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1/5/15 - Anchorage murder rate of 14 in 2014 down from past two decades

Fourteen homicides in Anchorage in 2014 down from past

The number of homicides in Anchorage in 2014 was the lowest in two decades. Alaska Dispatch News reports homicide detectives investigated the deaths of 14 people last year. One of those deaths is not being counted as a confirmed homicide. Police say the year's total is the second lowest number of homicide for the city in 24 years.

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State closes Bethel office of the Department of Environmental Conservation

An area the size of the state of Washington no longer has a state official based there to handle spill and response activities. The state closed its spill and response office in Bethel citing budgetary issues and restructuring.  KYUK reports the DEC's spill and response office in Bethel closed last Wednesday, after the retirement of Bob Dole, the sole DEC employee in Bethel. DEC environmental program manager Steve Russel in Anchorage says spill prevention and response will be handled out of Anchorage, and the agency can get someone to Bethel quickly.

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Unclear how proposed Ambler road would affect Northwest Arctic Caribou Herd

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, says it's still moving forward to prepare an environmental impact state for the contentious Ambler Road, even after Gov. Bill Walker has placed a hold on the project. The Ambler road would branch west off the Dalton Highway near Evansville and run into the copper deposit near Ambler. If the road eventually gets the go-ahead, it'll be a mixed bag for the Northwest Arctic Caribou Herd, which winters on and migrates through land that the road would bisect. Jim Dau is an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist based in Kotzebue.

"I think we've got enough information to show that with regard to caribou, it's not an easy answer," says Dau. "It varies tremendously, seasonally. It's hard to make a categorical statement saying roads are terrible for caribou, or they have no effect. It's not that simple."

Dau says most of the caribou's southerly fall migration would place them just to the west of where the road would end. However, he says, sometimes, instead of traveling south toward the Seward Peninsula, they hook a left and walk up the Kobuk River.

"You know, I've seen 50 or 80 thousand caribou walk completely out of the Kobuk into the Koyukuk, the upper Koyukuk drainage, and that's completely along that road, that proposed road," says Dau.

AIDEA has said many times that the Ambler Road will be the only road, and that it will be closed and remediated once mining operations have ceased. The public has been skeptical, especially given the road's cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Dau says he doesn't support or oppose the road, but if this is just the beginning of development, he says he's taking the long view.

"If they were going to to extend that road from Ambler out to any deep-water port, then it would bisect the Northwest Arctic herd range and the caribou would have to cross that road multiple times per year. That would be a very, very different animal," says Dau. "So, I tend to think about long-term things, not just the next 10 or 20 years. What's this road going to look like in 50, 75, or 100 years? Those are the time frames you need to think about." 

While AIDEA has maintained that the Ambler Road would be industrial-use only, Dau says the public, including subsistence users in villages near the road, would likely desire access for hunting and other uses if the road were built.

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