Economy | Transportation | WesternAmidst Alaska’s economic woes, Nome focuses on port’s futureNovember 27, 2015 by Emily Russell, KNOM Share:Winter sea ice locking in Nome for the winter. (Photo by Laura Collins/KNOM)Alaska’s harsh environment is often used to explain its resilient population. But more recently it’s been the economy that’s tested the toughness of its people. Royal Dutch Shell pulled out of its multi-year and multi-billion dollar plan to drill in the Chukchi, taking with it business from the Norwegian oil company Statoil, and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers put its plan for a deep draft Arctic port on hold.Alaska’s economic woes are affecting all corners of the state, especially communities that were banking on an Arctic boom. But, in Nome, go to any one of the city’s meetings and it’s all eyes on the future.Nome’s Port Commission has been working with the McDowell Group, a research and consulting firm based in Anchorage. They’ve partnered together to update the port’s strategic plan. While the winter weather prevented two of the firm’s consultants from attending the meeting in person, the commissioners wasted no time before diving into the details.Commissioner Charlie Lean, while seemingly un-phased by the Army Corps’ postponement of its Arctic port study, emphasized that Nome must be viewed as a national port rather than a regional port.“This is for the extended Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea region,” Lean explained, “and whenever we say ‘regional’ everybody thinks Norton Sound, but we need to have a different word and think about a broader scheme.”He wasn’t the only one at the table who still thought Nome can play a role in the future of Arctic shipping.Commissioner Megan Alvanna-Stimpfle, who just recently moved back to Nome after working for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, was adamant about involving Alaska’s delegation in their efforts.“Our state and our leaders need to get behind this port and the opportunity to support the port of Nome is now, or else it may not happen.”And, according to City Manager Tom Moran, that might be easier than it sounds. Moran just returned from a trip to Juneau, where he attended the Alaska Municipal League conference alongside Nome’s newly appointed Mayor Richard Beneville. At this month’s city council meeting, which coincided with another burst of bad weather, Moran recapped Governor Walker’s speech at the conference.“It was a half hour speech and he mentioned three places: Anchorage, Juneau and Nome, and he mentioned Nome four times.” So, Moran pointed out, “it’s worth noting that we do have a friend in the Governor’s office and that is the governor himself,” adding that, “he does certainly have a place in his heart for Nome.”With the governor’s budget to be released soon, Moran urged the City Council to “keep your fingers crossed, we might see some love from the Governor.”While schools and businesses were shut down due to the weather, Nome’s City Council plotted a way forward. It was Beneville’s second council meeting since being sworn in as Mayor, and he, too, was keeping an eye on the port’s future.“One of the things that I would really like to see us continue to do as we move forward with the port, however it turns out to be,” Beneville said, ” is to make Nome as marine-friendly as we can.”With the sea ice packing into the port and surrounding the city, the docks may no longer be bustling with activity, but Nome’s commissioners and councilmembers are sure to remain hard at work through the winter months.Share this story:
Energy & Mining | SouthwestEPA cleared of bias on Pebble projectJanuary 14, 2016 by Liz Ruskin, APRN-Washington Share:Members of the media walking to an exploratory drill rig at the Pebble Mine Exploratory site. (Photo by Jason Sear/ KDLG)The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general has concluded that the agency did not treat the Pebble project unfairly when it issued a controversial document detrimental to the mine.“Based on the information available to us, we found no evidence of bias in how the Environmental Protection Agency conducted its Bristol Bay watershed assessment, or that the Environmental Protection Agency pre-determined the assessment outcome to enable them to initiate a Clean Water Act Section 404(c) process,” Randy Holthaus, a member of the inspector general’s team, said.But, the report does find fault with one Alaska-based Environmental Protection Agency employee.Holthaus, from the IG’s office, says the ecologist, who retired in 2013, failed to remain impartial because he helped tribes fighting the mine craft their request to the Environmental Protection Agency.“We found that the employee used personal, non-governmental email to provide comments on a draft Clean Water Act Section 404(c) petition from the tribes before the tribes submitted it to the Environmental Protection Agency,” Holthaus said. “This action was a possible misuse of position.”The report says they were unable to review about two years of the employee’s emails.The Environmental Protection Agency employee, Phil North, of Kenai, was the technical lead on the assessment. North had planned to sail around the world for two years after his 2013 retirement. Pebble wants to compel him to testify on its lawsuit against the government, but its lawyers can’t find him. He is said to be living in Australia or New Zealand.A Pebble representative called the report a whitewash and said the scope of the IG’s investigation was too narrow.KDLG’s Dave Bendinger contributed to this report. Share this story:
Business | Local Government | SoutheastOwing back taxes and rent, Craig Cable TV cuts its own cableApril 7, 2016 by Leila Kheiry, KRBD Share:(Creative Commons photo by Steve Johnson)Cable television customers in Craig are without service as of late last week after Craig Cable TV closed up shop.The Prince of Wales Island company has shut down in response to owing about $60,000 in back sales taxes and rent payments to the City of Craig.Craig City Manager Jon Bolling said the city filed a civil lawsuit last year against Craig Cable TV and its owner, Donald Natkong Sr. of Hydaburg, in Alaska Superior Court. While the official ruling from Judge David George is not yet filed, Bolling said the case recently went in the city’s favor.Bolling, who declined to be recorded for this report, said the city is pursuing what is owed by the company.According to the complaint filed in court by the City of Craig, that includes payments for property that Craig Cable TV leased from the city for its operations. The monthly rent for that property, including tax, was $476. Payment had not been made since March of 2013, and the back rent plus interest was nearly $12,000 when the lawsuit was filed in March of 2015.The complaint also detailed how much taxable income the business has had over the past several years, and the amount of sales tax that should have been collected and paid as a result.Each quarter, businesses must file sales tax returns along with the payment owed. Craig Cable TV’s taxable income is at least $30,000 each quarter. Starting in the fourth quarter of 2011, Natkong started having trouble paying the sales tax collected from customers.According to the complaint, some partial payments of sales taxes were made, but Bolling said at a certain point, even those stopped. Around that same time, Craig Cable TV stopped filing any sales tax returns at all. That means city officials used previous returns to estimate the taxable income for each quarter since that time. Each late or missing payment also led to penalties and interest, adding even more to the total owed by the company.There was no answer at the two Hydaburg phone numbers listed for Donald Natkong Sr., and nobody returned a message left by KRBD on the voicemail for one of those numbers. There was no answer and no voicemail option at number listed for the business.Natkong’s attorney, Michael Nash of Wrangell, said that it was with great sadness that the Natkong family decided to close the cable business.“They were simply unable to continue to pay the sales tax and lease on the property where they have their receivers and electronics,” he said. “The City of Craig brought suit against them, and they failed to respond to the suit in a timely manner. As a consequence, the court found that they were in default. The result is, they will have to shut down and they will have to remove their equipment.”Nash said while there is still some dispute over a few of the numbers claimed in the lawsuit, the family intends to pay back the City of Craig.Bolling said Craig Cable TV was the only cable company for the city, although there is satellite TV available. He wasn’t sure how many customers have been affected by the closure.Share this story:
Community | Education | Sexual Abuse & Domestic Violence | Southeast | SpiritAthletes to Adults: MEHS wrestlers learn about healthy relationshipsDecember 10, 2016 by Emily Russell, KCAW Share:The Mt. Edgecumbe High School wrestling team. Emory Johnson helps hold up the poster. (Emily Russell/KCAW)This fall, student wrestlers at Mt. Edgecumbe took part in a program called, ‘Coaching Boys into Men.’ The idea is to teach young players how to have healthy relationships even if, in the case of Mt. Edgecumbe, half of them will grow up to be women.The entire student body of Mt. Edgecumbe, more 400 students from over 100 villages across Alaska, is packed into the school’s gym for a pep rally– a rally that’s about more than just the regional wrestling tourney.Two student wrestlers sign the poster after completing the ‘Coaching Boys into Men’ program. (Emily Russell/KCAW)The Mt. Edgecumbe wrestling team is being recognized for completing the ‘Coaching Boys into Men’ program, an effort to promote healthy relationships and reduce abuse and sexual assault.Emory Johnson, a four-year senior from Bethel is one of the wrestlers.That’s right, Johnson is a girl. Despite competing in a sport historically geared towards boys, Johnson isn’t shy about her strength.“My mom never really wanted me to join because she doesn’t like the way the guys beat on the girls. I’m like, ‘Well, it can go both ways,’” Johnson joked.Johnson is one of more than 20 girls on the team of over 40 wrestlers. Girls have wrestled here for over a decade thanks to their coach, Mike Kimber.“I’m at teacher at Mt. Edgecumbe,” explained Kimber. “I teach Japanese, English, and a few other classes and I’m the wrestling coach. I’ve been the wrestling coach here for 17 years at Mt. Edgecumbe.”Mike Kimber has been coaching wrestling at Mt. Edgecumbe High School for 17 years. (Emily Russell/KCAW)Kimber himself is a graduate of Mt. Edgecumbe. When he was a wrestler, he said his coach worked with the athletes both on and off the mat. It’s that mission, to develop not just a good athlete but a good person, that inspired Kimber to join the ‘Coaching Boys into Men’ program.“Whether you’re a girl or a boy, everybody needs this information,” urged Julia Smith, the prevention director for Sitkans Against Family Violence.Smith introduced the program to teachers and coaches at Mt. Edgecumbe a year and a half ago.“And a lot of them asked, ‘I don’t have all boys on my team, can I still use this?’ So, we called the national folks at Futures Without Violence and they said, ‘Yes, go ahead and use it,’” explained Smith.The program spans an entire season, with one 15-minute lesson each week. The topics include communicating boundaries, digital disrespect, and the importance of consent. The lesson on consent was the only one Coach Kimber chose to teach separately.“We kept the boys on the mat and the girls went to another room and did that [lesson],” Kimber said.Mt. Edgecumbe’s wrestling team was the only one in Sitka to take part in the program this year, but Julia Smith said she’s trying to change that. It’s already caught on in other Southeast communities like Juneau. “The basketball team in Ketchikan has also used the program,” added Smith. “The basketball team in Kake has used the program, so we’re really trying to build momentum and get this going throughout our state and have all coaches use this as a tool for reiterating the things they’re already teaching.”There are more than 40 students on the Mt. Edgecumbe wrestling team, half of whom are girls. (Emily Russell/KCAW)That’s the beauty of the program. The messenger is one that’s usually trusted and the message is one that’s critical for adulthood. Wrestler Emory Johnson gets that.“Yeah, it’s called “[Coaching] Boys into Men,’ but the questions are still the same. It’s just, ‘What does respect mean to you?’ I mean, respect means respect to everybody,” Johnson said.And that’s a lesson that every Mt. Edgecumbe wrestler now knows well.Mt. Edgecumbe will host the Region V wrestling tournament this weekend, with matches on both Friday and Saturday.Share this story:
Business | Crime & Courts | Juneau | Local Government | Oceans | Tourism | TransportationJuneau’s cruise ship head tax spending pitches due next weekDecember 27, 2016 by Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO Share:Three cruise ships dock in downtown Juneau on July 14, at the height of the tourist season. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)Proposals to spend Juneau’s cruise ship passenger fees are due next Monday, and so far, the city hasn’t received many pitches.The city charges a $5 per passenger tax on large vessels that stop in Juneau. With about a million cruise ship passengers a year, it generates about $5 million. Under federal law, that money can only be spent on projects and programs that address both cruise ship passengers’ safety and accessibility.Susan Phillips, an executive assistant to the city manager, said, as of Tuesday, the city has only received nine project proposals from five entities. The submissions period opened Dec. 2.Typically, the city receives dozens of pitches for things like seasonal emergency services personnel, waterfront infrastructure improvements, crossing guards and more public restroom cleaning and maintenance.Meanwhile, Cruise Lines International Association’s lawsuit alleging Juneau misspends that money is pending in federal court.Neither the city attorney nor a representative of the cruise line association could be reached for comment, but Juneau Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said the case is in the discovery phase.Cosgrove said the looming lawsuit won’t affect the spending process this year.“Business as usual. We’ll just move forward with using the same process we’ve always used, as you’re aware,” Cosgrove said. “It’s a public process where we ask people to submit, and then we go through — traditionally, we have met with industry representatives to discuss the proposals and hear their thoughts about them, and we will do the same thing this year.”Juneau’s Marine Passenger Fee Proceeds Committee vets the initial list of spending proposals. Its recommendation go to the Juneau Assembly, which gets the final say on the projects that make the cut. The assembly discussion is expected in the spring for the budget year that begins in July.Share this story:
Energy & Mining | Environment | Federal Government | Nation & World | NPR NewsTrump’s move on Keystone XL, Dakota Access outrages activistsJanuary 24, 2017 by Rebecca Hersher, NPR Share:The Trump administration is pushing forward on plans for two major oil pipelines in the U.S., projects that sparked nationwide demonstrations and legal fights under President Obama.President Trump signed documents inviting the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline to resubmit a proposal for the project, which the Obama administration rejected in 2015, and instructing the Army to expedite the review and approval process for the section of the Dakota Access Pipeline that hasn’t been built.“We’re going to renegotiate some of the terms, and if they’d like, we’ll see if they can get the pipeline built,” Trump said of the Keystone XL pipeline.“This not a done deal,” Bill McKibben of the group 350.org, which has lobbied against pipelines for years, said in a statement. He called the pipelines “unwise and immoral” because they contribute to climate change.Trump also signed a document requesting a federal plan to incentivize the use of U.S.-made pipes for pipeline projects.Proposed and existing TransCanada pipelinesSource: TransCanadaCredit: Stephanie d’Otreppe and Alyson Hurt/NPRThe lobbying group representing the petroleum industry issued a statement in favor of the policy reversal. A spokesperson for the TransCanada company, which proposed the Keystone XL project, said the company was preparing to resubmit a proposal. Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the nearly completed Dakota Access Pipeline, did not immediately comment.Both the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline provoked protests from a diverse group of citizens concerned about the climate impacts and potential environmental contamination from the projects, as well as the safety of their routes across large swaths of the country and the mechanisms by which the federal government approved those routes.McKibben promised to fight the president’s move, saying, “The last time around, TransCanada was so confident they literally mowed the strip where they planned to build the pipeline, before people power stopped them. People will mobilize again.”A portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline is under review by the Army Corps of Engineers, which announced last week that it was gathering information for an environmental assessment of a crossing under the Missouri River in North Dakota — an area that the nearby Standing Rock Sioux tribe says is sacred land.Demonstrators, sometimes numbering in the thousands, set up several camps on occupied land near the proposed crossing site beginning last summer, in support of the Standing Rock Sioux. The tribe filed a lawsuit against the federal government to block the pipeline, which was retracted earlier this month.Source: North Dakota state government, Natural Earth, US Census Bureau, USGS, Energy Transfer Partners, Bakken Pipeline Map, Carl Sack, staff reportsCredit: Katie Park/NPRThe protests diminished after the Army Corps blocked the final permit in December and announced it would reassess the pipeline route, taking into account concerns about the risk of water contamination and allegations that the tribe was not adequately consulted about a route that violated sacred land.On Tuesday, the tribe released a statement through the American Civil Liberties Union, promising to take legal action against the federal government.“Trump’s decision to give the go-ahead for the Dakota Access Pipeline is a slap in the face to Native Americans and a blatant disregard for the rights to their land,” it stated.The tribe also addressed the president’s stated plan to streamline what he called the “incredibly cumbersome, long, horrible permitting process” for environmental reviews of pipeline and manufacturing projects.“The Trump administration should allow careful environmental impact analysis to be completed with full and meaningful participation of affected tribes,” the Standing Rock Sioux wrote in its statement.Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota released a statement praising the president’s actions, calling the pipelines “crucial energy infrastructure projects” and saying they would create jobs.Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.Share this story:
Community | History | Juneau | Military | Nation & World | SpiritJuneau man shares a painful memory from driving trucks in IraqMay 29, 2017 by Quinton Chandler, KTOO Share:Richard Marshall at KTOO on Friday, May 19. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)Richard Marshall is a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran. He’s a Juneau resident and was a civilian contractor for the U.S. military in Iraq. He signed up to drive fuel trucks through combat zones because he wanted to help.During his first year in Iraq, Marshall drove 96 combat missions. In 2004 on Good Friday, he narrowly avoided a deadly attack. I asked him to share his memory of that day and he explained how it changed his life. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.Audio Playerhttps://media.ktoo.org/2017/05/21Marshallv2.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.“Everyday we would line up and they would hand out keys and according to which key to which truck you got, you would be assigned a convoy commander and you’d form up into a group and leave.“I was living in a tent with a bunch of guys that I got very close to. So when we would go up to sort of hang around the place where they handed out the keys, we’d routinely walk up together. That morning, they’d awakened us very early in the morning. All of the roads had been shut down for a couple of days. The threat was so high, the danger was so bad, the combat was so furious that they wouldn’t let anybody leave any of the camp. We were (sitting) around waiting for them to line us up and I got up to go get a bottle of water. As I was getting a bottle of water from an area … they called for us to come line up. So we did and it just happened that I ended up a couple of spaces ahead of this group of guys that was behind me. That couple of spaces put me as the last man in the first convoy that day.“It was just horrible, we got shot at from the minute we left the gate and we got beat up and shot and blown up until we made it to Taji which is halfway to Baghdad. Finally got out of Taji and got south into Baghdad and we were able to supply enough fuel to keep the medevac birds going – that’s about all we could do at that point.Marshall, middle, and his fellow drivers wait to settle in for the night at Al Taqaddum Air Base in West Central Iraq after unloading a fuel shipment in 2004. (Photo courtesy Richard Marshall)“The following morning, they allowed that second group to leave. … The group of guys that I lived with were all in that convoy. That was the group that got hit with anti-aircraft guns. They pretty well wiped out the convoy. The convoy commander lost an eye; I think we lost seven — there were seven drivers killed, there were several injured. Three or four soldiers killed that day. Basically everybody … all my friends were killed that day.“So the fickleness is that even though I had it tough getting out of the gate that day and we had a tough time, had it not been for that bottle of water, that silly bottle of water, I would’ve been with them. So … that’s part of the reason why I stayed.”Now, do you still feel survivor’s guilt?“Oh sure, yeah, I don’t think — I don’t think that ever goes away. My response, my way of dealing with it, is to try and feel — feel very lucky every day. It’s tough to talk about, but in truth, I just don’t feel like I have the — I don’t have the right to feel bad about anything.“I’m sorry. In other words, now when I’m working, when I’m doing anything — I mean my gosh, any of those guys — on my worst, worst day, every one of them would love to have that day. I’m just blessed, that’s all. I’m very blessed.”Richard Marshall and his wife Teresa on Fish Creek Trail on Douglas in 2015. (Photo courtesy Richard Marshall)Richard Marshall left Iraq at the end of 2007 and returned in 2010. After a short break, he moved on to work in Afghanistan for two and a half years.Today he is semi-retired and works for Juneau Docks and Harbors in his spare time. He and his wife Teresa just celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary and plan to build a retirement home in Haines. Marshall said his biggest regret is spending so many years away from his wife.Share this story:
Audio Playerhttps://cpa.ds.npr.org/kbbi/audio/2017/06/31SalmonData.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.The five-year study collected stream and temperature readings in 48 non-glacial streams every 15 minutes to capture high and low temperatures every hour.Cook Inlet Keeper science director Sue Mauger led the effort and has been working for over a decade monitoring temperatures in salmon streams on the Kenai Peninsula.Her results provide a baseline for salmon habitat in the Cook Inlet Basin.“This kind of information that’s on a large regional scale but is site specific gives us that real important tool to decide where should we do one type of protection or conservation activity versus another kind of development project,” she said.Mauger studied multiple streams in a single watershed, streams fed by wetlands, lakes and at high and low elevations.All of these factors play into how susceptible each stream is to climate change, which she said is a concern.In 2009, Mauger recorded notably high temperatures in about a third of the streams. Warmer waters can make fish expend more energy to breath, make it harder to put on weight and make them more susceptible to predation.This information can be valuable for management agencies and other stakeholders, but it’s is only useful if they know it exists.Several groups of researchers, data crunchers and interns are looking to solve that problem through a data-compiling initiative known as State of Alaska Salmon and People or SASAP.“The goal of SASAP is basically to ask three questions,” Leslie Jones said, an aquatic ecologist at the Alaska Center for Conservation Science. “What do we know? What don’t we know? How we can we better integrate and share the knowledge of what we know?”The center is located at the at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. Jones is one of more than 100 people and eight focus groups compiling existing and new data on all things salmon.“As part of these efforts to sort of synthesize data across the state of Alaska to support salmon science and conservation, we’re crowdsourcing existing stream temperature data to build the first comprehensive stream temperature database for the state of Alaska,” said Jones, whose focus is on stream temperature.Jones and her colleges have already compiled a preliminary database, known as the Alaska Online Aquatic Temperature Site, listing who is collecting stream info around the state.Those scientists will work with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California Santa Barbara to collect, clean and make sense of that data.“They actually have rooms of interns of students down there that are soliciting the data, cleaning the data, creating a standardized database for not only stream temperature but biological data for salmon populations across the state,” Jones said.Students will begin reaching out to stream temperature data-holders in the coming weeks.Those same interns also will be crunching data collected by seven other working groups. Groups are collecting numbers of fish who make it upstream to spawn, data on the size of fish, river conditions and local knowledge on river systems.“Looking past that is how can we use the data once we build this comprehensive database, how can we create maps and create maybe interactive web portals or predictive models that can further help and support research efforts?” Jones said of the possibilities.All this in hopes of answering some of the most pressing questions we have about salmon, everything from marine survival to impacts of rising stream temperatures.People like Jones and Mauger say this will help state and federal agencies and other stakeholders as they make management decisions across the state.Jones adds that once the database is launched, SASAP will work to continue compiling data as it rolls in from researchers and organizations so long as there’s funding.The database will be publicly available late next year.Share this story: Climate Change | Fisheries | Food | Oceans | Science & Tech | Southcentral | WildlifeData crunchers work to build comprehensive Alaska salmon databaseJune 1, 2017 by Aaron Bolton, KBBI-Homer Share:King salmon at a market in Seattle. (Creative Commons photo by Jill /Blue Moonbeam Studio)Scientists are gathering temperature data to determine what warming waters mean for salmon.There’s still a lot scientists don’t know and it’s become a hot topic.One of the first studies in Alaska was published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences this month, as part of a larger effort to design a statewide database on all things salmon.
Share this story: Juneau | WeatherOfficials watch for flooding as Suicide Basin reservoir drainsJuly 17, 2018 by Adelyn Baxter, KTOO Share:Suicide Basin, pictured on June 29, 2016, from a U.S. Geological Survey webcam.Water began draining Monday from Suicide Basin into Mendenhall River, but officials don’t yet know if it will cause flooding.City Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice said residents who live along the Mendenhall River should be on alert in case water levels suddenly begin to rise.“There’s as much water or more as there was in 2016, so if this turns into a traditional jökulhlaup we could see record flooding,” Mattice said.“Jökulhlaup” is an Icelandic term for a flood from a glacial burst.The U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service are monitoring water levels in Mendenhall Lake and the Mendenhall River. So far, no significant rise has been recorded.Glacial flooding in the Mendenhall area has become a routine summer occurrence the last few years.Nico Bus lives along the Mendenhall River in a neighborhood where many backyards have seen a significant increase in erosion. He said they keep an eye out for flooding, but there’s not much else they can do.“Sometimes, like last year, I think it was five times. Some of them are insignificant and you’re just waiting for the big one,” Bus said.In June, researchers reported that the basin was draining rapidly, which usually signals the start of flooding. They later found that a glacial calving event likely caused water levels to rise suddenly.Mattice said residents should exercise caution.“Obviously it’s starting as a slow event and it could stay that way we just really don’t know,” Mattice said.Residents can monitor water levels on the National Weather Service’s website. Here’s video of water from Suicide Basin flowing into Mendenhall Lake on Monday.
Aleutians | Environment | Outdoors | WildlifeEnvironmentalists call foul after Fish and Wildlife quietly allows in Izembek land surveyJuly 20, 2018 by Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media Share:King Cove. (Photo courtesy Aleutians East Borough)Conservation groups say the Interior Department has gone behind the public’s back and conducted a land survey in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, in the area of the proposed King Cove road.A memo from the Fish and Wildlife Service said the work would involve 80 helicopter landings over two days, to drive 122 metal survey markers into the ground.A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the survey work in the refuge was completed this week.“We have concerns that they violated the Wilderness Act, and we will be looking into this further,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans of The Wilderness Society, one of several groups that filed a lawsuit in January to block the proposed road.The fight over the proposed road has existed for 20 years or more.The community of King Cove wants the road to get to Cold Bay, which they say would save lives in medical emergencies.Bad weather often prevents planes from landing in King Cove, and Cold Bay has a 10,000-foot runway.The proposed road would have to go through about 10 miles of the refuge, which includes land categorized as “wilderness,” a federal land designation of maximum protection.Conservation groups fiercely oppose the road, saying it would damage an area of worldwide significance to waterfowl, bears and other wildlife.U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a land trade agreement in January to swap the proposed land corridor for private land owned by the King Cove Corporation.The agreement calls for a survey to determine the value of the land.Mitch Ellis, the regional chief of the refuge system for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote in a July 12 memo that the land trade agreement requires a survey, so they didn’t go through the regular management review process as they would for proposed work.The public would have had a chance to weigh in if a full environmental review had been deemed necessary.The memo said government officials decided to do the work with helicopters so that the duration of disturbance would be limited to two days.Surveyors would have had to haze bears for a longer period had they needed to go in on foot, the memo says.Law firm trustees for Alaska, that filed a legal challenge to the land trade on behalf of several environmental groups.“The Wilderness Act is a very protective statute, and it prohibits things like helicopters and installations in wilderness,” Trustee attorney Brook Brisson said. “Izembek is wilderness. So we are looking very closely at the legality of those survey activities and we are evaluating next steps with our clients.”Brisson’s lawsuit claims the land exchange agreement is not legal, though she has not obtained a court order that would have prevented the survey work.Neither the Fish and Wildlife Service nor the Interior Department responded to questions about the legality of the work by deadline.Share this story: