A rally planned for next week in Kenai will bring together Second Amendment advocates, lawmakers and historians to discuss the Second Amendment and the constitutional questions about the legal theory of nullification.
Proposed state laws in Alaska and Wyoming are at the heart of Monday evening’s
Second Amendment Freedom Rally. In Alaska, two house bills represent an effort of
nullification, the doctrine that holds that states have a right to invalidate federal laws they don’t think are constitutional. House bill 69 would exempt certain firearms, accessories and ammunition from any federal regulations.
“HB 83 is potentially even more important,” said event organizer and Nikiski High School history instructor Bob Bird.
“A federal statute, regulation, presidential executive order, or secretarial order that is unconstitutional or was not properly adopted in accordance with federal statutory authority may not be considered to preempt a state law.”
Just the kind of executive orders that House Speaker Mike Chenault’s HB 69 would
protect against and that have been floated by the Obama Administration in light of recent mass shootings as a way to reduce gun violence. Nullification of federal law by a state has been tried many times, but the Supreme Court has never ruled in favor of it.
“If anyone has ever heard of nullification before, it was probably in a very negative context,” Bird said. “We don’t think that’s deserved at all. And because the state legislatures all over the country are beginning to consider this, people need to know exactly what nullification is,” Bird said.
Speakers Monday night include Tom Woods, author of the New York Times Bestseller “Nullification:How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century”. He’s one in a line of speakers scheduled for the evening, including former NRA Vice-President Wayne Anthony Ross, Wyoming state representative Kendell Kroeker and law historian Seymour Mills.
Bird says this will be an educational forum and opponents to the theory are welcome to voice their opinion.
The Second Amendment Freedom Rally is Monday night at 7pm at the Renee C.Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School.
No injuries were reported in a Nikiski house fire Wednesday morning.
The Nikiski Fire Department responded to the call shortly after 7:30 Wednesday morning and arrived to a home on Eagle Avenue that was estimated by first responders as about 80% burning when they arrived.
More than 20 personnel from Nikiski and the Kenai Fire Department responded to the call and fought the fire for several hours before it was totally extinguished.
As BP’s trial gets underway to determine its responsibility in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, there are questions here about the ability of oil companies to not only operate safely, but to be able to clean up after themselves in the event of a spill.
The trial that will decide if BP is solely responsible for a 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began this week, raising concerns about the ability of operators here in Cook Inlet to respond to a spill both with equipment and financial resources. BP faces fines and penalties totaling $16 billion. For some perspective, in its 2012 annual report, Buccaneer Energy, which is planning on drilling exploratory oil and gas wells this year both on and off shore in Cook Inlet, listed its total assets at $68.5 million, though it did receive a $100 million line of credit earlier this year from a private asset management firm. Another Cook Inlet operator, Apache, noted $60.7 million in assets at the end of 2012. Asked during a teleconference in Juneau if there are concerns about the fitness of companies to do business here, State Senator Peter Micciche said those companies need to meet a specific level of qualification.
“I think it’s key that they have a record of success and the pockets necessary, God-forbid there is an incident,” he said.
Micciche has had a lenghty career with Conoco Philips, a long time oil and gas player in Alaska. He said even though many companies have found success here, that’s no guarantee that they’re prepared for future events, citing Shell as an example.
“They’re a great company, they did a great job, they had a mishap and I do believe in their program but things do happen and we do need to make sure that in the rare occasion there are, hopefully, events that stay manageable and small, that we have the right people that can respond.”
He says there are a couple ways to set a different accountability standard for energy companies.
“One is that we make sure the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s ability to respond remains adequately funded and that we make sure that we as stakeholders remain involved in the C-Planning, the response planning of these companies, so that we feel they have the ability to respond as well,” he said.
C-plans, or contingency plans are submitted by companies and lay out exactly what they would do in the event of a spill or other emergency. Buccaneer’s plans to drill in the Cosmopolitan Unit this winter in Lower Cook Inlet are still on hold as it amends its C-plan.
“Ultimately, what it comes down to is you want to make sure your incentives also have a clause that requires that companies have the ability to perform and that they have a record of performing. We don’t want to draw just anyone. We want to draw the best companies that we can trust to take care of our natural resources and the reasons most Alaskans live here, and it’s our beautiful natural resources.”
The Borough’s Anadromous Streams Task Force held its final meeting last week, before public meetings begin to review the Borough’s code on fish habitat protection.
The Task Force voted in favor of the proposed amendments to the Borough’s current rules Thursday night, brought forth by task force members Ken Tarbox, Ray Tauriainen and Bill Smith. Those amendments dealt largely with cleaning up language in the Borough code in the name of consistency and finding a final version of amendments to take to the public and the Borough Assembly. Within that, they tackled conditional use permits around lakes for things like float planes and boat launches. Lakes became a main issue when the Borough expanded habitat protections to everything listed in the state catalog of anadromous water bodies because salmon don’t live in lakes. The group has worked to eliminate some of those bodies from regulation that are called grey bars.
“These are waters that are not fully documented by Fish and Game, and so I felt that if they’re not going to be fully documented by Fish and Game at this time, even though they may have good reason to believe they may have anadromous fish in them, I felt that we needed to go forward with a little better standard than that, and so if and when Fish and Game meets the more modern standard the have for listing streams, then those (waters) can be introduced for listing,” said Assembly member Bill Smith.
On the other side of the issue are those calling for a full repeal of the ordinance. They’d like to begin the process over again, with more notice given to affected land owners. Fred Braun is on the Task Force, and has been a vocal proponent of repeal.
“If this ordinance was repealed and brought back in any kind of a form whatsoever, there could be more proposals. I’m saying we need to clean the sheet, start over, ground zero, repeal this whole ordinance. We’re spending more and more time on it and so this would be the desire; to get rid of the catalog and start the process over,” Braun said.
Recognizing that the validity of the state’s anadromous streams catalog has been challenged many times before, Task Force member Ken Tarbox said there are ways to petition the state to change the catalog, and that the Task Force has removed some of the listed water bodies that haven’t been fully documented, but that there has to be some agreed upon standard and the catalog is the best one right now.
“Using anecdotal information or public testimony is good, but that has to be verified in some way. Throwing these streams out, to start over and clean the slate, so to speak, means what? That the documentation that’s in the anadromous catalog doesn’t count? That it has no merit? That we have to go check every one? I think that’s just not appropriate,” Tarbox said.
Another change that opponents to the measure want to see is a review of the ordinance every three years, to ensure that it’s working as intended and that there aren’t any major problems with permitting or other issues. However, for some on the Task Force, three years isn’t enough time to see if the measure is having its intended affect.
“The real benefits are not two years from now or three years from now. We’re going to measure the benefits in a decade or two or four decades or six decades when we still have fish in the river,” Smith said.
Next for the Task Force is a series of Town Hall meetings intended to get more public input before going before the Assembly with a set of final recommendations on how to improve the ordinance. To this point, no measure that would repeal the ordinance as it stands has come to a vote. The first town hall meeting will be in Nikiski on March 4th, with two others planned for Anchor Point and Moose Pass.
The Kenai Peninsula College’s annual series brings drama, arts, music literature and more to campus. Thursday, Anchorage’s Brian Hutton performed his one man show ’20th Century Man’ and also presented the historical drama ‘In Their Own Words’, a one-act play loosely centered on the 1887 Haymarket incident in Chicago.
Nearly 20 people filled the seats at the Kenai Fine Arts Center Wednesday night to watch an almost 40 year old documentary about oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet and chat about the issues of the day surrounding those industries.
The evening was sponsored by the Cook Inlet Keeper and also featured a presentation by retired marine biologist and author Loren Flagg. Flagg and former Homer Mayor and owner of the Homer News, Gary Williams, shared their thoughts on developments in the past 40 years with KDLL..
Shaylon Cochran: The folks (in the documentary) were saying a lot of the same things: they were concerned about what happens when these industries come in, they were concerned about habitat, and that’s what struck me is how in 40 years, a lot of these same questions are still being asked. Is that true? Are we asking the same questions and working on the same problems?
Loren Flagg: I think so. I think the same concerns exist today as back then. There’s obviously been changes. There’s probably better response capability to an oil spill event in the Inlet than there was back then because back then there was virtually nothing stored in the Inlet as far as booms or skimmers or other response equipment. And now, due to both federal and state legislation, there’s some equipment now that we didn’t have before.
S.C.: Gary, covering some of these issues from a news perspective, you had to have learned just an incredible amount about the industry and some of these biological things just from a news perspective.
Gary Williams: Yes, there’s no doubt about it. As a newspaperman, it was a baptism by fire because they don’t teach newspapermen how to deal with issues that come to the fore like the Kachemak Lease Buy-Back schedule that was going on; about how you deal with a community of people who are so diametrically opposed to one another and what is the responsibility of a newsman in a situation like that? The landscape is littered with newsmen who have been courageous and left their newspaper behind them. But the Homer News position was (that) we’re a mirror for the community. We need to show what we’re saying to one another and through that process we can learn from one another and maybe come to some consensus.
S.C.: In your years of doing research, Loren, did you find at that time when the EPA was just getting off the ground and things like that, did you find support for the work you were doing? Was there plenty of funding, plenty of bodies, support from the Legislature, or was it different?
L.F.: There was a lot of support once the controversy of the Kachemak Bay leases started, the first thing that happened (was) the Legislature created some funding for research in Kachemak Bay. I think it was $300,000 to study potential impacts of oil development to Kachemak Bay. That was the first real baseline type research that was done in the Bay. Research done prior to that was done mostly around salmon runs, you know, numbers. How many spawn in different streams and how many fry got out, that type of research. This got down into the macrophyte communites, which is the kelp communities and studies of the currents and things like that, that had never been done.
S.C.: Watching that documentary, I saw parallels with what’s going on now and what was going on then. We saw a lot of footage of energy company representatives speaking with local community members. What other parallels do you see in terms of what they’re calling a Cook Inlet resurgence. Do you see a lot of the same things playing out now that were going on then?
G.W.: I think that we know so much more…there’s more to know, but we know so much more than we did back then, and we’re talking 40 years ago, that we know to be somewhat more skeptical. And I say ‘we’, I mean the public. Scientists like Loren, they are not skeptical, because they have a very good idea about what’s going on. But those of us who are more involved in the sociology, as I was, see it perhaps a little differently.
L.F.: Back then, when the Kachemak Bay oil lease sale occurred, we were dealing with major oil companies; Standard Oil of California, Shell, Texaco. Now, because of these incentives the Legislature has passed, we’re dealing with unknowns; the Buccaneers and the Hilcorps and we’re dealing with smaller companies than we were 30, 40 years ago. And that’s due to the decline in the Cook Inlet fields and the incentives that allow these companies to come in…and so one of the concerns I’ve heard expressed is let’s say there’s a major oil spill and some major lawsuits involved, I mean, what happens then? They’re not going to be able to stand up like a BP or an Exxon to counter these lawsuits.
G.W.: I think we’re asking the right questions. I think that’s a very good example of the fact that we’ve come a long way and we’re starting to ask the right questions about whether the companies can stand behind their work, whereas before, we were fighting mainly among ourselves, we’re talking 40 years ago, on land, because we didn’t have any idea what was going on in the water.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story did not identify Cook Inlet Keeper as a host of the event.
In a short meeting Tuesday night, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved another step in the process of expanding the services and footprint of Central Peninsula Hospital, and also came together to urge the State to bring more meetings to the Kenai.
Plans for a major expansion at CPH continued Tuesday evening when the Assembly passed a resolution declaring official intent to issue revenue bonds to cover the $37 million cost of the project. As Borough Mayor Mike Navarre explained, this latest move would wrap some of the up-front costs in with the larger financing package, should the Assembly approve it.
“As you’ll recall, a little over $3 million was appropriated in order to get the design and certificates of need that may be required for portions of the medical office building,” Navarre said, adding it’s necessary to put those costs in place now, as they can be absorbed retroactively.
“With this, we would be able to go back to any any of the funds we have expended and roll them into a revenue bond if we do go forward with it. It does not commit the Assembly to going forward with the project, it just simply allows costs that have been incurred while we’re examining it and designing it to be rolled into that financing, should we decide to go forward with it,” he said.
The Assembly also approved a resolution urging the Department of Fish and Game to bring meetings to the Kenai Peninsula, namely the 2014 Upper Cook Inlet Finfish Proposals meeting.
“Basically, we’re asking the Board of Fisheries to hold their meeting here on the Kenai when the issues are pertain to the fisheries that happen on the Kenai Peninsula,” said Assembly Member Mako Haggerty.
That resolution was brought by Mayor Navarre and Assembly Member Brent Johnson. The Board of Fish hasn’t met on the Kenai Peninsula in more than a decade. Speaking on The Coffee Table Wednesday morning, Johnson said holding those meetings here would better serve the fishermen governed by the Boards decisions.
“Anchorage has a lot of people and a handful of them fish. Down here, the percentage of people involved in the fishery is way higher and so there are a lot of commercial fishermen who have to go to Anchorage and foot a big bill to participate in the process and it’s just not right that the Board of Fish doesn’t sometimes come down here,” Johnson said.
And beyond that, there’s the economic benefit. Board of Fish meetings go on for several days and draw dozens, if not hundreds of people from all over the state.
“It might be hundreds of hotel rooms and restaurant meals that would be served and it would be better if we could share the benefit of that instead of giving it to Anchorage every year,” he said.
The Board of Game will meet here in March for the first time since 1992. Johnson said even though the issues are different, it’s still important for issues that affect the Peninsula to be hashed out here, though there are challenges in making that happen.
“The controversies there don’t tend to be so regional. The controversies here are very regional and there’s been a concerted effort by some people to keep the Board of Fish from meeting in Kenai, making allegations that it would be unsafe here and nonsense like that and I’m here to tell you, that ain’t the case and it’s time to get our fair share of where the Board of Fish meets,” Johnson said.
The Board of Game comes to town March 15th through the 19th.
The Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries Task Force held its final meeting last week in Kenai. The group did accomplish its goal of sending recommendations to the Board about how to better manage salmon fishing when king salmon numbers are low, but there wasn’t much consensus among the user groups involved.
The Task Force had a lot to go over at its final meeting at the Challenger Learning Center last week.
“In my wildest dreams, we’ll walk out of here this evening with a plan that everybody here at the front table is nodding and going ‘yeah, we can get behind that’…how practical that is, I don’t know,” said Tom Kluberton, a member of the Board of Fisheries heading up the Task Force.
As it turns out, not very practical. The group came to an agreement on just two points, keeping the 36 hour Friday window and, predictably, lifting restrictions if the Department thinks more than enough kings will return by August 1st. In the end, the Task Force went with a modified version of the proposal put forth by Dwight Kramer, chairman of the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Association and a representative for sportfishers on the Task Force. Kramer’s plan is geared toward action in both commercial and sport fisheries if by July 21st, Fish and Game thinks the late run king salmon escapement goal of 15,000 fish won’t be met. Restrictions in both fisheries would be paired. For instance, if the in-river fishery goes to catch and release, Setnetters would face a 12 or 18 hour cap on their fishery. All of this depends heavily on the numbers that Fish and Game put out regarding how they see the king salmon run shaping up, which ADF&G Sportfishing Director Charlie Swanton said is a challenge in itself.
“We’ve been looking into the linkage between early and late runs (of chinook) to the Kenai. There is a linkage there. The problem with some of that stuff is that it may line up one year and then the next year, if falls apart,” Swanton said.
Commercial fishing director Jeff Regnart explained the Department’s best take on a preseason look at Chinook harvest, assuming bait fishing in river and average harvest numbers for East Side Set Netters and marine recreational users.
“My simple math puts us in that 6,500 to 7,000 fish range of total fish exploited up to that point (of time in July). We’re picking that point in time in July because that’s where we start to feel good about our ability to project total run to the Kenai and that’s going to be (based on average run timing) the 18th, 19th or 20th of July,” Regnart said.
These recommendations will be presented to the Board of Fisheries at its March meeting. Cook Inlet fishing issues weren’t scheduled to be on the Board’s to-do list until next year, but given the disastrous results of the 2012 season, the Task Force was put together to make sure we don’t see a repeat this year, and any of its recommendations that are adopted as policy will only be in effect for 2013.
One of the biological concerns of 2012 was the high number of sockeye that returned to the Kenai River, with very few of them picked up by the east side set net fleet, raising questions about over escapement.
“There seems to be an assumption that by going into a full closure on the East Side beach, that you can somehow make up the difference with the drift fleet,” said Jim Butler, an East Side Setnetter and a member of the Task Force representing commercial fishers.
“And I think that’s something that, in looking at the fishery holistically, it’s not quite that simple. It only takes a day or so of heavy fishing for the drift fleet to plugged, basically, and it also only takes a couple of days of heavy weather for them not to fish, and I think creating an opportunity for Fish and Game to act in those types of circumstances, to open up the beaches in these limited circumstances, is important to keep in mind,” Butler said.
The Board of Fisheries will me next month to find that better way and avoid another fishing season like last year’s. Those meetings will take place in Anchorage March 19th through the 24th. The public comment period ends March 5th.
An Alaska DOT tow plow in action. (Photo courtesy Alaska DOT)
Motorists on the Central Peninsula will see some new equipment keeping roads clear in the very near future. Tthe Soldotna area joins Juneau as one of two places in the state where the Department of Transportation is deploying new tow plows.
The sound of a snowplow grazing the surface of the highway is pretty familiar here, and the sight, too. Giant white trucks, covered in dirt and sand with the flashing yellow lights, throwing sparks as it moves down the road. One truck in Soldotna will stand out among the rest of the army of snow plows and when you see it, it might look like something’s not quite right.
“At first glance, it definitely might look like the truck or the plow might be out of control or might not be performing as intended, but it actually is,” said DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow.
“What a tow plow is is essentially a snow plow blade on a trailer that has double axles and the driver of the plow truck can actually control those axles to make it turn at about a 45 degree angle behind the plow truck”.
The tow plows basically turn one plow truck into two, whereas now one truck has to follow another to clear half of a four lane stretch of road, the trailer allows the same work with just one truck and one driver.
“It allows us to deploy our other trucks because normally we would have two trucks or more plowing in procession. But now when we have a tow plow in operation, we can use the other trucks in other areas that might have been plowed at a later time because of the importance of major arterials,” Woodrow said.
The new $90,000 tow plows will be in service just as soon we get enough snow to bring them out, Woodrow said.
Last week, the Borough School District and its teachers and employees associations took another swing at settling contract negotiations, now in their 14th month. The differences separating the two sides may look small on paper, but translate to significant amounts of money in the classroom.
Last week, the two sides got together for another negotiating session that brought them closer, but did not produce a deal. Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce says those talks continued late into the evening and ended before a final agreement could be made. Her concern remains with the health committee, which will be instrumental in determining how those costs are split up.
The structure of the committee itself has been up for debate. In the current proposal, seven representatives of education association and support association and one representative for the District will determine those costs under consultation with three additional members appointed by the Superintendent.
“There’s a concern about how much employees pay each month. The Associations came up with a formula, the District doesn’t agree with that forumla,” said District spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff.
The formula pitched by the Associations would base those numbers on health care expenditures from the previous four years, but the District is concerned about a lack of flexibility.
“It’s difficult to calculate what the claims would be in a self-funded health care program such as ours. The District wants the ability to speak with a broker who can analyze what trends are happening and possibly make a mid-year change in that amount, so that at the end of the year, there’s not a big surprise and suddenly employees are owing a lot more money,” Erkeneff said.
Though the two sides are admittedly very close to a deal, the last few points about health care, which represent hundreds of thousands of dollars that one side or the other will have to be responsible for, have been the most difficult on which to find common ground.
“Our fear, particularly in terms of the number, what if we can’t agree on that? What happens when you have a stalemate?” Druce asked in an interview.
Another issue is how costs will be split up. The end goal is to have the District pick up 85% and the employees will cover the remaining 15% by 2015. The association wants to see that happen by 2014, but that two percent is still a lot of money.
“It is a significant amount and looking at the Associations, who would like to go to the 85/15 split in year two in contrast to the 83/17, that’s close to a half a million dollars…and that’s six certified teaching positions.
In a labor contract negotiation, if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, there’s the possibility of a strike, right? Of course, there still is here, too, though Druce says disagreements over health care might not be the best platform for that action. She says it would take something more drastic, like teacher-layoffs.
“You could put that on a signboard and stand out on a corner and get the attention of most of the people in your community,” Druce said. “Regardless of if they have children in our public schools or not…they would understand that that’s a very serious situation. I don’t know how to signboard committee membership,” Druce admitted.
Erkeneff said there is no timeline for the negotiating teams to get together again, and the District is awaiting a reply from the Associations on its latest proposals.
The state Board of Game will be meeting next month in Kenai for the first time in more than two decades. The proposals the Board will review deal mostly with bag limits for moose and some changes for bear hunting.
The 18 proposals before the Board for the Kenai Peninsula deal mostly with moose and bear bag limits and seasons. The Department of Fish and Game wrote several of the proposals, including one that would suspend aerial wolf control on the northern Peninsula and change intensive management objectives. Right now, that objective is 3,000-3,500 moose and ADF&G thinks that’s an unrealistic number given the lack of wildfires. Given current conditions, the Department says 2,600 moose should be the high end, with harvest objectives lowered as well down to around 200 moose. At the same time, the Department recommends reauthorizing antlerless moose seasons for the lower Peninsula.
Fish and Game is also recommending liberalizing brown bear hunts on the Kenai. A recent population study indicated more than 600 hundred brown bears in the area and current regulations include a registered hunt capped at 10 adult female deaths. The Department’s plan would modify the existing season dates for the registration hunt in the north and in Seward. Other areas would be regulated by a drawing permit hunt between September 1st and November 30th.
The Board of Game will meet at the Kenai Cultural Center March 15-19, with meetings starting each day at 8:30 am.
Members of the Kenai City Council heard public testimony Wednesday night regarding how the City will approach the personal use dipnet fishery this summer. Costs to keep the beaches clean and rules enforced have been going up in concert with growing crowds, now numbering between 10 and 15 thousand people during the three week sockeye surge.
There were several takeaways from Wednesday’s work session. There’s way too much fish waste being generated during dipnetting season, the city’s options to clean that waste are limited because of the hours of the fishery and the cost of cleanup, and it’s going to take a coalition of interested parties to get much done about it. But more than that, Kenai’s famous dipnetting is becoming a strain on residents, too.
“There’s a lot of people that come by our house,” said Carolyn Snowder. She lives on Cannery Road and addressed the council during its work session.
“During that three weeks in July, it’s like a little city right there, and we’re right in the middle of it,” she said.
She’s lived in the neighborhood near the south beach access point for the past six years, but not for much longer. The crowds, the noise, the trash; they’ve become too much.
“We had somebody actually with a big trailer last year that we advised not to drive their trailer down there and he did it anyway and got stuck and then they want us to help. It’s hard.”
All of those things have made Snowder decide to put a for sale sign up, and she’s not the only one.
“I can count nine houses right now within a mile on Cannery Road that are for sale, and I think that (dipnetting) probably has a lot to do with it,” Snowder said.
The city council has already had one work session to try and identify strategies to alleviate some of the worst side effects of the fishery. City Manager Rick Koch last month presented six alternatives, and went over those again with Council Wednesday. Mostly they involve ways to get fish waste off the beach, whether through the use of more fish cleaning stations and receptacles or outlawing fish cleaning on the beach altogether. Council Member Bob Molloy prefers option three, which is something of a compromise. It’s called the Gut and Gill option.
“That would involve setting up containers on the beach for solid waste, buying more equipment to do raking on the tide line twice a day if we’re allowed to do that. If it’s open 24 hours a day we can’t do any raking,” Molloy said. The hours the fishery are open are determined by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
So, with option three, there would be more places to gut and gill your sockeye, but the heads stay on and you fillet those bad boys somewhere else. The problem, Molloy said, is that those things cost money, which would need to come from increased revenues associated with the fishery (camping and parking fees) and he doesn’t sense a lot of support from Council on increasing those fees.
Further, because it’s a state fishery, the City needs direct management action from the Department of Fish and Game to see any changes. That will likely take a coalition of interested parties like the cities of Kenai and Soldotna and the Borough and the ears of our state legislators. Koch said Wednesday he doesn’t anticipate drastic changes for 2013, but increased lobbying efforts could help in the years beyond.
Two dogs died during the running of last weekend’s Tustumena 200; a first in the 29 year history of the race.
Brian Smith of the Peninsula Clarion reports that 2-year old Fox of Paul Gebhardt’s team and three-year old Jack from the team led by musher Nick Petit (pet-EET) of Girdwood both died in the second half of the race. Gebhardt attempted life-saving measures as his team neared the finish line Sunday while Petit’s dog died between checkpoints in Homer and at Freddie’s Roadhouse.
Both mushers have been cleared of any misconduct or abuse following necropsies.
Race Director Tami Murray says that dogs have passed after the race, but never during, and that it’s rare to see two deaths in a mid-distance race like the T-200.
Gebhardt finished in 4th place and Petit scratched.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released its Chinook Salmon Stock Assessment and Research Plan. At the center of the proposed plan is a stock specific, life history-based approach to research focused on 12 indicator stocks, from across the state.
ADF&G’s Chinook Salmon Research Team put the plan together, along with help from federal agencies and other researchers. They highlight a fundamental need to more precisely characterize productivity and abundance trends of Chinook salmon stocks across the state, gather essential information to understand cause for recent declines, track future population trends.
Locally, researchers looked at the Kenai River, which did see its minimum escapement goal for kings met last year, but not before shutting down commercial sockeye fishing as a result of management actions put in place during low king runs.
The team identified gaps in its assessment of current stocks, namely a known historical bias in the assessment due to misclassification. When sockeye and pinks and kings are all in the river at the same time, the old sonar couldn’t differentiate between them, driving estimates of Chinook up. The team also noted that there is currently no program to estimate smolt abundance, which would help researchers learn more about where the Chinook go and in what numbers.
To close these gaps, the research team laid out four projects: one for estimating smolt abundance, another to get a more comprehensive estimate of who’s catching kings out in Cook Inlet, a study of local and traditional knowledge of Kenai River king salmon stocks and the big one, a three year project to move the sonar site and run assessment upriver where more of the river can be surveyed by sonar.
Of course, all those projects come with a price tag. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million, which is how much Governor Sean Parnell put in his budget this year for Chinook research; part of a 5 year, $30 million research initiative. That’s in addition to the more than $14 million Fish and Game already spends annually on Chinook research and management.
Oral arguments are being heard Friday in US District Court in Anchorage for a lawsuit that challenges the decision made by the National Marine Fisheries Service to authorize the first of at least three years of seismic exploration in Cook Inlet.
The lead plaintiff in the case, the Native Village of Chickaloon, is concerned that the air guns Apache Corporation plans to use to conduct the seismic tests will disturb the habitat of the remaining population of Beluga whales in Cook Inlet.
The sounds of waves crashing that we land lovers hear from the shore or on a boat is just a small sample of the dynamic soundscape under the surface. The team at Ocean Conservation Research has a sound library and you can hear what the whales sound like (a little like R2-D2), and what the air guns sound like, and also what they sound like from 1,500 miles away.
The plaintiff’s suit seeks to rescind NMFS’s decision to allow Apache Corporation to proceed with seismic testing using those air guns, which court documents say generate sound levels in excess of 200 decibels.
“Basically, what we’re asking the federal government to do is go back to the drawing board on this one,” said Rebecca Noblin, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups representing the Village, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Take back its authorization to do the surveys, take a look at the science again and we would say don’t issue another authorization unless there’s some way they can mitigate all the impacts,” Noblin said.
A call was made to Apache spokesperson Lisa Parker for their take on the proceedings, but, as Apache is an intervenor in the case, she declined to comment.
The plaintiff’s suit contends that the decision violates portions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act and would effect and possibly endanger populations of Stellar sea lions, killer whales, harbor porpoises, harbor seals, fish and Cook Inlet Belugas.
For oral arguments, the Court is asking both sides to explain the legal impact of this case for future development in Cook Inlet, what the most important studies are regarding impacts to marine life and how important is the fact that in the first year of survey activities, there were no ‘takes’ as a result of the survey work.