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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
Starting next month cancer patients in Juneau and Southeast Alaska won’t have far to travel for radiation treatment.
The new Southeast Radiation Oncology Center opens December 12th in the Capital City. It’s the first radiation cancer treatment center in the region.
Dr. Eugene Huang arrived in Juneau a week and a half ago, and says so far he loves his new community.
“I love this town,” he says. “Of any place I’ve ever been, the people here are the warmest, most welcoming, most inviting and most friendly people I’ve ever met.”
The 36-year-old Huang is medical director for Southeast Radiation Oncology Center. His wife, their two children, and a pair of Pomeranians will be joining him in the Capital City in about two weeks.
They come to Juneau from Cleveland, where Huang was a radiation oncologist at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. Before that he did his residency at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centerin Houston, near where he attended medical school at Baylor University.
Huang says opening a brand new clinic has always been one of his professional dreams.
“To be able to be part of helping to build something, and to bring a service to a community that really needs it,” says Huang.
Radiation has been the missing component from cancer treatment in Juneau. Surgery and chemotherapy are available locally, but patients who need radiation have had to travel to Anchorage, Seattle, or other communities, sometimes for weeks or months at a time.
Once the center opens, Huang says people will be able to have their treatment during the day and sleep in their own bed at night.
“Most patients will be in and out of our doors within 15 minutes,” Huang says.
He’s not sure what the actual demand will be, but says the clinic will have the ability to see 35 to 40 patients per day. Huang says his job will be to act as a kind of care coordinator, working with other medical professionals to develop a treatment plan for each patient.
Both his mother and grandmother had cancer, so he says he knows how important it is to find the right treatment for each individual.
“Obviously as a physician, a lot of times we’re focused on the medical treatment aspect of it,” he says. “But I know from personal experience that that’s only one component of what a patient goes through.”
Nicole Hallingstad is president of the Cancer Connection board of directors. The Juneau nonprofit offers programs and services to help cancer patients, survivors, and their families. She says having a radiation oncology center in Juneau is a game changer.
“Being able to receive radiation in Juneau benefits the patient in so many ways,” Hallingstad says. “We recognize that patients will make choices about where they will receive their health care. But for those who can remain home, or in a region that has a support network for them, is tremendously important.”
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, there were more than 1,800 cases of cancer diagnosed in Juneau from 1996 to 2011, the most recent years for which data was available.
Huang and Southeast Radiation Oncology Center President Greg Merrill will be speaking at Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Juneau’s water utility is not meeting peak demand during the summer cruise ship season. That caused the city to drastically reduce the amount of water it could sell to the cruise industry this year.
The city says the problem is due to aging wells at its main water source, Last Chance Basin – a problem that both the city and the cruise industry want to see fixed.
Six cruise ships docked in Juneau at once can guzzle about 1 million gallons of water a day. That’s 20 percent of Juneau’s daily water usage in the summer.
Cruise ships like to hook up two hoses when in port and buy as much water as they need. But the ships were limited to a total of 200,000 gallons a day this past summer due to unusually hot temperatures and an aging well system.
“There were many days where four ships in port had to basically share one hose over the course of a day,” says Kirby Day, director of shore operations for Princess Cruises. “So somebody would get the hose for a couple hours in the morning, somebody would get it a couple hours in the afternoon, a couple hours in the evening, which really cuts down the amount of water that we can purchase from the city.”
Cruise ships can get water from other ports, like Ketchikan, Skagway, Whittier, Seward, and Vancouver, but Day says ships prefer to buy water in Juneau because it’s right in the middle of a voyage. “If it was the first call or the last call, it might not be as crucial to buy water, but you’re basically about halfway through your itinerary,” he says. “Plus this is typically the longer of the port calls, so they’d like to be able to take as much water as we could without obviously creating a detriment to the city.”
David Crabtree, Juneau’s water utility superintendent, says, “We limited their use a bit but in previous years we let them take as much as they could take and it really put the hurt on our system.”
Juneau’s water supply comes from five wells in Last Chance Basin as well as from Salmon Creek Reservoir. On average, the utility distributes 3.5 million gallons of water a day. In the summer, that number can spike to five million gallons a day.
This recent summer saw those peaks, even with the ships taking a lot less. Crabtree says Juneau’s water needs come first; the cruise industry’s is a close second.
“It was balancing the struggle between keeping our reservoirs full and keeping the town adequately supplied versus having the ability to sell water,” he explains.
The wells at Last Chance Basin aren’t keeping up with demand. Production rates have declined so, as Crabtree explains, the utility keeps the wells running for up to 23 hours a day.
“Just because you design a water system that has the capacity of doing five million gallons a day doesn’t mean you do five million gallons a day every day,” he says. “That hurts your wells. They need to be able to relax.”
Some of the wells are 42 years old. Juneau’s engineering director Rorie Watt says the best thing would be to replace one or two of them, “Our wells essentially are reaching the end of their useful life and so the most rational thing to do is just drill a new well 20 or 30 feet away in the same part of the aquifer.”
This could cost as much as $3 million. Juneau has requested a state grant to upgrade Last Chance Basin, but Watt says it’ll be at least another couple of years before the cruise ship industry can take as much water as they want.
Even though limits are difficult, the industry will be patient, according to Day.
“That’s part of the business, I guess,” he says. “We come to Juneau for a lot of reasons, and it’s not just to come here to take water. And so we understand if the city is having an issue with the system, and if we shouldn’t take water or have to limit the water we take so they can get their water system back on line, we’re happy to work with them.”
With limits in place this past summer, Juneau sold about 25 million gallons to cruise ships, translating into about $78,000 to the city.
Over the past ten years, cruise ships consumed the most water in 2006 – almost 98 million gallons – bringing the city roughly $273,000.
On average, cruise ships consume about 61 million gallons of Juneau’s water per year, about 11 percent of the city’s total summer production.
Juneau could begin work on the wells as soon as this summer if funding is secured. At a recent Public Works meeting, the committee approved appropriating $300,000 toward project planning – half would come from utility reserves and the other half from marine passenger fees.
On Sunday, Talkeetna Wildlife Troopers arrested a man wanted in Idaho after conducting a traffic stop in Willow.
The driver, Dustin Simpson, is wanted for probation violation.
According to Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters, Simpson’s probation was due to a charge of leaving the scene of an injury accident.
His probation violation earned him the label of “Fugitive from Justice.”
Simpson was taken to the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility, where he is being held on $500 bail.
A 6-year-old boy in Kwethluk was shot in the stomach while playing with a loaded pistol. Troopers received a report Monday from the boy’s father, 36-year-old Evon Savage. He says his son Marcus was playing with the .22 pistol when it fired and hit him in the abdomen.
He was medevaced to Anchorage where he underwent surgery for internal injuries. He was last listed in serous condition at Alaska Native Medical Center.
Two new prototype homes in Atmautluak don’t look like experiments. They’re rectangular with a slanted red roof. But how they were built: very quickly and with limited equipment, could serve as a model for other homes in remote communities.
The Cold Climate Housing Research Center builds a lot of advanced and experimental homes. This summer in Atmautluak, they helped on a project after being approached by the community
Jack Hébert is President and founder of CCHRC.
“It was the full package for us, because what we saw is the ability for job creation in Atmautluak, for training of a skilled workforce, and for demonstration for good building science for the region that would lower both construction costs and energy costs,” Hébert said.
The community formed a tribally owned construction company, Pikat Construction Company. Aaron Cooke is an architectural designer who drew up the house. He said the company took the leadership role.
“They’re handling not just the tool belt aspect, but the funding, the grant management, and ordering of materials. The did an incredible job of project management. They choose their own crew of carpenters, and laborers that they think have the most potential to stay on this crew,” Cooke said.
The crew included a member from each family that would live in the home. The new company had their work cut out for them. The project aimed to raise a home from bare ground in nine short weeks. But to throw another curveball in the mix, the community of 277 people has few construction tools at their disposal.
“Since they have no heavy equipment, we’ve got to keep that short season with manpower only, with our hands. And that’s when it gets very interesting, our solutions become more applicable to other communities,” Cooke said.
Crews moved the trusses and framing materials from the barge landing by balancing them between two ATVs and navigating the narrow boardwalks. The actual framing was designed to be fast, according to Cooke.
“Since the trusses have the floor diaphragm, the walls and the roof pitch all integrated into one cross section of truss, basically what you do it tip them up on in order on two foot centers, and what that means is that you can frame an entire house in one day,” Cooke said.
The three bedroom, 1,100-square-foot house is designed to use just 150 gallons of fuel oil a year. The use of a woodstove could cut down on the demand. The house is of course highly insulated with walls rated at R50 and floors at R60.
Other features include pilings that allow the homeowner to level it using just hand tools.
The CCHRC said they hope to be able to bring more of the process locally and manufacture the trusses in communities like Bethel. They would then move them out by barge in summertime, or even overland in the winter.
Chris McNeil Jr. is president and chief executive officer for Sealaska, the regional Native corporation for Southeast.
He and 11 tribal leaders from around the country met with the president to talk about creating jobs and sustainable economic development. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and other administration staffers also attended.
McNeil, the only Alaska representative, said he told Obama that federal subsistence rules are not working as they should.
“Alaska Natives are not able to participate fully in the preference as it stands today and the regulations really need a revamping,” he said..
McNeil said traditional hunting, fishing and gathering are part of Alaska’s economy and rule changes could help them grow. He told officials subsistence is also an important part of the state’s food security.
Sealaska’s CEO said he also pushed for changes in what’s called the 8(a) program. Alaska Native corporations use it to win federal contracts without competing against other businesses. They can also partner with non-Native companies.
It’s been controversial, with calls to rein it in or shut it down. McNeil said it’s an important part of Alaska’s economy, and employs Natives and non-Natives.
“In our view, the administration can still reformulate its regulatory emphasis to be able to make that program work much better within existing law,” he said.
He said Obama asked well-informed questions. But most of the time was taken by Native leaders proposing economic development plans.
While McNeil represented Juneau-headquartered Sealaska, he lives in Washington state. He plans to retire in 2014 after about a dozen years heading the corporation.
The meeting with the president came before the larger White House Tribal Nations Conference.
Sealaska Board Member Jacqueline Johnson Pata, also executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said it continued the same theme.
“The focus of this meeting was really about jobs and the economy and how he, through an administrative lens, can strengthen the ability of tribes to be more successful in that conversation,” she said.
She said the Obama administration turned out in force to meet with delegates from Indian Country, including Alaska.
“We had 12 secretaries, which is the most secretaries ever, listening directly to the tribes. And I think that this really shows this administration is really dedicated to try to resolve some of these issues.. And you could tell that by the depth of their knowledge around the particular issues, whether they be Alaska Native or the Lower-48 tribes,” she said.
Pata said they discussed infrastructure needs, trust asset tax issues and strengthening education, among other topics.