In a recent presentation in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell spoke of the need to stay on neighborly terms with Russia. It’s caused a bit of a ruckus. Dan Sullivan, Treadwell’s rival in the GOP primary for U.S Senate, issued an email yesterday saying Treadwell attended a “pro-Putin rally,” echoing the words of an anti-Russian columnist who denounced the conference where Treadwell spoke.Download AudioThe event, at the Senate’s Hart Office Building, was attended by a few hundred people. Sponsors of the U.S.–Russia World Forum say the annual event promotes mutually beneficial cooperation. This year, with Russian President Vladimir Putin reaching into Crimea, the idea seemed tinged with doubt.At the start of the panel discussion in mid-June, the moderator introduced Treadwell with a little joke. It fell flat.“This morning we get a message from Moscow that Russia is not waiting over Alaska,” said Edward Lozansky, president of American University in Moscow. “Because some of the people were worried that right after Crimea next would be Alaska, so please relax.Treadwell ignored the joke. He said in the Arctic, the U.S. has to cooperate with Russia, because both countries need to prevent shipping disasters and oil spills, keep fish stocks healthy and enforce the borders.“So given that need of proximity for cooperation, no matter what the international climate is, my point today is that at a time of very tough international climate, do not forget that we are neighbors because people will be affected, wildlife will be affected, our overall national security would be affected,” Treadwell said.In an interview with APRN just before the speech, Treadwell said he intended to warn America not to let Putin dominate the region.“What I’m going to say is our problems with Russia in the Arctic are such that we either challenge Putin now, or we are going to be challenged by him later,” he said.In the international forum, with the Russian ambassador at hand, he sounded a bit more diplomatic. Treadwell, for example, barely used Putin’s name.“My challenge to the Russians in this room is: help us keep those things more normal,”Treadwell said. “And my challenge to the Americans in this room is: don’t let Russia go it alone in the Arctic.”With Russia’s armada of ice breakers and America’s lack of attention to the far north, Treadwell warned Russia could take command over shipping routes and resources.“We’ve been through an exercise in the Caspian where we’ve said we’re not going to let one country control it,”Treadwell said, “and yet that’s exactly what we’re doing in the Arctic.”Longtime Russia critic James Kirchik denounced the event in the online publication The Daily Beast, saying most of the speakers were Putin sympathizers. Kirchik claimed Treadwell and Minnesota’s secretary of state were recruited to speak at the event so they would “gush about the importance of U.S.-Russian relations for their respective state economies, and warn against any moves that might set those relations back.”Dan Sullivan’s Senate campaign sent a 250-word excerpt of Kirchik’s article to its press list Monday, with the subject line: “ICYMI: Treadwell attends pro-Putin rally” and the headline “Mead, what were you thinking?” Sullivan campaign spokesman Mike Anderson declined to be interviewed. He sent a message saying Monday’s email wasn’t actually a press release but an “In case you missed it” notice. The format, though, was classic press release, with the Sullivan campaign banner up top and the words “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.” Anderson said Sullivan was unavailable to discuss the topic.
Federal authorities believe the death of a whale near Kodiak in July was likely due to a collision with the state ferry Kennicott.Download AudioThere were questions around the time of the incident about whether the animal was already dead when the ship struck it. Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that doesn’t appear to be the case. She says the whale was freshly dead when examined.A necropsy found the cause of death to be a fractured skull due to a ship strike.She says there were no findings in the report that the animal was injured before the collision.Speegle says charges will not be pursued in the case, because the ship strike was unintentional and there was no evidence of a violation.
Is climate change a religious issue? A group of Alaskans says yes. They joined together this weekend in Anchorage for an interfaith Earth Care Jamboree.Download AudioDownload Audio.Thick fog enveloped the mountains as about 75 people from Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley attended workshops and panels on climate and faith.“Any person who has a devotion to God in any form should think of the Earth as a creation that needs to be protected, needs to be cared for in a proper way,” said panelist Orthodox Bishop David Mahaffey. “So as a human being who knows and loves a creator God, I feel it’s my role to be involved in these things.”The Bishop said he incorporates protection of the environment in his daily life and sacraments. For him and many of the other speakers at the conference, faith and environmental protection are not just linked; they are inextricably tied together.And for some leaders, like Dr. Genmyo Zeedyk of the Anchorage Zen Community, that means speaking up about climate change.An interfaith panel on climate change spoke Saturday at Alpenglow Lodge in Arctic Valley. (Hillman/KSKA)“It seems that as faith leaders, arguably, one of our most fundamental activities is to help people in our various faith communities touch the Great Spirit – whatever word you want to call that – and then live that out in daily life,” she said during a panel discussion. “And to live it out in daily life means to care.”A 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that the more people hear about climate change from their religious leaders, the more likely they are to believe in it.But Presbyterian Reverend Dr. Curt Karns said that doesn’t mean climate change is an easy conversation to have with congregations in oil-dependent Alaska.“In our churches, where we all want to be nice to each other, we often try to dance around important topics. But you need then the prophets who say you’ve got to take a look at this. What we’ve found is that it’s hard to get a congregation up and moving. But there are few folks who get the vision so we try to connect them across congregations.”The 2014 survey shows that Hispanic Catholics in the United States are the most likely religious group to be concerned about climate change. White Evangelical Protestants are the least likely. The nation as a whole is split 50-50.Jamboree attendee Cyrus Hicks says the division among Christians may be because of different interpretations of scripture.“I think there’s a huge emphasis on personal salvation and how temporary this life is. A lot of times you hear we are supposed to be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ it. And there are scriptures that say not to love the ways of the world. But then you have other scriptures that say God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”But for Bishop David, ultimately that doesn’t matter. “All of us have an obligation to care for the environment. It doesn’t matter what your faith is or your background is. We were put here as the caretakers, the stewards of this. We will answer for what we do or don’t do for the environment.”The event was hosted by the InterFaith Earth Care Action Network.
Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.Download Audio Gov rolls out budget overhaul, including income tax, PFD reductionRachel Waldholz, APRN – AnchorageWednesday morning Gov. Bill Walker released his plan for dealing with the state’s mammoth budget deficit. It includes Alaska’s first income tax since 1980, and a complete overhaul of how the state uses the permanent fund — effectively cutting PFD checks in half next year.Income tax? Smaller PFD? How Alaskans feelAPRN StaffSo what do Alaskan’s think about the budget proposal? We sent reporters out around the state to check on two of the biggest potential changes — a state income tax and a smaller PFD.Education reform changes only part of No Child Left BehindLiz Ruskin, APRN – AnchorageThe Senate today passed an education bill, and the president is expected to sign it on Thursday. Both Alaska senators voted for it, as did Congressman Don Young in the House.EPA: Failure to report Wainwright munitions dump was oversightRobert Hannon, KUAC – FairbanksFort Wainwright has settled alleged violations of its hazardous waste permit for $60,000. The Environmental Protection Agency says the Army failed to report an abandoned ammunition dump.VPO accused of raping teen previously celebrated at AFNEmily Russell, KNOM – NomeA substitute village police officer from the dry village of Selawik is in jail in Nome awaiting trial.Anchorage Centennial gets audit for ‘financial mismanagement’Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – AnchorageThe Anchorage Assembly is requesting an official audit after a review surfaced alleging financial mismanagement in the city’s Centennial Celebration.Settlement reached over Seward coal facility disputeEllen Lockyer, KSKA – AnchorageThe Alaska Railroad and Aurora Energy have agreed to an out of court settlement in a dispute involving a Clean Water Act permit.Galena elder Sidney Huntington dies at 100Tim Bodony, KIYU – GalenaSidney C. Huntington passed away on Tuesday in Galena. He was 100 years old.Sidney Huntington remembered for hard work, passionTim Bodony, KIYU – GalenaSidney Huntington leaves behind not only a long list of accomplishments, but an entire philosophy of life.
Download AudioGirdwood’s board of supervisors has been offered another option for law enforcement in the Anchorage suburb. Residents of the community voted last month to pay extra property taxes for police protection, because state budget cuts are forcing the Alaska State Trooper post in Girdwood to shut down on July 1.The board of supervisors has explored a plan to use officers from nearby Whittier to patrol Girdwood, although no firm agreement is in place yet. Now Troopers have offered to continue to man the Girdwood post for $600,000 a year.Sam Daniel, who chairs the board of supervisor’s public safety committee, says Trooper Captain Jim Cockrell and he discussed the Trooper option earlier this week.“They believe that it would be possible to continue to offer public safety services in Girdwood through the Alaska State Troopers on a three year grant basis, and that would include having a sergeant and two officers still based out of the Girdwood post, and the Troopers would pay to keep the post open. They would still be focused on highway traffic enforcement, but would respond inside Girdwood Valley and provide random patrols.”The Trooper offer includes coverage of Bird, Rainbow, Indian and Portage Valleys. The legislature and the governor would have to agree to the plan.But at a public meeting on Thursday, some Girdwood residents complained about the Trooper proposal, Daniel says.“The meeting last night, there was a very strong concern among the community that we would be paying for what had previously been a statewide service. That we would in essence be subsidizing the state of Alaska and the residents of Southcentral that travel the safety corridor ”Daniel says the Whittier option still on the table has a cost of $610, 000, but his committee would like to see that and the Trooper number reduced. His committee is planning to send out a request for proposals to any entity that has expressed an interest in providing law enforcement for Girdwood.
When Gov. Bill Walker announced the creation of a new cabinet position — a chief oil and gas adviser — he framed it as a way to improve his administration’s often rocky relationship with the oil and gas industry.Listen nowJohn Hendrix started work as Gov. Bill Walker’s chief oil and gas adviser in July 2016. Photo: Rachel Waldholz, Alaska’s Energy DeskThe man he appointed, John Hendrix, has more than 35 years of experience in oil and gas and has been praised by industry officials.But in an interview, Hendrix told Alaska’s Energy Desk he’s proposing a tough love approach to the state’s oil companies.Hendrix said he’s been hired to do pretty much one thing: figure out how Alaska can produce more oil.“There’s no doubt in my mind that there are opportunities…to make more oil with existing infrastructure and existing, producing wells,” he said.In his newly created role, Hendrix doesn’t have a department to run. Instead, he described his job as finding out what’s standing in the way of oil production — from federal regulations to financing to state policy — and then doing everything he can to remove those barriers.But, he said, he’s also challenging oil companies to step up. He called it putting “grit in the system.”“If you have potential and you’re not going after that production potential that’s in the ground, why aren’t you?” he asked.One example of this approach is the current controversy over Prudhoe Bay. Prudhoe is the state’s largest oil field — and would be the largest source of natural gas, if a pipeline is ever built from the North Slope.This year, for the first time, the Walker administration requested information from Prudhoe’s leaseholders — BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips — asking how they plan to market that gas. The companies have so far refused, arguing the request is potentially illegal. In return, the state has rejected the unit’s annual development plan — essentially threatening the companies’ leases if the information isn’t handed over.Hendrix said the state is well within its rights.“Let’s go back to grit,” he said, with a laugh. “This is kind of the grit the governor provided to the oil and gas companies. I don’t think they’ve had anybody ask those questions for awhile…so [they were] kind of shell shocked about where the boundaries are, you know, ‘You’re invading my space.’”But, he said, that’s the whole point.“This office needs to know, what is the potential of every oil field out there? What are your exploration plays…and why are you not exploring?” he said. “And if you had something you explored, that can be developed, why aren’t you developing it? And I want to know how I can help.”A Homer High School grad, Hendrix most recently served as the General Manager of Alaska operations for Apache, before it pulled out of the state earlier this year.Before that, he ran Apache’s operations in Egypt and spent 18 years at BP. His job in each case, he said, was often to enter a field and figure out how to make it live up its potential.Now, he’s one of three new faces at the top of Governor Walker’s oil and gas team, along with Andy Mack, the new commissioner of Natural Resources, and Keith Meyer, the head of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.As the administration describes it, Meyer is in charge of gas, Mack is focused on wrangling more flexibility out of the federal government — and Hendrix is in charge of oil.Another gritty issue? Oil and gas tax credits. Walker vetoed about $430 million in payments owed to companies this year. One of Hendrix’s first tasks is reaching out to companies affected by the veto.He says he supports the governor’s decision – even though Apache received similar credits when it was exploring in the state.Waldholz: I’m wondering if the John Hendrix who was running Apache a couple years back would have had the same reaction to the governor’s veto?Hendrix: Oh yeah.Ultimately, he said, the state can’t spend money it doesn’t have.Perhaps counterintutively, Hendrix said his real job is building an Alaska that doesn’t rely so heavily on oil. He hopes to use oil and gas as a bridge to that future.“As a child, and as a young adult, I was always looking up, saying, why aren’t they doing something?” he said. “And now you look back, when you’re 59 years old, and you think, well, maybe it’s time you step forward and help out.”Walker is hoping Hendrix, and his gritty conversations, can get the state a little closer to that goal.
Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprnListen nowThousands march statewide in support of women’s rights far into the futureAnne Hillman, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageOn Jan. 21, Alaskans held local Women’s Marches across the state from Adak to Barrow to Homer to Ketchikan. An estimated 10,000 people participated statewide — far more than expected. For most, attending the march was an opportunity to stand up for women’s rights, indigenous rights, environmental protection and other social issues, but it was only the first step.Activism as endurance test: Alaskans march on DCLiz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – Washington D.C.Thousands marched in Alaska the day after President Trump’s inauguration in display of resistance. But hundreds of Alaskans also flew across the country to participate in the Women’s March in Washington, DC. Estimates put it as one of the largest in the capital’s history.Pete Kaiser wins third consecutive Kuskokwim 300Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK – BethelHis was the team to beat and no-one could. Sunday morning for the third year in a row, Pete Kaiser won the 2017 Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race, crossing the finish line in Bethel at 10:37 a.m. to loud cheers from his hometown crowd. His leader Palmer brought home the nine-dog team, 28 minutes faster than last year.Soldotna High School hockey captain suspended from play following racist tweetsJenny Neyman, KBBI – HomerA senior on the Soldotna High School hockey team was suspended from play over the weekend after posting racist comments on social media.Civil asset forfeiture rule change debated in JuneauAndrew Kitchenman, KTOO – JuneauLawmakers are seeking to prevent law enforcement from requiring those accused of crimes – and their family members or associates — to forfeit their property before they’re convicted.St. Paul’s reindeer thrive without essential lichenZoe Sobel, Alaska’s Energy Desk – UnalaskaFor a long time, scientists thought reindeer would be big losers in climate change, but the reindeer on St. Paul Island are challenging that theory.Fairbanks finds police chief conducted other business on jobAssociated PressThe Fairbanks mayor’s office says a former city police chief did have a conflict of interest that barred him from the job.The lure of John McPhee’s “Coming into the Country,” 40 years laterJennifer Pemberton, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau“Coming into the Country,” John McPhee’s book about Alaska, was published in 1977, introducing readers across the country to a wild place, less than 20 years into its statehood. The book quickly became a best-seller and is still popular with tourists and Alaska residents alike.
A wild Pacific salmon, left, next to an escaped farm-raised Atlantic salmon, right, on Aug. 22 at Home Port Seafoods in Bellingham. (Photo by Megan Farmer/ KUOW)More information is coming to light about the failure of a fish farm operation in Puget Sound that led to the escape of thousands of Atlantic salmon.Washington state officials knew at least six months ago that the salmon farm that collapsed last month was on its last legs.Corrosion and metal fatigue had weakened the floating steel structure.Listen nowEven so, they agreed to fill the damaged structure with a full load of 3.1 million pounds of Atlantic salmon in an area regularly swept by strong currents.The end result: approximately 162,000 fish from another ocean breaking out and spreading throughout Puget Sound and into Canadian waters. Some have swum up to 150 miles away, into the Pacific Ocean off the outer coast of Vancouver Island. Tribes and environmental groups fear the sudden influx of aquatic predators could mean trouble for the region’s already-beleaguered Pacific salmon.Cooke filed for a permit from the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in February to replace and reposition the aging fish farm it had purchased from Icicle Seafoods a year before. In the application, Cooke describes the farm, one of three it owns off Cypress Island’s steep, rocky shores, about 60 miles north of Seattle:The existing steel net pen structure has been in service for approximately 16 years in the marine environment and is due for complete replacement. Steel net pen systems located in the marine environment are subject to the corrosive effects of salt water and to metal fatigue from the constant wave energy, storm events and the extreme forces that are exerted on them from tidal currents. The corrosion on the metal walkway grating and substructures is accelerating and some metal hinge joints show signs of excess wear. Repairing the rusted steel walkways and replacing fatigued metal components of the existing cage system structure in place is not cost effective or practical.At least seven different agencies, from county shoreline planners to the U.S. Army, regulate some aspect of salmon farms in Washington. Cooke’s application says the company had been in touch with officials at Skagit County Planning and Development Services, the state’s Natural Resources and Ecology departments and the Army Corps of Engineers in January.“Everybody’s looking at these facilities as they’re permitted and moved and upgraded,” Joe Smillie, spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources, said.None of them kept Cooke from operating a fish farm, known to be structurally damaged, full to the gills.The waiting is the hardest part.Farmed salmon begin as eggs hatched in a freshwater hatchery. Later, tiny smolts, weighing about a quarter-pound each, are transferred to floating, 40-foot-deep saltwater pens where they grow for a year or more before being harvested.In March, two months after applying for its permit to replace its aged fish farm, Cooke applied for a water quality permit from the Washington Department of Ecology, seeking to raise up to 3.1 million pounds of salmon.“That stocking number would be very normal for that site,” Chuck Brown, Cooke Aquaculture spokesperson, said.By July, the Cypress Island salmon were approaching their full-grown weight of 10 to 12 pounds each when a fast tidal current surged down Bellingham Channel and into Cypress Island’s Deepwater Bay, where Cooke’s three farms are located.Currents of similar or greater speed had pulsed through Bellingham Channel all year long, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.What was different this summer was the extra million pounds the floating farm had put on since January for the current to push around.The Cypress Island fish farms, originally installed in the 1980s, were designed with the strong tidal currents of the Salish Sea in mind. The net-pen structure that collapsed in August had beefy anchoring systems: the floating grid of 10 pens was held in place by two dozen anchors weighing as much as three tons each and tethered by synthetic lines nearly as thick as the business end of a baseball bat.But those restraints weren’t up to the task on at least two occasions this summer as the fish held by the nets grew and grew. In July, with an estimated 2.8 million pounds of salmon crowded within the grid of heavy, square cages, the fish farm anchors slipped. The entire farm moved with the current.Brown said the company was able to quickly make repairs to the mooring system. No fish escaped.“Once we had that work done, we were pretty confident that the site was stable and that it would be fine for the next few months until we harvested that farm out,” Brown said.Instead, a month later, after the 305,000 salmon swimming inside put on more weight and were nearly ready for market, another strong current tore the aging pen apart.Smillie, the Department of Natural Resources spokesperson, said Cooke’s February application to replace the net pens – describing them as fatigued, corroded and near the end of their life — didn’t cause the department to rethink its approvals for this year’s operations.“In their application, they said they weren’t planning to replace these until after this year’s harvest,” Smillie said. “They asked us to relocate and replace these facilities and didn’t make it in time, obviously.”When asked if it was prudent, given what the state knew about the farm’s structural problems, to let Cooke load it to its full 3.1 million pound capacity, Smillie said: “That’s something we’re investigating with our sister agencies right now.”Brown said they know a lot more than they did when the incident happened, but “we had full confidence in the system.”When Cooke lost 20,000 Atlantic salmon from its farm off Newfoundland, Canada, in 2013, it blamed “high tide and unusually strong currents,” according to CBC News. The company gave the same explanation for its recent salmon spill into Puget Sound.Aquaculture oversight: broad, not deepThe Department of Natural Resources inspected the Cypress Island farm in September 2016. Smillie said DNR does fairly perfunctory inspections, checking on things like whether emergency response kits are well-stocked.“We don’t have a whole lot of structural engineers on staff to go out and inspect our lease facilities,” Smillie said.DNR’s 5,000 aquatic lease holders include everything from marinas to oyster farms. “We rely on them to make sure that their facility is in good shape and doesn’t fall apart,” Smillie said.Smillie said the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife inspects salmon farms, but not for structural integrity, just to make sure the fish are healthy.The U.S. Coast Guard inspects boats as well as floating and waterfront facilities that use hazardous materials, but not fish farms.“Fish are not considered hazardous,” Coast Guard Commander Darwin Jensen said.Brown, Cooke’s spokesperson, said the company has been evaluating and auditing all eight of its Washington fish farms since it bought them a year ago, with the goal of bringing them up to Cooke’s standards. The Cypress site that collapsed was top of the company’s list because of its poor condition as well as its orientation, sitting broadside to the main current.“It was definitely ready for replacement,” Brown said.Brown said the company’s other fish farms were not at risk of a similar disaster.“We certainly don’t feel that way,” Brown said.Brown could not provide details, such as the age or condition of other farms.“Our team here is so busy and focused on the recovery effort,” Brown said from Anacortes.The company is participating in the incident command structure set up by Gov. Jay Inslee on Aug. 26 to respond to the salmon spill on an emergency basis.Smillie said DNR has told Cooke it expects structural inspections of the company’s remaining fish farms, with DNR staff observing, “as soon as the situation at the failed Deepwater Bay structure is under control.”