Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, June 27, 2004

Taku River reaches record levels

JUNEAU - The Taku River reached record levels on Friday due to the annual jokulhlaup - a flood caused by release of a glacier-dammed lake at Tulsequah Glacier in British Columbia.

There were no immediate reports of damage to cabins along the river.

A river gauge near the U.S.-Canada border reported a crest of 44.96 feet at about 4:30 p.m. Friday, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record, 44.13 feet, was reached during a jokulhlaup in August 1989.

According to the National Weather Service, at 44.7 feet the Taku River reaches the door of a house near the gauge.

The river started a steep rise around midday Thursday. After cresting, the river receded late Friday and a flood warning that had been in effect was canceled on Saturday.

At its peak on Friday afternoon, the river flow exceeded 120,000 cubic feet per second. One week earlier, on June 18, the flow was just over 35,000 cfs.

This year's flood, caused when the lake breached its ice dam, was the earliest on record. The lake usually drains in late July or early August.

The National Weather Service heard reports of logs and debris in Taku Inlet, but is seeking more information about the effects of the flood. Those with eyewitness reports can call 790-6824.

For more information on jokulhlaups in Southeast Alaska, look on the Web at

For more information on river levels across Alaska, look on the Web at

Bail set at $10,000 in downtown assault

JUNEAU - A homeless man was ordered held in lieu of $10,000 bail Friday, after his arrest the night before on a felony assault charge.

Police reported arresting Andrew Moritz III, 39, on a third-degree assault charge after finding him sitting on a 35-year-old Ketchikan man. As officers approached, they saw Moritz slam the man's head three times into the concrete near the Marine Park pavilion before kicking him in the head, they reported.

The Ketchikan man was taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital, where he was treated for cuts and bruises and released.

The incident was reported at 10:28 p.m.

Froehlich said the offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Juneau District Judge Peter B. Froehlich told Moritz he was requiring such a high bail, in part because of his lack of ties to the community.

Moritz told Froehlich he was homeless and jobless, with no income and no money saved.

Supreme Court decision to affect Alaska

ANCHORAGE - A new U.S. Supreme Court decision may change how judicial sentences are meted out in Alaska.

Prosecutors across the state have been asked to reevaluate pending plea agreements, and Department of Law officials are studying the high court's opinion to better grasp how the state's legal system will be affected.

"We do believe it's going to impact the presumptive sentencing scheme here in Alaska," said Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones. "Whatever plea agreements that are out there that could be impacted by this decision, those agreements are being withdrawn. They're going to have to take a look at it again in light of the decision."

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that juries - not judges - must decide whether to impose sentences beyond the guidelines.

Stranded travelers escorted from Chicken

ANCHORAGE - Remaining travelers stranded by wildfires safely left the tiny community of Chicken early Saturday and fire managers planned to reopen the Taylor Highway on a limited basis beginning at midnight if conditions allowed.

Several dozen vehicles were escorted on the highway overnight, most arriving at Tok, about 70 miles to the southwest, by 8 a.m. Saturday. An earlier convoy of 70 vehicles left Chicken early Friday.

Three fires prompted the closure Thursday of a 90-mile stretch of the highway on both sides of the old mining community of 21 people. The closure stranded about 200 residents, travelers and seasonal miners.

Saturday started a bit quieter with cooler temperatures, but conditions heated up as the day wore on and winds picked up in the 10-mph range.

Fueled by hot dry conditions all week, the Chicken fire - with its north flank about a mile south of the community - had grown to an estimated 37,000 acres and merged with the 8,800-acre Wall Street fire, about eight miles east of Chicken.

Closer to Tok, the Porcupine fire was estimated at 45,000 acres. The Billy Creek fire, about 60 miles northwest of Tok, was estimated at more than 50,000 acres.

Blunder puts crimp in crab boat buyout

ANCHORAGE - Federal officials are halting a planned $100 million government buyout of Bering Sea king and snow crab boats, citing a bureaucratic blunder.

The temporary stop could mean some boat owners who thought they were selling out of the fishery and retiring their boats won't be bought out. It also could force another vote of crabbers on whether they want to proceed with the buyout program.

Phil Smith, a National Marine Fisheries Service manager in Juneau, said historical catch records were miscalculated on some of the 28 boats the agency recently announced would be bought out.

The government sought to retire boats with the strongest fishing records, leaving more crab to go around for the roughly 230 boats remaining in the oversized and economically distressed fleet.

But NMFS officials mistakenly overstated the catch history of those boats that have more than one owner, Smith said. So, for a boat with two or three owners, the boat's catch history was incorrectly doubled or tripled, he told the Anchorage Daily News.

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