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3/3/15 - Heroin use on the rise in Alaska

Drug abuse may become epidemic

Heroin use is on the rise in Alaska. Bureau of Investigation Commander Jeff Laughlin says the trend is expected to continue, and he believes it could become an epidemic. Nome Mayor Denise Michels says heroin and methamphetamine use are a major concern for nearby communities that lack a state law enforcement presence.

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Platinum Mine manager pleads guilty to environmental crimes

A former manager for the XS Platinum mine in western Alaska will plead guilty today [March 3, 2015] to violating the Clean Water Act for his role in the mine’s illegal wastewater discharge and lying to authorities. The charges were filed in 2011 after a Fish and Wildlife biologist on a flight over the area saw the usually clear Salmon River was flowing with cloudy, muddy water. The charges under the Clean Water Act were the first ever filed in Alaska by the U.S. Department of Justice.

As KYUK’s Ben Matheson reports, under the terms in an agreement filed in federal court Monday, Robert Pate will plead guilty to three counts, including water permit violations and making a false statements related to the company’s mining operations. Kevin Feldis is a first assistant US attorney working on the case.

“He was aware and others at the mine, he says, were aware that there was going to be a potential problem with these exact type of discharges,” said Feldis. “This was something he knew was going to be a potential problem, that he had discussed making solutions to the problem, those solutions weren’t done.”

Feldis continued, “The settling ponds weren’t lined for example, he’s admitted. As a result there were the discharges that were alleged.”

XS Platinum owned and operated the Platinum Creek mine from 2008 to 2012.

The company and its leadership are accused of polluting the Salmon River with mine discharge, which was documented on aerial surveys flown by Togiak Refuge staff in 2011. Located near Goodnews Bay, in western Alaska, the area has a history of platinum mining throughout the last century.

Pate is one of five defendants named in the first federal criminal case involving the Clean Water Act in Alaska. The five former employees and the company were indicted by a federal grand jury last year. Pate was an XS Platinum executive from 2010 to 2012, and was the onsite manager in the summer of 2010.

According to the agreement, in 2010, the company used wastewater ponds that leaked into the Salmon river and ultimately to the Kuskokwim. Their EPA permit prohibited discharge.  Emails point to Pate’s knowledge, including his report on “dirty, turbid water” seeping from the mine. He devised a system to pipe the water to a ditch and into Squirrel Creek. Pate suggested to his company bosses that the mine stop processing tailings on account of the discharge, but the company’s CEO told him not to. The operation was running 22 hours a day.

Federal prosecutors say Pate has provided, quote, “substantial assistance” to their case.

“We expect as part of his guilty pleas and his acceptance of responsibility,” said Feldis, “that Mr. Pate will continue to assistant provide truthful information in support of the rest of the case.”

As per the deal, Pate will pay a 10-thousand dollar fine, and prosecutors will recommend in prison and home confinement. His sentencing date has not been set. Feldis says two of the five men are Australian citizens and have not appeared to face their charges.

“It’s our understanding that they’re aware of the charges, but to date they have not responded or appeared in the United States,” said Feldis. “We’ll continue efforts to ensure that we do secure their appearance here. “

Feldis says the neither the company, XS Platinum, or any of its successors have responded to the charges

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Low returns close hooligan fishing near Ketchikan

Alaska fishing regulators say there will be no season opening for the harvest of hooligan around Ketchikan this year. The Ketchikan Daily News reports the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service have closed area waters to the catching of hooligan, also known as eulachon, or candlefish, because of low returns.

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Warm weather prompts another route change for Iditarod Sled-dog Race

For the second time, Iditarod Sled-dog Race officials have changed the route of the race due to warm weather. The race start was going to be held on the Chena River in Fairbanks, but officials have determined the ice isn’t thick enough. They moved the race route to land. Earlier the start of the race was moved from Willow to Fairbanks due to the lack of snow in Southcentral Alaska.

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