The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

2012 Year in Review, Part 4

October — December


Leon Youngblood | The Seward Phoenix LOG

A group of visitors take the walk to Exit Glacier on Sept. 8. People from around the globe were out on the sunny fall day too see the sights of Seward.


Three city council members reelected

On Oct. 2, three city council members were reelected to their council seats. Jean Bardarson, Marianna Keil and Ristine Casagranda were held the top counts in the election. Kenny Blatchford and Tim McDonald also ran in the election.

Alaska says bye-bye to big lovable babies

After an intense couple of months of hands-on bonding experience with the two big babies, the Alaska SeaLife Center staff and volunteers said a fond farewell to the two walrus calves Oct. 10, but also breathed a collective sigh of relief. With their departure, the young walruses were on their way to their permanent homes via FedEx air flights. Pakak, the largest calf, who arrived first and now weighs 345 pounds, was selected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to go to the Indianapolis Zoo ( The smaller one, Mitak, who arrived soon after, and weighed some 234 pounds before leaving, will go to the New York Aquarium ( A facility run by the Wildlife Conservation Society which also runs the Bronx Zoo and Central Park Zoo, said ASLC President and CEO Tara Riemer Jones. Both places have other walruses that they will eventually spend time with following their mandatory quarantine period.

Sikuliaq takes to the water

The R/V Sikuliaq was officially christened and launched into the cold waters of the Menominee River in Wisconsin on Oct. 13. Constructed by Marinette Marine, the Sikuliaq will be put through its paces in Lake Michigan sea trials pending the vessels completed outfitting and full operation in 2014. The 261-foot research ship displaces over 4,000 long tons and supports up to 24 science staff, technicians, students and observers beyond the full complement of 20 crew. Two UAF emeriti served as co-sponsors for the Sikuliaq: Vera Alexander, dean emerita of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and Robert Elsner, professor emeritus. Both scientists have spent decades lobbying for a research vessel designed for science operations in the Arctic. Alexander christened the ship and Elsner initiated the side-launch of the 261-foot vessel into the Menominee River. Funding of $139.8 million specifically for the Sikuliaq’s construction came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, colloquially know as Stimulus Funds. The overall cost for the project includes facilities for staff and equipment in Seward and totals approximately $200 million. Owned by the National Science Foundation, the vessel is unique in its combination of state-of-the-art research facilities and ice-breaking capability.


Obama reelected, Alaska sends Young back to D.C., East Peninsula represented by Giessel and Chenault

Barack Obama was reelected President of the United States on Nov. 6 after a long contentious and polarized battle against Mitt Romney. Running on the Democratic Party ticket Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden have 303 of the 538 electoral votes and 50.3 percent of the popular votes, according to on Wednesday morning. Mitt Romney as the Republican Party candidate and his running mate Paul Ryan garnered 206 of the electoral votes and 48.1 percent of the popular votes. U.S. Representative Don Young will continue to represent Alaska in Washington D.C. after defeating Democratic Party candidate Sharon Cissna. Young, the Republican Party candidate and 40-year representative, tallied 65 percent of Alaska’s votes, while Cissna won 28 percent of the votes, according to the state election website on Wednesday morning. The new state senator for Seward is Republican Cathy Giessel, who has served one term in the senate. In a hard fought battle with independent Ron Devon in the new District N that includes south Anchorage, Nikiski and the East Kenai Peninsula, Giessel had 57 percent of the votes and Devon 43 percent. Running unopposed for state representative on the Republican ticket, Charles “Mike” Chenault garnered 95 percent of the votes in the new District 28 and will represent the East Peninsula in the Alaska House of Representatives.

Lack of demand slows coal shipping

The familiar sound of the coal train whistle, followed by its screeching loads of heavily-laden coal cars, pushed and pulled along by a phalanx of diesel engines, will become less frequent in Seward this winter. Also less common will be the sight of the gigantic Asian-bound coal ships and heaping coal piles. Aurora Energy Services (AES), which operates the terminal for the Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC), is reducing its workforce due to a slowdown in the international coal market, said Robert Brown, the vice president of South Central Operations for Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc, who oversees AES. “At this point in time, the next ship due in will be early December, followed by another one in February,” he said.

Brown would not say exactly how many AES workers were laid off, but said the workforce reduction was company-wide. Typically, Aurora Energy Services employs 16 people full-time in Seward, and there are 53 other jobs to related coal export activity, according to the ARRC website. Brown offered this explanation as to why the slowdown in coal exports is occurring: “We sell coal to Chile, Korea and Japan, and it’s across the whole Pacific Rim right now, an abundance of supply and a reduction in demand.” The number of coal trains also will be cut back, said Alaska Railroad Manager of External Affairs, Tim Sullivan. “The number of trains to Seward will be reduced in December because of the holidays but, starting in January, we will reduce the number of coal trains to Seward from approximately four per week to two per week because of the reduced demand,” he said.

Drill ship joins others in Seward’s port

The drill ship Noble Discoverer arrived in Resurrection Bay early Nov. 26 under a full moon. It will be docked in Seward at a Alaska Railroad freight dock for a couple of months this winter, having recently completed Shell Oil’s first season of exploratory Arctic offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea. Shell recently signed a contract with the locally-based ILWU Unit 60 for loading and resupplying the vessel, after initial concerns that it would require major union concessions, or provide its own dock workers, said Chuck Wendt, President of the ILWU Alaska Longshore Division, and a Seward Resident. After negotiations, Shell committed to abiding by the current ILWU Unit 60 contract, without the concessions, and the next morning started an initial round safety training for Seward ILWU longshoremen that Shell requires in order to perform the work associated with their vessels. “This appears to be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship between Shell and the Seward community,” Wendt commented on a local bulletin board. “Hopefully this cooperation by Shell and TOTE will continue to be realized by supporting local businesses and adhering to environmental regulations.”


Library checks out: Staff, volunteers moving it all to new building

After 50 years of service, the Seward Community Library building at Fifth and Adams closed its doors to the public for the last time Dec. 8. Residents braved sheets of blowing snow to get a month’s supply of reading materials and to wish the library staff members well with their upcoming move into the new building. Patrons were allowed to check out 15 items which would not be due until Jan. 14, the official opening of the new library museum building. The new building’s grand opening ceremony is Jan. 12. Patrons enjoyed cake made by Amy Mow — a big white lemon cake with two photographs of the beloved library embedded in its frosting, and a stack of cute little colorful cupcakes she also created, with edible little books on top. Some patrons studied photographs depicting the library’s storied history, while others enjoyed reading the newspapers or using the computers one last time. “It’s happening!” said Patty Linville, the library director. Soon, the months of planning the details of the move into the new building would finally take place. She, and move organizer Rachel James wondered if they could have missed any details. We’ll be depending on volunteers, they said.

Influenza strikes early, often

Leon Youngblood | The Seward Phoenix LOG

Noble Drilling International’s Noble Discoverer at rest in moorage at the Alaska Railroad Seward docks. After a season of exploration in the Beaufort Sea, the vessel is due to remain in port at least through December.

Alaska is experiencing an early flu season with widespread activity across the state. Surveillance data from the State of Alaska Division of Public Health shows the number of confirmed cases of Influenza A and B taking off in the last two weeks of November. Test results have apparently leveled off after a peak in the first week of December, but still indicate high levels of contagion around the state. Into the last couple weeks of 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists Alaska along with around 20 other states as continuing to experience widespread Influenza.

CDC urges people to get a flu vaccine now if they have not done so already this season. Jennifer Kelley of Seward’s Public Health office also recommends getting vaccinated against the flu and following all other typical precautions such as regular hand washing. Kelley also warns that although the flu is occupying a lot of attention, whooping cough is of concern this winter and she advises vaccination against that illness also. Vaccination is especially important for parents and their very small children and babies. According to Kelley, Glacier Family Medicine has run out of flu vaccine but her office, Providence Seward Medical & Care Center and the Safeway Pharmacy still have plenty available.


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