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Southeast Alaska News

Miss Teen Alaska 2014 goes for national crown

Sun, 2014-07-06 00:12

FAIRBANKS — A West Valley High School junior is in Washington, D.C., this week competing in the Miss Teen United States pageant.

Sydneylynn Graessle, 16, represents the state of Alaska in her role as Miss Teen Alaska United States 2014.

“It’s very exciting,” said her mother Lisa Gentry. “She’s a pretty organized young lady, so she makes lists every day of what she needs to accomplish and what things she still needs to get, and who she needs to talk to.”

“She gets it all done,” Gentry said.

read more

Flooding threat tips to southeast Alaska

Sun, 2014-07-06 00:12

FAIRBANKS — Nervous Fairbanks residents watched the heaviest rain in more than 40 years send rivers rising, but new flood threats emerged in southeast Alaska.

The Skagway Police Department issued a moderate flood warning for the Taiya River, and says the river crested Saturday at 18 feet. The National Park Service closed Chilkoot Trail for 24 hours and area campgrounds were expected to be affected.

In Fairbanks, Goldstream Creek flooded late Thursday night, rising from a trickle to six feet in 24 hours, the Daily News-Miner reported.

read more

Scientists use CSI-style tests to count Alaska wolf packs

Sun, 2014-07-06 00:11

ANCHORAGE — Wedged in a floatplane buzzing low above Prince of Wales Island, scientists sometimes spot the wolves after a good, long rain.

“If it’s a nice sunny day they will be out in the muskegs sunning themselves, like a dog would,” said Brian Logan, a biologist who studies gray wolves for the U.S. Forest Service.

read more

Rain, lack of sun a problem for Fairbanks growers

Sun, 2014-07-06 00:11

FAIRBANKS — Extensive rains and a lack of heat and sunshine have made for a weak growing season, farmers in the Fairbanks area said.

Record rainfalls during the past two weeks have saturated crops and stunted plant growth, the farmers said. More than 6 1/2 inches of rain has fallen in Fairbanks since June 18.

“It’s one of our worst seasons ever,” said Mike Emers of Rosie Creek Farm. “Most of the crops are just sitting there, not growing at all.”

read more

Sitka’s Fourth festivities

Fri, 2014-07-04 22:59

Sitka Fire Department v. Coast Guard water fight (KCAW/photo by Greta Mart)

Sitkans celebrated their independent spirit on Friday with another fabulous town-wide Fourth of July party. KCAW’s Greta Mart files this audio postcard.



Begich weighs in on Hobby Lobby, Iraq

Fri, 2014-07-04 00:14

Alaska’s democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is not one to hold back strong opinions, and he is adamant about his opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case.

The senator running for re-election this fall said the landmark ruling paves the way for more challenges that go deeper than the Hobby Lobby case.

“It opens up the whole debate on reproductive rights and choice,” Begich said, later adding, “As a woman or man that’s concerned about reproductive rights you should be concerned with this ruling.”

read more

VA official: Recruitment a challenge in Alaska

Fri, 2014-07-04 00:14

JUNEAU — The chief of staff for the Alaska Veterans Affairs Health Care System said Thursday that recruitment of doctors and nurses is one of the biggest challenges the system faces.

Cynthia Joe said this challenge isn’t exclusive to the VA in Alaska. But Alaska has no medical school, and while there are nursing programs, hospitals and clinics are often trying to pull from the same pool of candidates.

read more

Rainfall nearly sets records in Interior

Fri, 2014-07-04 00:07

FAIRBANKS — Rain this week in Interior Alaska has fallen in near record amounts, weather officials said.

The National Weather Service reported 3.31 inches of rain fell from Tuesday to mid-day Wednesday, making it the third wettest two-day period in 102 years of record keeping in Fairbanks, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

“To get that much rain in 36 hours in Fairbanks is a big deal,” National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb.

read more

Got unwanted musk oxen? Try bear urine to ward them off

Fri, 2014-07-04 00:07

NOME — Alaska wildlife officials have turned to an unusual source in efforts to persuade a herd of musk oxen to leave this Bering Sea coastal town for good.

Bear urine.

Some suspect the large shaggy animals are seeking refuge in Nome because of brown bears, Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Tony Gorn told KNOM.

“We routinely, almost daily now, move musk ox. But then they come back,” Gorn said. “So, this is an attempt to maybe put out some type of deterrent to prevent them from coming in so close to town.”

read more

Shaktoolik building berm to guard against erosion

Fri, 2014-07-04 00:06

NOME — A small Alaska community at risk of erosion is taking matters into its own hands, building a coastal berm as a line of defense against fall storm surges.

Residents of Shaktoolik, which is on the east shore of Norton Sound, about 125 miles east of Nome, say that while governmental reports over the years have found the community at risk of erosion, they haven’t received the kind of funding needed to relocate or otherwise fight the problem.

read more

Alaska official testifies in voting rights trial

Fri, 2014-07-04 00:06

ANCHORAGE — A top Alaska elections official testifying in a federal Native voting rights trial disputed claims that villages with sizable populations of limited English speakers vote in lower proportions than elsewhere in the state.

read more

City water treatment adjustment moves forward

Thu, 2014-07-03 22:11

In a split vote Thursday night, the Ketchikan City Council narrowly approved a motion to move forward with design work to adjust the city’s water treatment system. The $75,000 contract with CH2M-Hill will bring the project to 35 percent of design, which will provide a cost estimate for completion.


Here’s the problem: The city’s source of water has a lot of organic material floating around in it. When that organic material comes in contact with the chlorine needed to kill viruses, byproducts are formed. Those byproducts are regulated by the EPA, and the city’s treated water has had too many byproducts.

So, Ketchikan put in a new system that uses chloramine – a mixture of chlorine and ammonia — and ultraviolet radiation. That takes less chlorine, which means fewer regulated byproducts. And the good news is, the city’s new water treatment system has reduced federally regulated byproducts to below allowed levels.

But, they are still too close to the threshold. And warmer weather means those levels likely will rise.

The proposed adjustment would add less chlorine at the start of the system. After the water has gone through the UV treatment, the rest of the chlorine would be added, along with ammonia.

There was a definite sense of reluctance as the City Council talked about adjusting Ketchikan’s brand-new water treatment system. But City Manager Karl Amylon said it’s a proactive step that the city should make.

“If we stop where we are now, knowing what we knew for over a year, that two-point chlorination might be necessary to supplement chloramines, to deal with things like warmer water in the summer months, it’s going to make our case that much more difficult if we’re not showing some kind of forward momentum to DEC and EPA,” he said.

Council Member Marty West said she doesn’t recall ever hearing about the need for any adjustment.

“I don’t remember there being discussion about the need for a secondary injection process,” she said. “Why didn’t we put it in the plans 10 years ago?”

Floyd Damron of CH2M-Hill said that the current design was adequate 10 years ago, but Ketchikan’s water changed.

“We don’t know exactly what is going on, but 10 years ago, your peak haloacetic acids was around 90 or 100 parts per billion,” he said. “More recently, we’ve seen those numbers at 140 or 150.”

Damron said the adjustment is simple. While he couldn’t give any firm numbers yet, he predicted that the total cost would be between $1.25 million and $2.5 million.

West asked whether the change would solve Ketchikan’s source water problem, but Amylon said no; that’s a whole different issue.

Ketchikan Lakes, which is the source of the city’s drinking water, has more than allowed levels of coliform, a problem that CH2M-Hill is looking into. If those levels remain above the federal limits, the city could be forced to build a filtration plant.

Council Member Judy Zenge said it appears inevitable that the city will have to filter.

“I agreed with chloramination, because I do believe it was the best science that we had at the time to provide cost-effective water to the community,” she said. “But as we move forward … we’re going to eventually have to have a filtration plant. My concern is that we spend all this money and it’s all for naught and we still have a problem.”

A conventional filtration plant would cost about $35 million to build, and would be more costly to operate than the current treatment system. A membrane microfiltration system likely would cost less, but that is relatively new technology that the city hasn’t yet fully explored.

Damron stressed that for every year the city avoids building a filtration plant, ratepayers save an estimated $2 million.

One concern brought up by Council Member DeAnn Karlson is with CH2M-Hill itself. The city has had a long relationship with that consulting firm, and she suggested that it might be time to look at options.

“Are there not other companies out there that do this kind of thing that we could get a second opinion from?” she said. “Or may want to provide us with a competitive quote to provide this 35 percent schematic?”

Amylon said the city can do that if the Council wants, but there are additional costs related to getting a new company up to speed on such a complex project.

Zenge later asked that a peer review of the new water project be placed on the next meeting agenda.

The $75,000 contract with CH2M-Hill was approved 4-3, with Karlson, Zenge and KJ Harris voting no.

Also on Thursday, the Council approved a list of budget cuts that City Manager Karl Amylon presented, to offset additional health insurance premium costs for non-union employees. The cuts are more than needed to pay for the premiums.

John Littlefield’s legacy: Teaching subsistence as advocacy

Thu, 2014-07-03 17:30

John Littlefield. (Family photo)

Sitkans this week will mark 40 days since the passing of John Littlefield with a traditional celebration of his life. The food will be wild, local, and plentiful — thanks in large part to his legacy. John Littlefield was a clan uncle, a father, a husband, and electrical contractor. But most of all, he was a passionate advocate for traditional subsistence rights.

Littlefield died of cancer on May 24 at age 67. KCAW’s Rachel Waldholz has more on a man who taught generations of Sitkans how to live more connected to place, heritage, and community


A celebration of life dinner for John Littlefield will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday, July 6, at ANB Founders Hall.

Roby Littlefield met her future husband in Fairbanks, when she was 19 and he was 24.

“We had a mutual friend, from Sitka and I chased him til he caught me. He didn’t know I was chasing him.”

The couple married, and she moved with him to Sitka. Except for a few years, including service in Vietnam, John Littlefield lived in Sitka his entire life — and when he died, in May, his absence could be felt throughout his hometown.

“His legacy is not one dimensional,” says Jude Pate, who was adopted into Littlefield’s Coho Clan.”His legacy is not one dimensional, it’s three dimensional, it’s living, it’s breathing through the economy, through the children, through the language — it’s incredible.

Littlefield’s friends say you see his legacy in Sitka’s fishing fleet — he chaired the board of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, or NSRAA, and helped guide the growth of the region’s hatchery system. You can see it in the subsistence rights that he fought for: identifying local foods as “customary and traditional” under state law, helping create the local area management plan that gives subsistence fishermen priority in fishing grounds closer to shore, and increasing protections for spawning herring.

But most of all, you see it in the people whom he taught to hunt and fish and harvest food.

To an outsider, this focus on food can be a little bit mystifying.

KCAW: Why was that so important to him? Why food?
Pate: Because it’s not just food! [RL/PE: Yeah] It’s not just food!
Roby Littlefield: It’s life, it’s culture, it’s what your grandfather did. It’s something more precious than just putting nutrition in your body. It’s living with the values of your ancestors, which are good values. The United States should adopt more traditional Tlingit values.

Harvesting food, sharing that food, teaching others to harvest food — in the end, it was all about connecting people to the world — to the place they live, to the food they eat, to their heritage and traditions — and, above all, to their community.

“I used to predominantly fish salmon, and John used to fish halibut all the time,” says Pete Esquiro, who ran NSRAA for many years. Littlefield was on his board. He recalls meeting Littlefield one time while getting ice at Sitka Sound Seafoods. Esquiro had caught a batch of salmon, and Littlefield was icing halibut. Littlefield asked Esquiro why he wasn’t selling any fish. Well, I have some other obligations to take care of first, Esquiro said. Why aren’t you selling any fish?

“He says well, I got just so many halibut this time, and I decided that people that I know in the community need it more than I do. And I said, well, that’s kind of the same boat I’m finding myself in, I’m not selling any fish today because I promised so many people that the next time, they were gonna get some fish. And so, we both kinda went our separate ways, and both of us came back with empty boats [ laughter] but that was John.”

Perhaps the most tangible legacy of Littlefield’s life, and his lifetime partnership with Roby, is the Dog Point Culture Camp, where families learned to fish and hunt, and kids learned wilderness survival skills and sat around a campfire at night to hear stories from elders.

Pate: Practice, day in, day out, living that life, with our children. That is legacy….
Littlefield: The fish camp, actual kids camp, started with the concept of teaching a family how to fish – so that they could teach their own kids, and their kids will teach their kids. It was an intergenerational goal.

The camp had its genesis in the 1970s, when the Sitka Native Education program, or SNEP, started up. SNEP was focused on cultural programs like dance and language, and Roby volunteered teaching food preparation — how to make seaweed, how to smoke fish.

Roby Littlefield: I started thinking, well, this is great but it’s only half the story. Because they know how to prepare it and eat it…but they don’t know how to find it, how to gather it, and how to take care of it.

Roby spoke to her family about running a summer program at the family’s camp at Dog Point, near Nakwasina Sound north of Sitka. The Littlefields ended up running the Dog Point Culture Camp for three decades, until John became too sick last year.

KCAW: And is that something you’re going to try to pick up again in the future?
Littlefield: It’s really hard to do it without him, but he would have been really proud if I picked it back up and started up again. I think it’ll happen.

Like many others, Chuck Miller learned culture and subsistence at John Littlefield’s knee.

John was a, traditionally he was a clan uncle of mine. He was the same clan as me – L’uknaxh.adi — Raven, silver salmon, or we call ourselves the Coho clan. And his Tlingit name was Nas.aaxh, and he carried that name very proudly.

Traditionally, clan uncles play a special role in their nephews’ lives, taking over training and discipline.

Miller says Littlefield embraced that role with gusto. He remembers his first successful hunting trip, as a teenager. Anxious about what was ahead, Miller asked his Uncle John for some advice on the boat ride up to Nakwasina.

“I grabbed my box of shells, and I had never really hunted before and I was really nervous, so I brought them up and asked my uncle, I said, uncle, hey, is this enough bullets. And he smiled really big and he looked at me, and he says, I don’t know. How bad a shot are you? So I learned quite a bit just from that story alone.”

Miller recently became the Youth Programs coordinator for the Sitka Tribe. He says that losing Littlefield, and others of his generation, has added urgency to the project of passing on to the next generation the things that they passed on to him.

“Things that the elders taught me, they gave it to me freely, and so I want to give it back freely, and continue in the ways of, like, my uncle John. Be the uncle. You know, hand it down. Gotta pass it on. Have to”

And that determination, too, is part of John Littlefield’s legacy.

Despite higher fees, Sitka’s ANB Harbor a welcome upgrade

Thu, 2014-07-03 16:34

Local officials hold a ribbon cutting to celebrated the completion of the ANB Harbor rebuild. (KCAW photo/Greta Mart)

Boats returned in March to the newly-rebuilt ANB Harbor in Sitka, but wasn’t until just last week that local officials cut the ribbon on the project. KCAW’s Greta Mart attended the ceremony, to learn what people thought of the finished product.



Marcus Lee of Leecraft made the new archway and sign that now marks the entrance to the marina, installed last Wednesday. He said it took him about three weeks to build.

“It’s all done with a Scotch Brite and a grinder and the colors are stained, except for the mountain, which is is stainless and it’s heat colored, with a torch,” said Lee.

In 2012, the Alaskan legislature approved up to $4.25 million in state funds to help completely rebuild Sitka’s Alaska Native Brotherhood Harbor. City staff estimate the total cost of the job was $7.5 million.

Mayor Mim McConnell was pleased with the outcome.

“ANB Harbor has been heavily used by the fishing fleet since it was built. It really really badly needed to be replaced so what’s there now is such a huge improvement over what they were putting up with for so many years,” said Mayor Mim McConnell.

ANB Harbor was built in 1956, although almost all of the docks and floats torn out over this past winter were installed in 1974, with bits and pieces updated in the 1990s. The State of Alaska deeded ANB Harbor to the City and Borough of Sitka in 1992.

Two years ago, the city’s master plan described the condition of ANB as fair to poor, with just five more years to go before it became unsafe and unusable.

“I’ve been here over 50 years and I don’t remember them ever doing any major work to the old ANB Harbor. It’s really nice, everything is brand new,” said Michael Baines, the Chairman of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. He joined Mayor McConnell, state senator Bert Stedman, and city staff for the ribbon cutting. Stedman said he was pleased with the rebuild and plans to keep working on funding local projects.

“There’s still some discussion on how we’re going to upgrade the waterfront over the next decade or so, we’re going to have a build-out down by the Centennial Building so we’re going to clean that up. So we’re not done,” said Stedman.

Besides the 92 commercial vessels moored here, the newly-built harbor will soon accommodate two float houses. Last month the Sika Assembly approved a pilot project to see if floating homes will be a workable solution for affordable housing in Sitka.

But a brand-new harbor comes with a price. Moorage for boats here is now slightly less affordable.

“I want to say thank you to my customers, we had to displace them for a number of months and they’ve been really great to work with,” said Sitka Harbormaster Stan Eliason. Eliason said fees in the new ANB Harbor are now $2.80 a foot, and will rise incrementally over the next few years.

But, as he washed down his deck, the captain of the fishing vessel Yentna said he was couldn’t be happier with his new and improved digs.

“I love the new dock…I was displaced when they tore it out and had to go wwayyyy out to the end of Eliason so yeah, I got my old spot back and the docks are higher so it’s way easier to step onto the boats…they are pretty nice,” the captain said.

Nice, as long as you don’t need to take a shower.

“That’s the one thing that they did not improve, was the bathroom facility and unfortunately it’s just as bad as it ever was.”

The new ANB Harbor docks (KCAW photo/Greta Mart)

The newly-rebuilt ANB Harbor (KCAW photo/Greta Mart)

New Raven’s Trail opens this week

Thu, 2014-07-03 16:06

The new entrance to the Raven’s Roost Trail is located across the road from Sandy Beach Park. Photo/Brad Hunter

A new hiking and biking trail in Petersburg opened up July 1. It creates an additional half mile section of the Raven’s Trail which is a four mile hike leading up a mountain to the Raven’s Roost Cabin. The new section starts near Sandy Beach Park and connects to the old trail behind the airport runway.

The U.S. Forest Service has been coordinating the project. Brad Hunter runs the recreation branch of the Petersburg Ranger District and says the biggest difference between this new trail and the old one is the quality.

OceansAlaska funding back on Assembly agenda

Thu, 2014-07-03 15:31

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly meets Monday in regular session. Among the agenda items is a work session to discuss an ordinance that would provide a $144,000 grant to OceansAlaska.

That nonprofit, which focuses on producing seed for Alaska shellfish farmers, is having financial problems. Among those problems is misallocation of borough grant funding. At its last meeting, the Assembly allowed the manager to distribute the last $20,000 remaining in the current grant, but only at his discretion.

Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst sent a list of questions to OceansAlaska that he wanted answered before releasing the funds. They haven’t been answered yet, but he did release about $7,000 to the organization, to pay critical expenses, such as employee salaries.

OceansAlaska’s new bookkeeper, MJ Cadle, gave the borough a list of the group’s outstanding liabilities. They add up to nearly $80,000. She also informed the borough that the facility’s liability insurance expired in April and apparently hadn’t been renewed.

Also on Monday, the Assembly will consider introducing an ordinance restoring funding to the Ketchikan Public Library.

Bockhorst also is asking for Assembly direction regarding the second Ketchikan International Airport ferry.

In his report, Bockhorst writes that, because of staffing issues, the borough has not operated a second ferry this summer. Overall, he writes that it hasn’t caused a hardship to users, and the borough could save $85,000 a year by not running the second vessel.

He recommends discontinuing that service until demand increases.

The Assembly meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday in Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.

Alaska Fisheries Report

Thu, 2014-07-03 14:43

KFSK broadcasts the Alaska Fisheries Report Fridays, but due to the holiday this week the program is available on line only.

For mobile-friendly audio, click here:

Two men rescued from barge compartment

Thu, 2014-07-03 14:01

Ward Cove

Two men working in a barge docked at Pool Engineering’s Ward Cove site were rescued Thursday morning after they passed out due to low oxygen levels.

North Tongass Fire and EMS Chief Jerry Kiffer said the call came in at about 9:30 a.m., reporting that the men had gone into a confined space in the barge, and were unconscious.

“The initial crews that arrived could see the victims laying on the bottom of the barge, inside a small manhole that they used to access the void,” he said.

Kiffer said rescue crews blew fresh air into the space, but didn’t go down right away, because they didn’t know for sure what the problem was. They called in the City of Ketchikan’s hazmat team.

“Because we needed to test the air in the bottom, to make sure it wasn’t an explosive atmosphere,” he said. “The air was tested, we didn’t have any explosive atmosphere, but we found low oxygen content.”

Two emergency responders entered the space, and provided oxygen to the two men. They woke up, and eventually were able to climb out of the space with help from firefighters.

Kiffer said it’s not uncommon for spaces in barges to have low oxygen levels. Barges have many small, sealed compartments that are watertight and airtight, so that if one section springs a leak, it won’t sink the whole vessel. Kiffer described this compartment as about 12 feet deep, with a floor space of about 50 by 60 feet.

He said rust is the likely cause of the low-oxygen levels.

“Again, you have a space that is sealed up air-tight,” he said. “They’re steel barges, and they tend to rust inside. And rust is an oxidation process, by which it uses up oxygen.”

Kiffer declined to identify the two men, citing patient confidentiality. Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters also declined to provide the victims’ identities, and said the case likely will be investigated by the state department of Occupational Safety and Health.

NPS’s Historic Fourth

Thu, 2014-07-03 12:18

Anne Linkenhall, park ranger at the Sitka National Historical Park, describes all the activities planned for the Fourth of July. From 10:30 to noon at the Russian Bishop’s House , rangers dressed in period costumes will host historic and traditional games for children of all ages. Concurrently, park staff are offering a Russian Tea Service, with traditional samovars brewing black and citrus tea to go along with tea cakes. Linkenhall also explains how one of the nation’s first Fourth of July parades happened right here in Sitka in 1868.


4 Islanders exhibit opens

Thu, 2014-07-03 11:37

Petersburg artists John McCabe, Pia Reilly and Joe Viechnicki speak about their new exhibit opening Friday (July 4th) at the Main Street Gallery.  4Islanders