Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, July 04, 2005

Congress asked to intervene in dispute

FAIRBANKS - A homeowner's erosion tussle with the Tanana River is causing navigation problems for a Fairbanks tourist attraction, paddlewheel boats, and it may take an act of Congress to satisfy both sides.

Carey Bliss owns a home on the Tanana's north bank, on the outside of the bend just below the confluence with the Chena River. When a large sandbar several years ago built up at the mouth of the Chena, the Tanana's current was diverted more directly into the bank upstream of Bliss's home and the bank started to disappear.

Under a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bliss dumped concrete rubble on the bank to stop the erosion. The river then started rapidly eating away at the bank upstream of the riprap, which stayed in place and soon jutted out into the shifting channel. There, the riprap got the attention of the owners of Alaska Riverways Inc., who run large paddlewheel tour boats through that section of the river.

Last fall, pilots on the Riverboat Discovery sternwheelers, which carry thousands of visitors on day trips each summer, no longer could navigate the narrow channel remaining between the concrete and a sandbar stretching north from an island in the Tanana, said John Binkley, president of Alaska Riverways.

Binkley in January got the Coast Guard to declare the riprap a navigational hazard. He then asked the Corps of Engineers to fix it, but agency officials said they did not have a quick way of dealing with the request. So Binkley went to U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who earlier this month amended a water projects bill by adding language that would tell the corps to remove the hazard.

Bliss last spring added more concrete under a new plan approved by the Corps. His efforts have not satisfied the Riverboat Discovery pilots, who hesitate to enter the channel except during high water.

Thief targets dead man's belongings

FAIRBANKS - A North Pole family grieving the death of a member was hit a by a second blow after discovering a thief had been raiding the man's home and workshop.

Someone looted the home of Whitey Christman, making off with an estimated $100,000 in tools and art, after he died. The theft spurred survivors to auction off remaining items Saturday, earlier than planned.

"That people would do this ... It makes you speechless," said Alaska State Trooper Kirsten Hansen, who is investigating the thefts.

Christman died at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital on June 12 of injuries from a self-inflicted gun shot. He had been depressed, his wife, Andi Christman said.

Dead whale found on Kodiak

KODIAK - A dead juvenile humpback whale with net marks and apparent bullet holes was found on a south Kodiak Island beach.

Marks along the 30-foot body indicate the whale had been tangled in some sort of net, said Brent Pristas, an agent for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

One bullet hole was behind the pectoral flipper. The location of the other was not disclosed.

Officials from the Marine Mammal Observers Program spotted the whale from the air June 19 on the east side of Alitak Bay. Tides and wind moved the whale to Tanner Head beach on June 25, Pristas said.

"The samples collected were as follows: blubber, skin tissue, fluke width, sex, pectoral fin length, and total length of the whale," said observer Russel Seither. "Then we moved on to the internal work, where we expected to collect the stomach contents of the whale for analysis in Kodiak. Once the viscera were exposed we had to leave the site due to building seas."

Anchorage thunder, lightning increase

ANCHORAGE - The rumble of thunder and the flash of lighting is not as rare as it used to be in Anchorage.

Since 1996, there's been a 60 percent increase in the average number of thunderstorms near Alaska's largest city, according to the National Weather Service.

For many years, the average was only about one thunder day as heard from the local forecast office near the international airport, based on records compiled since 1954. Toward the Chugach Mountains, more thunder could be heard.

At his home near the lower Hillside neighborhood, where he's been keeping his own personal observations since 1996, National Weather Service technician Dave Vonderheide has counted seven such storms this summer, or nearly twice his own yearly average, which is more than three times the airport average.

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