Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, December 14, 2003

Last family member dies of gas poisoning

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage woman in critical condition since last week from carbon monoxide poisoning that killed her husband and three children has died, family members said.

Rita Arts, 33, died at Alaska Regional Hospital early Friday, her sister-in-law Heidy Arts said.

Rita was found last Saturday unconscious and lying in a hallway with her daughter after a friend checked in on the family.

David Arts, 42, and his three children, Taylor, 11, Annemarie, 8, and Wilem Tryn, 3, were found dead in the home. The father and both boys were found in their beds.

Investigators concluded a boiler was the source of carbon monoxide but that several factors combined to make it lethal.

They said it appears the family shut off their boiler for a short time to work on a gas line that went to a kiln. It is not clear who did the work, but investigators found a receipt for supplies dated Dec. 4 in the family's vehicle.

They determined a chimney filled with cold air, a blocked fresh-air vent and the malfunctioning boiler all contributed to the gas buildup.

Investigators recorded carbon monoxide levels of between 250 and 715 parts per million. Carbon monoxide levels of 150 ppm or higher are considered enough to be lethal.

GAO: New plan needed to fund village relocation

ANCHORAGE - Saving four Western Alaska villages from erosion will require hundreds of millions of dollars and Congress should decide the best course of action, according to a study from the General Accounting Office.

The GAO study gave no complete estimates for relocating Shishmaref, Kivalina, Koyukuk and Newtok, but said such a course should be pursued rather than pouring more money into local projects.

Villages in much of rural Alaska sprang up along rivers and coasts where Native inhabitants historically hunted and fished.

Now, according to the GAO, flooding or erosion regularly affects 86 percent of the state's 213 predominantly Native villages.

The four communities studied in the report are considered in the most imminent danger and each community has decided to move.

Erosion along the Ninglick River claims about 90 feet of bank per year at Newtok, the report said.

At Shishmaref, located on a 1,300-foot wide barrier island in the Bering Strait, storm-driven waves claim up to 125 feet of coastline a year.

Erosion also threatens airport runways, roads and other facilities at Kaktovik, Point Hope, Unalakleet and regional hubs of Barrow and Bethel, the report said.

State and federal agencies have spent thousands of dollars on temporary protection measures, such as sand bags and sea walls that haven't stopped erosion.

Shishmaref and Kivalina hope to move onto the mainland, while Koyukuk, at the confluence of the Yukon and Koyukuk rivers, is in the early stages of planning. Only Newtok has a relocation site selected.

It could cost up to $400 million to relocate Kivalina, the report said. It is unclear how much it would cost at the other villages.

Records unsealed in officer's termination

FAIRBANKS - A Superior Court judge has ordered the unsealing of court records of a North Pole police officer who was fired for sexual harassment.

G. Mark Jurgens shouldn't enjoy more privacy rights than other citizens with potentially embarrassing court information already available for public inspection, the judge ruled.

Jurgens was a patrol sergeant fired in July for sexually harassing a female co-worker that he supervised. He filed an administrative appeal in Superior Court to get his job back.

But he also sought to seal court documents related to the case and for permission to hold hearings behind closed doors.

His attorney, Jim Hackett, argued that opening the documents and hearings would further damage the former police officer's reputation and violate his right to privacy.

Zane Wilson, attorney for North Pole, opposed the request for secrecy, arguing the officer had already exposed details of the situation to other patrons in a local bar. Hackett denied that allegation.

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