Native language bill passes overwhelmingly after protest in Capitol

Alaska Natives beat the drum during a protest in front of Sen. Lesil McGuire's Capitol office as her chief of staff, Brett Huber, in tie, prepares to address them. The protesters wanted McGuire, R-Anchorage, the chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, to release the Native language bill and send it to the Senate floor. Huber told them that she would and that she supported the measure, which passed the House unanimously. RICHARD MAUER
Alaska Natives beat the drum during a protest in front of Sen. Lesil McGuire’s Capitol office as her chief of staff, Brett Huber, in tie, prepares to address them. The protesters wanted McGuire, R-Anchorage, the chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, to release the Native language bill and send it to the Senate floor. Huber told them that she would and that she supported the measure, which passed the House unanimously. RICHARD MAUER


rmauer@adn.comApril 20, 2014


UPDATE: The Senate passed the language bill at 3:15 a.m. Monday. The vote was 18-2, with Sens. John Coghill and Pete Kelly, both Fairbanks Republicans, the only no votes. Among the Senators to give impassioned speeches in favor of the bill was Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, who said there wasn’t anything the state could do about what happened to Native language speakers in the past, but it could help people into the future.


JUNEAU — Fearing their language bill was getting caught up in end-of-session politics, Alaska Natives held a demonstration in front of Sen. Lesil McGuire’s Capitol office Sunday, demanding she send it to the Senate floor before it was too late.

After 30 minutes of drumming, dancing, speeches and story telling, McGuire’s chief aide, Brett Huber, said McGuire would do just that, put it on Sunday’s Senate calendar. He said she supported the measure.

The bill, House Bill 216, had broad backing in the House, where it passed 38-0 on April 16. It would recognize 20 Native languages as official languages of the state, though it would require only that English, the state’s first legal language, be used in official documents and meetings.

Though of little practical effect, Native speakers said the measure was rich with symbolic significance, a recognition that historical efforts by the dominant culture to forbid them their languages was wrong — and had failed. Many in the hallway Sunday had been in the gallery last week as the bill passed the House, cheering after the roll was taken and the tally was unanimous.

The demonstrators, from little children in Easter clothes to elders who needed help to walk, began arriving around noon. The legislative calendar showed that the language measure was parked in the Rules Committee Saturday, a limbo zone for legislation, especially in the waning days of a session. Bills can leap out of Rules and land on the floor, or die there when the session ends — which explains why the word “powerful” often precedes the title, “Rules chairman.”

It’s unclear why McGuire was holding the bill, or even if she was. She was in and out of meetings all day and unavailable for comment. As the demonstration was gathering steam, she walked out of the her office in a bright yellow dress and strolled past the crowd without turning or saying a word. Later, she texted that the majority leader, Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, had a concern about the bill.

“I am putting it up though, no matter what,” she texted. “Always was going to.”

Coghill later said he didn’t have time to talk, but at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Coghill said he was concerned that the bill would supersede the 1998 voter initiative that made English the state’s official language and which won by a landslide. He suggested that the bill be changed to declare the Native languages only “ceremonial” and not “official,” but the original bill was left intact.

Before Huber’s announcement, the group was clearly anxious about what would happen.

“It’s real disappointing after what happened on the House side,” said Beth Geiger. “With all the momentum it had, it’s shocking it’s sitting like that.”

X’unei Lance Twitchell, a Native language professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, said he had heard many expressions of support by legislators and was puzzled by the bill’s apparent lack of traction.

“If they support this bill, why don’t they use their political power?” he said.

Later, after Huber announced McGuire would push the bill forward, Twitchell said he was happier but still wanted to see it through. The demonstrators had no plans to leave the hallway, he said.

“We’re going to stay till it passes,” Twitchell said. “If they want us to enjoy our Easter, they’ll put it on the floor first.”

Reach Richard Mauer at or (907) 500-7388.

Alaska Attorney General criticizes suggestions in report on Bush justice



rmauer@adn.comApril 8, 2014

JUNEAU — Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty criticized a federal commission report on criminal justice in the Bush, declaring its suggestions that tribes should have autonomy for policing and holding court was little more than an invitation to create reservations in Alaska.

“It is an over simplification to suggest that forming reservations where tribes can exert exclusive jurisdiction is a solution to the problems that afflict Alaska’s Native peoples,” Geraghty told the House Community & Regional Affairs Committee on its second hearing into the November report by the U.S. Indian Law & Order Commission. “I disagree with many of their recommendations but not with the problem they have identified.”

That problem is Alaska’s high rates of domestic and sexual violence, and the glaring lack of law enforcement and security for villagers. The commission, mandated by Congress and appointed in 2010 by the White House and congressional leaders of both parties, reported its findings in November. It devoted a whole chapter on Alaska’s troubles, the only state it singled out for such treatment.

On the phone from Denver, the commission chairman, Troy Eid, told the committee that Geraghty was mischaracterizing the report’s conclusion. In calling for greater tribal Metlakatla_AKautonomy, the commission wasn’t seeking reservation status for Alaska’s 229 federally recognized tribes, only one of which is on a reservation — Metlakatla.

Rather, Eid said, the commission said the state should recognize tribes as sovereign governments and that “Indian Country” — the federal term for describing where indigenous people have inherent authority — exists in Alaska. The should state encourage local governments to take over policing in the Bush and not insist on centralized, top-down control from regional hubs.

Geraghty said the state was experimenting in the Interior’s Tanana region with allowing tribal courts to have jurisdiction over non tribal members for some misdemeanors — but only when the defendant agrees, and only by treating the matters as civil cases without the possibility of jail time.

“My differences with the report should not obscure the most fundamental point: there’s more we can do and should be doing with tribes and in tribal courts in particular, to make these communities safer — I don’t quarrel with that point one iota,” Geraghty said.

But Geraghty’s term for the Tanana agreements — a delegation of authority — itself brought criticism from another witness, David Voluck, a tribal court judge and co-author of one of the leading books on laws affecting Alaska Natives.

“I vote that we reform the name of these agreements from limited delegation agreements to intergovernmental agreements,” Voluck said. “Even the word ‘delegation’ has a flavor of paternalism — that ‘OK, we’re going to let you do this now.'”

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, asked Geraghty about how tribal courts now deal with cases in which a non-member of the tribe is a party.

Geraghty said that issue mainly comes up in child welfare cases, when tribes assume jurisdiction if the child is a member, even if a parent is not.

“There’s a case pending before the Alaska Supreme Court now involving the ability of a tribal court to exert jurisdiction over someone who’s never lived in the community and is not a member of the tribe, and the gentleman objected to tribal court jurisdiction on that basis, and he had his parental rights terminated,” Geraghty said.

Geraghty said he was referring to the case of Edward Parks, a member of the Stevens Village tribe who was convicted in state court in Fairbanks of kidnapping and brutally beating his girlfriend. Their child, “S.P.,” was enrolled in Minto and the Minto tribal court terminated Parks’ parental rights. The state intervened on his behalf in the Supreme Court, seeking to void the tribal court order declaring him an unfit parent because Minto shouldn’t have jurisdiction over him.

Geraghty told the committee he expected the case would clarify the rights of non-tribal members in tribal court.

Voluck testified that the state, by its challenges of tribal court orders, was actually showing hostility to tribal courts.

“One of the courts I work for issues something as controversial as child support orders, for children in need,” Voluck said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. “We’re not locking up white people, I don’t have an electric chair, I’m not doing anything that’s frightening. I’m not taxing, I’m not zoning, it has nothing to do with land and everything to do with Native children.”

“Your state is battling us tooth and nail and we are now in the Supreme Court over whether it’s kosher for me to issue a child support order for a tribal child. This, ladies and gentlemen of this committee, I posit is a grave waste of your resources.”

The co-chairs of the committee, Reps. Ben Nageak, D-Barrow, and Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said they would continue to examine ways the Legislature could improve criminal justice in the Bush.

Reach Richard Mauer at or (907) 500-7388.

Bill making 20 Native languages official advances for Alaska

By Mike Coppock

Associated Press February 18, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska — Amid cheers and clapping from spectators in a packed room, the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee unanimously moved forward a bill symbolically making 20 Alaska Native languages official languages of the state along with English.

Savoogna High School student Chelsea Miklahook told the committee her high school no longer teaches her native language and she was eager to learn it. Savoogna is located on St. Lawrence Island.

The committee room was packed by Native and non-Native speakers ranging from Savoogna and Bethel to Tanacross and Southeast Alaska.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Democrat from Sitka, who authored the bill said it does not have the force of law, but is only symbolic in giving the languages recognition.

The bill now goes before the House State Affairs Committee.

Alaska native languages map from University of Alaska FairbanksClick map to see more detail.
Alaska native languages map from University of Alaska Fairbanks
Click map to see more detail.

That Deadly Sip: The Water at the North Pole Will Kill You

Flint Hills Resources North Pole Refinery

Myrna Gardner


Since November 27, 2013, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has been receiving public comments on Flint Hill Resources’ request to reduce its liability to clean up drinking water at its North Pole refinery that is seriously contaminated with sulfolane, an industrial solvent used in the production containing gasoline.

The DEC issued a “letter of conditional approval for revised human health risk assessment for the Flint Hills North Pole Refinery regarding the alternative cleanup level for sulfolane in local groundwater,” and a public notice allowing for comments. The deadline for public comment is February 10, 2014.

On February 5, Flint Hills Resources Alaska, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, announced that it would be closing its refinery this summer, laying off 80 employees, and leaving Alaska after contaminating the municipal water supply and water wells for more than 300 families. Company officials cited the cost of cleaning up the contaminated water as one reason for closing the refinery.

Last year, the Alaska DEC established a site-specific alternative cleanup level for sulfolane in groundwater of 14 parts per billion (ppb). DEC decided on that level using new toxicity data and on the advice of state and federal agencies.

But Flint Hills wants a lower alternative cleanup level of 362 ppb, leaving 348 ppb of contamination in Alaska’s waters. According to the DEC’s Contaminated Sites program, Alaskans should not drink water if it has over 25 ppb of sulfolane. “If your water well results showed above 25 parts per billion sulfolane, we advise you not drink the water,” cites a warning on its website.

At the National Toxicology Program Board of Scientific Counselors meeting in December 2011, Dr. Chad Blystone of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reported that sulfolane is a highly polar chemical that is presumed not to break down and is absorbed by plants (your food).

The sulfolane contamination in the North Pole affects more than 300 wells, and the exposure may last up to 20 years, according to the DEC. Contamination from the plume is estimated to be over 2.5 miles wide and three miles long.
Some studies observe symptoms of neurotoxicity: convulsions, seizures, hyper/hypo-activity, and hypothermia. In a sulfolane inhalation study on animals, Dr. Blystone reported 37 days mortality in monkeys, chronic lung inflammation in all animals, chronic liver inflammation in rats after 90 days, and decreased white blood cells and mortality in dogs and monkeys.

Responding to news of the refinery closure, Rep. Don Young said, “We see companies like Flint Hills shuttering their operations due to deteriorating conditions caused by diminished supplies and onerous regulation.”
Onerous regulations, like cleaning up after your mess?

“This is a sad day for the entire Interior region and Alaska as a whole,” said Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks. “We will be looking to the governor for his leadership in the coming days, which will hopefully address the Dept. of Environmental Conservation decisions that forced Flint Hills into making this announcement. This will have far-reaching impacts economically to the Interior. The news hit us hard and fast today, and we will be working with the governor and the DEC to alleviate the impact to the families and businesses affected by the shutdown.”

Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, said, “The announcement today regarding Flint Hills shutting its doors came as a shock. We will continue to monitor the situation as to loss of jobs, groundwater contamination, and the economic impact this will have on our community.”

But Mike Wenstrup, Chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, said what a lot of Alaskans are thinking: “Interior Alaska knows actions speak louder than words: The Koch Brothers are closing the refinery and tossing Alaska aside while choosing to invest hundreds of millions in political attacks. It shows how little they care about Alaska and Alaskans.”

Ann Farris, an engineer with Alaska DEC who served as on the multiagency team formed to deal with the sulfolane contamination said, “This is the biggest plume of sulfolane groundwater contamination ever, and it’s the biggest groundwater-contamination plume involving an industrial substance in Alaska.”

I don’t live in North Pole. I am just an Alaskan who would like our land not to be left contaminated by companies that have economically benefitted from our natural resources.  It was sad to read many of Alaska’s so-called leaders jumping on the bandwagon to defend Flint Hills Resource Alaska business instead of being outraged by the fact they want to pack their bags, leave our groundwater contaminated, and then expect Alaskans to clean up their mess.

Myrna Gardner is the CEO of 3R Products and the Managing Member of MGM Properties, LLC. She resides in Juneau, Alaska.

The lawless ‘end of the land’


Click image to view video
Click image to view video

By John D. Sutter, CNN

February 4, 2014

Editor’s note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN’s Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at

Nunam Iqua, Alaska (CNN) — Over the course of several years, Beth’s boyfriend shattered her elbow, shot at her, threatened to kill her, lit a pile of clothes on fire in her living room, and, she told me, beat her face into a swollen, purple pulp.

These are horrifying yet common occurrences here in the 200-person village of Nunam Iqua, Alaska, which means “End of the Land” in the Yupik Eskimo language.

Yet the violence is allowed to continue in part because Nunam Iqua is one of “at least 75 communities” in the state that has no local law enforcement presence, according to a 2013 report from the Indian Law and Order Commission.

“There would be someone to call for help” if there were police, said Beth, a 32-year-old who asked that I not use her real name because her abuser is still free. “Someone who could actually do something — right there, as soon as they get the call.”

Seems reasonable, huh?

Not in rural Alaska.

Here, state troopers often take hours or days to respond, usually by plane.

The flight takes 45 minutes, at minimum.

Alaska State Troopers will tell you they’re doing the best they can to police a state that’s four times the size of California and has very few roads.

The challenges are daunting, to be sure, and I don’t blame the hard-working law-enforcement officers. But the logistics can’t be an excuse for impunity.

Alaska is failing people who need help most.

The rapist next door

High rates of violence

I traveled out here to the village at the edge of land — the kind of place where a Bond villain would hide out, or where WikiLeaks would stash a computer server — in December because the state has the nation’s highest rate of reported rape, according to FBI crime estimates. You voted for me to cover this topic as part of CNN’s Change the List project, which focuses on social justice in bottom-of-the-list places.

There are many reasons Alaska’s rates of violence against women are thought to be so high — from the long, dark winters to the culture of silence and the history of colonization. But the most tangible reason is this: Much of Alaska is basically lawless.

The scope of the tragedy in Nunam Iqua, a Yupik Eskimo village, is unthinkable: Nearly every woman has been a victim of domestic or gender-based violence, rape or other sex crimes, according to women I met in town; a corrections officer in Bethel, Alaska, the regional hub; the director of the women’s shelter in Emmonak, Alaska; and Nunam Iqua Mayor Edward Adams Sr., whose wife was slashed across the face by a family member, he said — and who has a bullet lodged behind his right ear.

“I don’t hear anymore” out of that ear, he said.


 Click here to read rest of story.



U.S. Sen Begich speaks out against proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska

January 21, 2014

By Becky Bohrer


JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has come out against the proposed Pebble Mine, calling the massive gold-and-copper project “the wrong mine in the wrong place for Alaska.”

In a statement released by his office Monday, Begich said he has long supported Alaska’s mining industry and believes continued efforts must be made to support resource-development industries that help keep Alaska’s economy strong. But he said “years of scientific study (have) proven the proposed Pebble Mine cannot be developed safely in the Bristol Bay watershed.”

“Thousands of Alaskans have weighed in on this issue, and I have listened to their concerns,” he said. “Pebble is not worth the risk.”

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated a review of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region in response to concerns about the impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on fisheries. The agency released its final report last week, concluding that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures that rely on it. The region is home to a world-premier sockeye salmon fishery.

The Bristol Bay basin is made up of six major watersheds: the Togiak, Nushagak, Kvichak, Naknek, Egegik, and Ugashik.Image source: Wild Salmon
The Bristol Bay basin is made up of six major watersheds: the Togiak, Nushagak, Kvichak, Naknek, Egegik, and Ugashik.
Image source: Wild Salmon


The report did not recommend any policy or regulatory decisions. But EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said it would serve as the scientific foundation for the agency’s response to the tribes and others who petitioned EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. Mine opponents have been pressing the agency to take steps to block or limit the project.

Begich, a Democrat, is the only member of the state’s congressional delegation to outright oppose the project, and his position, first reported by the Anchorage Daily News, won praise from Pebble critics on Monday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, last week expressed concerns that the EPA report could be used to pre-emptively veto the project, saying that would set a bad precedent.

“If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project there is an appropriate time to raise them – after a permit application has been made, not before,” Murkowski said in a release.

Under section 404c of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has the authority to restrict, prohibit, deny or withdraw use of an area as a disposal site for dredged or fill material if the discharge would have “unacceptable adverse” effects on things like municipal water supplies or fisheries, according to an EPA fact sheet. The agency says it has issued just over a dozen final veto actions since 1972.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership, the group behind the project, said Pebble is disappointed that Begich had “come out against thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in state revenue, and potentially billions in economic activity for Alaska.”

Heatwole said in a statement that it is “no secret that there is a substantial difference of opinion regarding the science of EPA’s recent Bristol Bay Assessment. Not many Alaskans think EPA is impartial.”

He said there is a process that exists for evaluating a project, and there is no environmental harm in allowing Pebble to follow that permitting process.

Begich told The Associated Press that one of the complaints he hears from the mining industry is that it needs to know what federal agencies want before getting too far along in the permitting process. He said if Pebble intends to apply for a permit, the watershed assessment provides a framework for what to respond to before the permit process starts.

In Hawaii, Hints of a Giant Alaska Tsunami


By Ned Rozell | Geophysical Institute

Jan 15, 2014

Clues from a crater-like sinkhole on the island of Kauai point back to a giant wave that came from Alaska at about the time European explorers were pushing west, seeing the Mississippi River for the first time.

The Makauwahi Sinkhole on Kauai, which contains ocean deposits carried there by a tsunami, probably generated from an earthquake off the Aleutians about 500 years ago.
The Makauwahi Sinkhole on Kauai, which contains ocean deposits carried there by a tsunami, probably generated from an earthquake off the Aleutians about 500 years ago.

The Makauwahi Sinkhole on the southeast shore of Kauai holds the mysterious equivalent of about nine shipping containers full of rocks, corals and shells from the Pacific Ocean. For the material to breach the amphitheater-like limestone walls of the feature required a wave about 25 feet high, said Rhett Butler of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology in Honolulu. Butler gave a presentation on the subject at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union held in San Francisco in December 2013.

That wave probably came from a great Aleutian earthquake, Butler said. The tsunami probably struck between the years of 1540 and 1660, according to dating of the organic materials within the sinkhole.

The great tsunami story starts with David Burney’s explorations of caves within the limestone complex. While Burney, an archaeologist, ecologist and director of conservation with the National Tropical Botanical Garden of Kauai, was trowling for and finding evidence of ancient people, he also discovered the layer of ocean materials about six feet below the surface.

Butler noticed Burney’s work and wondered how large a tsunami needed to be to breach the most vulnerable eastern wall of the sinkhole. He dialed up tsunami-generating earthquakes on a computer model until he found one that was plausible.

“A magnitude 9.25 in the eastern Aleutians gives us an 8-meter (about 25-foot) wave,” Butler said. “It gets (the sinkhole) wet. Smaller events do not get it wet.”

The tsunami Butler modeled had some collaborating evidence revealed at the same conference in San Francisco. The subject of last week’s column was a revealing hole on Alaska’s Sedanka Island first dug by Gary Carver of Kodiak. That research pit, inspired by a tsunami-carried driftwood log high above tideline, shows the sandy evidence of six big tsunamis, each spaced about 300 years apart. One of those sand deposits dates to the late 1500s. The wave that carried that sand might be the same tsunami that surged more than 2,000 miles and topped the wall of the Kauai sinkhole.

Butler, who lives in Honolulu, sees the evidence for a past great tsunami as a warning sign.

“Could an event like that happen here?” he said. “What are the ramifications for Hawaii?”

Current Hawaii tsunami inundation maps underestimate the water that would come from an earthquake similar to the one that soaked the sinkhole, Butler said.

“The beach (on Oahu) where President Obama spends Christmas gets entirely flooded,” he said. “(Oahu’s main) power plant is at 7.3 meters above sea level, and we could get run ups to 15 meters.”

His modeled epicenter for the earthquake that would have sent the tsunami to Kauai was in the Aleutian trench somewhere between Adak and Unimak islands.

“It was (located) between the 1946 and 1957 events, in an area focused right at us,” he said. “It looks like this one has happened before. There’s potential there and we have to confront that. This doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but no one likes a surprise. A lot of people were surprised by Tohoku (Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami).”

Since the late 1970s, the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute has provided this column free in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer for the Geophysical Institute. A version of this column first appeared in 2006.

High Levels of Molecular Chlorine Found in Arctic Atmosphere


By Brett Israel | Georgia Tech

January 13, 2014 Alaska Native News

Scientists studying the atmosphere above Barrow, Alaska, have discovered unprecedented levels of molecular chlorine in the air, a new study reports.

Molecular chlorine, from sea salt released by melting sea ice, reacts with sunlight to produce chlorine atoms. These chlorine atoms are highly reactive and can oxidize many constituents of the atmosphere including methane and elemental mercury, as well activate bromine chemistry, which is an even stronger oxidant of elemental mercury. Oxidized mercury is more reactive and can be deposited to the Arctic ecosystem.

Jin Liao checks the instrumentation in Barrow, Alaska, during a research trip to measure molecular chlorine in the atmosphere. Image-Georgia Tech
Jin Liao checks the instrumentation in Barrow, Alaska, during a research trip to measure molecular chlorine in the atmosphere. Image-Georgia Tech

The study is the first time that molecular chlorine has been measured in the Arctic, and the first time that scientists have documented such high levels of molecular chlorine in the atmosphere.

“No one expected there to be this level of chlorine in Barrow or in polar regions,” said Greg Huey, a professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

The study was published January 12 in the journal Nature Geoscience and was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), part of the international multidisciplinary OASIS program.

The researchers directly measured molecular chlorine levels in the Arctic in the spring of 2009 over a six-week period using chemical ionization mass spectrometry. At first the scientists were skeptical of their data, so they spent several years running other experiments to ensure their findings were accurate.

The level of molecular chlorine above Barrow was measured as high as 400 parts per trillion, which is a high concentration considering that chlorine atoms are short –lived in the atmosphere because they are strong oxidants and are highly reactive with other atmospheric chemicals.
Molecular chlorine concentrations peaked in the early morning and late afternoon, and fell to near-zero levels at night. Average daytime molecular chlorine levels were correlated with ozone concentrations, suggesting that sunlight and ozone may be required for molecular chlorine formation.

Previous Arctic studies have documented high levels of oxidized mercury in Barrow and other polar regions. The major source of elemental mercury in the Arctic regions is coal-burning plants around the world. In the spring in Barrow, ozone and elemental mercury are often depleted from the atmosphere when halogens — chlorine and bromine — are released into the air from melting sea ice.

“Molecular chlorine is so reactive that it’s going to have a very strong influence on atmospheric chemistry,” Huey said.

Chlorine atoms are the dominant oxidant in Barrow, the study found. The area is part of a region with otherwise low levels of oxidants in the atmosphere, due to the lack of water vapor and ozone, which are the major precursors to making oxidants in many urban areas.

In Barrow, snow-covered ice pack extends in every direction except inland. The ultimate source of the molecular chlorine is the sodium chloride in sea salt, Huey said, most likely from the snow-covered ice pack. How the sea salt is transformed into molecular chlorine is unknown.

“We don’t really know the mechanism. It’s a mystery to us right now,” Huey said. “But the sea ice is changing dramatically, so we’re in a time where we have absolutely no predictive power over what’s going to happen to this chemistry. We’re really in the dark about the chlorine.”

Scientists do know that sea ice is rapidly changing, Huey said. The sea ice that lasts from one winter to the next winter is decreasing. This has created a larger area of melted ice, and more ice that comes and goes with the seasons. This seasonal variation in ice could release more molecular chlorine into the atmosphere.

“There is definite climate change happening in the Arctic,” Huey said. “That’s changing the nature of the ice, changing the volume of the ice, changing the surface area and changing the chemistry of the ice.”

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation under award number ATM-0807702, ARC-0806437 and ARC-0732556. Any conclusions or opinions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NSF.

EPA: Mining poses risks to Bristol Bay salmon


FILE- In this July 13, 2007 file photo, a worker with the Pebble Mine project test drills in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma, Alaska. An EPA report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon. Photo: AL Grillo, AP
FILE- In this July 13, 2007 file photo, a worker with the Pebble Mine project test drills in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska near the village of Iliamma, Alaska. An EPA report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon. Photo: AL Grillo, AP

By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press

anuary 15, 2014


JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A government report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday released its final assessment of the impact of mining in the Bristol Bay region. Its findings are similar to those of an earlier draft report, concluding that, depending on the size of the mine, up to 94 miles of streams would be destroyed in the mere build-out of the project, including losses of between 5 and 22 miles of streams known to provide salmon spawning and rearing habitat. Up to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes also would be lost due to the mine footprint.

The report concludes that “large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant near- and long-term risk to salmon, wildlife and Native Alaska cultures,” EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said in a conference call with reporters.

The battle over the proposed Pebble Mine has been waged for years and extended beyond Alaska’s borders, with environmental activists like actor Robert Redford opposing development. Multinational jewelers have said they won’t use minerals mined from the Alaska prospect, and pension fund managers from California and New York City last year asked London-based Rio Tinto, a shareholder of mine owner Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., to divest, a request Rio Tinto said it planned to consider.

EPA has said its goal was to get the science right. McLerran said the report doesn’t recommend any policy or regulatory decisions and will serve as the scientific foundation for the agency’s response to the tribes and others who petitioned EPA in 2010 to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. He said no timeline for a response had been set.

The report also found that polluted water from the mine site could get into streams through runoff or uncollected leachate, even with the use of modern mining practices. It noted culvert blockages or other failures could impede fish passage and failure of a tailings dam, where mining waste is stored, could be catastrophic though the probability of such a failure was considered quite low.

Supporters of the EPA process hoped it would lead the agency to block or limit the project, action they urged again Wednesday; opponents saw it as an example of government overreach and feared it would lead to a pre-emptive veto.

Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp., said the corporation supports “responsible development where it can be done without causing unacceptable risks to the people, cultures and fishing economy of our region. The proposed Pebble mine is not such a project.”

John Shively, the chief executive of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which was created to design, permit and run the mine, called the report rushed and flawed, saying EPA did not take the time or commit the financial resources to fully assess such a large area. In a statement, he said the report is “a poorly conceived and poorly executed study, and it cannot serve as the scientific basis for any decisions concerning Pebble.”

Some see the mine as a way to provide jobs, but others fear it will disrupt or devastate a way of life. A citizens’ initiative scheduled to appear on the August primary ballot would require legislative approval for any large-scale mine in the region.

The Bristol Bay watershed produces about 46 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, and salmon are key to the way of life for two groups of Alaska Natives in the region, Yup’ik Eskimos and the Dena’ina. The report said the response of Native cultures to any mining impacts was unclear, though it could involve more than the need to compensate for lost food and include some degree of cultural disruption.


Jeff Frithsen, a senior scientist and special projects coordinator with EPA, said the Pebble deposit is a low-grade ore deposit, and over 99 percent of the ore taken from the ground will end up as waste. He said the deposit’s location is at the headwaters of two of the watersheds that make up half the Bristol Bay watershed and produce half its sockeye salmon.

He said the existence of a large-scale mining operation there would affect fish habitat and any accidents would add to that. He said any loss of habitat can affect the overall diversity of the fishery habitat in the watershed.

“Changes in the portfolio of streams within the Bristol Bay watershed can reduce the overall reliability and increase the variability of the fishery over time,” he said.

Asked whether EPA believed a mine could co-exist with fish, McLerran said the assessment spoke for itself.

While EPA initiated the review process in response to concerns about the impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on fisheries, the report wasn’t meant to be about a single project.

EPA said the report looks at possible impacts of reasonably foreseeable mining activities in the region. The agency said it drew on a preliminary plan published by Northern Dynasty and consulted with mining experts on reasonable scenarios.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement the report was little more than a pretext for an EPA veto of the state’s permitting process. “As my record demonstrates, I will not trade one resource for another, and every permitting application — when filed — deserves scientific and public scrutiny based on facts, not hypotheticals.”

The Pebble Partnership has called the mine deposit one of the largest of its kind in the world, with the potential of producing 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum over decades.

While EPA focused on the effects of one mine, the report said several mines could be developed in the watersheds studied, each of which would pose risks similar to those highlighted.



To read the assessment:


Grant advances Kasaan longhouse repairs

The roof of Kasaan’s Chief Son-i-Hat House, also known as the Whale House, is covered by a tarp during repair work. (Organized Village of Kasaan.)
The roof of Kasaan’s Chief Son-i-Hat House, also known as the Whale House, is covered by a tarp during repair work. (Organized Village of Kasaan.)

By Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News

A nearly-half-million-dollar grant will speed restoration of Alaska’s oldest Haida longhouse. The structure was first built 130 years ago.

Haida Chief Son-i-Hat built the original longhouse in the 1880s at the village of Kasaan. It’s on the eastern side of Southeast’s Prince of Wales Island, about 30 miles northwest of Ketchikan.

It was called Naay I’waans, The Great House. Many know it as The Whale House, for some of the carvings inside.

It deteriorated, as wooden buildings in the rain forest do. The Civilian Conservation Corps, a depression-era employment program, rebuilt it in the late 1930s.

Now, the house badly needs repair again.

An insect-infested house post is prepared for heat treatment to kill carpenter ants. (Organized Village of Kasaan)
An insect-infested house post is prepared for heat treatment to kill carpenter ants. (Organized Village of Kasaan)

“It’s a matter of our cultural revitalization, showing that we’re still here and part of these lands,” says Richard Peterson, president of the Tribal Council for the Organized Village of Kasaan.

The tribal government is partnering with the Native village corporation Kavilco, and its cultural arm, the Kasaan Haida Heritage Foundation.

“A lot of the building is still in really good condition. Some of the supports are what’s failing. I think we’re fortunate enough that we don’t need a total reconstruction, so we want to maintain as much as we can,” Peterson says.

Read more about the effort.

An analysis by Juneau-based MRV Architects estimated full repairs would cost more than $2 million. A scaled-back plan totaled about $1.4 million. It listed several phases to be completed as funds came in.

And they have. In late November, the Anchorage-based Rasmuson Foundation awarded the project $450,000. Peterson says that, plus funds from the tribal government and its partners, is about enough to complete the work.

“So right now, we’re milling up the logs and they’re going to hand-adz all of the timbers. And we’re just going in and starting to secure up some of the corners that are dropping down. It’s been a really exciting project,” Peterson says.

The effort to stabilize the longhouse has been underway for around two years. But it picked up speed last summer.

Eric Hammer (front) and Harley Bell-Holter work in Kasaan’s carving shed. (Courtesy Organized Village of Kasaan)
Eric Hammer (front) and Harley Bell-Holter work in Kasaan’s carving shed. (Courtesy Organized Village of Kasaan)

The lead carver is Stormy Hamar, who is working with apprentices Eric Hamar, his son, and Harley Bell-Holter. Others volunteer.

Peterson says it’s an all-ages effort.“The great part is these young kids that are getting involved. And it’s across the lines. Native, non-Native, it doesn’t matter. There’s been a real interest by the youth there,” Peterson says.

Work continues through the winter. Peterson says the focus now is repairing or replacing structural elements so the longhouse doesn’t collapse.

The Whale House is already attracting attention. Independent travelers drive the 17-mile dirt road that starts near Thorne Bay. And Sitka-based Alaska Dream Cruises also stops in Kasaan, where the house is on the list of sights to see.

“Because it’s off-site, you’re not going to see any modern technology. There’s no cars driving by. You can really see how our people lived 200 years ago and experience that and look at those totems in a natural setting,” Peterson says. “It wasn’t put there for a park. This is how it was. And I think people really appreciate that.”

Without too many surprises, Peterson hopes work can be completed in around two years.

Then, he says, the tribe will host a celebration like the one Wrangell leaders put on last year when they finished the Chief Shakes Tribal House.

Scaffolding allows repairs to the Kasaan Whale House smokehole, which was damaged by rot. (Organized Village of Kasaan.)
Scaffolding allows repairs to the Kasaan Whale House smokehole, which was damaged by rot. (Organized Village of Kasaan.)