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Alaska and Yukon Headlines

ANB Harbor Replacement Moves Forward

Thu, 2013-12-26 17:58

In November, work began on Sitka’s ANB harbor. The $7.7 million project will demolish all of the existing structures and replace them with new floats and pilings by early spring. But a small invader in the harbor has added a wrinkle to the usual process.

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Workers with the Seattle-based contractor Pacific Pile and Marine are driving piles into the seafloor at ANB Harbor. Sitka City Engineer Dan Tadic watches from the parking lot at ANB Hall.

Contractors with Seattle-based Pacific Pile and Marine set a piling in ANB Habor in mid-December. Photo by Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka.

“What they’re doing right now, they’ve got the basically the tip of the piling on rock, and they’re starting to drill into the rock,” Tadic says.  ”And every few feet or so they’re using air to blow the cuttings back out of the piling, so it almost looks like the water is boiling.”

The contractors are drilling about 13 feet into rock to set the pilings. They stop occasionally to flush out the cuttings. At those moments, with water bubbling up and cuttings spraying from the top of the piling, it looks like they’ve struck oil.

The contractors will put in over 60 new galvanized-steel pilings, ranging from 12 to 24 inches in diameter. Those will be followed by brand new floats. The work has to be done by March 15, in time for herring season.

But there’s a side story to the project. In 2010, volunteers with Sitka’s Bioblitz survey found a pair of invasive tunicates – small marine invertebrates – in ANB harbor, as well as several other Sitka harbors.

These tunicates aren’t d. vex (Didemnum vexillum), an invasive tunicate that many Sitkans have heard about before — and that is sometimes compared to the creature from the 1950’s horror movie, The Blob. D. vex can grow extremely fast, blanketing and smothering entire ecosystems. It was found in Sitka’s Whiting Harbor in 2010 — and that’s still the only place in Alaska that it’s been found.

The tunicates in ANB harbor are called botrylloides, or harbor star and golden chain tunicates. And they’ve been much better behaved than d. vex – so far.

Marnie Chapman is a biologist at the University of Alaska Southeast.

“We’re interested in watching the botrylloides group,” Chapman says.  ”Because even though at this point there hasn’t been demonstrated massive growth of these, a lot of times what invasives do is they can hang out at very low levels and then all of a sudden something will change about the environment and then they’re able to grow and expand rapidly.”

The concern is that, given the right conditions, the botrylloides in ANB Harbor could suddenly explode, choking out native species. So though the botrylloides have remained fairly contained thus far, officials hope to avoid spreading them further. Because of this, the ANB Harbor project permit requires that all of the material from the harbor be disposed of in a different way than usual.

“A lot of times what happens in Alaska is bits and pieces of harbors get sent all over the place when harbors are decommissioned,” Chapman said. “And so it’s potentially a really effective way of spreading invasive species to really pristine areas in Alaska, to take pieces of harbors and move them somewhere else.”

Instead, the material from ANB harbor will be barged down to Seattle and disposed of on land. The wood will be taken to a landfill. The steel piling will be recycled. And officials hope the process will prevent the harbor’s  invasive stow-aways from hitching a ride to any other Alaskan ports.

NTSB finds pilot error in fatal 2012 Alaska plane crash

Thu, 2013-12-26 13:35
NTSB finds pilot error in fatal 2012 Alaska plane crash The July 2012 accident -- which occurred north of Fairbanks -- involved an aircraft that was part of a touring group that encountered poor weather while en route from Canada. December 26, 2013

Hawaii sinkhole yields evidence of giant tsunami from Alaska

Thu, 2013-12-26 13:29
Hawaii sinkhole yields evidence of giant tsunami from Alaska A mysterious deposit of rocks, coral and seashells in a Hawaii sinkhole led researchers to conjecture a monster wave born more than 2,000 miles away in an Aleutian earthquake.December 26, 2013

Russian Mission man killed in snowmachine crash

Thu, 2013-12-26 12:39
Russian Mission man killed in snowmachine crash Troopers say alcohol was a factor in the Christmas night crash.December 26, 2013

Potential Rare Earth Element Found In Arctic

Thu, 2013-12-26 12:04

I attended the American Geological Union (AGU) Fall Meeting this week in San Francisco.

It’s billed as “the largest worldwide conference in geophysical science,” with over 20,000 attendants. There was a vast number of talks on the cryosphere, which I’ll try to cover over the next few days. One session I attended, “Frontier Science from Extended Continental Shelf Studies,” included talks presenting the results of ocean-going expeditions by countries such as Japan, New Zealand, Russia, and the U.S. While most of these cruises’ priorities were to map the continental shelf, they generated many side benefits in the form of new scientific discoveries. In effect, on these cruises, geopolitics was fueling geoscience.

A couple of talks pertained to the Arctic Ocean. Dr. James Hein, a senior scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and adjunct professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, presented the talk, “Critical Metals in Western Arctic Ocean Ferromanganese Mineral Deposits.”

Findings from USCGC Healy

He discussed the findings from cruises of the USCGC Healy in 2008, 2009, and 2012, which were intended to jointly map the continental shelf with the Canadians. Scientists collected ferromanganese crusts and nodules and found that the Arctic Ocean notably differed in chemical composition from other oceans. The results regarding the presence of ferromanganese was not terribly exciting, nor were the findings specific to cobalt, copper, nickel (whose extraction has the potential to generate rare earth element byproducts) and rare earths as a whole – all of which were higher in other oceans.

Aircraft industry interested in scandium

Scientists did, however, discover that the crusts and nodules they collected were the only ones from the global ocean enriched in scandium (Sc). Scandium is a silvery-white metal that is sometimes classified as a rare earth element, and it is often found near other rare earth elements and uranium. At present, there are reportedly no active scandium mines, as the Zhovti Vody mine in Ukraine was flooded years ago [1]. Instead, scandium is generally produced as a byproduct from uranium mining in places like Kazakhstan and mine tailings throughout the former USSR, which used the element for military purposes.

Commercially, the aircraft industry is interested in scandium, as it is similar to titanium, the metal out of which most airplane bodies are constructed. Scandium has a high melting point and is resistant to corrosion like titanium, but it is significantly lighter. Scandium can also be used in manufacturing reinforced aluminum alloys (scandium-reinforced aluminum) [2] and in x-ray tubes.

$15 million per ton in 2013

Trade in scandium is extremely small in volume, as only about 5,000 kilograms a year are used. Yet the amount of money exchanged for such a small quantity is stunning, as scandium fetched $15 million per ton in 2013.

The International Seabed Authority grants deep-sea mining leases for areas outside of exclusive economic zones. Most of these leases have been made in the Pacific, specifically in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone. The New York Times has a useful map from 2012 of deep sea mining activities. Given the shortage of rare earth elements on land in part due to China’s decreasing of its exports from its Bayan Obo mine, the world’s largest rare earth element mine, deep-ocean deposits have been considered as a potential alternative source. No deep-sea mining leases have been made in the Arctic, but discoveries such as these latest results on scandium will likely add to excitement about the future potential of the industry on the high seas. In any case, mining could start much sooner within the existing territorial seabeds of the Arctic littoral states.

The first use of scandium-reinforced aluminum was on the nose cones of Soviet ballistic missiles. The alloy allowed the Soviets to launch missiles from submarines that could slash up through the Arctic sea ice from below, emerging damage-free and ready to strike. I suppose the first application of this alloy is appropriate given the recent discovery of scandium-enriched crusts in the Arctic. Let’s just hope that if mining proceeds in the years to come, more useful applications will be made than furthering the arms industry, least of all in the Arctic. This is especially the case given the region’s fragile environment and the little scientific knowledge that exists about the deep sea. Mining for minerals inevitably comes at an environmental cost, one which would not be worthwhile if the only use were for advancing the destructive capabilities of military technology.


Woman Accused Of Ramming Trooper Vehicle

Thu, 2013-12-26 11:09

A 60-year-old Willow woman is accused of ramming her car into a trooper vehicle.

Dona Carnahan is charged with assault, failure to stop at an officer’s direction, criminal mischief, driving under the influence and possessing a weapon while intoxicated.

Troopers say Carnahan was hysterical when she called 911 early Wednesday to say a female was from a home.

Troopers say they tried to contact Carnahan, but she drove away.

According to troopers, a trooper tried to stop Carnahan, but she kept going and about two miles later spun her vehicle around and tried to ram the trooper’s vehicle.

The trooper was not hurt. Troopers say Carnahan sustained minor injuries. Both vehicles were damaged.

Troopers say Carnahan was under the influence of alcohol and had a shotgun in her vehicle.

Homer Neighbors Fight Proposed 160-Foot Microwave Tower

Thu, 2013-12-26 11:06

A proposal to build a 160-foot microwave tower atop the Homer bluff has residents in the area concerned about their property values and views of Kachemak Bay. The City of Homer Planning Commission has already signed off on the project but it could still get hung up in the legal system.

The company applying for the permit is Anchorage-based Kodiak Microwave System. In its application to the city, the company says the 160-foot tower would be located on a five-acre lot in the Eker Estates subdivision, near the top of East Hill Road along Skyline Drive.

In its application to the city, Kodiak Microwave System says the tower would stand 160-feet tall.

The purpose of the tower is to provide broadband internet services to the communities of Port Graham, Nanwalek, Halibut Cove and Nikolaevsk, as well as residents out East End Road. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has requested the tower as a way to provide better internet service to schools in Nanwalek and Port Graham and the Port Graham Village Council has said the tower would greatly improve business and education in that community.

In a Dec. 4 report, the city planning department recommended that the planning commission approve the plan, which it did, unanimously, at its last meeting.

Homer Planning Director Rick Abboud says that the city has followed the process for this permit as it’s laid out in city code, including notifying all property owners within 300 feet of the proposed tower.

Abboud says communications towers like the one proposed by Kodiak Microwave are not unusual in rural residential areas along the Homer bluff.

“Right on the other side of Skyline (Drive) … you’ll see a cluster of them,” he said. “So there is a precedent.”

Before the vote, the commission received a handful of letters from neighbors who are opposed to the microwave tower.

Kevin and Kathleen Fay live out of state but own property in the area. They wondered about the possible impacts of radiation emitted from the tower and the possibility of “cancer-causing radio waves.”

Scott Adams says he is more concerned about the effect the tower would have on the view and how that might affect the value of his property.

Perhaps the most vocal opponent of the plan has been Kevin Dee. Dee is the executive director of AGEYA Camp, a wilderness camp for Alaska Native youth that operates in the summertime. Although the camp is not within 300 feet of the tower site, Dee says it would definitely be affected.

“This represents a taking of value,” said Dee. “There’s going to be harm done here and the city shoudl not help to facilitate that.”

Kodiak Microwave says the tower would not be visible from downtown Homer or the Homer Spit but Dee disagrees with that. He says he has spent a lot of time recently researching microwave towers and speaking with his neighbors in the area, who he says are united against the tower project.

Some of the neighbors have already retained Homer attorney Lindsey Wolter to represent them. In a cease-and-desist letter sent to Kodiak Microwave on Thursday, Wolter says the proposed tower violates conditions of a 1990 covenant for the Eker Estates subdivision where it would be built.

The covenant states that, within the subdivision, “no lot shall be used except for residential purposes.” It also expressly forbids buildings more than two stories in height and satellite installations that detract from the view.

Rick Abboud says the neighbors’ disagreement about the covenant will have to work its way through the legal system and that is not something that is within the City of Homer’s purview.

Abboud says the next step in the process would be a final “yes or no” decision from himself and the chair of the planning commission. Once that is issued, anyone who opposes the decision would have 30 days to file an appeal, which would then be heard by the Homer City Council, acting as the Board of Adjustment.

Grant Given to Improve Nursing in Alaska

Thu, 2013-12-26 10:58

A new program is scheduled to get started next year in Alaska to help prepare people to become nurses.

The Alaska Nursing Action Coalition is slated to be part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s $4.5 million initiative called the “Future of Nursing State Implementation Program.”

The program is intended to bolster efforts already underway in 50 states to address the issues of access, quality and the cost of health care. The Alaska Nursing Action Coalition is slated to get $150,000 over 2 years.

Draft Changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act Released

Thu, 2013-12-26 10:54

The Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee has released a draft of some proposed changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Act was last reauthorized by Congress back in 2006 and its up for another review and re-authorization.

The Act governs the commercial and recreational harvest of fish in Federal waters. Representative Doc Hastings unveiled the proposed changes to the Act on Dec. 20 and stressed that the goal of the release is to gather public input. Hastings believes the proposed changes would give regional fishery managers more flexibility to deal with complex fishery issues. He also claims the changes would improve the ability to collect fishery data.

The proposed changes to the Magnuson Stevens Act are available on the website of the House Natural Resources Committee and you can submit your comments about the proposed changes by sending an email to

AK Beat: Cooper Landing man pleads not guilty to murder

Thu, 2013-12-26 08:25
AK Beat: Cooper Landing man pleads not guilty to murder Paul Andrew Vermillion originally admitted to killing Genghis Muskox but told responding officers he'd been in a fight to the death and had "executed the threat."December 26, 2013

Alaska authors rack up accolades in 2013

Wed, 2013-12-25 20:29
Alaska authors rack up accolades in 2013 For better or worse, Alaskans may be better known nowadays for their reality TV exploits. But writers in the 49th state got plenty of love in 2013, too.December 25, 2013

Folate an important element for healthy sperm, says new study

Wed, 2013-12-25 20:25
Folate an important element for healthy sperm, says new study Folate, a vitamin long associated with female reproductive health, also has big benefits for potential fathers-to-be, says a new study. And despite the food insecurity that has long faced many parts of Alaska, the state has a number of great natural sources of folate.December 25, 2013

Researchers examine fate of atmospheric mercury in the Arctic

Wed, 2013-12-25 20:23
Researchers examine fate of atmospheric mercury in the Arctic The transfer of mercury from the air to the soil and water in the Arctic is not well understood, and scientists will use measurements on the North Slope to try to figure out whether snow traps the potentially dangerous element and keeps it in the ecosystem.December 25, 2013

Alaska dairyman's sentencing delayed by judge to understand 'full extent' of crimes

Wed, 2013-12-25 20:22
Alaska dairyman's sentencing delayed by judge to understand 'full extent' of crimes A federal judge on Monday delayed sentencing for a man accused of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in hopes of keeping the struggling Matanuska Creamery afloat.December 25, 2013

Former DNR commissioner named to head Livengood mine project

Wed, 2013-12-25 20:22
Former DNR commissioner named to head Livengood mine project International Tower Hill, a company which hopes to develop a major gold mine in Alaska, announced plans to reduce its workforce in Fairbanks and Denver, and to promote vice president Tom Irwin to its top spot.December 25, 2013

In halibut turf wars, no one's looking out for the little guy

Wed, 2013-12-25 20:08
In halibut turf wars, no one's looking out for the little guy Over the course of the past several years, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service have conspired to price average people out of the halibut fishery.December 25, 2013

Reign of crab focus of Southcentral Alaska museum exhibit

Wed, 2013-12-25 20:06
Reign of crab focus of Southcentral Alaska museum exhibit An exhibit currently running at the Pratt Museum in Homer gives a glimpse at crab's role both in Southcentral Alaska's past and what the species could mean for the future.December 25, 2013

Where Arctic camels once roamed, coal mining can wait

Wed, 2013-12-25 20:06
Where Arctic camels once roamed, coal mining can wait A coal-exploration project on Nunavut's Ellesmere Island is delayed after concerns are raised about impacts to important paleontological sites and at-risk wildlife.December 25, 2013

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