Megan Pacer

Homer City Council to consider marijuana business on the Spit

HOMER — The Homer Spit, once excluded from the commercial cannabis narrative in the city, has been brought back into the conversation. Members of the Cannabis Advisory Commission voted unanimously at their Aug. 24 meeting to recommend the Homer City Council open the Homer Spit to commercial marijuana businesses. The Spit had previously been excluded from the areas those businesses are allowed through the city’s zoning process when it adopted regulations for cannabis. Currently, marijuana businesses are permitted in Homer’s central business district, general commercial districts one and two, and the East End mixed use district. The council would have to make an amendment to the city code to allow marijuana businesses on the Spit, and any business would probably have to be on private property. Commission Vice Chair Carrie Harris brought the recommendation up, saying she has heard from people in town expressing a wish to see cannabis allowed on the Spit. There are a few private land owners on the Spit interested in getting into the marijuana industry, Harris said. “We’re not here to be a roadblock,” she said. “We’re here because the voters asked us to be.” City Planner Rick Abboud said leasing city land for any commercial cannabis use raises federal legal issues. “We have advice from the city attorney that we would not want to support a marijuana enterprise on our property because of the implication it might affect our relationships with the federal government and federal funding,” Abboud said. According to the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office list of license applicants, one business, Homer Spit Cannabis Company, has initiated an application for a retail store on the Spit on a city lot leased to Billy Sullivan near Fish Dock Road. Sullivan said his son, Nils, filed the application. “He’s just tire kicking, I guess,” Sullivan said. AMCO administrative office Craig Douglas said any license application would have to go to the city for review that it complied with zoning regulations. Sullivan’s application still isn’t complete. Harris said after the meeting that, accounting for the areas designated as wetlands within city limits that overlap with the areas commercial cannabis is allowed, there aren’t many spots in town where the businesses are easily established. Commissioner David Lewis, a council representative, supported the motion to make the recommendation but said he doesn’t think it will make it past the council. “At this time I really don’t think the council would approve it, just because I feel it would be a 4-3 vote,” he said. Lewis said it might be better to wait until a cannabis business gets established in town to see how it goes before trying to open the Spit to them as well. One retail pot shop, Uncle Herb’s on Ocean Drive, could open in time for the holiday season if its application gets approved by the Marijuana Control Board and the city, and it passes state inspections. Lloyd Stiassny, a former Homer resident, owns another Uncle Herb’s in Anchorage. The Homer shop would go in Stiassny’s building at 1213 Ocean Drive in an office now rented to a bear viewing company. When it opens, it will be the city of Homer’s first commercial cannabis enterprise. Three farms already have licenses outside city limits. “We’re kind of excited,” Stiassny said. Homer Police Chief Mark Robl, another commissioner, brought up the concern that having marijuana available on the Spit could increase the likelihood of consumers bringing product onto charter fishing boats, which could lead to problems for charter owners since the waters they travel are federal and governed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Lewis countered that the chance of that happening would always exist, no matter where a cannabis business was located in town, since it depends on the personal responsibility of the buyer and how they use the product. “It’s like bringing booze on a cruise ship, which is not allowed,” he said. “That’s up to the cruise ship and the individual as to what laws they are going to follow I would assume. It’s not the responsibility of the (marijuana) business and or the council as to what a person does with their product after they purchase it.” The commissioners also voted to recommend the council not allow smoking marijuana on-site in cannabis establishments. The state’s Marijuana Control Board has proposed allowing on-site consumption, and would be the first state to do so if the proposal is successful. The board is currently taking public comments on the measure. Robl objected to the smoking aspect of on-site consumption, saying it would pose a risk of intoxication to officers if they ever had to respond to a call in a marijuana establishment. If an officer entered a cannabis business and was exposed to smoke, that officer would have to be taken off duty for however long it took for the THC to leave his or her system, Robl said. This is not an established state or federal standard, but based on the practices Robl has researched of police departments in Lower 48 states where cannabis is legal. “If there’s a police officer exposed for more than a few minutes, they send that officer home,” he said. While Robl said this situation does not happen very often, this kind of policy is something the Homer Police Department would have to adopt if on-site smoking in marijuana businesses was allowed. An officer would automatically have to be sent home if exposed to marijuana, but would not automatically have to be tested for THC levels. That would only happen if an officer responded to a call where on-site smoking was allowed, and immediately after had to respond to a serious incident like a shooting or a bad vehicle crash. The likelihood for lawsuits if it was found the officer was intoxicated while responding to that kind of event would necessitate blood and urine testing, Robl said. There is a company currently working on developing a portable blood testing device to test for marijuana intoxication, Robl said, which would come in handy for testing officers if on-site smoking ends up being allowed. Officers in the state of Alaska are not allowed to use marijuana recreationally or be involved in the marijuana industry; if they do, their certification is threatened. At the meeting, Lewis questioned whether on-site smoking could be allowed if establishments used smoke eaters to clear the rooms of intoxicating smoke. Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik, chair of the Marijuana Control Board, said that in their research on on-site smoking, the board found a study that said there are no filtration systems currently that can adequately clear the air of smoke. “That’s what that source said. That there wasn’t a way to remove all the particulates or chemicals from smoke with a filtration system or a ventilation system,” Mlynarik said. Air cleaning devices like the Smokeeter can remove 90 percent of the particulates in air, said Dan Schroeder of Air Cleaning Specialists, which represents Smokeeter and the Clean Leaf and Blue Ox air cleaners, systems used on commercial indoor marijuana farms. The problem is that the Smokeeter can’t clean the air in a room before it gets to the filter. “There’s no way of completely eliminating any chance of second-hand smoke for first responders,” Schroeder said. Robl said that, if an officer became intoxicated, he or she would be safe if they could prove the intoxication came from second-hand smoke. He said he hopes the council will take the commission’s recommendation and that his department won’t have to deal with the on-site smoke. “I’m not opposed to other types of on-site consumption,” Robl said. “It’s just the smoking.” Reach Megan Pacer at [email protected] Michael Armstrong also contributed to this story.

Alaska’s plan for dealing with oil spills

Stakeholders and Native tribes are being asked to weigh in on updates to Alaska’s plan for dealing with oil spills, especially identifying locations where the use of oil dispersants should be avoided. Representatives from state and federal agencies came to Kenai on Thursday to gather input on and learn about the Alaska Federal/State Preparedness Plan for Response to Oil and Hazardous Substance Discharges/Releases, otherwise know as the Unified Plan. The Unified Plan’s guidelines on the use of oil dispersant were updated in January. Dispersants, which are a mixture of solvents, surfactants and addivites, break up oil slick into smaller droplets and promote oil biodegration into the water. They are used to reduce oil exposure to those working to clean up an oil spill and reduce the threat to wildlife near or on the shoreline when they are applied to the spill further out in the water, said Catherine Berg, a presenter from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Thursday’s meeting focused on the Alaska preauthorization zone for dispersants, which includes Cook Inlet. Preauthorization areas allow the federal on-scene coordinators handling oil spills to make a decision about using dispersants with pre-approval from agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Environmental Conservation and the State of Alaska, said Lt. Commander Matt Hobbie with the U.S. Coast Guard during a presentation Thursday. “The plan preauthorizes the federal on scene coordinator to make an independent decision to move dispersants, but it doesn’t mean that dispersants are required to be used in the preauthorization area,” Hobbie said. In undesignated areas, the coordinator would have to go about getting that approval from all the necessary agencies before making a call during any given spill. “For areas that are not in the preauthorization plan, the on-scene coordinator may authorize use of dispersants only with concurrence from the EPA and ... DEC after consultation with natural resource trustees,” Hobbie said. The preauthorization area discussed at Thursday’s meeting includes not only the Cook Inlet subarea, but also the subareas of Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Bristol Bay and the Aleutian Islands. It begins 24 nautical miles offshore and stretches to 200 nautical miles south. The area extends to the maritime boundary line just west of the Aleutian Islands, and then reaches out to 100 nautical miles north of the islands. Additional public meetings will be held in Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor to gather public input on those subareas. Though no one at Thursday’s meeting submitted formal public comments, comments will be accepted until Jan. 9, 2017. Those working on the plan were given 24 months to identify avoidance areas within the larger preauthorization area. Avoidance areas are used to guide on scene coordinators when they make decisions about whether or not to use dispersants in a given location during an oil spill. “An avoidance area does not exclude an area necessarily from the potential use of dispersants,” Hobbie clarified. “It means that the case-by-case authorization process will be used in that area.” If the Cook Inlet subarea became an avoidance area, for example, the on-scene coordinator would not be pre-approved to apply dispersants there, and would have to go about getting authorization from the appropriate agencies as would happen in an undesignated area. Hobbie stressed that every oil spill is different and that a number of factors go into deciding whether to use dispersants and where, such as whether they can be effectively applied to the oil in the given circumstances, and the potential threats to fisheries, endangered species or the environment. Cleaning up oil spills mechanically will always be the first choice, said Commander Stacey Mersel, deputy commander of the Anchorage sector of the U.S. Coast Guard and the alternate federal on-scene coordinator for Alaska. Hammering out the preauthorization areas and potential avoidance areas in the Unified Plan will allow coordinators to make more informed decisions in the event that dispersants come into play. “In any response, we want to use the most effective tool, the appropriate tool in any given situation and that’s really what this is all about,” she said. Hobbie also included in his presentation that preauthorization areas only apply to crude oil spills. There are also restrictions against applying dispersants to the water at night, so as to have the best chance of being able to see and avoid large groups of wildlife. Dispersants also cannot be used within 500 meters of what presenters called “swarming fish,” marine mammals in the water or near haul-outs. Stakeholders and tribes wishing to submit public comments can do so at the project’s website. Megan Pacer can be reached at [email protected]

Grocery tax coming back to Soldotna

Soldotna City Council members unanimously approved an ordinance that will reinstate the grocery tax during winter months. There is already a 3 percent sales tax on nonprepared foods in summer months. Resident Scott Davis, who testified Wednesday in support of restoring the year-round tax, chaired the Soldotna Charter Commission that was elected to come up with the home-rule charter voters approved. He said reinstating the city’s sales tax was a motivation of the group that worked on the push for home-rule. “We did this for a reason, and the reason was to spread out the burden of services provided by the city within our city, to all people that (do) business in our city,” Davis said. “And I believe this what the reinstatement of taxation on nonprepared foods does. It takes the burden off of just the land owners.” Public input Several members of the public turned out Oct. 26 to testify for and against reinstating the tax. Some supported its return, saying that it will help spread the burden of raising revenue more evenly throughout the borough and those who come into Soldotna and use its services. “We have 25,000 citizens that live outside the city of Soldotna that shop in the city of Soldotna, that use all of our facilities,” said Pat Cowan, who owns Birch Ridge Gold Course. “They pay no real estate taxes to the city of Soldotna. So if this tax is not reenacted, then that means ... the city will have to get the tax money somewhere else. Where are you going to get it? Real estate taxes for the people who live within the boundaries.” Others argued that restoring the year-round sales tax will have an adverse affect on those with lower incomes. “It’s a really bad idea to increase the taxes on food because it’s going to (disproportionately) affect the poorest people of this community like myself,” said Jason Hoffman, who lives between Soldotna and Sterling and whose wife has a business in Soldotna. “You’re (disproportionately) affecting people that are older, that don’t have a steady income, or that work seasonally like myself.” Council members said without the sales tax on nonprepared foods the city would have to look at making up for lost revenue in other ways, such as raising its mill rate, which currently sits at 0.5 mills. “I just wanted to point out that without the tax on nonprepared foods we would be looking at at least quadrupling — and probably more than quadrupling — our property tax rate,” Murphy said. “And if Fred Meyer’s property tax is quadrupled I can guarantee you that you’re going to see that in the cost of goods that you purchase there, including nonprepared foods. You’re going to see it in the cost of everything that you purchase in the city of Soldotna because any merchant, whether it is Kaladi Brothers Coffee or Beemuns (Variety), is going to have to prices to cover the cost of the extra property tax, and so I think this is a fair way to spread the burden to those who don’t live in the city and who use our services.” Back to tax Kenai Peninsula Borough has a wintertime exemption on collecting sales tax on nonprepared food items. The city of Soldotna previously taxed groceries year-round until a borough-wide vote at the October 2015 election reversed an ordinance that had allowed general law communities to opt out of the borough’s wintertime exemption on collecting the tax. At that point, Soldotna had to follow suit in the same manner as the borough, which meant collecting the sales tax only during summer months. Then, in the October 2016 municipal election, a majority of Soldotna residents voted to accept a home-rule charter. Soldotna became a home-rule city with the power to opt out of the wintertime exemption on collecting the sales tax. (Kenai is another home-rule city that has opted out of the exemption and collects the tax year-round.) The year-round grocery tax will go into effect starting Dec. 1. It was originally scheduled to go into effect immediately, but Vice Mayor Linda Murphy proposed an amendment Wednesday to push the date back. City Manager Mark Dixson said a later date was settled on after he received feedback from Craig Chapman, the borough’s finance director. “When the nonprepared (food sales tax) exemption went into place about a year and a half ago — it went into effect immediately — it caused quite a consternation at the borough level and also with all of our local businesses trying to manipulate all their computer systems (and) things of that nature so that they could comply with the statute,” Dixson said. “He and I talked and we determined that Dec. 1 would be a reasonable time for not only the businesses but also the borough to be able to change their systems.” The amendment to move the date back was approved by a 5-1 vote. Council member Paul Whitney voted against the amendment, saying it would make more sense to choose the end of the quarter, Dec. 31. Megan Pacer can be reached at [email protected]

Soldotna Airport to get a facelift

Aging asphalt covering the Soldotna Airport’s taxiways will get some much needed attention through an upcoming rehabilitation project. The Soldotna City Council passed an ordinance at its Wednesday meeting to appropriate about $6.9 million for the city’s 2016 Airport Asphalt Rehabilitation and Lighting Project. More than $6.4 million of that comes in the form of a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program. Rehabilitation of pavement at the airport has been identified as necessary and was included in a draft of the city’s Five Year Capital Plan presented to the council in April. Using a Pavement Condition Index to evaluate the level of distress in the airport pavement, Airport Manager and City Engineer Kyle Kornelis said the city has prioritized which sections of pavement at the airport are in need of rehabilitation or replacement, as well as when that ideally should happen. “We’ve got an age of the pavement and a lot of that is over 30 years old,” Kornelis said. Taxiways A and B at the airport will be rehabilitated under the project, as will the airport’s central and east aprons according to a memo from City Manager Mark Dixson to the council. The project will also involve replacing taxiway edge lighting and some work on storm drains, Kornelis said at Wednesday’s meeting. The FAA grant, like many grants, works by reimbursing the city after it appropriates and spends the money for the project, Kornelis said. The reimbursable federal grant will cover up to 93.75 percent of the project’s cost, and the remaining 6.25 percent local match will come from the airport fund, he said. The ordinance passed Wednesday also appropriated $431,636 from the airport fund for the project. “We were able to consolidate a number of phased asphalt rehab projects into this one grant,” Kornelis said. “We were fortunate to receive a fairly large grant.” The council also passed at its Wednesday meeting a resolution to let Dixson enter into a contract with Quality Asphalt Paving for almost $5.4 million for project construction. The city received four bids for the rehabilitation project, and Quality Asphalt Paving was the lowest bidder, according to the resolution. Council member Tim Cashman asked at the meeting why there was a difference between the contract amount and the amount of money being appropriated for the project as a whole, which Kornelis explained is because the total appropriation includes a 15 percent contingency included in the FAA grant as well as costs for design, utility relocation and administrative fees associated with the project. The actual construction should only cost the approximately $5.4 million accounted for in the contract with Quality Asphalt Paving, he said. “This grant that we’ve gotten from the FAA ... is the result of the relationship that Mr. Kornelis has developed with the FAA,” Dixson said at the meeting. “A lot of this is because they trust the work that we do down here because of Mr. Kornelis’s leadership...” The project is in line with the airport’s master plan, Kornelis said, which takes into consideration things like existing airport usage and maintenance priorities as well as development concepts. The city council also passed an ordinance in September accepting another FAA grant for almost $469,000 with a local match of $31,250 from the airport fund for the city to buy a front end loader and snow blower attachment for snow removal at the airport. The grant through the Airport Improvement Program stipulates that the snow removal equipment be used specifically on the airport for 10 years, but that it can be used city-wide from that point on, Kornelis said. “Things are on track,” he said. Megan Pacer can be reached at [email protected]

Taking another stab at rewriting the state's alcohol laws

Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) is making the rounds to discuss ongoing work on Title 4 of Alaska Statute, the laws that regulate alcoholic beverages in the state. With a Nov. 15 deadline for the final legislation to be ready, he presented an update to the Soldotna City Council, citing simplification and greater emphasis on public health and safety as main components of the rewrite. Senate Bill 99, which was introduced last April by Micciche but was not addressed during the 29th Legislature, sought to update, simplify and change aspects of Title 4. Parts of the rewrite, like lowering the penalties for minor consuming alcohol and reorganization of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, were included in SB 165, which was signed into law in July. "We know that we are ... the number one state in the country for negative demographics associated with alcohol abuse,” Micciche told the council. “Some of that has to do with 40-year-old alcohol statutes that are largely a hodge-podge of different issues that have occurred over the last many years.” Some portions of the statute have not been updated since the 1980s, he said. B 165 did allow for a more equitable composition of the ABC Board, Micciche said, which was previously made up of two industry seats and three seats filled by members of the public. The new makeup of the board since the passing of SB 165 will be two industry seats, one public member seat, one public safety seat and one seat filled by a member of the rural public. “We believe it’ll at least create a balance, if not lean toward more of a public safety, public health composition,” Micciche said. Rather than being charged with a class A misdemeanor, minors who are caught consuming alcohol will be fined $500, which Micciche said can be reduced to $50 if six months of education is implemented. Further, the incident will not show up on a minor’s online Courtview record, he said. Reviewing Title 4 has involved more than 60 stakeholders, who are still working on areas that were not addressed in SB 165, Micciche said, like licensing and permitting. “We want to simplify the licensing system,” he told the council. “We’re going to bring them all into one place in the statute. We want to eliminate the potential for abuse and favoritism, (and) we want to update licensing fees and reporting requirements.” How it Affects Business Part of updating licensing for alcohol would involve eliminating the brewpub license type, Micciche told the council. It would also phase out the existing licenses that were attained through the public convenience portion of the statute, which requires collecting signatures within a one-mile radius of the business. Those businesses licensed under public convenience would have an option to convert to a seasonal license or a restaurant or eating place license. Stephanie Queen, Soldotna’s director of economic development and planning, has been attending stakeholder meetings and has presented comments about how the statute rewrite could affect local businesses that are currently licensed under public convenience. In a letter to Micciche and the ABC stakeholder group dated Sept. 12, Queen outlined some problems doing away with licenses issued under public convenience while limiting alcohol licenses by population could cause for cities like Soldotna, a town of roughly 4,300 residents living within just over 7.3 square miles. “Public convenience licenses have allowed businesses like St. Elias in Soldotna, Two Sisters Bakery and Fat Olive’s in Homer, and the Tide Pool Café in Seldovia to serve beer and wine in their restaurants,” Queen wrote. “These businesses are important to our communities, and would not have been allowed if the strict population limitations were employed.” Queen pointed out in a chart included in her letter that though Soldotna’s municipal population is only about 4,300, the city reported more than $25 million in gross restaurant and bar sales in 2013, the most of any other municipality in the borough. She suggested in her letter that, rather than evaluate license limits based solely on municipal populations, Title 4 include a way for local governments to petition the ABC Board for additional licenses if appropriate. “Because state statutes are only concerned with population of a municipality ... there is a mis-match of where licenses are available, versus where the demand is greatest,” she wrote. Micciche told the council that recommendations made by the stakeholder committees are still included in the comprehensive package and are being worked on during the 2016 interim. These include the concerns and suggestions from the city of Soldotna regarding licensing, which he said could affect other municipalities in the state as well. “Most important to the city of Soldotna for the economy in this area is allowing the board to develop population limits for REPL’s (restaurant or eating place license) that take into consideration service area, not just permanent residence,” Micciche said of the recommendations. “Soldotna is clearly a victim of that with 4,300 residents and a service area of 25,000 that probably doubles in the summer.” Other goals of rewriting Title 4 would be to increase staff to enforce alcoholic beverage laws in rural Alaska communities and increasing penalties for licensed businesses found to serve alcohol to minors, Micciche said. Megan Pacer can be reached at [email protected]

Four Kenai families lose homes in earthquake

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct an error. The home at 1211 Lilac Lane is owned by Mike and Sylvia Dale. KENAI — Vincent Calderon and Carrie Gaethle had just gotten their two children back to bed after being shaken awake by a 7.1 magnitude tremor that rocked the Kenai Peninsula Sunday morning when their house exploded into a mass of blue flames. “As soon as we got the kids back to sleep, probably about 15, 20 minutes after the earthquake ... it felt like we came a foot off the ground,” Calderon said. “The back wall flew off the house, the floors blew off.” Calderon said he grabbed Gaethle and the kids, and told them to go across the street. “My son was in his shorts, and the police gave him some pants,” Gaethle said. “I was just in boxers and a T-shirt,” Calderon added. The couple’s house on Lilac Lane in Kenai was the first of two that were destroyed by gas explosions and one of four that ended up being burnt to the ground following the earthquake and a gas leak in the area. Along with residents from all of Lilac Lane, Cook Inlet View Drive and Wells Way, they were evacuated to a shelter set up in the Kenai National Guard Armory by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management. Calderon said he ran back for the keys to their truck and moved it out of harm’s way, but that their roommate who owns the house, Brianna Hoge, lost her vehicle in the blast. By the time he got his family across the street, Kenai police officers were there evacuating the rest of the houses, he said. Hoge was trapped in her bedroom by the explosion, Calderon said. “I tried to open her bedroom door and I couldn’t. The whole wall of the house had fallen in,” Calderon said. “I kicked the bedroom door in and pulled her out of the doorway.” Gaethle said her 3-year-old daughter, Ayla, and her 11-year-old son, Andrew, are safe at their grandpa’s house, but were “devastated” to have lost everything in the home. Gaethle recently had an ostomy put in, and though Calderon was able to grab her bag of medications when first responders escorted him back into the house before a second house on the block exploded, she is in need of additional health care services. The second house, at 1211 Lilac Lane, owned by Mike and Sylvia Dale. Antebi, his fiancee and her children were evacuated to the shelter at the armory before anything happened to their home, he said. “Actually my fiancee ... and myself went outside, and we could smell gas and we saw the house ... our next door neighbor, it was on fire,” Antebi said. It wasn’t until someone came to the armory around 8 a.m. and showed him a picture of his house engulfed in flames that Antebi knew for sure what was going on, he said. “It was like a big shock,” he said. “When we left there really didn’t seem like there was anything major going on.” His family made it out with no injuries, but Antebi said their pets were still in the house when they were evacuated. “I’m worried that we lost our animals,” he said. “I’m appreciative of a lot of the people at Walmart. They had brought water, blankets, you know, all sorts of different things, you know, to make this more comfortable.” Members of the American Red Cross from the Mat-Su valley took control of managing the shelter on Sunday afternoon. Office of Emergency Management Director Scott Walden said those who have lost their homes will be able to work with the Red Cross to figure out temporary and long-term housing solutions. “We’ve been in touch with the state Emergency Operations Center since the first minute of the earthquake, and that was one of the things we initiated immediately was to have Red Cross come down to help with sheltering,” Walden said. “They don’t have a great presence on the peninsula right now but they’re really good about coming down from that far.” The armory was set up with cots, a television for the children, several tables with food and a stack of boxes with clothes and other donations. Several local businesses including Walmart, McDonald’s and Kaladi Brothers Coffee in Soldotna, Fred Meyer and Safeway donated everything from food to blankets for the evacuated families. Many were still not allowed back to their homes by late Sunday afternoon, as Enstar Natural Gas Co. employees were still out using machines to dig down to gas lines and check to make sure there were no additional leaks in the area.   Reach Megan Pacer at [email protected]  

Kenaitze tribe allows DNA testing on Dena’ina remains

KENAI — Members of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe could uncover valuable information about the population’s health and other historical trends through the study of ancestral remains returned to the tribe. The federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, passed in 1990, requires federal agencies like museums to inventory and turn over Native American remains to the tribal groups they belong to. The law has been instrumental in the return of Dena’ina remains and cultural artifacts over the years, including the most recent repatriation of remains representing eight individuals in 2013. After weighing its options, the tribe is now putting those remains through DNA testing in the hope of revealing information that can help them address health issues going forward, said Alexandra “Sasha” Lindgren, the tribe’s former Director of Tribal Government Affairs. “We have high incidents of arthritis, we have high incidents of diabetes,” Lindgren said. “What makes us predisposed to diabetes? What makes us predisposed to arthritis? Those are major, major issues.” Lindgren, who has been involved in the tribe’s NAGPRA efforts since the law’s inception, said the tribe has had a generally positive experience navigating the law to get pieces of its history returned. The most recently returned remains were discovered in the 1980s and 90s in multiple locations around the Kenai Peninsula, according to an article published in the tribe’s newspaper. The decision to subject remains to scientific study is not made lightly, Lindgren said. The Kenaitze Indian Tribe has long relied on the advice and consultation of Alan Boraas, an anthropologist and professor at the Kenai Peninsula College who has worked with the tribe since the 1970s. When the 2013 remains were repatriated, Boraas approached tribal members with an overview of what could be found through DNA study, how the study would be conducted, and more. Lindgren said tribal elders decided at the time that reasonable scientific study would be beneficial. “They did it out of respect for the past, and care and concern for the future,” Lindgren said. Boraas said making sure remains are respected during repatriation or study is of utmost importance. If members of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe decided they did not want their ancestors to be studied, there would be no attempts to do so, he said. “This is a sort of a case-by-case issue,” Boraas said. “It’s a marriage of research with tribal interests. That’s the bottom line: is the tribe interested in doing this type of work?” The Kenaitze Indian Tribe has a well-established protocol when it comes to navigating NAGPRA, in part because Lindgren and others took it upon themselves to interview more than 35 elders when the law first passed in order to set up definitions and standards for compliance, Lindgren said. Now, when remains affiliated with the Dena’ina people come to light, the tribe already knows how it will proceed in terms of repatriation, she said. “It’s just been a tremendous opportunity for the tribe to build partnerships,” Lindgren said. NAGPRA dictates that the tribe work closely with museums housing remains, the Alaska Bureau of Land Management, the state Office of History and Archaeology, the National Park Service and others. One reason the law has been so instrumental in returning remains and objects to their rightful owners is that it gives more authority to the oral and written histories of Alaska Native and Native American groups than was given in the past, putting tribes on a more equal playing field with anthropologists. “To see the federal government give weight and authority to that transmission of knowledge is empowering,” Lindgren said. “Those objects were not created to be in museums.” Not all tribes have the same experience with NAGPRA. The law only applies to federally recognized tribes, and the application process for repatriation can be lengthy and expensive. The Kenaitze Indian Tribe operates through grants applied for through NAGPRA, and has combined forces with tribal nonprofits and corporations and works with them to repatriate remains on behalf of multiple tribal entities. For tribes without grants or a thorough understanding of the repatriation process, having ancestral remains returned can be more difficult. To address these issues, the University of Alaska Museum of the North hosted a NAGPRA workshop on Sept. 3 in Fairbanks. Scott Shirar is the archaeology collection manager for the museum, and said that while the workshop was well attended by anthropologists, he had hoped for more community interest. The workshop was made possible by funding from a NAGPRA grant for museum personnel to invest in training and education. Shirar said the museum had originally applied for a grant that would have provided funds for museum personnel to travel and consult with rural tribal villages about objects that still need to be repatriated. Once the museum publishes a notice of completed inventory, the ball is in the affiliated tribe’s court to reach out and make a claim for those items, Shirar said. “They’re probably the most important player in terms of repatriating these objects.” Shirar said. “A lot of times it can be financial. We’re talking about rural villages, and they’re just dealing with so many other issues on a day to day basis.” Some tribes have employees dedicated to navigating NAGPRA, while others may employ a person who juggles NAGPRA compliance along with several other important duties, Shirar said. Lindgren said applying for NAGPRA grants is currently the best thing agencies can do to improve their consultation with rural tribes. Shirar said there could be another NAGPRA workshop in November, this time in Anchorage. Megan Pacer can be reached at [email protected]

Card Street fire moves east into Skilak area

The Card Street fire continued on its east-bound path through the Kenai Peninsula Thursday, burning through the black spruce of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and nearing the Sterling Highway. Thursday evening, Alaska Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Terry Anderson said that the fire is 2 miles from Sterling Highway, creating the possibility of a closure. The fire remains south of the highway. “What we have to be mindful of is any winds that come from the south,” Anderson said. In a 12:30 p.m. meeting on Thursday at the Sterling Community Center, Anderson said Thursday’s main focus for the firefighters remained the Kenai Keys and the south side of the Kenai River, where crews worked to reduce the prevalence of spot fires. “(The fire) will go where the wind pushes it,” Anderson said. Shannon McCarthy, public information officer for the Alaska Department of Transportation Central Region, said the department would wait for the go-ahead to close the highway from those working close to the fire. “It really depends, it would be the responders on scene that would make that call, and then the Department of Transportation would assist with putting up barricades,” she said. Alaska State Trooper Public Information Officer Beth Ipsen said in the case of a highway closure, troopers would be present to direct traffic and monitor checkpoints. She said personnel close to the fire would have to make the call first. “With the fires that are going on, (troopers) patrol the evacuated areas, and they’ll also do traffic control,” she said. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre and Brenda Ahlberg, Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management public information officer, also spoke at the meeting. They assured community members that resources are being distributed as best they can and that services for those affected by evacuation will continue. Bulldozer lines have been created from Aspen Road to Bottenintnin Lake, and from the lake to Skilak Lake Loop Road. The lines are an attempt to prevent the fire from backtracking on itself should the wind shift directions. In total, there are now 256 crew members actively fighting the Card Street fire, said Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Tim Mowry, including hotshot crews that arrived Wednesday from Montana and Idaho. There are five Type 1 hotshot crews and three Type 2 Alaska crews fighting the fire, he said. The new crew and incident commander, Bob Allbee, of Washtington, were eased into the situation on Thursday with a briefing at the Sterling Elementary School. Anderson said there is not a long-term fire plan yet, but new daily plans are made each night as the objectives for fighting the fire change. “I think they’ll be working with what the previous team’s been doing, and a lot of what they’re doing will be dependent on the weather,” Mowry said. “They typically won’t do much with the fire in the refuge.” Other factors affecting overall strategy are resources and fire behavior. Mowry said the crews can expect more resources soon, though he could not confirm what kind. Anderson said the majority of firefighters assigned to the Card Street fire will be camping overnight near the fire lines. He said some may choose to stay in the Sterling Elementary School. There have been no further evacuations ordered and no injuries reported, Anderson said. The Federal Aviation Administration has not had to divert or suspend any flights in the area. Spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the FAA will remain watchful over the areas affected by fires before a future determination. “So far we’ve had no diversions, but obviously they have to watch very closely,” he said. “You don’t want to fly right into a large smoky plume.” Kenitzer said the FAA takes the altitude and flight path of a plane into consideration when deciding whether to suspend or change flights. Often, he said the solution is to simply change the flight path, causing the plane to land at a different airport than originally planned. According to a news release from the American Red Cross of Alaska, the organization has sent disaster workers into local communities affected by fires in the Willow and Kenai Peninsula areas. The release states the Red Cross has provided overnight stays to 480 individuals thus far. The Red Cross hosted a service center to assist those who have lost their home to the Card Street fire at the Sterling Community Center at 3 p.m., Thursday. Administrative Assistant Rochelle Hanson said the center had no overnight guests on Wednesday, as many people are offering their spare rooms, cottages and other sleeping arrangements to those in need. Anderson said meetings will continue to be held at the Sterling Community Center at 12:30 p.m. for the next two days to update residents and volunteers on the status of the Card Street fire. He said the incident commander of the newest team to head up the firefighting efforts is expected to be at Friday’s meeting. Homer Electric Association’s Director of Member Relations Joe Gallagher said, after meeting with members of the Division of Forestry Thursday evening, HEA does not have a go-ahead to restore power to the 169 customers without it in the Kenai Keys area. “The power will remain out ... and we will re-evaluate with the Division of Forestry tomorrow morning,” he said. Megan Pacer can be reached at [email protected]
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