2011 in review
An unusual combination of open ocean water, very cold temperatures and strong north winds left Savoonga without power for more than a week. Wind driven salt spray encased power lines and transformers and rendered Savoonga’s power supply sketchy until AVEC linesmen traveled out to St. Lawrence Island to work in -40°F to restore power in sections. As power failed, so did heaters and Savoonga residents had to seek shelter in the Savoonga School. Burst pipes, frozen water and sewer lines damaged private homes and public buildings. Governor Sean Parnell declared a state disaster for Savoonga, which triggered public and individual assistance to the community.
Troopers call off search and rescue efforts looking for John Koezuna, 50,who went missing when walking from Cape Woolley to Nome starting Dec. 20. The was a search for Teller man Kenneth Lee, 22, who was traveling by snowmachine from Brevig Mission to Teller when he disappeared on Dec. 16. Troopers believe he vanished into open water in Port Clarence waters.
After offering Nome Public School superintendent Jon Wehde only a one-year contract, which Wehde declined to accept, the Nome Board of Education was on the hunt for a new superintendent again. While the rest of the leadership team remained under contract, Mike Brawner, the new NPS superintendent was hired in time for the new school year.
Nome landmark watering hole, the Board of Trade Saloon, escaped a bank foreclosure auction and remained in the hands of its owners.
The City of Nome pitches a proposal to Sitnasuak Inc, the prospective owners of land the White Alice sits on, to keep the cold war antennas on top of Anvil Mountain. Details of the proposal were not revealed, but history buffs in Nome expressed the desire to keep the antennas in place. In the summer, the Air Force removed contaminants and PCB contaminated soil from the site to clear the path for the land to be handed over to the BLM and then to Sitnasuak.
NSEDC subsidiary Siu Alaska Corp. and partner Coastal Villages Pollock bought seven trawl vessels and one crabber from Wards Cove Packing Co.
Governor Sean Parnell, his wife Sandy and Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell came to Nome for a brief inaugural reception at the Nome Rec Center and Old St. Joe’s Hall.
In Juneau, the Alaska legislature and Gov. Parnell locked horns over the governor’s proposed oil tax that would’ve given oil companies more tax incentives for exploration drilling. This set the stage for a deadlock on legislation that would’ve extended the Alaska Coastal Management program. The Susitna Hydro project, a controversial project to dam the Susitna River, resurfaced and received much support in terms of money and manpower resources from the Governor’s office. The dam is meant to fulfill Alaska’s energy plan of receiving 50 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2020. The mega project is expected to cost $5 billion.
In sports, Unalakleet’s Paul Johnson won the Portage 200 sled dog race, completing the trail from Unalakleet to Kaltag and back in 30 hours.
Tyler Huntington and Chris Olds repeated their 2010 Iron Dog victory in the 2011 race that bills itself as the longest and toughest snowmachine event on earth. Heavy snow and windy conditions slowed down the snowmachiners as they were heading into severe weather out of the halfway point in Nome.
NovaGold Resources Inc. sold almost 12,000 acres of its Nome land holdings and patented mining claims for $21 million. The new landlord of the holdings is Nome Gold Alaska Corp., new company mostly made up of Canadian investors.
The Nome Board of Education selected Mike Brawner as the new superintendent of the Nome Public School district.
When the winter sea ice hit its maximum extend in March, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that the winter sea ice hit a historic low. The total extent of Arctic sea ice covered 5.65 million square miles.
March madness revolves around the Iditarod sled dog race and this time Alaska celebrated the victory of the first Native musher since Jerry Riley won it in 1976. John Baker of Kotzebue won the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race, shattering the long held race record set by Martin Buser in 2002 by four hours. Baker finished the Last Great Race in 8 days, 18 hours and 46 minutes. Runner-up Ramey Smyth also broke the race record set by Buser and finished only 64 minutes after Baker. Also a new record was set when Jodi Bailey became the first rookie to finish both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year.
Nome lost the finest graders in the business when Greg Kruschek suddenly died during a hunting trip. He worked for the City’s Public Works department.
The state’s Department of Natural Resources tested the waters in April, proposing a second public offshore mining area on West Beach. Later in the year, DNR held an offshore mineral lease sale that leased small to large tracts to miners.
In state news, the new Census numbers were released and Alaska’s voting districts were redesigned to reflect the new population numbers. The Alaska Redistricting Board came up with redistricting drafts in April and finalized a redistricting map later in the year that significantly altered House district 39 and Senate district T.
The first session of the 27th Alaska legislature went down in the history books as one of the most divided sessions ever. The divide was between the House and the Senate over controversial bills like the Governor’s proposal for oil industry tax incentives, to the Alaska Coastal Management Program and finally the budget. By the end of the regular session, the House and Senate arrived at an impasse over the capital budget bill. The Governor had to step in and adjourn the regular session, only to call the legislature back into a special session a few minutes later.
A large group of musk oxen were found frozen in ice on the northern coastline of the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. The animals were found when researchers were on a routine over-flight to track radio-collared musk oxen. In all 55 animals were believed to have frozen to death in the ice. A massive winter storm in February had caused coastal flooding and a tidal surge. The muskoxen were caught in a low-lying area that was inundated with fast rising water.
In sports, Tre West won the 2011 Nome Cannonball.
Troopers arrested eight members of a Nome drug ring that specialized in dealing oxycodone. Most of the cases are still pending, with two of the accused having changed their pleas to guilty.
On a spring bear hunt, Nome’s longtime Fire chief and volunteer fire department member Wes Perkins was mauled by a brown bear and sustained severe injuries to his head. Perkins was hunting with Dan and Edward Stang at Skookum Pass.
As NovaGold Resources Inc. still solicited offers on the failed Rock Creek gold mine near Nome, the company started meeting with state officials to work on the closure plans. Those were not finalized until the end of the year.
The Nome Common Council bans smoking in public places, restaurants, bars, cabs and places of employment.
Nome’s Marjorie Tahbone was crowned Miss Indian World at the Gathering of Nations PowWow in New Mexico. Tahbone has since been wearing the yellow beaded sash and crown of Miss Indian World and traveled the nation and the world to be an ambassador of her culture and to emphasize the importance of education.
In state news, the Kuskokwim River flooded Crooked Creek and left much of the village destroyed by huge chunks of jumble ice.
Governor Sean Parnell continued to challenge the federal health care mandate and the Dept of Justice filed a brief in the US Court of Appeals alleging that the individual mandate to buy health care insurance is unconstitutional.
Finally, after 27 days into the special session, the Alaska Legislature adjourned, passing a $3.18 billion capital budget. For the better part of both regular and special sessions, the House and the Senate locked horns over language in the Senate version of the capital budget bill that tied all state-funded energy projects into one package. The Senate added the language because Governor Sean Parnell threatened to use his veto pen on energy projects for districts whose Senators did not support his oil tax rollbacks. Rolled into one package, a veto from the Governor would’ve killed all energy projects.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council met in Nome and heard public testimony on ways to curb the bycatch of chum salmon in the Bering Sea pollock fishery.
Jeconiah Annogiyuk, a 20-year old man from Savoonga had been missing since Oct. 30. His remains surfaced in the small boat harbor on and the police are still investigating the circumstances of his death.
Carol Piscoya resigns as Norton Sound Health Corporation’s CEO and president.
Three container vans of cyanide from the idle Rock Creek mine were shipped out of Nome.
The state legislature was called back to Juneau for a second special session in order to save the Alaska Coastal Management program from expiring. The session proved a waste of time as the legislators failed to sign the bill that would have extended the program that gave Alaskan locals a voice in how developments of Alaskan coastal resources are done. It was notable that politicians most vocal about their resentment of “federal overreach” blocked the program from surviving, thus handing federal agencies control over how developments are done in Alaskan waters and coastal zones.
The Alaska Redistricting Board proposed to stretch House District 39 from the Bering Sea coast all the way to the Canadian border in the east, north to include Shishmaref and south to include Marshal and Russian Mission.
The online news outlet Alaska Dispatch organized a conference to highlight the Arctic called “Arctic Imperative” in Girdwood and brought a few participants to Nome on a whirlwind tour of “bush” Alaska.
Despite convening a special session of the Alaska Legislature with the purpose of extending the Alaska Coastal Management program, House Representatives didn’t muster enough votes to keep the program in place, making Alaska the only coastal state in the union without a say in how coastal development should take place.
The Northern Waters Task Force held a meeting in Nome to gather input in public testimony on arctic access.
The National Guard was called in from Joint Base Elmendorf to evacuate an 8-month old baby and two pregnant women from Little Diomede. Due to no regularly scheduled transportation, Little Diomede residents still rely on the helicopter service that delivers mail to get on and off the island.
Two Russian kite surfers succeeded in crossing the Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska and landed in Wales.
Nome crabbers made curious discoveries and found a few Hanasaki crabs in their crab pots this summer. Hanasaki or Paralithodes brevides usually occur further west and south of Norton Sound.
KNOM celebrated its 40th birthday.
Norton Sound Health Corporation appoints Roy Agloinga as the interim CEO and president.
A rather large Discovery channel camera crew set up shop in Nome this summer to film dredge miners for a new reality show in eight parts called Bering Sea Gold. The show is to premiere on January 27, 2012.
Wet, wet, wet. August 11 went down in the history books as the wettest day in seven years. July was the seventh wettest July in 105 years of Nome’s weather annals.
Musk oxen using town as a convenient place to hang out seem to have overstayed their welcome as a few individual musk ox attacked dogs this summer, causing the public and game biologists to ponder solutions to “problem musk oxen”.
Nome Emergency Shelter Team and NSHC’s behavioral health teamed up to organize the first Nome Housing summit. The objective was to tackle the possibility of creating sober housing and bringing solutions to Nome’s chronic housing crunch and by the end of a summit, a housing coalition formed to keep the work going.
While trying to retrieve a beached barge, a landing craft was smashed against armor rock at the Nome port and ended up spilling 1,000 gallons of diesel into the waters.
The vessel was towed into the small boat harbor and containment booms were placed around the listing vessel.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council met in Nome for an executive council session, discussing food security for circumpolar Native people.
Nome was host to this year’s Beringia Days, a conference that brought international scientists, subsistence hunters and governmental dignitaries to Nome for a three-day celebration of the common heritage of Beringia.
Nome is as of September a smoke-free community, when an ordinance went into effect that prohibits smoking in public buildings and all places of employment.
Nome’s police force gained two officers – one two-legged and a K-9 to beef up the Nome police force.
A DNR offshore lease sale brought in more than $9 million for the state. The state offered 86 tracts of varying sizes and mom-and-pop miners as well as big multi-national gold companies bid big bucks for the chance to mine the ocean floor for gold.
In municipal elections, Louis Green Sr. won a seat at the Nome Common Council over incumbent Jim West Jr. and Jennifer Reader edged out incumbent Marie Tozier for a seat at the Nome School Board.
Arson was suspected in two truck fires that ended up burning one truck completely down and no damage to the other truck.
The federal building that houses the Nome Court system, the Post office and various other offices, sold for more almost $1.7 million to a yet unidentified buyer.
A truancy case made headlines statewide as a Wales man was sentenced to jail for allowing his son to skip school.
After months of rumors on the street, NovaGold Resources Inc. made an official statement to close the failed Rock Creek mine for good.
The annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention focused on bettering relationships with the state government. This year’s theme was “Strength in Unity” and a keynote address by 2011 Iditarod champion John Baker united the delegates by asserting that team spirit is necessary to become a winner.
Reports come in of an unusual seal disease that were observed in Arctic seals, mostly ringed seals. More than 100 seals were found dead with symptoms that include patchy hair loss, skin lesions and when still alive, listless behavior.
Northwest Campus director Lee Haugen resigned from her post after having been served court paper alleging misconduct involving a controlled substance. Haugen was caught sending marijuana from Colorado to herself in Nome. Bob Metcalf was appointed interim campus director.
A massive winter storm swept into Nome and the region with category 3 hurricane-force winds. The Nov. 8-9 storm threw rocks, wood and other ocean debris on Front Street and destroyed parts of the Nome-Council Highway. The storm racked up enough damage that both the State of Alaska and the federal government declared the storm a disaster. A Teller man was reported missing during the storm as he was riding his ATV along the spit.
For the first time, the Nome Emergency Shelter is staying open from Nov. 15 until springtime.
In Barrow, a run-off election determined that Charlotte Brower is the new mayor of the North Slope Borough. Brower and none of the other five candidates managed to get 40 percent of the vote in the regular municipal elections.
NovaGold Resources Inc. underwent major changes at its upper level management with NovaGold CEO and president Rick van Nieuwenhuyse leaving his post and heading a new spin-off called NovaCopper. Gregory Lang, a former Barrick Gold executive is now heading up NovaGold.
Norton Sound Health Corporation hired a new president and CEO, Deven Parlikar of San Diego.
While the sea was still liquid, the first concerns arose about a late fuel barge when Sitnasuak’s oil and diesel order didn’t arrive.
Norton Sound is frozen solid and a drama unfolded as ice blocks the last fuel barge delivery to Nome. The matter rises to international importance as Sitnasuak hires a Russian ice-capable tanker to pick up fuel from Korea, then requires a waiver quoting national security is at stake to get more oil from Dutch Harbor, to be escorted by the nation’s only ice breaker Healy through 300 miles of ice-choked waters.
The United States Postal Service declared in a report that the Alaska bypass mail system is beyond its purpose and suggests that the state should pony up and pay for the service.
A three-blizzard in a row week dumped mountains of snow on Nome, bringing business as usual to a temporary halt when school was canceled, flights at the airport were shut down, businesses closed early and Nomeites and regional residents hunkered down for a few days.
The last big news of the year was when the region’s health aides employed by Norton Sound Health Corporation were ready to go on strike if their grievances would not be heard and addressed. The strike was averted last minute when NSHC leadership met with health aides to hear their complaints.
Scientists and researchers looking for answers regarding the mysterious seal disease still have no clue as to what causes the sickness. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an “unusual mortality event” that will bring more focus and money to study cause of the disease.