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Southeast Alaska News
FAIRBANKS — Low-lying areas of Fort Yukon were under water Monday, a day after breakup on the Yukon River left 15 homes uninhabitable in Circle.
The Yukon River moved past Fort Yukon late Monday morning, and village officials reported to the National Weather Service that the frontage road was impassable and water was up to the steps of the tribal hall.
The ice had jammed about 15 miles upriver from Fort Yukon until it broke Monday morning. The flood warning for Fort Yukon remains in effect until 4 p.m. Tuesday.
ANCHORAGE — An Alaska volcano eruption is prompting regional airlines to cancel flights to nearby communities, including a town that reported traces of fallen ash.
Pavlof Volcano released ash plumes as high as 22,000 feet over the weekend, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Clouds obscured the volcano Monday, but U.S. Geological Survey scientists said seismic instruments at the volcano show continuing tremors.
“Seismically, it’s been pretty steady over the last 12 hours,” geologist Chris Waythomas said late Monday morning.
WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced on Monday that three more states would join the ranks of those given permission to ignore parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law in favor of their own school improvement plans.
JUNEAU — A state judge has ordered 2010 U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller to pay more than $85,000 in legal costs to the Alaska Dispatch after the publication sued to obtain records from his time as a government attorney.
Judge Stephanie Joannides said the online publication, as the prevailing party, was entitled to 20 percent of its total fees but said that fee schedule can be changed for “vexatious or bad faith conduct.” She said it also can be varied for the relationship between the amount of work performed and significance of the matters at stake.
JUNEAU — The state of Alaska on Monday proposed a multiyear, multimillion-dollar plan aimed at determining the true oil and gas potential in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
State officials hope the plan will reinvigorate — and reshape — the debate over whether to drill on the refuge’s coastal plain.
The plan was announced at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy in Washington, D.C., by Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. Parnell appeared by remote.
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law. The measure allowed him to negotiate the movement of Native Americans from the southern states to west of the Mississippi River. And the policy laid the groundwork for the Trail of Tears, which included a forced march of Cherokees out of northern Georgia which took place after Jackson’s presidency.
Last week in Sitka, the former president went on trial before a jury of eighth-graders.
In this courtroom, the lawyers, the judge, the jury and most of the witnesses are all about 14 years old. We’re in the library at Blatchley Middle School. Court comes to order and eighth grade social studies teacher Roxann Gagner, playing the role of bailiff, swears in a witness.
The witness — President Andrew Jackson — is nervous. It’s his fourth time testifying that day. He’s already been shredded by two prosecutors and, as he sits down to testify again, he hopes he knows how to answer his own lawyer’s questions.
I know this because, well, I am playing Andrew Jackson.
“Do you believe that the Cherokee were obligated to follow the laws of Georgia?” says Colton Cummins, 14, one of the defense attorneys in the case. He paces back and forth as he asks questions in a Matlockian southern accent.
Let me tell you: It’s not easy to answer questions as Andrew Jackson might. Facing the prosecutors is no picnic either. They go for the jugular and ask me President Jackson exactly what his problem is with Native Americans.
“What makes them different from any other man? Or woman? Or child?” one of them asks.
“Um. I don’t know,” I say after a long pause, trying to look presidential.
“No further questions,” she counters, immediately.
Kasi Pittser was one of the many prosecutors to put me in the hot seat on the stand. She says she wants to be an attorney when she grows up.
“Because I’ve always been really good at arguing with people. I was really excited to play this role. I was ready to kick some butt,” she says. “It felt really good. I was really proud of myself. I’m going to go call my mom right now.”
Gagner, the students’ teacher, says the students have to research their own roles and are not following a script. Teaching this part of American history as a trial, she says, requires the students to not just memorize the information, but to apply it — to actually know what they’re talking about.
“The lawyers are creating their own questions,” Gagner says. “The witnesses are looking at the biographies of the people they’re playing and pulling out the pertinent information that will determine the outcome of the trial.”
And the students are learning a thing or two about the American legal system, in addition to the Indian Removal Act. They’re expected to follow the procedures of a trial, and to exercise courtroom decorum.
Of course, one judge did have to try his entrance again after high-fiving a defense attorney on the way to the bench, and another lawyer was excused from court after a particularly robust belch. But all of them presented passionate, logical, well-researched arguments on both sides.
“And it’s so appropriate at this age level, because they realize things aren’t just black and white,” Gagner says.
And that leads to a serious point: During the particular incident these students are studying, some 15,000 Cherokee were forced to leave Georgia. More than 4,000 died along the way. Saying it was a brutal experience and that conditions were difficult is, at best, an understatement. Gagner says her students are having fun with the trial, but that they definitely understand the gravity of what happened.
“With all of the situations that we’ve looked at with U.S. history, or any people’s histories, there are always those really difficult, horrendous situations of how people treat each other,” Gagner says. “The students also, earlier in the year, in their language arts class, studied the Holocaust. So, they did have background information on human atrocities that they did apply to this court case as well.”
In all, five classes put me on trial as Andrew Jackson. Three of the juries acquitted Jackson, arguing that he shouldn’t be blamed for events that happened during Martin Van Buren’s term. Two classes convicted him.
Huge cheers erupted in most classes from the victorious side, as other students gasped in disbelief. Who says history is boring?
Organizers say over 400 Sitkans have taken the survey online, or on paper at the library, but they’d like to get to 600 or more.
The goal is to understand how prepared Sitkans are to face rising food prices, or to ride out an emergency like last January’s earthquake and tsunami.
The magnitude 7.5 earthquake that rocked Southeast Alaska on January 4 did not produce coastal flooding anywhere near the scale of the Japanese tsunami the previous year.
But you have to admit, for about 45-minutes many of us wondered if this finally was the big one.
It wasn’t, but Lisa Sadleir-Hart says we should be thinking now about the next one.
“Just like you think about electricity in this town, you should also be thinking about food.”
Sadleir-Hart sits on the Food Security task force, which was formed at last fall’s Community Health Summit.
Before the earthquake, it was primarily about the economics of the food supply. According to the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service’s quarterly food cost survey, food prices in Sitka rose 44-percent between 2006 and 2011.
Now, Sadleir-Hart says the task force is interested in a more three-dimensional picture of food in Sitka.
“It’s going to give us a sense of what’s going on, on multiple levels. One is: How food-secure are households? Are people struggling with these increased food prices that we’re seeing in our community? Are people out gathering and harvesting the foods that are available to us locally? Whether that’s seafood, or game, or the plants and berries that are around here. So how much food do people have on store? We had that big scare back in January, and it was an awakening to many of us that we are not fully prepared.”
Take the Sitka Food Security Survey online, or fill out a hard copy at Kettleson Library.
The survey takes about 10-minutes to complete, but Sadleir-Hart says the data collected will be the cornerstone of developing food policy in Sitka.
Some of that policy may involve warehousing more of our regular groceries above sea level. Some of it may be creating a culture of personal preparedness.
“You know, we are a tsunami-ready community. I guess I would challenge people: Are you a tsunami-ready household? Really, we’ve got to be thinking about having enough food for at least seven days. For some of us, that’s not a problem. To be able to add those extra stores and have them in storage. Folks that are living in a small apartment might not be able to accommodate that, might need to find someone with a larger household to hold on to some of that for them. We also know that there are a significant number of households that are struggling financially — they may also not be able to provide for themselves. So it’s something we need to be thinking about on a larger scale.”
Sadleir-Hart says the task force would like another few hundred Sitkans to take the survey. This November — when everyone’s mind is already on food — the task force will plan a “Food Summit” to present the data, and develop action steps.
Sadleir-Hart is a public health nutritionist, and a registered dietician, and she practices what she preaches. Her own lawn is now a garden, and what her family can’t eat she shares with others at the local farmers market.
She thinks the link between public health and food policy has been neglected too long.
“I’ve been very concerned about our food system, in the United States, the state of Alaska, and in our community. It’s become very apparent to me that we don’t have a sustainable food system.
Learn more about the Sitka Community Food Assessment on Facebook.
And now for some breaking news. Record-breaking, that is.
Nearly 2,000 people turned out in Ketchikan Saturday afternoon to break the Guinness World Record for the largest rainboot race.
According to official U.S. Census records, Ketchikan’s population is just shy of 13,800 people. That’s the whole borough, not just the city. A couple hundred at a time will get together for plays or concerts, but it’s very rare – perhaps unprecedented in the community’s history – for nearly 2,000 people in Ketchikan to congregate in one place, at one time for a single purpose.
But, on a beautiful afternoon with just a sprinkling of rain to get people in the proper mood before the clouds lifted, it happened. A sea of people, all wearing rainboots, gathered, mingled, talked, laughed, sang and finally walked – a few ran – to break a record.
The previous record for what’s officially known as the largest Wellington boot race was held by the British county of Lincolnshire, which is about a two-hour drive from London. It’s known for its attractive coastlines, Lincoln Castle, its local recipe for stuffed chine – a brined pork dish – and, until recently, its world record.
That county broke the record in 2009, when 1,366 people marched a mile in their Wellies. Ketchikan’s race more than met that challenge. The number announced after the race, while not confirmed yet by Guinness, was 1,976.
As the crowd gathered at the starting line, the city’s mayor stood by, ready to kick off the race.
When asked how he was talked into participating, Lew Williams III answered, “They gave me a gun. “
It’s been said, and evidence seems to prove, that Ketchikan residents will use any excuse to dress in costume. So it seemed natural for a few superheroes to find their way into the crowd.
“We are breaking a world record, right?” said Tiffany Pickrell, dressed in a Wonder Woman costume. “And that’s something Wonder Woman does every day.”
And a couple of ducks — more specifically, Rotary members dressed like ducks to promote their raffle drive.
Adding to the festive atmosphere, a trumpet serenaded walkers at the halfway mark.
It wasn’t just local folks walking in the race. People came from neighboring islands to help break the record, and some came from much farther. Femke Boersma and Kelli Breemer are here from the Netherlands, visiting a friend.
Boersma said it was good timing.
“We were very excited that the race was during our time here,” she said. “We’re here for six days, and we feel like we traveled all the way from our own rainy country to help set this record.”
The two had to borrow rainboots for the race, and they say they’re impressed with the ubiquitous ExtraTufs boots that many local residents wear. However, they won’t be taking a pair back to Holland.
At the end of the short trek along Ketchikan’s Third Avenue, volunteers collected wristbands, proving that each participant officially completed the race. The bands, along with other evidence, will be shipped to Guinness headquarters in New York for confirmation of Ketchikan’s accomplishment.
But we know we did it.
Kalvin Traudt of the Tongass Community Foods Alliance and KRBD’s Deb Turnbull were the guests on a call in show about square foot gardening. You can listen to Monday’s discussion here. SquareFoot
The next call-in show is scheduled for Monday, June 3rd, beginning at 8:20 am. The topic? Composting.
Be ready to call in that morning with your questions: 225-9655 or 1-800-557-5723. Or email your questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This will be the second in a series of call-in shows focusing on locally grown, sustainable produce and animal husbandry.
ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s Pavlof Volcano sent ash and steam skyward Sunday but not enough to raise the aviation threat for international air carriers.
A satellite at 12:40 a.m. measured an ash cloud at 19,500 feet, just below the 20,000-foot threshold considered to be a major threat to trans-continental aircraft. The aviation warming level remained at code orange, a step below red, the highest of the four levels, said geologist Kristi Wallace of the Alaska Volcano Observatory.
KODIAK — Students at Kodiak Middle School raised $1,000 to give electricity to a school in Mali, west Africa.
The partnership between KMS and the middle school in Dielibougou, Mali began after Kodiak resident Heather Preece brought a longtime friend Mahim Toure from Mali to Kodiak last year. During his one-month Kodiak stay, Toure shared his culture with the people of Kodiak and gave presentations in classrooms and to the community at large.
ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Coast Guard will kick off hearings Monday on how a Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill barge used for Arctic Ocean exploratory drilling ended up aground off a remote Alaska island.
The Kulluk was under tow and bound from the Aleutian Islands’ Dutch Harbor to a Seattle shipyard when it ran into rough Gulf of Alaska water. It broke from its towing vessel, and after four days of futile attempted hookups, ran aground New Year’s Eve in shallow water off Sitkalidak Island, near Kodiak Island.
CHUGIAK — Doña Mahurin has an iron-grip handshake forged by years as a civilian firefighter and medic on the U.S. Army’s Fort Richardson. But those years of toil also took a toll on Mahurin’s back, and the Chugiak retiree now has a difficult time with household chores like cooking dinner.
“I can’t stand there long enough to cook,” said Mahurin, gesturing to the kitchen area in the Chugiak apartment she shares with her husband.
KENAI — A Nikiski Middle-High School student has been recognized as one of the nation’s top scholars and will be honored with a medallion for her accomplishments in Washington, D.C, in June.
Annaleah Ernst is one of141 high school seniors from across thecountry to be named a 2013 U.S. Presidential Scholar.
They have a long track record in the lower 48, for the moment they’re a new idea in Sitka.
The Sitka Community Development Corporation would like to change that. Board members and volunteers have launched a campaign to build awareness about Community Land Trusts, and to explain why they think CLT’s are a good fit for Sitka.
In part two of our series on this topic, KCAW’s Robert Woolsey talks with SCDC volunteer Cleo Brylinsky about how someone sets up a Community Land Trust.
It sounds obvious, but without it, your land trust is going nowhere.
“You need land. You can get land that is donated to the land trust because maybe someone believes in it and donates the land. A community or municipality can put land in a land trust.”
Brylinski says there are other mechanisms as well. In Juneau, where a CLT owns a dozen properties, several were purchased through a federal program that buys up repossessed homes for conversion to a CLT or other affordability program.
As important as the land is a dedicated board. Brylinski is not on the board of the SCDC, but she attends many of their meetings. She feels the commitment is there. The challenge is to create an organization that can endure.
“You know you’re talking about developing a place for people to live. Part of the land trust involves having a lease with the homeowner, and it’s a 99-year lease. So you want to set up a framework that supports something that’s going to last a long time.”
The basic idea in a Community Land Trust is that buyers purchase only their homes. The land under the buildings is held in perpetuity by the trust. In Juneau, those dozen properties in the CLT are sprinkled around town. That’s what Brylinski envisions for Sitka.
“In my mind, this isn’t about creating a low-income housing tract. It’s about providing affordable housing to not just low-income people, but even median-income people. There’s a need in this town for median-income folks to be able to find affordable housing.”
Although Sitkans probably agree on the need, there’s been a difference of opinion on the method. There’s been some resistance to attempts to control the market; other people have concerns over creating a costly management organization.
Again, this is not what Brylinski anticipates in Sitka.
“I don’t picture this as being a really big thing, and it certainly would be a slowly-developing thing. The only income stream that I hear about that a CLT would have is the monthly lease that is coming in from the properties.”
And she says CLTs don’t necessarily depress the market values of the neighborhoods where they’re located. Value and affordability are treated separately in a Community Land Trust.
“The house is still valuable, but you’re putting a limit on the amount of appreciation that the homeowner can realize at the time of sale, so that the new buyer comes in at a lower price.”
But if, over time, a CLT creates a certain number of homes available at below-market rates, wouldn’t that have an effect on the overall market in Sitka?
“I don’t think that there’d be enough CLT homes to do that. I don’t think they’re going to turn over like popcorn. It’ll be invisible — that’s what I think. There’ll will be a certain number of CLT homes that it has the potential to create homeowners that are prepared to buy those market rate homes because they have something more to spend.”
Brylinski says that a Community Land Trust can’t be put together overnight. Acquiring the land and creating a management structure could take one or two years.
“Introduction to Mining Occupations and Operatings” students had an opportunity to see a mine firsthand in March, when the Southeast Alaska cohort of the University of Alaska Southeast class for high school seniors toured the Coeur Alaska Kensington Gold Mine.
Alaska’s remote Pavlof Volcano was shooting lava hundreds of feet into the air, but its ash plume was thinning Saturday and no longer making it dangerous for airplanes to fly nearby.
A narrow ash plume extends a couple hundred miles southeast from the volcano, which is 625 miles southwest of Anchorage, said Geologist Chris Waythomas of the Alaska Volcano Observatory.
The eruption that began Monday seemed to be slowing on Saturday, but Waythomas said that could change at any time.
“Things could ramp up quickly,” he said.
KODIAK — Kodiak postmaster William Kersch will soon call a new island home.
Next month he and his family will leave the Emerald Isle for Puerto Rico, where he will take over as postmaster of a US Postal Service office in Cabo Rojo on the southwest corner of the island.
Kersch has served as the postmaster in Kodiak for about seven years. This new job is a promotion and will give him a chance to serve a larger community of around 50,000 people.
KETCHIKAN — After 34 years of working at Ketchikan’s Gateway Center for Human Services, including 10 years as medical director, Wandal William Winn is calling it a day.