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Posts from the 'Local News' category

Remains of Argentinian Climber Found High on Denali

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The National Park Service reports that the remains of a solo Argentinian climber have been found at a camp high on Denali.

According to a statement on Thursday, the body of 39-year-old Heraldo Javier Callupan was discovered shortly before midnight on Sunday, May 10th.  The Park Service says Callupan began climbing on May 1st, and was last seen leaving the camp at 14,200 feet to continue his climb on May 6th.  He was discovered four days later by another climbing team.  No other teams were reported in the area between May 6th and May 10th, and mountain patrols were not yet in place at the highest camp.

The National Park Service says Callupan was discovered lying in the snow, and had no apparent signs of trauma.  Thursday’s statement says he appears to have died from “unknown medical issues”.

Positive identification of Callupan’s remains took several days and coordination with the Argentine Consulate.  The Consulate notified his next of kin on Wednesday.

This is the only death reported thus far in the 2015 Denali climbing season.

Talkeetna Elementary Receives Threatening Phone Call During Field Trip

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On Wednesday afternoon, Talkeetna Elementary School received a threatening phone call while students were out of the building on a field trip.

Joe Schmidt, School Safety Coordinator for Mat-Su schools, says that the call is similar to one received at Pioneer Peak Elementary last week.  He did not give details of the call.

Schmidt says that Talkeetna Elementary Principal Lisa Shelby made the right decision by keeping the students at the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar while the situation was being assessed.  Bus and parent pick-ups were re-routed to the hangar.

Joe Schmidt says he expects the situation at Talkeetna Elementary to be resolved by tomorrow.

Wednesday’s call is one of several received at schools throughout the state in recent weeks.

Two Idaho Climbers Safe After Mt. Dickey Avalanche

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Mt. Dickey after Monday's avalanche.  Photo by T. Chenoweth - Denali National Park and Preserve

Mt. Dickey after Monday’s avalanche. Photo by T. Chenoweth – Denali National Park and Preserve

The National Park Service reports that two Idaho climbers have been rescued after an avalanche on Mt. Dickey, twelve miles southeast of Denali, in the Alaska Range.  According to a statement from Denali National Park, 27-year-old Saxon Spillman and 24-year-old Michael Wachs, were about 7,500 feet up on the mountain when the avalanche occurred on Monday evening, but neither was caught in the slide.  The pair attempted to climb down after the avalanche, but could not find a safe route.

Maureen Gualtieri, spokeswoman for Denali National Park, says the climbers signaled a local air taxi pilot by stomping an ‘SOS’ into the snow and waving their arms.  They also activated a GPS locator.  After mountaineering rangers spotted Spellman and Wachs from the air, a search and rescue helicopter was dispatched.  The rescue helicopter, piloted by veteran rescue pilot Andy Hermansky, was able to land on the mountain and pick up the two stranded climbers.

Photos taken by a ranger show that where Wachs and Spellman were was one of few safe places on the face of Mt. Dickey.

Park Service staff have reported an increase in avalanche activity in the Alaska Range following several feet of fresh snow and windy conditions.  Thus far, no major accidents have been reported in the Alaska Range for the 2015 climbing season.

Mat-Su Assembly Approves Nine Budget Amendments

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On Monday, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly held its first deliberation on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.  Nine amendments were accepted on Monday, but requests for more information from the Assembly mean there will be at least one additional meeting on Wednesday.

The budget that Mat-Su Borough Manager John Moosey submitted to the borough assembly last month was about $4 million smaller than the budget for the current fiscal year.  On Monday, assembly members added some items back in that had initially been left out.

Nine amendments were passed by the assembly on Monday.  The Mat-Su Borough School District was appropriated an additional $1.3 million, which is slightly less than the increase it requested. Assembly Member Vern Halter moved to have the borough’s minimum reserve amount lowered to $25 million, which would free up the necessary funds for the increased school appropriation.

Block grants for cities were re-established at a total level of $106,000.  Youth Court was funded at a level of $150,000, as was the Valley’s Sexual Assault Response Team.  A handful of staffing reshuffles in Mat-Su Central Fire Service Area, as well as the creation of two new positions were also approved.

The issue that the assembly could not come to a final decision on was additional paramedics and EMTs for the borough ambulance service.  Assembly Member Dan Mayfield carried an amendment to add eight new positions.  Questions about expenditures, ambulance fees, and other issues led the assembly to continue the discussion Wednesday.

More amendments could still be brought, and a final mill levy has not been set.

Mat-Su Assembly Members Offer Twelve Budget Amendments

Monday, May 11, 2015

After the Mat-Su Borough Assembly’s final public hearing on the borough budget on Thursday, three assembly members submitted a total of twelve proposed amendments.  The first amendment listed is a three percent increase to the borough’s portion of funding for the Mat-Su Borough School District’s operating budget.  The increase amounts to about $1.5 million.  The amendment was submitted by Assembly Member Matthew Beck, who sits on the joint School Board and Borough Assembly committee.  Beck also submitted an amendment re-establishing municipal block grants for the cities of Palmer, Wasilla, and Houston, totaling about $120,000.  Beck’s other two amendments would provide a $90,000 planning grant to the City of Wasilla and transfer $50,000 to the Youth Court program.  All of Assembly Member Beck’s amendments involve relatively small increases to the areawide mill rate.

Assembly Member Dan Mayfield is proposing a handful of amendments around emergency services.  He is proposing an areawide mill rate increase to buy three new ambulances for the borough, to hire three paramedics and five EMTs, to add two Fire Service Area Assistant positions, and to reshuffle the staffing structure in the Mat-Su Central Fire Service Area.

The amendments submitted by Assembly Member Vern Halter, whose district includes the Upper Valley, deal primarily with the borough’s solid waste division.  Halter proposes a small increase to the non-areawide mill rate in order to transfer funds to solid waste and to provide start-up costs and operational support for recycling programs based at borough transfer sites.  Halter is also proposing a $100,000 payment from the Willow Fire Service area toward a loan taken from the borough.

Meetings are currently scheduled for Monday and Wednesday, with a third scheduled for May 20th, if needed.


No Discharge Currently Coming from Sewer Lagoon Slough

Friday, May 8, 2015

Recent aerial photographs confirm the concerns of some local residents that the only water flowing past the Talkeetna Boat Launch area is coming from the slough that drains the Talkeetna sewage treatment lagoon.

Despite that, Mat-Su Borough Public Works Director Terry Dolan says it’s not necessarily a cause for concern at the moment, because the lagoons are not discharging.  Dolan says that the lagoons store contaminated water through the winter, and it begins being discharged late in the spring.  He says that the discharge has not begun, yet, and that the effluent will be confirmed to be in compliance levels before water is let out from the lagoons.  What Dolan says is currently flowing in the slough is runoff from rain and melting snow, and not treated sewage.

Terry Dolan says that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation recently visited the Talkeetna site after media coverage of issues with the system.  He says the discussion was around the periodic problems with lagoon effluent and the measures to fix them.

One issue Dolan cites is grease and fat mixed with sewage.  He says the Talkeetna lagoons are designed to allow a natural bacterial process to destroy contaminants before the water is discharged.  If too much grease or fat gets in the water, Terry Dolan says it can stop oxygen transfer and prevent proper treatment.  He says the borough is planning to use cameras in some downtown sewer pipes to determine where the grease and oils are coming from.

Mat-Su Borough Assembly Holds Budget Meeting in Willow

Friday, May 8, 2015

Attached is the complete audio from Thursday’s meeting.  The two dominant issues were the Willow Fire Service Area Mill Rate and the borough contribution to the Mat-Su Borough School District’s funding.  Talkeetna residents also spoke about the Talkeetna sewer and water system.

East Talkeetna Residents Will Vote on Flood Service Area This Year

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

This October, East Talkeetna and River Subdivision residents will vote on whether to join the Talkeetna Flood Control Service Area.  The service area is a special tax district, currently levied at 1.39 mills.  The Borough Manager’s proposed budget would reduce the mill rate to 1.07 for the area.

The proposed expansion would be bordered by the Alaksa Railroad, the Talkeetna River, and a combination of Twister Creek slough and the ridge line.

The issue of annexation came up after it was discovered that East Talkeetna is not covered by the existing flood service area.  According to Mat-Su Borough officials, that designation is required in order for the borough to do flood mitigation work or act as a pass-through for state and federal flood control funds.  FEMA funding after a flood is not affected by the designation.  Taxes raised through the levy are also available for flood control, but the amount is not sufficient to do major work.  The flood service area’s current revenue is about $22,000 per year.

According to borough code, a majority of voters residing in the proposed expansion zone who vote in the borough election must approve the annexation for it to take place.  The Talkeetna Community Council conducted an advisory vote on pursuing the expansion last October.  On a vote of 48-10, the council was advised to proceed.  This year’s borough election will be on October 6th,

Inadequate Flow Causes Problems at Talkeetna Boat Launch

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The changing landscape of rivers in the Upper Valley is causing concern for business owners and residents in Talkeetna.  One issue is the filling of the Talkeetna Boat Launch with silt.  That issue, and the planned solution came up at Monday’s Talkeetna Community Council meeting.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning was there and has this report:

Upper Valley residents sometimes pride themselves on the area’s “wild” rivers.  The Talkeetna, Chulitna, and Susitna are not dammed at any point, and allowed to flow in their channels freely.  Over time, those channels can shift.  At Monday’s Talkeetna Community Council board of directors meeting, Talkeetna Boat Launch operator Aaron Benjamin told the Council about the problem he has seen growing in recent years.

“Right now, the Talkeetna river has been moving to the far side, as everybody knows, and the channel that the launch is in is getting less and less water every year.” (more…)