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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
This week, we’re going to Tuluksak, a community of almost 400 people near the Kuskokwim River. George Lamont is a resident of Tuluksak.
“I’m George Lamont and I live in Tuluksak. We’re about 30 miles away from the Kobuk Mountains. We live in a vegetated area…quite flat…about a mile and a half away from the Kuskokwim River up a river called the Tuluksak River.
Right now, there’s a possibility of another flood since 2009, I think.
The conditions are quite bad right now since the snow has been melting, we have a lot of puddles and we have no road maintenance or anything like that. We have no water and sewer. We still live off what they call a ‘honey bucket,’ and we still have to pack our own water.
Electricity is around 65 cents per kilowatt-hour. And our fuel prices, well, last time I heard, it was $10 a gallon and then it went down to $9.50 a gallon.
People mostly play bingo and most of the time there’s what they call ‘fiddling.’ And what fiddling is, is they have a band in the meeting – the group meeting – most of the people in the village go to that fiddling and plus there’s some basketball games
It’s pretty hard living out here in this remote village here.”
Salt Lake City Police Assistant Bureau Commander Bryce Johnson has been selected to head the Juneau Police Department.
City Manager Kim Kiefer announced Johnson’s hire Wednesday afternoon. He was one of three finalists for the job, who visited Juneau last month. They went through what’s known as an assessment center process, where they encountered situations like those they will deal with as chief. They were rated by criminal justice and public safety officials as well as the city manager.
Kiefer says the raters felt confident Johnson had the necessary experience and attributes to lead the 90-person department. She says he also was favored by Juneau Police Department staff.
Kiefer says Johnson was offered the position several weeks ago, but the announcement could not be made until background checks were complete.
Johnson has worked his way through the ranks at Salt Lake PD over the last 20 years, and says he is looking forward to the challenge of being a police chief in what he calls a “neat department.”
He says JPD is intriguing because of Juneau’s isolation.
“For a department that size, it has so many different things going on, from its own tactical SWAT team, its own explosive ordinance unit, its own dispatch center. Even though it’s smaller it still has all the same functions and that’s really one of the things that drew me to Juneau, because you got functions that other departments of that size just don’t have,” he said in a telephone interview with KTOO on Wednesday.
In addition to his police work, Johnson has been a Reserve Intelligence Specialist for the U. S. Naval Reserve, and taught criminal justice and law enforcement at Salt Lake City high schools. Johnson earned a bachelors’ degree in political science from the University of Utah and a Masters of Public Administration from Brigham Young University.
Johnson will be in Juneau next week to work with Chief Greg Browning, who is retiring at the end of the month. Johnson takes over the post on June 3rd.
The 57-year-old Browning came to the department 13 years ago from Amarillo, Texas, where he’d been on the police force for more than 20 years. He started in Juneau as assistant chief and took over as chief in 2006. Browning has said Juneau has been the “highlight of his career.”
JPD Assistant Chief Page Decker is also retiring at the end of the month.
After a late spring, breakup began in mid-May along the ice-clogged Yukon River, causing flooding in some Alaska villages, including in Eagle.May 17, 2013
No, that’s not meant as a cruel joke. Spring has been cool and summer warmth is slow to arrive. Still, our long days will make for good growing – soon. And if you’re behind, you can catch up.
This week on Hometown Alaska, we’ve invited garden experts to the studio mic to tell us what’s new in garden plants, culture and attitudes.
We’ll have two guests from the Alaska Permaculture Guild, a relatively young organization that links permaculture enthusiasts around the state through a blog and virtual bulletin board for members to share tips, news and successes. One goal of the show is to understand what permaculture is and how Alaskans are practicing it in their gardens.
We’ll also have well-known horticulture agent Julie Riley from the Cooperative Extension Service. Julie says she always asks new students in her CES classes what they want to learn. This year’s common answer is “I want to grow food.” Not vegetables or flowers or landscaping – food. She thinks that’s interesting, and may point to a new attitude toward the value and purpose of gardening.
So join us with your questions about what grows well in Alaska and how to do it. Learn more about permaculture, and explain to Julie what this new passion for “growing food” is all about.
In the studio
- Cindee Karns, Alaska Permaculture in Eagle River
- Leah Wagner, Alaska Permaculture in Palmer
- Julie Riley, Horticulture Agent, Cooperative Extension Service
- Alaska Permaculture, an online community
- UAF Cooperative Extension Service, home of Master Gardener classes
- Call 550-8433 (Anchorage) or 1-888-353-5752 (statewide) during the live broadcast (2:00 – 3:00pm)
- Send e-mail to email@example.com before, during or after the live broadcast (e-mails may be read on air)
- Post your comment or question below (comments may be read on air)
HOST: Kathleen McCoy
LIVE BROADCAST: Wednesday, May 22, 2013. 2:00 – 3:00 pm (Alaska time)
REPEAT BROADCAST: Wednesday, May 22, 2013. 7:00 – 8:00 pm (Alaska time)
Step by step an Alaska couple and their two children are making their way along the coast of Cook Inlet, from Seldovia, up and down Turnagain and Knik Arms, and down the west side. Reaching Anchorage, they’re connecting with you, on the next Talk of Alaska.
HOST: Steve Heimel
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 31st in King County Superior Court for a Seattle-area man convicted of the 2012 murder of 22-year-old Ashton Reyes of Juneau.
A King County jury earlier this month found Jacob Andrew Mommer guilty of first degree murder and second degree assault, while armed with a deadly weapon.
“Under Washington law we can add a firearm enhancement, which is what we did and that’s what the jury came back with on both the assault as well as the murder charge,” said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County prosecutors’ office.
Donohoe said Mommer’s sentence does not allow parole.
“His standard sentence range for both charges, which include the firearm allegations, is 357 to 443 months in prison, which is about 30 to 37 years,” he said.
Reyes was shot on Jan. 3, 2012 in a Subway parking lot at 9305 Rainier Avenue South, during what police described as a drug sale.
Court documents indicate Mommer and another individual allegedly attempted to rob Reyes and her boyfriend, Jason Rose, who were sitting in her car. Police said Rose had arranged to meet Mommer to sell him an ounce of marijuana.
Rose told police and said he testified during the trial that he and Reyes were ambushed as Mommer and the other man robbed them at gunpoint. Rose said he gave them Reyes’ purse and left the vehicle then gunfire erupted. He was struck in the buttocks as he fled across the street. Police found Reyes sprawled across the front seat of her car with a gunshot wound to her torso. She died a short time later at Harborview Medical Center.
Police said Reyes was not a participant in the crimes.
Mommer is 20 years old. He is being held on $1-million bail in the King County Jail until his sentencing, according to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Donohoe said the second man allegedly involved in the incident has not been identified and the investigation continues.
Reyes was a 2008 graduate of Juneau’s Yaakoosge’ Daakahidi Alternative High School, and daughter of Rick Reyes of Juneau and Terri Reyes of Oregon.
In November 2011, Ashton Reyes graduated from Everett Community College and was a registered dental assistant.
It’s been more than 70 years since Unalaska came under attack during World War II, but you don’t have to look hard to find the remnants. The community is littered with old gunnery installations, battered Quonset huts and bunkers – some of which are being preserved for posterity.
But there’s history, and then there’s hazard, and the shells and bombs that keep washing up on Unalaska’s shores fall somewhere in between.
Out on a quiet beach at the edge of the island, Unalaska’s shooting range is where local gun owners go for target practice.
But the team of Army and Air Force munitions experts that have converged on the range aren’t here to practice anything.
They’ve flown in just to examine a mysterious shell that may date back to World War II.
“Let’s go ahead and take a couple minutes and try to get a quick ID,” Air Force Sgt. Luke Mefford said.
He’s the head of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
The EOD team has come out to Unalaska, Adak and other Aleutian communities over the years to identify and safely destroy leftover munitions from the war.
Usually, these items get picked up beachcombers or fishermen. Even though they’ve have been swimming in salt water for decades, that doesn’t mean these they’re inert.
Army Sgt. Joe Potocki explains:
Potocki: “Some old explosives use, like, nitroglycerin which is highly sensitive. Being so old, not in the state it’s supposed to be in? You mess around with it, it could definitely go off.”
Rosenthal: “That’s scary!”
Potocki: “It is. That’s why we’re around – it’s why we’ve got a job.”
The job that brought them to Unalaska this time was an effort at historical preservation – gone wrong.
The Ounalashka Corporation runs the World War II museum. Their manager, Dave Gregory, says he was out at lunch one day when an employee of a local fish plant dropped off a donation.
“It was about – oh, what – 20 inches long, six inches at the base. And then it kind of tapered down. Kind of a greenish, dirty color I guess,” Gregory said.
Gregory is no stranger to ordnance. He says the museum does like to collect small pieces, to put in its displays. They add some color.
This shell was different, though. It was heavier and bigger than anything Gregory had seen, it didn’t seem like a good thing to keep around. So he called his friends at public safety. They took custody of the shell, and contacted the EOD team for disposal.
In Unalaska, the team is coping with miserable weather. They take turns snapping photos on the windy, snowy beach. One by one, they dart into a running fire truck for warmth while they consult munitions manuals.
Finally, Sgt. Mefford walks up. They have an ID.
“It’s an artillery round, more than likely fired from a naval ship out in the water somewhere,” Mefford said. “Either for target practice, depending on the exact time period, it may have been used against enemy actions.”
Mefford says he can’t share any more information than that, because the rest is classified.
“I can’t really give you specifics on it, just due to our disclosure rules on it,” he said.
The team wastes no time setting up the blast site.
“Are we gonna have enough antenna to get up on top of this, Scotty?,” Mefford asked.
“Yeah we should, because those caps,” Scott Rice, from the U.S. Air Force, said.
They pack the shell in a hole, and cover it with about 6 pounds of C4, a plastic explosive. They poke in some blasting caps, which are tuned into a remote control.
Once it’s set up, we’re directed to take cover several hundred yards away, behind two gravel berms. We’re waiting for the remote control to warm up, when the team asks me if I want to be the one to set off the explosives.
Rosenthal: “Can I?”
Rice: “Yeah, absolutely! It’ll be ready to go in about 30 seconds.”
Mefford: “We’re not doing it yet. We’re gonna let him set his camera up and then give him the go-ahead.”
While we wait for fire chief Abner Hoage to set up his video camera, I get some basic instructions.
Rice: “Alright, so when we get ready to fire this thing, under this cover is one fire button. You just get ready to press and hold one of them, and then press and hold the other. There will be a two second delay and the shot will go off.”
Potocki: “Do you want to tell her what she has to yell?”
Rice: “Ha, oh yeah. Before you set that off, you have to yell fire in the hole three times as loud as you can. Once forward, once off to your left, once off to your right.”
Air Force Sgt. Scott Rice and I trade. He takes my microphone and recorder, and I take his remote detonator.
Without further ado:
Rosenthal: “FIRE IN THE HOLE, FIRE IN THE HOLE, FIRE IN THE HOLE.”
Rice: “Hold it up nice and high! There you go.”
Rosenthal: “Oh whoa! That is a giant plume of smoke. Whoa. That’s a rush.”
Bits of shrapnel rain through the air – some of them even flying past the berms, carried by the high winds.
Once the dust settles, the team tells me they like to let visitors detonate the explosives when they’re working in the field.
Rosenthal: “Well, thanks for letting me do that, it was really fun.”
Rice: “Alright, we’re good to go. We can go and check it out.”
All that’s left of the shell, is a 4-foot round hole. They measure it and pack up their equipment pretty fast.
Rice: “Alright well, that’s fun.”
Mefford: “That’s Jenga.”
JBER Pilot: “I know the aftermath isn’t as exciting. There’s a hole in the ground!”
The team heads back to the Unalaska fire house for a quick debrief. I ask if any of them thought about the history of the shell before they blew it up, and they say they did.
Mefford: “It’s just neat to come across something your granddad or great-uncle or whatever might have shot 70 years ago.”
Christopher McDonald, US Army: “Probably looked a lot better, though.”
Mefford: “Yeah, probably shinier back then.”
The EOD team is pretty sure that ordnance will keep washing up in Unalaska for a while.
That’s why, when it it’s time for the team to fly back to their base in Anchorage, saying “see you later” seems like a more appropriate than saying, “goodbye.”
A new, smaller Sealaska land-selection measure faces opposition from the federal government.
The legislation would transfer 3,600 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the Southeast-based regional Native corporation.
Sealaska’s timberlands have been logged of much of their harvestable trees. Officials say the acreage will keep timber operations going.
At a Congressional hearing Thursday, U.S. Forest Service official Jim Peña objected to a requirement to transfer the land within 60 days of passage.
“These two parcels would be conveyed without the carefully negotiated replaced to special use authorizations and public access that many stakeholders view as essential,” Peña said.
Peña spoke before the House Committee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. The bill’s author, Alaska Congressman Don Young, chairs that panel.
The acreage is also part of a much larger measure that would transfer about 70,000 acres to Sealaska. (Scroll down to read earlier reports on both bills.)
That bill was also before the committee.
Young said it’s a compromise. (Read the larger bill.)
“First introduced over six years ago, this bill has undergone an extensive vetting process throughout the region. It has resulted in meaningful changes, such as providing for continued public access to lands, and modified certain lands among them,” he said.
The Forest Service’s Peña said the larger measure is much improved. But he wants further changes before the administration lends its support.
Southeast hunting guide Jimmie Rosenbruch spoke for sportsmen’s groups opposing the land transfers.
He said Sealaska’s logging will reduce access, as well as wildlife numbers.
“It’s kind of Sealaska to offer access for guides to utilize these lands for a 10-year period after their Forest Service permit expires. (But) I don’t know there will be much benefit. Having access to clearcut areas wouldn’t be worth anything. There’s no wildlife there. They are D-O-N-E … finished,” Rosenbruch said.
Last year’s version of Young’s bill passed the House, but not the Senate.
And the Senate’s latest version, sponsored by Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, has undergone more negotiation and changes.
Sealaska board member Bryon Mallott said that measure is more likely to be the final legislative vehicle.
But he prefers the House version.
“In my personal judgment, there is more equity and justice in the House bill. But I also know from long, long experience, that what the Native community can easily and passionately feel is equity and justice for others is often very hard to ultimately make possible,” Mallott said.
Young’s Sealaska bills now head to the full House Resources Committee. If either passes, it will go to the House floor for a full vote.
It would most likely be packaged with other legislation. That’s what happened last year.
Read earlier reports on the legislation:
The White House releases comparative cost information for medical procedures conducted by hospitals all over the country. Between Benghazi, the IRS misbehavior, and finally the Justice Department digging into the Associated Press phone records, the Obama Administration is awash in controversy. A story involving a 57 year-old Southwest Alaska woman, who died from too much home brew, illustrates Alaskans’ struggle with alcohol. Taking a closer look at the Obama Administration’s National Strategy for the Arctic Region. Senator Lisa Murkowski returns from a meeting of the Arctic Council in Sweden. An August 2011 plane crash west of McGrath tells a powerful, painful story of death and survival. What the state is doing to stop Medicaid fraud? Musher Jake Berkowitz is fighting to keep a sled dog alive after it mauled a child last week.
HOST: Michael Carey
- Jill Burke, Alaska Dispatch
- Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News
- Peter Granitz, Alaska Public Radio Network
KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, May 17 at 2:00 p.m. and May 18 at 6:00 p.m.
Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 18 at 5:00 p.m.
It takes all of us — families, schools, community — to help our youth succeed. Congratulations to the high school graduating Class of 2013. You are an inspiration to the Class of 2014 and beyond as we work to increase the graduation rate to 90% by the year 2020.
The Arctic Council – the association of the world’s polar countries – has agreed to grant observer status to six non-Arctic nations.
Some people fear the countries are trying to secure long-term commercial interests.
The Arctic Council will now allow China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India and Italy observer status.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski attended the biennial Arctic Council Ministerial this week in Kiruna, Sweden. She says the new observer countries will not vote on policies and agreements, but they will have a voice in negotiations.
“It allows you to be in the discussions, to help formulate the papers that will be reviews,” Murkowski said. “It is more than allowing you to sit in a room with a credential pass around your neck.”
Voting on new partnerships, like the one on oil spill prevention agreed to this week, remains in the hands of the eight polar countries.
And alongside those are six permanent participants – groups representing Arctic natives.
Charlie Ebinger directs the Energy Security Initiative at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. He says people are justifiably concerned that these new countries are using observer status as a stepping stone.
“Obviously those countries want observer status because they believe they have long term commercial interests,” Ebinger said. “The Chinese have interest in mineral deposits in Greenland, both rare earths and uranium.”
And it’s not just mining the countries are interested in. James Collins is a former ambassador to Russia. He says the Arctic is still an emerging market, and more resources will become available as climate change opens the ocean.
“There’s shipping, there’s energy, there’s resource extraction,” Collins said. “And exactly which companies are going to actively pursue those is only beginning to be defined.”
Canada takes over the chair of the Arctic Council this week. And the United States follows suit, so for the next four years, the chair will be in North American control.
Luke Coffey is a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, and he says it’s a good sign of U.S. involvement that both Secretary of State John Kerry, and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, attended the Arctic Council meetings. They are the first two Secretaries of State to do so.
But it should not stop there. He says the United States should start to consider a diplomatic post to handle Arctic negotiations.
“For the U.S. to show they are serious about the Arctic it needs to be at a very senior level, which very well may mean a more senior level than ambassador,” Coffey said.
Coffey suggests a deputy secretary of state for the Arctic. Both Senator Murkowski and Senator Mark Begich have called for an Arctic ambassador. Senator Murkowski says the administration does not support the position.
As for the expanding council, Senator Murkowski says the observer issue is resolved after it dominated much of this week’s gathering.
She says no countries will be added to the list of observer states, nor will the European Union, which is seeking the designation.
Still, there are major global players located far from the north that will now have a hand in Arctic policy.
“There’s a lot of discussion about ‘well what do you think their motives are?’ I look at it and say they see that the Arctic is filled with opportunity and promise. Things are happening up there. They want to know what’s going on. They want to be on the inside,” Murkowski said.
She says a country’s observer status is up for review every four years, though she acknowledges no country has lost it since the Arctic Council formed in 1996.
ConocoPhillips says it’s reviewing spending in Alaska, a month after the legislature passed Governor Sean Parnell’s oil tax reform. The tax cut is worth billions of dollars to oil companies in Alaska. ConocoPhillips executives talked about the state’s new tax regime during their annual meeting and an analyst presentation earlier this week.
A federal agency says it will consider a petition seeking to list a population of harbor seals living in a freshwater Alaska lake as a threatened or endangered species.
The National Marine Fisheries Service says it has accepted a Center for Biological Diversity petition to list seals that live in Iliamna Lake 200 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The agency has a Nov. 19 deadline to perform a status review of the seals, estimated to number 250 to 350 adults. The agency can propose a listing or reject it.
A listing would present a potential environmental hurdle to the Pebble Mine.
The proposed open-pit copper and gold mine would require a 140-mile road to Cook Inlet. About 50 miles would pass along the lake shore, where seals hunt for salmon.