Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, January 15, 2006

Friends, families mark Big Valley sinking

KODIAK - Plans sank, too, with the Big Valley last January, plans for marriages and babies, for budding careers and retirements.

On Sunday, friends and families of the five fishermen who died when the 92-foot crabber went down Jan. 15, 2005, will pause to remember the men they knew and imagine what might have been.

Skipper Gary Edwards, 46, of Kodiak, Danny Vermeersch, 33 of Belgium, Josias Luna, 48, of Anchorage, Aaron Marrs, 27, of Louisville, Ky., and Carlos Rivera, 35, of Uruguay perished when their ship rolled in stormy weather about 70 miles from St. Paul Island as it began the opilio crab season.

Cache Seel, 31, was the sole survivor. He is now in Egypt and has no plans to return Kodiak anytime soon.

The Big Valley sinking was the first major incident in that fishery since March 19, 1999, when the Kodiak-based Lin-J capsized, killing all five fishermen aboard.

The year since has brought calls for more safety regulations, an investigation into the cause of the fatal capsizing and grief.

"All of us are wondering what young men like Aaron, what their lives could have been if they had hung on," said Mark Hogg of Kentucky. He was youth minister to Marrs, the youngest man aboard.

The Coast Guard had limited the Big Valley, one of the smallest boats that participated in the snow crab fishery, to carrying 31 crab pots.

It left Dutch Harbor for its final trip with 55 pots and 183,000 pounds of bait, more than three times the amount allowed, according to the Coast Guard investigation.

That extra weight contributed to its fate, the investigation found.

Canceled drilling project back on

ANCHORAGE - A Prudhoe Bay drilling project that was scrapped last year has been resurrected, a BP spokesman said.

Plans for the project stalled in response to Gov. Frank Murkowski's tax hike on oil production.

The well will be drilled this winter in the western wing of Prudhoe at a cost of up to $5.5 million, said Daren Beaudo, spokesman for BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. BP is heading the project but other companies will share in the cost, including ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil.

The purpose of the well is to appraise oil deposits in the area, including pools of thick crude known as heavy oil contained in the shallow Orion and Borealis fields that overlay Prudhoe Bay.

The well is an important step toward a western Prudhoe development plan that could involve as much as $1.5 billion in investment over a 10-year period, according to Beaudo.

BP and Conoco executives said in speeches last year that the well and possibly the broader development project might be scrapped as a result of Murkowski's tax hike. The well was originally scheduled for drilling last winter.

Constitutional delegates convene

FAIRBANKS - Five decades after 55 delegates met in Fairbanks to create Alaska's constitution, 55 young people are meeting again to follow the original group's lead in crafting their own vision for the state's future.

"Step aside and concentrate on the key issues," former delegate Vic Fischer told participants Friday at the kickoff of the Conference of Young Alaskans.

The conference continues through Monday at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Delegates from across the state range in age from 14 to 26. They come from 25 Alaska communities and represent 13 ethnic backgrounds, said Ian-Michael Hebert, the chair of the conference steering committee.

Two in the group are descendants of delegates who attended Alaska's Constitutional Convention. Two delegates were absent Friday because their flights were grounded due to the eruption of Augustine Volcano.

The conference is one of the activities planned to commemorate the creation of the state's constitution, a prelude to statehood, by Creating Alaska, a UA organization.

Service held for man believed killed in Iraq

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Surrounded by pictures of Ronald Schulz as a son, a student and a Marine, family members and friends filled a church Saturday to remember the 40-year-old contractor believed to have been killed by a militant group in Iraq.

The memorial service was held at St. John's Lutheran Church, the same church where Schulz was baptized. A Marine Corps honor guard presented his mother, Gladys, with an American flag. Schulz had been living in Eagle River, near Anchorage.

Paul Sandstrom, who spoke on behalf of the Schulz family, said he feels anger and frustration, but he said the family wants people to think of Ronald Schulz and "replace that hole in your heart with a fond memory."

The Islamic Army in Iraq claimed last month that it had killed Schulz, who was working as an industrial electrician in Iraq.

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