February was a strange month in Alaska, (some would say aren't they all?) and the ALO news will try to touch on a number of the highlights. Starting with legal stuff, Bethel District Attorney June Stein was fired by the new governor, an event unprecedented in ALO's 40 year history. DAs have rarely lasted a long time here, but not because of political maneuvering. This time politics appears to be involved. These two stories, one from ADN and other from KYUK tell part of it, but most likely the full story will never surface. The comment section of the Anchorage paper was filled after the DA story broke. One of the best comments was by Bethel guy Christoph Bach.
Finding a quality replacement might pose a challenge because many experienced prosecutors know Bethel is a tough spot to succeed. June was a capable DA with a young and inexperienced staff. Her best quality was a good sense of humor, which is needed on her job, especially when dealing with ALO.
An example of the challenges facing DAs in Bethel was ALO's most recent drunk driving case, involving a breathalyzer reading of .192. The driver was charged with two counts, one driving while under the influence and the other driving with a breath test reading over .08. It was a lively trial, with evidence showing that the defendant was highly drunk 12 hours earlier, but obviously much improved when arrested. At the end of the case, ALO asked for a jury instruction about the lack of evidence about the calibration of the breath machine. The court granted that, and the DA moved to reopen his case because he had not presented the routine evidence of calibration. The judge denied that request and the DA dismissed both counts, in a huff.
ALO also settled the remaining claims arising from a boat accident and oil spill near Dillingham in 2013. This was an unusual case where a large number of fishermen hired ALO to bring the claim, but the company involved with the spill settled directly with many of them causing them to withdraw from the suit.
The last couple weeks have been very lively at ALO, with several major personal injury cases coming in the door. One involved an awful accident in Nome where a crane tipped over and landed on a truck, rendering the driver quadriplegic. Another involved a missed diagnosis (for several years) of a brain tumor.
February was also a busy month for dog racing in Alaska. The biggest event was the Yukon Quest won by K300 racer Brent Sass, originally from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. The Quest this year featured a cold start and very warm finish. Here is a video taken by Sass along the early part of the trail. Temps like that used to be common on the Quest but are less frequent now. For folks who don't venture out in temps like that, imagine not only being out, but doing dog chores which involve either bare or lightly covered hands. When you look at the video, remember Sass is miles from anyone, in wild country in the middle of the night. It's a strange feeling to be sure, but one that reminds a person to be careful, and self sufficient.
Two cold races come to mind when thinking about the Quest. In 1989 the Kuskowkim 300 featured temps that dipped near -60 at Aniak. At Kalskag, there was even a stiff breeze. The other cold race was the 1986 Coldfoot Classic in the Brooks Range, put on by Dick Mackey. It was held in early April, and day time temps were in the 20s, but during the short night time the bottom dropped out. During the first day of the race, Joe Redington lost his team near the OFDF team, and he was offered a ride to try to catch them. Just before dark the team was spotted in some willows on the edge of the Koyukuk River. A hasty camp was set up in the willows, and the dog chores was done in steadily dropping temps. Joe, then 69 years old, crawled in his sleeping bag and zipped himself in his sled bag, asking for a wakeup call at daybreak in about 5 hours. Comfort was hard to find as the temp kept dropping during the night. Finally a bit of light showed in the east, and the wakeup call was made. From inside his sled Joe asked how cold it was. "Pretty damn cold" was the answer. He suggested a check of the thermometer attached to his sled bag. "It reads 56 below." Joe groaned a bit and said he thought he might sleep another hour or two. By then it was too late and too cold to try sleeping again. Heading back on the river, overflow was encountered, fortunately only a few inches deep, and shortly the sun emerged to push the temp back above zero by mid morning.
The next big event in February was the Iron Dog snow machine race, from Anchorage to Nome and back to Fairbanks. The main feature of that race was lack of snow and warm temps. This photo shows the kind of trail racers encountered across much of the state.
Bethel has had it even worse, with much rain, and temps above freezing. So far none of the local races have been canceled, because a little freezing and snow came along at just the right time, but outdoor folks have been unhappy most of the winter. Not all is grim, as this picture taken from Bethel by JoeJoe Prince reveals.
And statewide, apparently folks seem satisfied by their home, as this article claims.
Pete Kaiser has twice retreated to the interior to find snow for training this year. He sent visual proof that he found snow, and at the same time proved that the temps around Eureka were well above freezing. This is the second time a topless mushing photo has appeared on the ALO news.
Curious readers should check the archives for the first, in February of 2013.
Tim Meyers of Bethel is a farmer at heart. He raises stuff, mainly vegetables, near the airport and gets lots of coverage. Tim is a hard worker, and he's not sure he's making any money when he figures the amount of time he spends growing stuff. But he is one of a kind, and his part time store is a must stop for folks who like to eat healthy.
This month's mandatory moose is actually a pileated woodpecker, one of the most interesting birds found on the Elk Farm in Minnesota.
The best pileated story involves a new car bought at the farm a few years ago. It was only a few weeks old when an elderly driver was taking it around the looped driveway in the yard. A pileated flew by closely just then and attracted the attention of the driver, at least until the car angled off the curve and scraped a large oak tree near the driveway. Chalk that one up to Mother Nature.
Dolly claims this is her best picture of Tanner, taken near the Allen River which runs near the Angstman cabin in the mountains. It would be hard to take a bad picture of that dog.
Finally, more discussion of mining in rural Alaska. Here is a story and photo of a mine near Platinum, Alaska, detailing their recent legal problems. Of note is the fact that most of the folks involved with this mess are out of the country and the company is out of business. Good luck finding someone to clean up the mess. In the meantime, rivers were polluted and the land was scarred, so that people from far away could make a bunch of money.