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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — An aggressive cow moose was fatally shot last week at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, prompting concerns that two calves seen in the area since then could attract bears to the park’s busy entrance, a park biologist said Monday.
A park visitor shot the moose that he said charged at his group, which included two young children. A ranger then fatally shot the wounded animal about 200 yards from the park visitor center. Someone who salvaged the moose said the animal was lactating, National Park Service officials said.
Note: This story has been corrected. Samples taken during possible exploration of Sitka’s mining potential would be tested at an independent lab, not at Avalon’s Fairbanks offices.
The Sitka Economic Development Association, or SEDA, wants to find out if Sitka is a good place to mine for gold.
SEDA is expected to ask the Assembly on Tuesday for more than $72,000 from the Southeast Economic Development Fund. It would use the money to pay for a geologic survey of along eight miles of road from Sawmill Cove to Green Lake.
Avalon Development, based in Fairbanks, would send geologists to Sitka for about a week. They would collect samples for lab analysis. What Avalon learns from those samples would become public after the work is completed.
“We think there might be gold mining or mining available here. We’re not positive. This will take us down that step for us to determine that,” said Garry White, SEDA’s executive director. “At the same time, it’s going to be a barometer to see where people lie to determine if having this type of industry and the benefits that come with it is acceptable to the community or not.”
At SEDA’s economic forum back in April, attendees voted on mining as one of the top ways to improve Sitka’s economy. White says if the development comes to pass, there are potential benefits for the community.
“The two mines in Juneau pay $2.7 million in property tax to that community,” White said. “That helps our schools, that helps us as a community overall — a lot of really high paying jobs. That’s kind of the mission of SEDA, to bring family wage jobs and investment to town, and we’re kind of investigating it.”
Not everyone is so sure it’s a good idea.
“I don’t know if this is the best use of the city’s economic development fund,” said Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society. “There’s a long history of mining claims in Silver Bay that have been dubious in the past. Historically, they’re known as being scams.”
Gold mining had its heyday in Sitka starting in about the 1870s. But as the 20th century approached, the industry faltered. In one case, a mine manager sent out prospectors to find new mines to feed the Sitka mill. One of those prospectors was named Joseph Juneau and, as his last name might suggest, instead of bringing business back to Sitka, he put a different Alaska city on the map.
Meanwhile, back in Sitka, developers were claiming high-value veins of gold, but they were basing those claims on samples purposely loaded with valuable ore. A report drawn up by Avalon in April 2012 documents the historical infamy — and malfeasance — of Sitka’s early prospectors. But it also says while there’s no guarantee Sitka will hold significant deposits, there’s nothing ruling it out either, and that it’s worth a look.
Thoms says the Sitka Conservation Society has concerns about the environmental impact of mining, but mostly, he’s skeptical the city needs to be involved at all.
“If anyone was really interested in mineral potential at Silver Bay, that company would pay for the exploration themselves,” he said. “Why should the city be paying for mineral exploration? The free market will find that with the high prices for gold and ore. They’d figure that out pretty quickly.”
Which is the next question: If there is gold to be mined here, why hasn’t someone done so already? The Avalon study from 2012 blames a number of factors, including regulatory, environmental and political fights in the 1980s and 1990s that turned the industry off to Southeast Alaska.
The report also says SEDA should measure local support or opposition toward gold mining before proceeding with exploration. White says there’s plenty of time to take the region’s temperature.
“The average time before someone starts to where we’re starting today, to operating a mine, is well over 15 years,” he said. “We have to take a step somewhere. This is the first step.”
Avalon and SEDA present the plan to the Sitka Assembly at a 5 p.m. work session on Tuesday night. That’s followed at 6 p.m. by the regular meeting, where its request for funding will be heard. Raven Radio will provide live coverage of the meeting, beginning at 6 p.m.
A group of scientists is calling on Congress to increase protection for 77 streams on Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The effort is called “Tongass 77” and recommends more restrictive land-use designations on nearly two million acres of productive watersheds. A panel representing the scientists held a teleconference on Monday
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The coalition of scientists is seeking what’s called a land use designation two, or LUD-II, the most restrictive category on the Tongass besides a wilderness designation, for the 77 fish streams.
“Our interest in the land use designation two, which was established in 1990 under the Tongass Timber Reform Act, is to allow a variety of uses but particularly to protect these very important salmon producing watersheds from roads and clear-cut logging that have potentially very long-term impacts on salmon,” explained John Schoen , science advisor emeritus with Audubon Alaska, explained. “So we envision this protection not as a very strict wilderness designation but a broader designation that really focuses on the conservation of fish and wildlife.”
Audobon Alaska, Trout Unlimited, and 230 individual scientists sent a letter to Congress seeking the change in land use. Jack Williams, senior scientist with Trout Unlimited, said the streams needed more than the 100-foot buffer strips allowed under existing federal management rules. “With the existing rainfall, steep slopes that a lot of these drainages have and experience, the hundred feet just isn’t adequate to really protect these streams, especially if we have timber harvest, road building, those kinds of things, Williams said. “So it’s really this watershed scale to protect these best remaining areas, it just does make the most sense.”
The coalition of scientists identified 77 streams as the most valuable unprotected watersheds on the forest. They argued that salmon should be the top priority for managing Tongass lands.
Heather Hardcastle, a gillnetter who works for Trout Unlimited, said Southeast Alaska and the Tongass had been the most lucrative salmon region in the state for the past two years. She said the health of salmon streams was an important part of that success. “We still have the opportunity in this region to safeguard those breadbaskets, if you will, or those nurseries for our salmon,” Hardcastle said. “And its been a real honor in the last three years to reach out to commercial fishermen like my family and begin to recognize that there really is a concern out there among all of us that we need to shore up this habitat.”
The group said the watersheds face threats from logging, road building, mining, climate change, hydro electric development and proposed land exchanges and they hope the proposal will be picked up and supported by members of Congress.
Wayne Owen, the director of wildlife, fisheries and watersheds for the Forest Service in Alaska, said the Tongass National Forest is currently reviewing its land management plan. He said the agency welcomes the interest and will take the Tongass 77 proposal into consideration. “The watersheds are in excellent condition,” Owen said. “We feel as though there are adequate protections for salmon in all those streams. That said, the land use designations for the various watersheds that are the Tongass 77 vary from essentially wilderness now to LUDS (land use designations) that are in active timber management.”
Loss of timber management areas is not a popular idea with timber industry. Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, calledthe proposal unnecessary and said many of the watersheds listed have no development planned. “There’s buffer strips required on all streams and the Forest Service manages even larger buffer strips than the law requires on many of the streams,” Graham said. “Salmon populations have more than doubled since we started logging here 50-60 years ago so it’s totally unnecessary. What we really need to focus on is restoring a timber supply and timber jobs.”
One member of Alaska’s Congressional delegation has little interest in the Tongass 77 proposal. Congressmen Don Young called it a fundraising tool and said it is “hardly legitimate public policy with any chance of seeing the light of day in Congress while I’m here.”
Meanwhile, Alaska Senator Mark Begich said he’s looking at the proposal and how it fits with another bill to convey some Tongass lands to the Sealaska Regional Native Corporation. “You know this one their point is a good point is you wanna preserve some of these areas, these watersheds for long-term benefit to our fisheries and to the habitat that’s in that region,” Begich said. “So we’re looking at it, we haven’t made any decisions on it but we’re now looking at it as we now know Sealaska is moving forward. They’ve done a lot of work. We’re talking to them about, is it 77, is it 25, is it 92? I don’t know exactly how they got to that number. I know they thought those were the watersheds they thought were most at risk and should be protected. So we’re now talking about how does this fit in with the Sealaska and what does that do to your numbers?”
The 77 watersheds are scattered around Southeast, from Yakutat to the southern end of Prince of Wales Island.
(Rosemarie Alexander at KTOO in Juneau contributed to this report)
The year-long building process for Petersburg’s new library is finally coming to a close, and the building looks to be ready to open on September 3rd. Robbie Feinberg stopped by the site to get an update on the project from onsite construction administrator Dan LaForce.
LaForce says construction of the building is on time and should be completed within the next few months. Currently, the exterior is finished. Windows have been installed. Bathroom tiles and many of the electrical wires have been added, and the crew has almost finished painting many of the walls. LaForce says says the $3.9 million construction project is actually under budget, with only a few change orders required.
As of now, LaForce says that there’s still a substantial amount of work left on the project. He estimates that about 90 percent of the painting inside the library is finished, but work is still left. And he syas the contracting crew still needs to install much of the electrical wiring for the building, and many of the lights and ceiling tiles need to be added, as well. In addition, the crew will also be adding the floor coverings, shelves and cabinets in the near future. But even with that work ahead, LaForce is confident that construction will be finished in time for the library’s September 3rd opening.
A Ketchikan jury found 30-year-old William Buxton guilty of first-degree murder Monday morning, less than two hours after resuming deliberations following a break over the weekend.
The jury had spent about five hours deliberating on Friday following closing statements from the prosecution and defense. They didn’t reach a unanimous decision by close of day Friday, so the judge sent them home for the weekend, with orders to not talk about the trial with anyone.
They gathered back in the jury room at about 9 a.m. Monday, and within about 90 minutes, were able to reach a verdict.
After it was announced that the jury was done deliberating, it took a little while for the judge, attorneys and defendant to gather in court. Once they all were there, the jury was brought in, and the foreperson handed over the verdict form.
Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens then read the verdict aloud: “In the case captioned State of Alaska versus William Buxton, we the jury find the defendant William Buxton guilty of the offense of murder in the first degree as charged in the indictment, dated today and signed by the foreperson.”
Buxton was charged with first-degree murder for the death his aunt, Leona Meely, who was killed when an early morning argument over cigarettes escalated into a brutal killing. District Attorney Steve West said that Buxton stabbed Meely multiple times in the torso, slit her throat and finally stabbed her in the neck.
The defense didn’t argue with any of those claims. Instead, attorney Sam McQuerry asked the jury to consider Buxton’s state of mind, and whether he could have intended to kill his aunt.
Several witnesses testified that immediately after the killing, Buxton talked about shadows only he could see, said he was one of the four horsemen, and that he was concerned about a “globe” in the hallway.
The defense was not claiming insanity, however, which was made clear to the jury in its written instructions.
After the jury was excused from duty, Stephens ordered a presentence investigation and report, which is standard practice for felony convictions. He set a sentencing hearing for 9 a.m. Sept. 6th in Ketchikan Superior Court.
Stephens also lifted an order prohibiting Buxton from contacting his mother, who had been a key witness in the trial.
KRBD’s news intern, Marco Torres, contributed to this report.
A smaller, stopgap Sealaska land bill is on the back burner – at least for now.
But the full measure is scheduled for markup during a congressional hearing this week.
Representative Don Young’s main legislation would convey about 70,000 acres of Tongass National Forest timberlands to Sealaska.
His smaller bill would turn over only a 20th of that acreage. But it calls for a faster-than-usual transfer. Sealaska has said it would provide enough timber to keep its logging business going.
Spokesman Michael Anderson says Young wants to focus on the larger legislation.
“We have the smaller bill waiting in the wings in case there’s any sort of hang-up with the larger one as the process goes forward. The region and industry need to be sustained in the short term. So we’re looking at every possible viable option at this point,” Anderson says.
The larger Sealaska measure is one of 14 land bills before the House Committee on Natural Resources, which meets Wednesday.
The shorter measure is not scheduled for that hearing.
The Senate is also expected to mark up its version of the Sealaska lands legislation soon.
Robert Dillon, spokesman for sponsor Lisa Murkowski, says it’s scheduled for June 18th before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
But he says that’s tentative.
“The bill isn’t complete yet. And also there are a number of other bills that other senators on the committee, including Chairman (Ron) Wyden, want to mark up during that session that aren’t ready yet either,” Dillon says.
That measure is cosponsored by Senator Mark Begich.
All the bills are controversial.
Some environmental groups say they would badly damage fish and wildlife habitat. Small Prince of Wales Island-area communities say it would devastate the landscape and threaten hunting and fishing. And several sportsmen’s groups say it would limit access to popular areas.
The smaller House bill is H.R. 1306. The larger one is H.R. 740. The Senate bill is S. 340.
Timothy Forbes and his 44.6-pound Chinook held the lead through the final weekend of the Ketchikan King Salmon Derby, and won the 66th annual competition.
Following closely in second place is Martin Murr, who turned in a 43.4-pound fish Sunday at Bar Harbor. Murr knocked William Pattison’s 41-pounder into third position.
The prize this year for turning in the largest king salmon includes $10,000 cash.
In the youth division, Brendon Nix held the first-place spot that he gained the first day of
the derby. He turned in his 27.4-pound fish at Mountain Point on May 25th. In second place is Samantha Zink, who clinched that prize with a 26.8-pounder turned in Sunday at Bar Harbor. And just behind her in third place is Ava Elerding, with a 26.6-pound king, caught June 1st.
The youth first-place prize package includes cash, plus fishing and camping gear.
In addition to the top prizes, the derby offers many other awards in a variety of categories. The derby awards ceremony is set for 6:30 p.m. June 21st at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.
For more details, visit the derby website at http://ketchikankingsalmonderby.com/
A 34-year-old Ketchikan man faces charges of arson and assault after allegedly setting fire to a home near Mile 15 North Tongass Highway Friday evening.
According to Alaska State Troopers, Scot Bartholomew allegedly assaulted a woman who lived at the home, causing minor injuries. She left the house, and Troopers say that’s when Bartholomew set fire to it.
The home was engulfed with flames, and Troopers say the state Fire Marshal is investigating. Bartholomew was found near the home Friday night, and Troopers charged him with first-degree arson, third-degree assault, and three counts of fourth-degree assault.
Bartholomew was arraigned Saturday morning. His next court appearance is 1 p.m. Tuesday in Ketchikan District Court.
Seiner Troy Newark mends his net in preparation for the upcoming salmon season. Seiners, trollers, and gillnetters are already taking turns in Sitka Sound in various pre-season hatchery openings. The main event for most salmon fishermen happens in July and beyond. Seiners will land millions of pink salmon — aka “humpies” — by summer’s end. Read an overview of commercial fishing in Southeast by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.
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Sampson Tug & Barge planning a return to SE market. Sen. Lisa Murkowski breaks silence on former staffer’s new role as lobbyist. Sitka author brings childhood superhero to life in novel Anstice.
SITKA — Federal officials say fish populations appear to be unharmed by a massive landslide near Sitka last month.
Two people staying at a recreational cabin barely escaped with their lives when the slide came down May 12.
U.S. Forest Service officials say the sockeye run probably wasn’t affected when the landslide slammed into Redoubt Lake, KCAW reported.
The subsistence fishery will take place normally. Sockeye begin returning to the lake around July 4.
Subsistence dipnetters get a chance at the fish in the lake’s outlet stream.
SELDOVIA — The Seldovia of today is a quiet, remote Alaska community of fewer than 300 residents.There was a time, however, when Seldovia was anything but quiet.
JUNEAU — The next statewide election is more than a year away, but candidates are already lining up for the top races — U.S Senate, U.S. House, governor, lieutenant governor — hoping to build name recognition and campaign accounts that could help boost their chances.
FAIRBANKS — The company that designed a new fish hatchery in Fairbanks has agreed to pay $2.9 million to settle the state’s claims over alleged flaws.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that as part of the settlement reached in late May, the company, CH2M Hill Inc., also agreed to swallow as much as $2 million worth of extra work it said it performed on the hatchery.
KETCHIKAN — An argument over cigarettes between a Metlakatla man and his aunt escalated into a stabbing that killed the woman, according to testimony from the man’s mother.
Marge Buxton testified in the trial of William Buxton, who is charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 29 death of Leona Meely, 67, at the home all three shared.
Metlakatla is a community of nearly 1,500 on Annette Island, near the tip of the Alaska Panhandle.
KODIAK — Bo Sloan experienced the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge as a hunter before he became its boss.
After he was selected for a bear hunt, he spent eight days hunting and fishing in early May.
“My first introduction to Kodiak was as Bo Sloan, a private citizen on a bear hunt,” he said. “I came here as a hunter and fisherman before I came here as an employee.”
Although he didn’t get a bear, he received a visitor-level view of the 3,110 square miles he now governs.
FAIRBANKS — Public meetings have been scheduled to review the impact of transferring the F-16 fighter jet squadron from Fairbanks to Anchorage.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports meetings are planned June 19 in Fairbanks and June 20 in North Pole to listen to feedback from community members.
A draft Environmental Impact Study released May 31 by the U.S. Air Force recommends moving forward with a proposal to transfer the fighter jet squadron at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
FAIRBANKS — The adoption Saturday of 21 hamsters and guinea pigs reflects a troubling trend of animal abandonment at Alaska transfer sites, sometimes in frigid winter temperatures.
The animals that have been dropped off before include cats, dogs, birds, lizards and turtles.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the hamsters and guinea pigs were dropped off by an unnamed good Samaritan who said he found the animals at one of the North Pole transfer sites.
ANCHORAGE — Lawmakers are planning to revamp and expand their cramped offices in downtown Anchorage.
The Legislative Council, a joint committee of the House and Senate, voted Friday to let its chairman, Republican Rep. Mike Hawker, begin negotiating a deal with the landlord of the building that houses the offices, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Hawker says the six-story building is dilapidated. There’s only one big room for hearings, and the building is cold in the winter and hot in the summer.