Just five years after statehood, Alaska endured the largest earthquake recorded in North America. The quake devastated communities around the Southcentral portion of the state, but in the years that followed it also made Alaska the epicenter of extreme seismic studies.Download AudioWhen the quake struck on March 27, 1964, earthquake detection was in its infancy and scientists didn’t understand much about the correlation between seismic events and tsunamis.But, according the U.S. Geological Survey’s Peter Haeussler, a geologist noticed a particular pattern in the disaster’s aftermath, which has been the key to understanding how this type of event happens.“As a result of this particular idea, which was brand new at the time and really quite revolutionary, we now understand that these plates are converging and coming together along the southern Alaska margin,” Haeussler said. “And this type of earthquake that occurred in 1964, we now refer to as a ‘mega thrust earthquake.’ It’s the largest type of earthquake on the planet and these are particularly devastating.”The energy created when the tectonic plates converged was also found to be the driving force behind certain types of tsunamis – forging a scientific link between earthquakes and tsunamis for the first time.Haeussler says this discovery gave scientists the fingerprint of the worlds-largest earthquakes.“It occurred at a pivotal time in earth science history. It helped lead to this acceptance of this brand new theory of plate tectonics. It showed the world largest earthquakes are caused at these convergent margins where plates are coming together. It provided a mechanism for launching trans-oceanic tsunamis,” Haeussler said. “And, in many ways, all of the giant mega-thrust earthquakes are now understood in the shadow of what was learned from 1964.”Though massive earthquakes are a relatively rare occurrence in Alaska, the ’64 quake emphasized the dire need for understanding and tracking seismic events.“In 1964, there were two seismic stations in Alaska,” Michael West, the director of the Alaska Earthquake Center, said. “The closest one to the earthquake was in Fairbanks, and there was one in Sitka.”Today, West says the state has around 400 seismic monitoring stations.“About half of those are clustered on volcanoes in the Aleutians and the other half are distributed generally around the state,” he said.West says the Earthquake Center’s ability to detect and pinpoint earthquakes varies widely depending on where in the state it occurs.“Southcentral in sort of a triangle with Fairbanks as the apex, that area has, I think, very robust, very good monitoring,” West said. “And what that allows us to do, it allows us to detect smaller-magnitude earthquakes and it allows us to locate them with great accuracy.”But, that’s not the case in more remote sections of the state. West says there has been an interesting sequence of five, magnitude four or larger earthquakes recently in the same spot in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.“They’re quite puzzling to us and we are not able to get a good depth constraint,” West said. “So we don’t know if this is on some very shallow fault or some very deep fault; in fact we have little understanding of why they’re occurring because there’s an area up there the size of Oregon that has no instrumentation.”Even though earthquake and tsunami science has improved by leaps and bounds in the years since the 1964 earthquake forever changed the Alaska landscape, there are still huge gaps to fill and a lot of ground to cover.
Enroll Alaska Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boling says her staff have been working 12 hour days to accommodate people trying to enroll. They will be working through the weekend to help people get signed up. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)The deadline to enroll for health insurance is March 31. If you’re still uninsured after that, you’ll likely not be able to enroll until November. And you’ll also have to pay a tax penalty.Download AudioWith only four days left, nationwide enrollments have increased. More than 6 million Americans have gotten health insurance under the Affordable Care Act as of Thursday. To maintain the momentum, the Obama administration is reaching out to as many people as possible.Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Obama. Besides traveling to cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix to talk about the Affordable Care Act, she’s also been given a list of 10 states to call. She says others in the administration have been given similar lists.“We don’t want to wake up on April 1 and say, ‘Somebody didn’t sign up because they hadn’t heard about this opportunity,’” Jarrett says.The Obama administration wants to make sure that if you try to enroll for health care by March 31, you will get it, even if you haven’t quite finished the application process.“This is going to be on the honor system. People who just verify that they began the process, but they haven’t had a chance to finish it yet, will be given a reasonable period of time to complete it. We don’t want to cut people off who are starting the process, particularly because we’ve seen a great increase in the traffic on our website just in the last couple of days,” Jarrett says.According to Jarrett, 1.5 million people were on the healthcare.gov website on Wednesday. Even with the high traffic, Jarrett says the website is holding up really well, “but as more and more people are on the website, it’s possible that you could have to wait for a bit.”Within Alaska, enrollment activity has also increased.With the March 31 deadline just days away, Juneau’s United Way Navigator Crystal Bourland is the busiest she’s been since enrollment started in October.“I think I’ve enrolled over 20 people at this point just in the last week,” she says.United Way navigators in Alaska have assisted with more than 500 enrollments. Bourland says the people she’s been helping recently aren’t all procrastinators.“Some people have just gotten lost in the website and some of the features of the website, or they’re trying to send in supporting documents or people that forgot their passwords two months ago and now are trying to get back in. That’s a big one,” Bourland says.At Enroll Alaska, chief operating officer Tyann Boling says staff and agents have been working 12-13 hour days and they’ll be working through the weekend.“But the appointments are filling up very quickly so people need to call us,” she says.As of Monday, the health care broker enrolled over 1,900 people. Boling thinks another 200 or more have been enrolled just this week.The deadline to enroll for health insurance is 8 p.m. Monday. Boling says Enroll Alaska agents will still be available after that for people who may experience a life-changing event.“Say if they lost a job or they lose coverage or they have a child or they get married – any of these life changing events creates a special enrollment people where they can enroll,” Boling says.And Enroll Alaska plans to work hard this summer thinking of new ways to reach out to the uninsured for the next open enrollment period in November.
Ten years ago, Wrangell was crawling with feral cats. They roamed the streets, getting into trash and nesting in condemned buildings. Now, it’s hard to even find a cat downtown. That dramatic turnaround is due to the hard work of one woman who noticed the problem and decided to fix it. Dolores Klinke runs the St. Frances Animal Rescue, a non-profit that has saved hundreds of strays.Download AudioDolores Klinke is in her late 60s. She has salt and pepper hair and a big smile. As a kid growing up in New Mexico she had all sorts of pets (as a child.) Now, she’s Wrangell’s most prominent cat lady.Klinke operates St. Frances out of two shelter locations. One is a forested lot for feral cats and the other is for adoptable cats, housed in her own garage. The first thing you notice when you walk inside is that it’s spotlessly clean and doesn’t smell like cats. That’s surprising as it’s currently home to about 20 rescues that live in kennels and cardboard boxes lining the walls.“This is Jack. That’s Benjie; that’s Iji, that black and white one; and that’s his brother, Lasty,” Klinke said, introducing some of the cats.Some have been turned over by past owners. Many have been live trapped around town. She works patiently with the wild ones, like Kiki, to get them socialized.“And at first she was very aggressive but she was scared, you know,” Klinke said. “She didn’t want to be any place else but her own home, but slowly she’s getting better and better.”It’s this unflappable faith in these little animals that led Klinke to start St. Frances in 2008.She says she was disturbed by all of the unwanted cats in Wrangell.At first, she picked up one or two strays at a time. Then she started rescuing entire stray cat colonies. She never predicted it would turn into a full-blown animal rescue.“I think I stopped counting at 600 cats that we’ve, you know, handled through the rescue program so, that’s a lot of cats,” Klinke said. “And that was what, a year and a half ago that I stopped counting?“I just don’t have the time…just too busy.”Once she brings a stray in, she cares for it indefinitely.Every rescue gets a full lineup of shots and any other medical attention it needs. She’s adamant that each one gets spayed or neutered, preventing accidental pregnancies and litters of stray kittens. Fixing the cats is fixing the problem.“It seems like it’s been a little over a year that I haven’t had any kittens come in at all,” Klinke said. “That tells me something – there are no kittens to be found in Wrangell I guess.”It takes a lot of money to care for all of the rescues. Klinke says she goes through countless bags of kitty litter and cans of wet food. She gets enormous community support. The city chips in $5,000 a year. And in 2013, Klinke raised another $14,000 through rummage and bake sales and private donations. But she says it’s still not enough.“Every 28 days we go through six bags of cat food,” Klinke said. “We have the other shelter that we have cats that we have relocated. Over there we go through another maybe four bags a month.”We drive out to the other shelter about five miles out of town.This gated outdoor colony holds the feral cats that are not socialized enough to be adopted out. Klinke says the cats here often hunt for their own food.Cats appear left and right when they hear her walking around. She greets each of them by name. One cat, Clown, follows us around. Klinke says she was an especially difficult rescue.“And the vet was coming into town so we got her ready to go in to get spayed, you know,” Klinke said. “And I grabbed her and that was the wrong thing to do. Boy, she tore my hands all up and bit. We got her though and took her in, got her fixed and I headed for the emergency room.”But that antisocial behavior doesn’t keep her from pampering them.Dolores Klinke truly loves her rescues.“They’re appreciative. That’s my favorite part of the job, I guess you’d call it. But I love doing it. It’s unconditional love,” Klinke said. “They don’t ask for anything, you know. They really don’t. They just want food and somebody to love them.”And that’s why she puts in the countless hours and money, and doesn’t really mind those trips to the emergency room—to give these cats a place to call home.
The U.S. Senate passed a two-year budget bill early Friday morning, in a vote that split Alaska’s two senators.Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted it for it.She says it’s imperfect but avoids a debt default and makes needed reforms to entitlement spending. She also says it helps the military by lifting the threat of sequestration budget cuts.The deal increases spending by about $80 billion dollars, half to defense and half to domestic programs.Those increases are offset by entitlement reforms, cuts to farm subsidies and selling assets, like stockpiled oil and the nation’s airwaves.Sen. Dan Sullivan was among 35 who voted against the budget.He says it spends too much on government agencies and not enough on the military, while doing nothing to grow the economy.The bill now goes to the president for his signature.
Photo: Alaska State Troopers file.A 3-year-old in Stebbins was accidentally killed on New Year’s Eve after being run over by a truck, according to a dispatch from Alaska State Troopers.The child was reportedly underneath the truck before the vehicle’s owner got in and drove away. The driver then “felt a bump and observed a child laying on the ground behind his vehicle,” according to the dispatch.The child’s next of kin was present during the incident, and Pete was later pronounced dead at the Stebbins clinic.Troopers in Nome were notified of the child’s death at 2 p.m. on Thursday and traveled to Stebbins to investigate. While the incident is still under investigation, troopers said they do not suspect foul play.Pete’s body is being sent to the State Medical Examiner for an autopsy.
The new EPA report outlines the extent of contamination in the old, decrepit Polaris Building. (Dan Bross/KUAC)A federal study details contamination inside a deteriorating downtown Fairbanks landmark.Fairbanks City Councilmember David Pruhs says the more-than-732-page Environmental Protection Agency analysis catalogs a range of contaminants inside the long vacant Polaris Hotel.“We have black mold, green mold, asbestos, the things that are in light bulbs that (have) exploded,” Pruhs said. “We have all sorts of those things in every floor, every room of the building.”Pruhs says the so-called Brownfields study is needed to move ahead with a plan to demolish the 11-story Polaris. Built in 1952, Fairbanks tallest building has suffered from vacancy and neglect, and was condemned in 2012. Mold and asbestos have long been known to be issues, and Pruhs says the EPA report is missing some specific information.“The report showed the locations and types of every (contaminated site) there,” he said. “But what they didn’t do was give the amounts of each one that was there, and the estimated cost to remediate. And that’s what we really need.”Pruhs said the city has asked for the additional information. He chairs a group that’s working toward demolition of the structure, which is owned by Anchorage businessman Mark Marlow. Marlow has failed to secure financing to realize a plan to redevelop the property into apartments.The city has envisioned building a performing arts center at the downtown Polaris site, but estimates put the cost of demolition alone at around $6 million. Pruhs says there’s potential for federal funding, as Senator Lisa Murkowski is requesting a $70 million appropriation for a comprehensive solution.“Everything that would be ever involved with the city, in knocking down the building, acquiring an entire block and acquiring the block across the street, and doing studies of what should be there,” Pruhs said.Pruhs emphasizes there’s no guarantee the money will come through, and that the city continues to work with Marlow to address the Polaris.
The Kensington Mine is located in the Tongass National Forest between Berners Bay (pictured) and Lynn Canal. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation)An environmental audit of the Kensington Mine found the operation to be “generally in compliance” with its conditions of its permit that govern waste disposal and the long-term closure plan. Auditors pointed out some long-term challenges for the gold mine 45 miles north of Juneau.Listen nowAuditors hired by the mining company Coeur Alaska visited the gold mine last fall and their recommendations are outlined in a 60-page report.The external review is required by a pair of state permits that expire this year.“The audit is a critical for the agencies for taking a look – kind of a third party objective look – at our permitting program to see if there’s areas of improvement,” Allan Nakanishi said. Nakanishi is an engineer with the Department of Environmental Conservation overseeing waste disposal at the mine.One issue of concern noted by the auditors from the firm HDR, is exposed rock that when mixed with air and water leeches acid. These are veins of graphitic phyllite that have oxidized after being churned up by machinery. It’s like metal left in the rain that rusts. Except that in this case it produces sulfuric acid.“It’s not uncommon in the Southeast to hit pockets of material that have high sulfide minerals within it and that go acid,” Nakanishi said.In a written response to questions, the mining company said areas of concern are limited to the tailings treatment facility. It’s working to engineer a solution when it raises its tailings dam for the third time to increase the holding lake’s capacity.But mine critics say acidic runoff threatens water quality in the long run.“You know, once acid generation starts, it’s almost impossible to stop it and it’s very obvious even through the pictures that it’s getting worse over time,” Guy Archibald, staff scientist for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said. The group’s unsuccessful legal challenge went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.“They do describe that they will remedy this issue when they complete the third phase, the third raising of the dam over time, they talk about grouting in there to keep the water out,” Archibald continued. “Again, these are short-term fixes.”DEC cited the mine for acid runoff leeching into its unlined tailing treatment facility in 2013. There are quarterly samples being taken there now. And the auditors recommended the state begin monitoring the flow of contaminated water to keep tabs on the trend. They also gave mixed reviews to the effectiveness of concrete applied to seal off the source of the acid runoff.Nakanishi said his big picture view is that occasional spikes in contaminants isn’t alarming.“There have been some issues, some exceedances but that’s not uncommon,” Nakanishi said.Auditors also critiqued how Kensington reports its environmental test result data to the state. Raw numbers in charts are provided in tables. They should be graphed out with baseline data so trends and abnormalities are more easily spotted.Nakanishi said that’s an example of where the state could improve oversight.“Some of the recommendations, I think, are valid and warranted,” Nakanishi said, “and we will be using this audit in the development of the future permit.”Coeur Alaska said by email that it does provide data in a fuller context – but that’s through a separate water quality permit that was renewed last year and not examined by the audit team.“An extensive monitoring network is in place to routinely monitor water quality, the results of which are frequently reported,” Kensington Mine spokeswoman Jan Trigg wrote in an email.This year, Kensington will need to renew both its state-issued waste management and reclamation permits, which expire in May and September. They’re good for five years.The public process gives mine watchdogs like Guy Archibald a chance to weigh in.“The bigger picture is I’m always concerned when there’s a large dam holding back solid waste directly above Berners Bay,” Archibald said.Reading the audit, Archibald said the mining company has an enormous task and responsibility ahead of it.“You know, for the most part they’re doing everything as well as you can do – as well as humans can try to control nature,” Archibald said. “I think they spend a lot of time, effort, money and expertise on attempting to do that. How this is all going to be performed in the long run, we’ll wait and see.”Since opening in 2010, Kensington’s economic impact to the region has been significant. Coeur Alaska reports around 380 full-time year-round employees and boasts it’s Juneau’s second largest private employer in terms of payroll.Trigg said by email that the company accepts many of the audit’s findings.“Overall, Coeur Alaska feels that the third-party audit conducted by HDR was fair and thorough,” Trigg wrote. “However, as part of Coeur Alaska’s continuous improvement program and strong commitment to engaging in best-in-class environmental controls, Coeur Alaska had already identified these areas and begun the implementation of the suggested items, which was not addressed in the report.”