After years of teaching, a shy Western screech owl retires in Sitka

first_imgShare this story: Education | Southeast | WildlifeAfter years of teaching, a shy Western screech owl retires in SitkaAugust 3, 2015 by Vanessa Walker, KCAW Share:Peanut is a 13-year-old Western screech owl currently living at the Alaska Raptor Center. (Photo by Vanessa Walker/KCAW)There’s a new bird at the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka, and she’s a little shy. After a long career in education, she doesn’t have a lot of patience for the classroom. She’s now settling into a comfortable retirement.On a cold and rainy day, the yellow-eyed, grey Western screech owl peers out of her small owl house in a cage at the raptor center. Her name is Peanut, and her right wing sticks out just a little further than her left. She’s injured and unable to fly. She used to live in California and at some point moved to Alaska.“We know she’s about 13 years old, which is really old for a screech owl. They usually live to be about 8 or 9,” says says says Jen Cedarleaf, an avian rehabilitation coordinator at the center.Peanut arrived at the center in July, after the bird educational facility she lived at in Ketchikan shut down. Before that she belonged to a California falconer. Cedarleaf says the raptor center tried using Peanut as an education bird at first but it didn’t work out, so the center decided to let her rest.“She’s really enjoying, I think, not being an education bird,” Cedarleaf says. “She really seems to like her little habitat. She gets around in there and doesn’t have to deal with people all day long.”Peanut has already laid 4 or 5 eggs, more than she probably ever has, says Cedarleaf. The little owl is now living a somewhat quiet life.“Peanut is a little beast,” Cedarleaf says. “A lot of times she’ll try to run away from you, but sometimes she’ll come after you. It’s kind of funny because she’s so tiny; she can’t really hurt us that much, but she thinks she can.”Peanut is one of three screech owls currently at the Alaska Raptor Center, and one of about 20 permanent residents that include bald eagles, red tailed hawks, great horned owls and ravens. There are also more than 20 birds being rehabilitated, mostly bald eagles.The center took in a bird nearly every day in June, making it a particularly busy month.Peanut is a 13-year-old Western screech owl currently living at the Alaska Raptor Center. (Photo by Vanessa Walker/KCAW)They don’t know how Peanut injured her wing, but Cedarleaf says common human-related owl injuries are caused by cars.“It’s very possible she was hit by a car. Owls get hit by cars more often than you would think, because they use the headlights to help find their prey, and they’ll swoop in front of a car without realizing it, and then they get it,” she says.Despite Peanut’s reclusive nature, Cedarleaf says visitors stand to learn a lot from her.“She’s a very good bird for teaching us about longevity and just about the different kinds of birds that are out there in the environment that you don’t always see all the time.”It’s not every day you see a Western screech owl. However, if you’re lucky, Peanut may look your way the next time if you’re ever at the Alaska Raptor Center.last_img read more

Nome Native corporation sells mining equipment, reclaims land

first_imgAlaska Native Corporations | Alaska Native Government & Policy | Economy | Energy & Mining | Environment | Government | WesternNome Native corporation sells mining equipment, reclaims landNovember 20, 2015 by Emily Russell, KNOM Share:Muskox grazing on the reclaimed land of Rock Creek Mine. (Photo courtesy of Bering Straits Native Corporation)It’s been a long and unproductive road for the Rock Creek Mine. But now that it’s being liquidated, money will finally flow into the pockets of its current owner, Bering Straits Native Corporation.The mine was originally owned by Canadian mining company NovaGold and operated by its subsidiary, Alaska Gold. It opened briefly in 2008 before shutting its doors just months later. In the two years of preproduction and the two months of actual production, the mine went more than $20 million over budget, lost two of its workers in a construction-related accident, and violated the Clean Water Act, resulting in over $800,000 in federal fines.There was a glimmer of hope that the mine’s doors would reopen when Bering Straits bought it from NovaGold in 2012. CEO Gail Schubert told KNOM in an interview at the time of the purchase that they planned to bring the mine back into production, albeit on a much smaller scale.“Economic development opportunities are few and far between in rural Alaska and given the fact that this mine site has already been developed that NovaGold put several hundred million dollars into developing this site we just really felt that it was a good opportunity and kind of our responsibility to look closely at it to see whether it couldn’t be made operational,” Schubert said.At the time, Schubert hoped the mine could be an economic engine for the region.“You know we want to be able to provide some jobs and other opportunities to our shareholders and descendants and other folks that live in the region,” she said.But what they hoped would be a source of revenue for locals, turned out instead to be a continuation of cleanup and reclamation. Now, it seems that along with ridding the land of toxins, Bering Straits will also be clearing out the facility’s interior. A news release published by another Canadian mining company, Almaden Minerals, revealed that it was entering into an agreement with Bering Strait to purchase much of the mine’s equipment.Almaden will pay Bering Straits $6.5 million for the equipment over the next 30 months. Jerald Brown, Bering Straits’ vice president of Nome operations, has been working on the sale for a little over a year and says the initial investment in the failed mine turned out to be quite profitable.“We’ve actually recovered 100 percent of the purchase price to date without including the proceeds from selling this equipment so it actually was a very good investment decision that Gail Schubert worked on a negotiated,” Brown said.Along with the profitability of the purchase, Brown is optimistic that the land will eventually give back to Nome though this time in a different way.“The land will be reclaimed, in fact, it already has been, and it will go back to being an area where people can go berry-picking and look at the muskox and everything they were doing before the mine was there,” Brown said.The mine’s used equipment will be shipped south, where it will be put to work at a gold mine in Mexico.Share this story:last_img read more

Ferry chief: Design of Tustumena’s replacement is ready

first_imgAleutians | Southcentral | Southwest | State Government | TransportationFerry chief: Design of Tustumena’s replacement is readyFebruary 16, 2016 by Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer Share:A rendering of the ferry designed to replace the Tustumena. (Image courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities)The state Department of Transportation has a design for the ship that will replace the ferry Tustumena.DOT Deputy Commissioner Mike Neussl said the new design focuses on two key issues. First, to make the new ferry carry as many people and vehicles as possible. The second goal was to make it small enough and shallow enough to use all the docks and shore side infrastructure used by the Tustumena right now.“Both of those design criteria were put in. The design is complete but the process going forward is to get that design into construction, build a vessel, put it into service and replace the existing Tustumena on its runs with a new more capable vessel,” said Neussl.The Tustumena has served communities in southcentral and southwest Alaska for a little more than 50 years. The ferry’s home port is in Homer and it regularly travels to 13 ports between Homer and Unalaska.Neussl isn’t sure when construction will start on the new ferry or how long it will take. He said a vessel of that size typically takes at least two or three years to build. He said it depends on contract terms with the shipyard doing the work.“As a comparator, the Alaska Class Ferries being built out in Ketchikan … the construction period was intentionally lengthened to drive the cost of those ferries down. Instead of having three ship builders working around the clock to try and build it as fast as possible, you work on it at a slower pace,” explained Neussl.Neussl said none of those decisions have been made for the Tustumena and the construction contract has not been opened up for bidding.He said the new ship is estimated to cost around $237 million and about 90 percent of that money is expected to come from the federal government through Alaska’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan or STIP.“That is the mechanism by which all projects compete for those federal funding dollars. … That provides millions of dollars for the State of Alaska for federal aid projects. Highway projects, marine highway projects, dock replacement projects,” Neussl said.The rest of the money would come from the state. He said the vessel is listed among the projects seeking STIP funding but it’s listed in fiscal year 2019.“Which is quite a ways down the road. Our job now is to pull that forward through the amendment process to get it funded through that process and out for construction … hopefully sooner rather than later. That’s where the project currently stands,” said Neussl.Neussl said once the new ferry is built, the old Tustumena will be sold to either continue sailing under a new owner or it will be used for scrap.Share this story:last_img read more

Myers announces retirement, third Walker cabinet change in three weeks

first_imgEnergy & Mining | State GovernmentMyers announces retirement, third Walker cabinet change in three weeksFebruary 16, 2016 by Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO and Alaska Public Media Share:Mark Myers announced Tuesday he will retire as commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources. Myers once served as head of the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska. (Public Domain photo from USGS)Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers announced Tuesday that he’s retiring.Myers wrote in an email to department staff members that he’s retiring for personal reasons. His resignation is effective March 1.Deputy Commissioner Marty Rutherford will serve as acting commissioner.It’s the third change in Gov. Bill Walker’s cabinet in three weeks, following changes in the commissioners of corrections and education.Myers had only been commissioner since early 2015, but has a total of 18 years of service in the department.Myers worked as a geologist for the state and for private companies. He was the head of the U.S. Geological Survey from 2006 to 2009. And he was the vice chancellor of research for University of Alaska Fairbanks before Walker named him commissioner.Walker said Myers told him he wanted to retire in October, but Walker gave him time to reconsider.Myers said, “Retiring is not difficult, but leaving DNR is.”A spokeswoman for Walker said the governor hasn’t set a timeline for permanently replacing Myers.Share this story:last_img read more

Sobering center considered as an alternative to prison in Fairbanks

first_imgAlcohol & Substance Abuse | Health | Interior | Public SafetySobering center considered as an alternative to prison in FairbanksMarch 1, 2016 by Amanda Frank, KUAC Share:Fairbanks Correctional Center in Fairbanks, Alaska. This is the city’s combined jail/prison. (Creative Commons photo by RadioKAOS)Recent deaths in Alaska prisons have underscored problems with jailing severely intoxicated individuals, pointing to the need for an alternative approach. Bethel operates a sobering center, where care and treatment are the focus, and a similar facility is being explored as an option in Fairbanks.State Title 47 requires temporary protective custody of an individual incapacitated by drugs or alcohol in public. It’s motivated by a public safety issue Fairbanks City Mayor John Eberhart says is elevated in Fairbanks.“Where are we going to take them,” Mayor Eberhart asked. “What do you do if it’s 30 or 40 below zero without a sleep-off center? It’s time to do that; it’s time for a sleep-off center.”Currently, the city works with the Fairbanks Downtown Association to run a community service patrol, to transport intoxicated individuals home, to jail or to the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.Mayor Eberhart says he’s trying to bring together local groups and agencies to talk about opening a sleep-off center in Fairbanks.“I put out an email to try to organize a meeting of hopefully the hospital, Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), the police chief, myself, and others to start talking about a sleep-off center,” said Mayor Eberhart.The sleep off center approach is successfully employed in other Alaska communities. Kevin Tressler manages a sobering center in Bethel.“Prior to this program starting, you’d see a lot more intoxicated individuals around town,” Tressler said. “If you had to go to the (emergency room) for any particular reason, the waiting room was packed full it took a really long time to get in to get triaged.”The 16-bed center provides a place for inebriated individuals, who are triaged by staff, and then allowed to stay for up to 12 hours.Richard Robb, Director of Residential Services at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC), says there are several ways to measure the success of the program and the center.“A lot of it is what we can do to help people,” said Robb. “One of the ways we have really increased in the past year is we’ve measured and we’ve pushed the intervention of SBIRTS. That’s Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment,”The program, which Robb refers to as a “harm reduction model,” is a partnership between YKHC, Alaska Mental Health Trust and Bethel Police Department. Robb says after patients sober up, center staff ask them about their drinking, and whether they’d like to be referred to longer term treatment.“It’s better for everybody and it’s a cost saving measure too,” Robb said. “Because staying a night here is a lot cheaper for the taxpayer than staying the night in the ER.”The Bethel center is an attempt to avoid what happened to Fairbanks resident Gilbert Joseph last summer. Joseph who was picked up intoxicated and brought to Fairbanks jail died in his cell at Fairbanks Correctional Center. The Title 47 protection case gone wrong is one of several highlighted in a recent Department of Corrections report.Rhonda Pitka, the first chief of the village of Beaver, where Joseph was a tribal member, wants to work with Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks to make sure the state is accountable for their actions.“I feel like that contributed a lot to his death. He would probably still be alive,” said Pitka. “If he wasn’t in prison that night, if wasn’t in the jail that night. If he had gotten medical care he would probably still be alive,”A local resident has reached out to Mayor Eberhart about a possible sleep off location in South Fairbanks. But Mayor Eberhart says he just in the early stages of trying to find funding for a project to address these issues here in Fairbanks.“It’s a question of how do you it and who pays for it,” Eberhart said.Share this story:last_img read more

Nearing graduation, musician Byron Nicholai looks forward to college and new challenges

first_imgAlaska Native Arts & Culture | Arts & Culture | EducationNearing graduation, musician Byron Nicholai looks forward to college and new challengesMay 8, 2016 by Laura Kraegel, KNOM Share:Byron Nicholai performs with the Toksook Bay Traditional Dancers. (Photo by Laura Kraegel/KNOM).Byron Nicholai began posting fun, silly music videos on Facebook when he was 14 years old. Now, the Toksook Bay musician is 18, and his drumming and singing are celebrated for sharing traditional Yup’ik culture.Between releasing his first album and performing across the country, Nicholai has accomplished a lot in the last few years. But with high school graduation fast approaching, he said he’s ready for the next challenge: going to college and making even better music.Backstage at the 2016 Cama-i Dance Festival, Byron Nicholai is thinking about his future. He has just finished performing with the Toksook Bay Traditional Dancers, the hometown group that first taught him to sing and drum. Soon, though, he’ll take the stage for his solo act, “I Sing. You Dance.” Looking around the crowded high school gym in Bethel, Nicholai knows he’s come a long way from his early Facebook videos.“It was just something I did for fun. That’s it,” he said. “But now it’s like I need to give these people a message — something that they need to hear.”His music is still fun, but it’s based on big ideas about Yup’ik culture and identity. Nicholai said most songs are inspired by the lessons he learns from his parents and the elders in his community. And just as they motivate him, he says he wants to share a positive message with the many kids who are now his fans.“What they see me doing, they will do,” he said. “It’s almost like ‘monkey see, monkey do,’ but with people. So I’m trying to help our culture grow song by song, dance by dance, and these little kids are into it. While I’m up there and they’re watching, they’re learning the songs, the dances, part of my culture. It’s just a part of them now as it was a part of me.”Midway through his set, Nicholai performs his signature song, “I Am Yup’ik.” The crowd sings along faintly for the first half, but then their voices swell enough that he steps back and lets his audience finish the final refrain.“I heard these little kids singing in front of me, singing along with me, and I was like, ‘Whoa. They know the song. Maybe I should back away from the mic and have them sing with me,’” he said. “So I do that and while I’m drumming, I hear them singing and I had that feeling of being a good role model. That’s why I’m trying to be.”Byron Nicholai sings and drums at the 2016 Cama-i Dance Festival in Bethel. (Photo by Laura Kraegel/KNOM)That attitude extends beyond music, too. Early in high school, Nicholai planned to study computer science in college. But after everything that has happened in his music career, he said he feels called to do something else, especially after a memorable experience last year in the Bristol Bay community of Igiugig.“I was there to teach the people how to sing and dance,” he said. “The looks on their faces are what made me feel that I was doing something right for the people. The determination on their faces — they wanted to learn. I was like, ‘Wow. I was doing a good job at that. Maybe I could become a Yup’ik teacher.’”In the fall, Nicholai will start at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He said he’ll major in elementary education and minor in Alaska Native Studies. His goal is to teach Yup’ik language and culture at a school in rural Alaska. Until then, though, he’s doing his best to finish senior year strong, prepare for life away from home, and stay on top of his songwriting. He said it’s not always easy.“If I was someone else looking at me, it would be a fun life. But it’s not always fun because I feel like a lot of weight is put on my shoulders,” he said. “These papers, these deadlines, the emails, the calls — how am I going to keep that up when I’m doing things at school? When am I going to find the time? When am I going to have a break to do what I want?”This summer, Nicholai will get a short break. He said he hasn’t made too many plans beyond playing basketball, playing music, and spending time with his family. But that doesn’t mean he’s looking to slow down.“There’s this word that my teacher said. He says I’ve accomplished a lot, but I want more. Ambitious! Yes. I’m just ambitious. I want more.”Which leaves the big question: When can fans expect another album? Nicholai said he doesn’t have a timeline for releasing new music, but it’s certainly on his mind. He’s writing songs and experimenting with a loop station. He said he wants to continue growing — maybe mix some modern beats into the traditional style, maybe even add a new instrument.“I have a guitar at home. Maybe I could use it one day,” he said. “Maybe I could have a harmonica. Just keep my music growing and entertaining.”While his music evolves, though, Nicholai said he doesn’t want to stray from his message of empowerment or his connection to Yup’ik culture. No matter what, he hopes his songs always resonate with his people.“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or how old you are. You still have the power to make a difference,” he said. “It’s just all in the mind. I mean, growing up, I thought I was just going to be a regular, teenage boy. That’s all I thought I was going to be. But with all of this happening, I realize that I am much more.”Share this story:last_img read more

Should the state subsidize a beer festival?

first_imgAlcohol & Substance Abuse | Arts & Culture | Business | Southcentral | State GovernmentShould the state subsidize a beer festival?May 25, 2016 by Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media Share:Nationwide, craft brewing is on the rise, and Alaska is no exception: 3,947,554 gallons of beer were brewed in state in 2015.On Saturday, downtown Anchorage hosted the first ever tasting festival made up exclusively of small brewing and distilling companies based in Alaska. The small industry is thriving for a variety of reasons, including a recent appropriation through the state’s Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.Local brewers served beer from tents at the Alaska Crafted festival on May 21 in Anchorage. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)But taxpayer-funded support for the burgeoning alcohol sector doesn’t sit well with everyone.It was gray and drizzling on a fenced-in section of F Street as a few hundred people roamed from tent to tent filling small tasting glasses with beer, part of the Alaska Crafted festival.Made it! #alaskacrafted. #beer— Sarah Doyle (@whiskymuse) May 22, 2016“Besides the weather it’s been good,” laughed Brian Swanson, one of the three owners of Odd Man Rush. The brew-pub opened last September in Eagle River, where Swanson grew up.Like a lot of brewers, Swanson started off making beer as a side project. Now, he describes it as a “hobby on steroids.”“It’s a scary thing to invest your own time and money,” Swanson said of the decision to make brewing his occupation.“Your families have to embrace it,” he went on. “It’s just been kind of humbling to see it happen.”It’s not an easy line of work. Starting a brewing business combines the low-profit financial risk of a restaurant with the labyrinth of state and local regulations governing alcohol licensing. Which makes it puzzling why local breweries continue opening and expanding across the state, up and down the Railbelt, all the way to Hoonah and other Southeast communities off the road system. The exception is western Alaska, where transport and energy costs are high, and the majority of communities are damp or dry.Locally made beer is moving from a novelty to an economic fixture in Alaska. There are 1,436 full-time jobs connected to brewing, which doesn’t include the handful of companies distilling hard alcohol. A recent report by Southeast Strategies estimates the industry has a direct impact of $83,975,524 in Alaska, although only 25 percent of that is retained in state, due in part to brewers having to import key ingredients like hops and glass bottles from the Lower 48.One reason these figures exist is because as an industry, independent craft brewing has matured to the point of hiring a lobbyist.Ryan Makinster is the executive director of Brewers Guild of Alaska. Though in the past he served as a legislative staffer in Juneau, Makinster’s current job with the Brewers Guild involves providing expertise to new businesses and ensuring the small industry has a voice in regulations and policymaking.He sees the festival as a big deal because it’s the first time a major beer and spirits tasting is made up solely of Alaska suppliers.“The lift on creating something like this is pretty time intensive, and actually there’s a cost involved in it,” Makinster said during an interview a few days before the event.Support for the festival came in a lot of different forms, like donated goods and volunteer hours.But it also came from a $200,000 appropriation from the state to organize and pay for the festival’s upfront expenses.“It’s basically their event currently,” Makinster said, “We’re just participants in it and sponsors.”Because most brewing businesses are small without much spare capital or capacity, the state’s forward funding of the festival was crucial, according to Makinster.“It’s gotten us to this point,” he said. “I don’t think we could have done this without the state support.”The money is a piece of a $1.77 million economic assistance program approved by lawmakers for fiscal year 2013. According to a capital project summary, the appropriation’s aim is long-term economic growth by promoting industries like “minerals, forest products and transportation logistics.”Craft brewing is one of the state’s few growing manufacturing sectors, and a rare bright spot in Alaska’s current economy.“It’s something that uses local materials, adds value, and then is something that we can actually export out of Alaska,” explained Gretchen Fauske, business development officer for the state’s Division of Economic Development, the state entity involved in the festival.The division sees the festival as an attempt to cultivate an export market by raising the profile of Alaska’s brewers and distillers. To do that, they signed a contract with marketing firm Brilliant Media Strategies to handle the event’s logistics, promotion and public relations.The contract lays out that the “cost of the event is to be refunded with ticket sales,” which at $75 a piece works out to 2,667 in ticket sales. Exact receipts were still being counted, Fauske wrote in a midweek email.Part of the promotional work spelled out in the contract was local advertising. Another piece was fostering recognition beyond Alaska, which included a press tour arranged for five freelance writers and bloggers over the weekend, valued at $30,000.“I think national attention to the event would be a huge success for us,” Fauske said in an interview ahead of the event. “We want people outside of Alaska to know about the products that are being made here. One, because they are such high quality. And two, because it can ease our way into those markets and attract people to visit Alaska and taste the products for themselves.”But not everyone thinks it’s a worthwhile investment.“I don’t see why the state would want to forward fund a festival built around consumption of alcohol,” said Jeff Jessee, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, which combats substance abuse across the state.Sitting in his office, Jessee said that while it’s fine for the industry to host a celebration and try to expand its reach, he doesn’t believe a street festival with live bands, a cocktail contest and 40 drink tickets per attendee does much to cultivate an export market. Nor does he think the state has any business contributing funds toward alcohol, which cost taxpayers $42 million in just prevention and treatment services across Alaska last year.“It’s not a moral dilemma, it’s a public health, public safety and budgetary problem,” Jessee said.In years to come, the Alaska Crafted festival is expected to be paid for solely by the brewers and distillers guilds.The Division of Economic Development’s full contract with Brilliant Media Strategies is worth $375,000, which includes services unrelated to the Alaska Crafted festival. The full value of the contract with renewal options is $1,125,000 through 2019.Share this story:last_img read more

Update: Firefighters respond to wildfire off of Seward Highway

first_imgPublic Safety | Southcentral | WeatherUpdate: Firefighters respond to wildfire off of Seward HighwayJuly 18, 2016 by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media Share:A 25-acre wildfire burns in the McHugh Creek drainage south of Anchorage off the Seward Highway on Sunday. (Photo courtesy Alaska Division of Forestry)A 25-acre wildfire is spreading across McHugh Creek about three-quarters of a mile from the Seward Highway south of Anchorage. According to the Department of Forestry, the fire was reported to the Anchorage Fire Department at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday.Camp volunteer Mike DeCenso was the first to spot the fire and call 911.“The smoke was coming up through the canyons there, so I watched it and figured out it was a real fire on the ground, so I called 911 and got the fire dispatch and they sent out about eight equipment engines,” DeCenso said late Sunday morning, as he and reporters scanned the hilltop, where billows of smoke indicated the location of the blaze.Upon the firefighter’s arrival, the fire was about 3 to 5 acres. Forestry firefighters were initially unable to combat the fire due to hazardous terrain, so helicopters and an air tanker began dropping water on the flame Sunday morning.Chugach State Park ranger Tom Crockett spoke just before noon, standing at the entrance to McHugh Creek parking lot, which was closed to the public and used as a staging point for fire operations.“..and (the fire) is being actively suppressed by two forestry helos that are doing bucket drops with salt water from the Inlet. A hand crew is being ordered up from Palmer forestry and should be on site in the next hour or so. They will also bring with them some pumps so they can use the water from McHugh Creek to actively work the flanks of the fire.”The fire is actively burning in beetle-killed spruce, much of which is dead and blown down. This combined with the steep terrain had made access to the fire very difficult.The helicopters put on quite a show for travelers on the Seward highway, and traffic slowed as passersby stopped for photos of the operation. By early afternoon, an air tanker dispatched from Fairbanks dropped retardant on the blaze.Crockett said the fire does not threaten homes or structures. As to the cause of the blaze:“Unknown,” Crockett said. “Haven’t checked the site yet, and I can’t speculate until we actually get up and take a look at the point of origin.”Alaska Public Media’s Ellen Lockyer contributed to this report. This story has been updated and expanded. Share this story:last_img read more

Ketchikan Indian Community checking Ketchikan beaches and shellfish for toxins

first_imgFisheries | Food | Oceans | Outdoors | Public Safety | Science & Tech | Southeast | Subsistence | WildlifeKetchikan Indian Community checking Ketchikan beaches and shellfish for toxinsFebruary 11, 2017 by Maria Dudzak, KRBD Share:Esther Kennedy of the Resource Protection Department collects water samples every week from Starrigavan. Along with six other tribes in Southeast, the group is working to create an early warning system to protect shellfish diggers from PSP. (Photo by Emily Kwong/KCAW)Last summer, Ketchikan Indian Community began a phytoplankton and shellfish monitoring program in Ketchikan as part of the Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins Program. KIC tests samples, and informs the public if dangerous levels of the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning are found in local clams and mussels.Nicole Forbes is the environmental specialist at KIC in charge of collecting samples. She says it’s important for people to understand what paralytic shellfish poisoning is and how it is transmitted.“Basically there are tiny, microscopic plants in the ocean called phytoplankton. Most of them are not harmful. In fact, they produce 50 percent of our oxygen. But there are a few harmful species and one of those is Alexandrium and it produces something called saxitoxin. When the shellfish filter-feed, it gets collected in the shellfish, and when people eat it, that’s what causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.”PSP toxins cannot be cooked or cleaned out of shellfish, and freezing does not destroy the toxin. Consumption of the toxin can cause paralysis and death. Commercial shellfish is tested and considered safe. The Tribal Toxins Program targets recreational beaches.Forbes says KIC is testing samples at popular beaches in the Ketchikan area so people will know if clams, mussels, and cockles are safe to harvest. Currently, testing is being done at Settlers Cove and Whipple Creek. Forbes says they plan to add Seaport Beach in Saxman soon. She says the program is in the beginning stages and they are working to identify other sample sites.“We’re trying to figure out where most people harvest, so that we can get those results. The thing is you have to get results for each beach. Because you could go two or three miles down and it’s going to be completely different down there.”Forbes says there are three steps to the collection process, which starts with weekly phytoplankton samples.“Which involves me going out there with a phytoplankton net and wading in the water, and grabbing a sample. I bring that back to our local lab, and I put it under the microscope and look for those harmful phytoplankton species that I was talking about. If I see one, that’s the first warning sign that we need to get a shellfish sample out as soon as possible, because it’s possible that saxitoxin is in the shellfish.”Forbes says suspect samples are sent to the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s lab in Sitka. She says the turnaround time for testing is fairly quick.“I send it out on Tuesday, gets there Wednesday, I get results Thursday or Friday.”She says the third step of the process is filtration, which involves taking a water sample, filtering it, and then sending the filter to the lab, where phytoplankton species and quantities are identified, along with concentration of toxins.Tony Gallegos, the cultural and natural resources director for KIC, says Alexandrium may be present, but not necessarily producing toxins.“The scientific literature hasn’t come to clear conclusion on how you know whether they’re going to produce the toxins or not, what triggers that. That’s still unclear. We can see the algae, but we need to actually do an analysis of those algae to see if they actually have toxins in them.”Forbes says phytoplankton aren’t as active in the winter because it is cold and dark, but she says no time of the year is safe to harvest without testing. She says they found high levels of toxins in butter clams at Whipple Creek this winter.“Actually butter clams hold onto the toxins longer, and then during the winter the shellfish slow down their filter feeding, so they can actually hold on to those toxins for the whole winter.”Forbes says she collects samples every two weeks, weather permitting, and if samples test positive, they are retested weekly. Results for all Southeast beaches being tested are posted in the data section of the Southeast Alaska Tribal Association Research website – Information is also sent to local media.KIC is interested in identifying other local sites for sampling.If you have suggestions, you can contact Nicole Forbes at KIC. Forbes email is [email protected]  The phone number is 228-9365.Share this story:last_img read more

Judge orders Anchorage to pay ex-cops $2.7M after verdict against city

first_imgLocal Government | SouthcentralJudge orders Anchorage to pay ex-cops $2.7M after verdict against cityJuly 19, 2017 by Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media Share:The Anchorage Police Department Building (Photo by Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)A judge has increased the penalty the Municipality of Anchorage will pay two former Anchorage police officers, who alleged racial discrimination at the Anchorage Police Department and won with a jury verdict this spring. Audio Player Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Alvin Kennedy and Eliezer Feliciano are two former drug detectives who had 20 years on the force.A jury found that they had been treated unfairly by the Anchorage Police Department and awarded them a total of more than $2 million in May.The judge in the case also recently tacked on what are called “enhanced attorneys’ fees” of another roughly half-million dollars and noted that Anchorage property owners would pay for the total award and the city’s long, drawn-out legal defense through their taxes.Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner also described the city’s tactics as Nixonian and said Anchorage police bungled a separate case — the criminal investigation of the Alaska National Guard — in a failed attempt to fight the lawsuit’s allegations.The racial discrimination allegations by Kennedy and Feliciano came in 2009, starting with complaints and then the lawsuit over what they called a hostile work environment.Kennedy is African-American. Feliciano is Hispanic.Their attorney Ken Legacki said they were good at their jobs.“Al Kennedy and Eli Feliciano were two very experienced and well respected undercover drug cops, two of the best cops the city of Anchorage ever had,” Legacki said in a phone interview.Legacki — and later Pfiffner — said the police department tried and failed with frivolous internal investigations of the two men to get rid of them.“They had people in the department, basically, trying to create a false narrative,” Legacki said.The police department and municipal attorneys also spent many hours and taxpayer dollars to go after Feliciano and Kennedy and to fight them in two separate trials.The first trial ended in a hung jury. The second trial ended May 22 with the verdict in favor of the two ex-cops.With interest, the jury award for lost wages and mental anguish is more than $1 million for each man.In his amended judgment issued July 5, Pfiffner, an Alaska judge since 2010, described the litigation as the most complex and longest-running he’d ever seen.Pfiffner declined to comment for this story.Here’s what he wrote in his recent order:“The ‘hide-the-ball’ litigation tactics (the Municipality of Anchorage) employed in this case rarely work. The consequences of such action are usually not good if the dirty tricks are discovered. Richard Nixon learned that lesson the hard way in an incident known as Watergate.”This was Pfiffner’s reasoning when he added more than $200,000 in attorneys’ fees to the total award for Kennedy and Feliciano.Pfiffner wrote he hoped municipality also had learned its lesson but that it was unfortunate the taxpayers of Anchorage would have to foot the bill.Municipal Attorney Bill Falsey turned down requests for an interview. He sent the following statement:“The court’s ruling refers to actions and proceedings that happened years ago. While we disagree with many of the characterizations, and wish that the Municipality’s prior attempts to settle the case had not been rebuffed — which could have avoided the need for protracted litigation — we are reviewing prior practices and will comply with the court’s orders.”Falsey said the city has agreed to pay the penalty and will not appeal.Legacki said the municipality offered to settle for less than $100,000, a tiny fraction of what the jury ended up awarding and nothing compared with the anguish the police department caused his clients by ruining their careers.“It’s scary to think that, even now, these people don’t realize the gravity of what occurred,” Legacki said. “Because somebody should take a serious look at this. Who investigates the investigators, right?”But it might not end there.A big issue with this case that Legacki and Pfiffner point to is a connection to the Anchorage police investigation of sexual assault and drug dealing allegations at the Alaska National Guard.A police lieutenant who was a star witness for the city in the Kennedy-Feliciano civil suit also was overseeing the criminal investigation of the National Guard.Citing an internal report by an independent investigator, Pffiner wrote in the amended judgement that the police lieutenant gave the names of people who had lodged the allegations to the head of the National Guard.According to the report, investigative leads dried up in the case, and nobody was ever charged or prosecuted.Pfiffner wrote that the police department purposely stalled its investigation of the lieutenant’s misconduct so he could testify against Kennedy and Feliciano in the first trial and still look credible.By the time of the second trial though, the lieutenant had been fired over the misconduct. He is also currently suing the city and police department.Here’s what Pfiffner wrote about the city and police department’s motivations in hiding the lieutenant’s misconduct:“The citizens of Anchorage could very well conclude the (Municipality of Anchorage) and its lawyers, were more interested in winning the lawsuit than protecting the citizens of Anchorage from sexual assault and illegal drug dealing by members of the Alaska National Guard and police misconduct relating thereto.”Falsey, the municipal attorney, did not respond to a request for comment about this issue. Anchorage police also turned down a request for an interview.Share this story:last_img read more