Day: September 9, 2019

Conditions Challenging As Funny River Fire Grows to More Than 140000 Acres

first_imgAmid strong winds and dry conditions the Funny River fire has continued to advance through the weekend. State Fire Information officer Michelle Weston said this evening that the fire has grown well past 140,000 acres although she did not have a new estimate. Weston said the Funny River Road community has been under an evacuation order since 2 p.m.State Troopers and fire crew workers went door to door in the Funny River community to alert residents of the evacuation. Weston did not know how many residents lived in the area but said there are at least 1,000 structures there, mostly cabins and the homes of retirees. Weston did not know if homes have been affected but said there have been no reports of injuries. The Fueding Lane Road area is also included in the evacuation order.Weston said the Lower Skilak lake campground is currently being evacuated. State park officials are conducting that evacuation.Spot fires have jumped the Kenai River prompting an evacuation watch for the Kenai Keys area. Weston said starting at Mile 103 of the Sterling highway to the Kasilof River is under evacuation watch for residents on the east side of the road. An evacuation watch means residents should prepare to leave if an evacuation order is necessary. Weston said Kenai Peninsula Borough officials are using a reverse 911 system to alert residents of  evacuation plans.About 450 people are working on the fire. Weston said crews with water scooping planes from Canada and fire crews from the Lower 48 are assisting, as is the Air National Guard, bringing in two Black Hawk helicopters.“We’ve thrown everything we have at this fire at this time but the wind is strong and erratic .We have fire crews from the lower 48 but conditions are challenging.” Weston said.last_img read more

Read More

Assembly approves tax abatement for Fairview

first_imgAnchorage’s Fairview neighborhood now has a new tool to encourage development – a tax abatement incentive. The Assembly voted unanimously to approve the measure on Tuesday night.Part of Fairview, including the area between Ingra and Gambell, is known as being deteriorated—the infrastructure is old and the buildings are falling apart. Chronic inebriates frequent the area.To change that, area businesses and residents proposed creating a tax abatement.“How it works is if a developer needs to put in public infrastructure as part of the project–a new waterline, sewer line, storm drains, roads, all of those things that are owned by the public–they would be able to write those off against their property taxes until it was paid off,” explained Fairview Business Association Project Manager Paul Fuhs. “After that they would pay full assessment on their property.”To encourage developers to build high-density housing, the municipality will offer a full construction write-off.Fuhs said the age and expense of replacing the current 50-year-old infrastructure deters investment in the area. This will fix that, and could change the neighborhood in other ways as well.“We also hope that changing the architecture of the area and what’s there will change the way people behave. And right now, if it’s kind of skuzzy this is where people will hang out to drink and deal drugs and prostitution. So by changing the physical character of it, we’re going to change the real character of our neighborhood.”Local business owner Heidi Heinrich glowed with happiness after hearing the Assembly pass the measure. “It’s so encouraging and leaves us so fulfilled to move on and do more.”She said that includes solving the problem of chronic inebriates in the community.The tax abatement plan was modeled on a similar project in Tacoma, Washington that led to increased multifamily housing and tax income to the city.The municipality’s lawyer said it’s unclear if creating the tax abatement area in Fairview will set a precedent and necessitate that the Assembly give other deteriorated areas the same benefits.last_img read more

Read More

Governors Revised Budget Restores Some Funding For Sexual Assault Prevention

first_img  Earlier in the legislative session, a Senate subcommittee slashed all of the state funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs. It would have impacted projects like Girls on the Run and Choose Respect. Now, with the governor’s revised budget, some of that money has been put back. Alaska tops a lot of lists, like best whale watching and cleanest air quality. But the state also ranks highly in something else.“Child sexual abuse, infant rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking,” says Peggy Brown, the executive director at the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.Download Audio Brown says when the network heard their 2016 state budget for prevention programs was being eliminated, it felt like being kicked in the rib.“Not to use violent language. They got the breath knocked out of them a little bit,” she says.In the five years the prevention programs existed in Alaska, there have already been signs of success. One program called the Fourth R was able to identify students who experienced sexual violence and role-play healthy relationships.“And I think people really liked these programs. I think it gave people a certain amount of hope with these horrible numbers that maybe there were some normal simple things that normal simple folks could do rather than breaking up a fight or calling 911,” Brown says.Now some of that lost funding might be reinstated. Gov. Bill Walker’s revised budget allocates $1.5 million for sexual assault prevention programs, about half of last year’s. Lauree Morton, the executive director of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, says she understands.“The state’s in a difficult spot right now but that 1.5 is critical for projects moving forward,” she says.Morton says 10 communities in Alaska currently have readiness prevention programs that help jump-start the bigger ones.“If we have the $1.5 million restored, the number of those communities will be reduced to five,” she says.Morton couldn’t say which locations would be cut. Projects like Green Dot, which teaches violence intervention skills, won’t be able to spread to other communities as quickly as the network hoped.But most sexual and domestic violence prevention programs will still be able to function. Peggy Brown says for prevention work to actually be effective, it has to saturate an area for at least five years.“And we were just at the five year mark and we were just getting data on a lot of these programs,” says Brown.In 2011, the Alaska Victimization Survey in Juneau showed 55 out out every 100 women suffered from domestic violence or sexual assault. The network hopes that number is decreasing. A 2016 version of the survey could confirm that, but that’s contingent on the $1.5 million in the governor’s revised budget.last_img read more

Read More

New bill seeks to address conflicts of interest within Legislature

first_img“Is there motivation in any way to alienate or target anyone associated with the oil and gas industry?” Reinbold asked.Grenn said he was motivated by increasing transparency.The League of Women Voters supported the bills.League member Margo Waring read a statement from League President Pat Redmond. The sign outside the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, March 4, 2016. (Photo by Megan Ahleman)When Alaska legislators or their immediate family members financially benefit from bills, the lawmakers declare they have a conflict of interest.Listen nowBut as long as one other legislator objects, the person with the conflict is still required to vote.Anchorage Representative Jason Grenn wants to change that to requiring a majority of members to agree to the objection.He’s proposed two bills that would make it harder for people to vote on issues that might financially benefit themselves.“There’s no target with this bill outside of wanting to build public trust and add transparency to what we do as 60 members of the Legislature,” Grenn said.Grenn is an independent who caucuses with the mostly Democratic House majority. He said Alaska is the only state in the country that makes it so easy for lawmakers with conflicts of interest to vote.Grenn said he’s sensitive to conflicts of interest because he resigned as manager of Alaska Community Foundation’s Pick.Click.Give. program — due to a perceived conflict of interest — after he was elected.Republicans have met the bills with skepticism, saying it unfairly targets legislators who work for oil and gas companies.Eagle River Representative Lora Reinbold noted that some members of the House majority want to change oil and gas tax policies in a way that would require the companies to pay more. She asked Grenn about that during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 27. “We often hear supporters of the current practice say that to not vote is to deprive district of its voice,” Waring said. “The answer to that is that a vote cast under a cloud also deprives voters of knowing that the vote was cast for the benefit of the district and the state.”Former lawmaker Mike Bradner helped write the rule that allows those with conflicts of interest to vote. He said the new bills present practical challenges.“I consider my senator obligated to vote, whether I like his vote or note,” Bradner said. “Now, at election time, I may take a different view.”Bradner would like to see the rules stay like they are: Members declare their conflicts. They are allowed to vote. And those conflicts are covered by the news media.One of Grenn’s bills, House Bill 44, would change the law, while the other, House Concurrent Resolution 1, would change House rules.The bills could be discussed by the Judiciary Committee again as soon as Jan. 30.last_img read more

Read More

Nevada man dies when commercial canoe flips in Alaska river

first_imgA Coast Guard Jayhawk rescue helicopter from Air Station Sitka participates in a training exercise. (Photo courtesy Petty Officer 3rd Class Wes Shinn/U.S. Coast Guard)The U.S. Coast Guard carried out a rescue on the Chilkat Inlet near Haines today after a canoe carrying 11 people capsized at Glacier Point, nine miles south of the Haines townsite.Listen nowThe canoe was being used for a guided tour for passengers from three different cruise ships, Coast Guard spokeswoman Meredith Manning said.A Jayhawk helicopter from Sitka responded.One of the passengers was unresponsive at the scene. First responders performed CPR, but the passenger remained unconscious.The Coast Guard transported the passenger to Juneau by helicopter.The Associated Press reported that Steven Tod Willis, 50, of North Las Vegas, Nevada, died.The remaining 10 passengers were transferred to a small boat operated by the company in charge of the guided canoe tour.last_img read more

Read More

Yukon Territory says the US is on the hook for Alaska Highway

first_imgThere’s a long-standing international agreement between the United States and Canada to maintain Shakwak. The U.S. built it after the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a strategic link between Alaska and the contiguous United States. Canada took over maintenance of the sections that run through their territory after WWII.Experts estimate U.S citizens make up 85% of the traffic. In the late 1970s, the road needed work. The United States agreed to pay to upgrade in the Shakwak agreement.“The 1977 Shakwak Agreement obligated the United States to reconstruct the highway and for Canada to maintain it,” explained Alaska Department of Transportation’s Aurah Landau. “So most of the United States obligations are completed.”But the United States didn’t completely finish the upgrade. There are about 100 miles between Beaver Creek in the Yukon and the Alaska border that are problematic.“The area has permafrost and back in the 70s through the 80s we thought that the area would be stabilizing, but due to thawing conditions the ground has become even more unstable. So that’s an area that has not been able to be paved yet and if it were to be paved the paving wouldn’t last very long,” Landau said.Unstable conditions due to permafrost delayed the work and now the climate is warmer and more dynamic than ever. Federal funding for the project ended in 2009. So the money’s gone, the time is up, and the project to upgrade the link between Alaska and the Lower 48 is unfinished.“We’ve done as much as we can to this stage,” said Yukon Territory Transportation Minister Richard Mostyn. The Shakwak stretch of highway is mostly in Canada, specifically the Yukon Territory. “In 2016-17, we spent $10.8 million on the Shakwak stretch of road, in 2017-18 it was down to $6.3 [million], in 18-19 it was down to $2.3 [million]. And now, it’s done.”Mostyn says that the United States hasn’t fulfilled its obligation under the Shakwak Agreement.“The pledge was to upgrade the highway to a certain grade from stem to stern. The U.S federal government was going to upgrade the road service to a certain standard. And it remains unfinished. And the language to complete that is not in the transportation bill,” he said.Mostyn says the Yukon Territory has a tax base of about 40,000 people. He estimates the cost to complete the work is $340 million Canadian. Maintaining that section of road is a big responsibility falling on the shoulders of a small population.“We’re a rather a geographically large jurisdiction with very few people living here. We have, just by luck of our location, inherited a very important strategic asset to the continent,” Mostyn said.The Federal Highway Administration or FHWA was in charge of paying Canada for Shakwak with money allocated by Congress. Representatives from FHWA don’t know why Congress stopped funding before the project was complete. The State Department did not respond to KHNS’ requests for comment.This is a federal issue, but Alaskans rely on this road. So Alaska DOT helped the Yukon apply for a federal grant in 2018. They didn’t get the grant money.In the Yukon, the road is still degrading. Minister Mostyn says the road bounces like a roller coaster and they’ve even entertained the idea of reverting parts to gravel. He says he will do what he can.“We have an obligation to keep the road open; we’ll do that. We have an obligation to keep the road safe; we’ll do that as well. But it will come to a lower standard, unless we get more funding from the government that uses the road most and that government is the American government,” he said.There will be a new federal transportation bill for FY2020. It is uncertain if Shakwak funding will be on it. The stretch of the Alaska Highway that connects the Interior to the panhandle is called Shakwak, or the Shakwak Highway. (Wikimedia image)The stretch of the Alaska Highway that connects the Interior to the panhandle is called Shakwak, or the Shakwak Highway. That’s Tlingit for “between the mountains.” It starts in Haines and goes north through the Yukon Territory. Parts of this vital link are degrading and the Yukon government says the United States should foot the bill.last_img read more

Read More

Rare species of North Pacific right whale carries a tune across the

first_imgCrance says the songs recorded are in many ways similar to the common gunshot calls. Federal researchers in the Bering Sea have released recordings of songs by some of the rarest whales in the world. While this is exciting news for marine science, it could point to heartache for North Pacific right whales. This isn’t to say North Pacific right whales don’t make sounds. “We know that they are in the southeastern Bering Sea in the summer,” she said, “but where do they go when they leave or if they leave the Bering Sea is still unknown.” First, it’s important to understand that North Pacific right whales are critically endangered. The name “right” whale is a vestige from the commercial whaling era,  when they were considered the “right” species to hunt. Slow moving and buoyant, right whales remained afloat after being killed. That’s the working theory for now and the one put forward this month in an article published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. They were nearly wiped out in the early 20th century. “It’s difficult for us to know for certain why they’re singing,” Crance said. “But our best guess and our current hypothesis is that it appears to be some kind of a reproductive display.” “This behavior has not been documented yet in any of the other right whale species or populations,” said Jessica Crance, a NOAA marine biologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle. In 2009, researchers in the Bering Sea first noticed these sounds during summer surveys. Long-term data from acoustic recorders over eight years showed evidence of right whale songs — something heretofore unknown for the species. “But they’re producing it in a very regular rhythmically pattern consistent manner. So the same number of gunshots, the same timing in between, and those patterns are repeated over and over for hours,” she said.center_img But Crance told CoastAlaska there’s so much about these whales that’s not understood. Now, with an eastern population of just 30 animals — they could be lonely. All of the confirmed recordings were from males possibly seeking female companionship. NOAA Fisheries marine biologist Jessica Crance deploys a sonobuoy in the northern Gulf of Alaska in 2015 to acoustically monitor for North Pacific right whale calls. (Photo by Brenda Rone/NOAA Fisheries) So what does it all mean? For the first time, researchers have recorded and studied songs from North Pacific right whales. So far it seems limited to the Bering Sea. “Within our population the most common call type is what’s called the gunshot sound,” she said. Even their migration routes and their breeding grounds remain a mystery. An eastern North Pacific right whale, the world’s most endangered great whale, spotted in the southeastern Bering Sea in 2004. (Photo by John Durban/NOAA Fisheries) Hunting right whales in Alaska has been banned since 1949. But contemporary threats persist — mostly vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.last_img read more

Read More