Alaska News Nightly: September 3, 2012

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Adak Makes Push Toward Hydropower

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

Even in a region known for being wet, Adak stands out. With 263 days of precipitation a year, it’s the rainiest city in Alaska. Streams cut through every hill, and there are more lakes than there are people.

On a tour of Adak’s dams and pipes, city manager Layton Locket tells me that the water-flow is so powerful that they need to depressurize it before delivering it to homes for human consumption. If they didn’t, the city’s pipes would explode.

“You know that guy, in 2002, who shot the Transalaska pipeline?” asks Lockett. “If he were to put a bullet into this pipeline, it would rupture and go off like a big bomb. That’s how pressurized this thing is.”

Now, the city wants to harness that power. This August, Adak received a grant from the Department of Commerce to study the possibility of hydropower on the island.

It’s a big move for Adak. The 150-person community was struggling to keep its lights on not long ago. In 2008, the city suffered from major outages, and a now-defunct fishing company skipped out on a half-million-dollar bill. The state eventually handed over the city’s authority to run the island’s WWII-era diesel power plant to Native corporation TDX.

TDX absorbed the losses and brought the island power security, but also doubled rates in the process. Electric bills can cost a family up to $600 a month, and Lockett doesn’t see any way to bring them down using the current equipment.

“It doesn’t take long to pencil out that we have to do something,” says Lockett. “I mean, even if we wind up with new diesel generation, we kind of have to do something, and now’s as good a time as any to invest in that.”

That’s where a city-owned hydroplant comes in. The idea is to bring electric rates down about 75 percent all while using a local, renewable energy source. Since Adak already has dams built from its old days as a naval base, the city would mainly have to focus on setting up turbines and improving its electrical grid. The Department of Commerce analysis is meant to give them a better sense of what that involves how fast it can be done.

While the federal government is footing most of the bill for the study, Adak is still contributing $40,000 — or four percent of the city’s annual budget. They also spent $30,000 last year on dam inspections. These aren’t insignificant commitments for the small community. But with the fuel being so expensive in rural Alaska, Lockett says that investment could pay off pretty quickly.

“You know, cheap reliable power, I think that’s every community’s dream,” says Lockett. “We hope to make it a reality, and sooner rather than later.”

The city would like to have the study done by next year, and aims to secure financing for the project by 2013.

Group Taking Alaska Vets To WWII Memorial

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A newly formed chapter of a national non-profit organization is taking a group of Alaska veterans to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

State Wants Red Devil Mine On National Priority List

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

Cleanup at the Red Devil mine site is getting special attention from the state’s administration. Attorney General, Mike Geraghty, under the direction of the Governor is requesting that the old mercury mine site be put on the National Priorities List.

The mine is located on a small tributary of the middle Kuskokwim near the village of Red Devil.

In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, Geraghty wrote that the BLM “has been unwilling to consider State comments and recommendations.” He further wrote that the BLM has not fulfilled its responsibility to properly assess and mitigate impacts from the mine site.

Geraghty states that putting the Red Devil Mine on the national priorities list will provide consistent funding and will ensure that the State’s concerns are factored into cleanup efforts.

Jennifer Roberts, Federal Facilities Program Manager for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, says the state’s concerns go back nearly 10 years.

“BLM has had some mixed cleanup through time. [They have] never really done a complete investigation,” Roberts says.

In 2006, the State asked for a two-party agreement so they could be more involved in the process which they found to be unsatisfactory, but BLM denied it, according to Roberts. Since that time, she says politics has gotten in the way.

“Apparently, there is some internal issues between BLM Department of Interior and the EPA at the headquarters level that for lack of better terminology, they seem to have some policy differences,” said Roberts.

And those differences, she says, have delayed the clean-up project.

She says the BLM did a partial removal of contaminated soil and built a waste disposal area. But the state did not agree with how it was done and where it was placed. She says there is still mercury in the sub-surface soil.

“What we’re concerned about is that they didn’t go far enough,” Roberts said. “And we have no idea really how those will move through and where those might end up. Our concern always is if it would get into the Red Devil Creek or into the Kuskokwim River.”

Fish in the creek are contaminated. Those findings came out this Spring when BLM started meeting with villages along the river to discuss their sampling projects which found that mercury and arsenic are being released into the creek.

BLM has found contamination in the Red Devil Creek and sediment in the Kuskokwim River, near the mouth of the creek. The State has issued a warning to residents not to collect subsistence foods near the mine. This warning followed a more general one for pregnant women and young children who are cautioned against eating a lot of large-sized pike and lush fish, predators that can accumulate mercury over many years.

The Kuskokwim watershed is within a highly mineralized area known as the Mercury Belt and has naturally occurring mercury and arsenic.

Sand Point Quarry Clean Up Project Winding Down

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

For the past five years, Sand Point has been quietly cleaning up a toxic spill at its old quarry. Now, that project is finally winding down.

Footprint Sheds More Light On Prehistoric Alaska

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A recent discovery of an enormous, ancient footprint in Denali National Park is being seen as another indication of how busy the Alaskan landscape was with prehistoric animals coming and going for seasonal food hunting. Anthony Fiorillo is the curator of earth sciences at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. He says the first dinosaur print in Denali was found in 2005. He says that discovery, now on display at the Murie Science & Learning Center was the tip of the iceberg in terms of realizing how much dinosaur activity Denali once contained.

Fiorillo says the new find, a Therizinosaur track was beyond Fang Mountain.

Fiorillo says the Therizinosaur track will be on display with other Alaska dinosaur finds in the fossil hall at the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. The opening is slated for December.

Scientist To Study Numbers Of Migrating Birds

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Migratory shorebirds in the Arctic have been gearing up over the last month for the long migration south. There’s no telling how many will take to the air from Alaska, but one scientist will have a chance to find out starting next year.

Southeast Dungeness Crab Catch Down

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

Overall catch and effort was down again this summer for Southeast’s Dungeness crab fishery, which closed in mid-August. That’s according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preliminary totals, which were made available last week.

UAS Announces $50,000 Gift From Widmark Family

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The University of Alaska Southeast has received a $50-thousand dollar memorial gift from the estate of Emma G. Widmark, given in the name of her father Dr. Alfred E. Widmark.

Dems Appoint Rollison To HD13 After Gazaway Withdraws

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

The Democratic Party announced that the person who won Anchorage’s Democratic House District 13 primary has withdrawn and that they have appointed someone new. The party announced that Kay Rollison will replace Hal Gazaway in the Muldoon neighborhood last week.

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