, it is not the lowest recorded. For now, Fish and Game has opened subsistence salmon fishing in the waters of Reese Bay up to the McLees Lake stream output.

Lipka said this is the department’s final year using Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund money for the project. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is in the process of securing other funds, but if they are unsuccessful Lipka said the weir won’t operate next year; instead, they would monitor the run through aerial surveys.

Categories: Alaska News

Review finds Fairbanks officers justified in May shooting

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 15:31

A state review concludes that Fairbanks Police officers were justified in fatally shooting a local man in May.

Results of the Office of Special Prosecutions investigation released on Thursday say the four officers who killed Shawn Buck on a Mitchell Expressway on ramp, believed they, or other officers, were about to be killed or injured.

Buck May 25th was fired on by four officers, as he attempt to escape arrest and crashed a truck into an Alaska State Trooper patrol vehicle.

Police say Buck, who had outstanding felony warrants, was holding a handgun as he backed into the Trooper vehicle, and that he had previously fired at officers multiple times during a high speed chase that began on the Old Richardson Highway, where officers initially tried to stop him.

Categories: Alaska News

Pilot recovered from wreckage of Regal Air Cessna 206 north of Lake Clark

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 15:17
Wreckage of Regal Air Cessna 206 that crashed Wednesday north of Lake Clark, killing pilot Joel Black from Ohio. (NPS photo)

The body of a pilot was recovered Thursday night after his plane crashed yesterday in Lake Clark National Park. Joel Black of Pemberville, OH was flying a Cessna 206 Thursday morning when the plane crashed.

Megan Richotte is a spokesperson for Lake Clark National Park. She explained the recovery.

“Last night the Alaska State Troopers and National Park Rangers were able to take a state trooper helicopter to the site of the crash and recover the pilot’s body,” Richotte said.

Black was the only occupant of the plane, according to Regal Aviation. The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the incident to try and find the cause of the crash. The flight path has also not been determined.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Russian adventurers look to retrace Alaska route of past countrymen

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2017-07-28 14:48
The Russian team and the Dillingham residents who helped to place the monument at Nushagak pose with the American, Russian, and Alaskan flags. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, KDLG – Dilingham)

This summer, an expedition of Russian adventurers arrived in Dillingham to retrace an historic route taken by Russian explorers in 1830, when Alaska was under the control of the Russian Empire.

Listen now

The visitors are greeted in Dillingham by an enthusiastic local crowd. 30 residents are packed into the senior center to meet the expedition of 12 Russians and one American. Everyone is sharing in a potluck dinner of salmon dip, moose with vegetables, all local of course. For dessert: two cakes, one emblazoned with the Russian and American flags, and a second that reads “Welcome to Our Russian Friends.”

Standing between the crowd and their dinner, though, are several welcome speeches. Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby highlights the historical significance of the visit.

“We’re especially honored that in this year when we commemorate the sale of Alaska from Russia to the U.S. that you’ve chosen Bristol Bay for your 2017 expedition,” Ruby said.

The journey is led by Dr. Mikhail Malakhov, a trained phsycian who also happens to be an explorer. He made a name for himself in Russia by venturing to the North Pole. This is his tenth trip to Alaska, a fascination sparked by his connection to another Russian explorer named Lavrenty Zagoskin, who died in Malakhov’s hometown.

On his trips through Alaska, he’s chasing a shadow of his forefathers’ experiences first exploring the region.

“I have the same feelings and I know it’s exactly like Vasiliev had 200 years ago, like Zagoskin had 170 years ago,” Malakhov said. “I can read history, not through official papers, not through official reports, archives, just through nature and for me it’s like machine to go back to history.”

Alice Ruby and Robin Samuelson greet Dr. Mikahil Malakhov and his team. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, KDLG – Dillingham)

That first name he mentioned, Vasiliev, that’s a reference to Ivan Yakovlevich Vasiliev, another Imperial explorer, and one who navigated an impressive journey through Southwest Alaska. Malakhov’s team is retracing a route Vasiliev took in 1830 up the Wood River, through the Tikchik lakes to the Kuskokwim River. At that time Russians had over-hunted most of the beaver in the Nushagak and were looking for a new stocks .

Malakhov places a high value on historical accuracy.

“Yeah, I am reading quite a lot. Archives and books of professional historical people and actually it’s usually it takes many months to prepare any type of expedition,” Malakhov said.

In addition to enjoying nature and reliving history, Malakhov hopes his trips will foster relationships with people living in the region.

“Doesn’t matter what’s going there on the political level, yeah,” Malakhov said. “But between people, our relations is getting much more open and we are glad to be here again.”

As part of that goal, the Russian expedition helped erect a monument to John W. Clark and to Fedor Kolmakov. Clark was one of the people who helped found the Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery. He also established the Alaska Commercial Company, which was the successor to the trading post run by Fedor Kolmakov at Nushagak.

Placing the monument was also a bit of a break from travelling for the Russians.

After the diplomacy of the potluck, the group is about to launch from Snag Point. The occasion is a mix of each adventurer’s personal preparations. Some chat with friends they’ve made during their brief time in Dillingham. Others play music or dance.

The last step is to pack all the provisions into six kayaks. Dr. Malakhov’s younger son, Alexi Malakhov told the potluck crowd that on top of catching fish, the group is packing it plenty of it’s own supplies.

The Russian expedition departs up the Wood River. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, KDLG – Dillingham)

“We have canned meat, canned chicken, and rice, noodles, yes and different delicious stuff like Nutella,” Alexi Malakhov said.

The youngest member of the group is just 14 years old. While his older compatriots take their time getting their things in order, Ivan Korobov is already set, standing by his kayak in the water, excited for the trip.

“It’s quite cool,” Korobov said. “I think it will be very difficult and we’ll, I hope we’ll not have a lot of problems, but I think it will be very cool and very fascinating, you know.”

Despite the difficulty of a three week kayaking expedition, Korobov has time to appreciate the natural beauty of the area.

“Here is very peaceful and a lot of good places, very good fish that here is everywhere and we’ll always see this here,” Korobov said.

Korobov and the rest of the team will have plenty of time to take in the scenery. Their kayak trip is scheduled to take three weeks, but their last expedition to Bristol Bay was two weeks late. Malakhov said that won’t happen. This time around, their plane tickets back are non-refundable.

Categories: Alaska News