- Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2015

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

July 11, 2015

Ketchikan Daily News: Processing disaster

When tragedy strikes, as it did June 25 in Ketchikan, the community feels it deeply.

Nine people died in a floatplane crash that day while returning from a visit to Misty Fiords National Monument. No one survived. The crash occurred on one of the few days with clouds and squalls since the start of the tourist season.

Visitors - most of them coming to town aboard the massive cruise ships - fly out to Misty Fiords day in and day out through the months of May to September.

Ketchikan goes all out to welcome and entertain its guests; it’s what hosts want to do. This year it has been easier because of the tremendous stretch of sunshine and clear skies - unlike many other summers for a community in the Tongass National (rain) Forest.

As host, Ketchikan tries to give each visitor the Alaska experience they’re seeking, and many folks not connected directly to the flightseeing and other tours take time when they’re walking down the street to stop and talk with the tourists. Business people, often those in the shopping areas, also make time to converse, learning tidbits about the ones eager to chat or sharing their own tidbits with the vacationers.

Ketchikan is a friendly town.

But sometimes in life, experiences don’t turn out as hoped. Such was the case with the June crash.

As an island community, Ketchikan is accessible only by boat and aircraft. Ketchikan is used to flying as much as it is boating and driving, although the driving opportunity is limited both to the north and the south by 17 to 20 miles each way. So to visit Misty Fiords, it must be by boat or plane.

And in a community significantly dependent on flight and marine vessels, transportation accidents are a possibility. Ketchikan has experienced plane crashes before - all equally devastating.

Each time, it is with a heavy heart that the town learns the facts and begins to take care of those most closely affected.

The primary concern is for families of those who died, the injured when there are some and the floatplane company staff that had been hosting the visitors. The accident jolts those to their depths, and because of the relationship that was developing between all of the parties, it is especially difficult.

Nothing can be said to make anyone feel better. A full range of emotions occurs. The situation requires sensitivity, particularly that of onlookers.

Other flightseeing businesses generally won’t talk about or speculate out of professional respect for their colleagues. While the community will discuss what happened, most people are cautious not to say anything that would hurt anyone closely involved, recognizing that speculation before a final investigative report is simply that, speculation.

But there are effects for the victims’ families, recovering crash survivors and the community. All skip a beat, and a beat after that and another beat. Recovery following death or injury isn’t overnight whether it’s sunny the next day and planes return to the sky or not.

For families, there can be a longtime loss, which is very challenging to endure. A relationship ended abruptly and tragically; that isn’t easy to deal with. In cases of injury, that changes lives, too.

For the flightseeing companies that experience crashes, they face the death or injury of one of their own. They and their employees also can face devastating effects to the company itself.

The loss in a plane crash isn’t without serious repercussions. Being affected by it, Ketchikan - often to the person here - is all too aware.

It isn’t just another day in Ketchikan after a tragic event.


July 7, 2015

Juneau Empire: Ferries need to find a better solution for their wastewater

We love our ferries here in Southeast. We also love the pristine waters in which they sail. We’d like to keep both. That’s why the Alaska state ferries are long overdue for an upgrade in their water treatment practices.

Currently, eight of the state’s 11 ferries are permitted to discharge their wastewater virtually anywhere; they cannot do so while moored. But it’s not so much about where they dump: It’s about what they dump.

On our state ferries, solid waste is ground up, mixed with gray water (dirty water from sinks, dish washing and showers), then treated with chlorine tablets. That mixture is dumped into the ocean as needed.

This process became standard in the 1970s but was thrown out by cruise ships at the turn of the century. They thought it was obsolete and didn’t meet clean-water rules.

Yes, you read that right - many of our state ferries are using decades-old technology to treat wastewater.

We feel there must be a better way. And maybe it needs to begin with the regulations.

At present, ferries are in complete compliance. As noted in our news article on this topic, “… despite laxer treatment rules than apply to cruise ships, Alaska’s ferries meet all the requirements placed on them. Although the largest ferries operate under the DEC’s small cruise ship permit, all 11 vessels operate under an Environmental Protection Agency general permit.”

Those rules were set 40 years ago. We’re not experts on wastewater treatment, but we’d wager some changes could be made to lessen the environmental impact these vessels are leaving on our marine ecosystems.

Anyone who has a fish tank knows that chlorine and marine life don’t mix. It gives fish and marine invertebrates chemical burns - it damages their gills and can dissolve into their bloodstream, causing damage inside and out. Even at low levels, chlorine causes stress for marine life. That stress, in turn, can make organisms susceptible to disease. Of course, when it comes to toxicity, dilution is the solution.

We’re happy to know the two new Alaska-class ferries coming on board as early as 2018 will not dump wastewater; they have holding tanks and will pump off their black water (like three of our existing ferries do) to shoreside stations.

We understand that given the state’s budget situation, a fix may not be affordable. That said, we’d like to see those who govern our ferries step up and at the very least improve a decades-old water treatment plan.


July 11, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: On-field fracas between head coaches teaches wrong life lessons

In Anchorage earlier this week, what could have been an extra-innings Alaska Baseball League classic turned into a gong show. Arguing balls and strikes in the 14th inning of a game between the Peninsula Oilers and the Anchorage Bucs, head coaches Kevin Griffin and Mike Grahovac came to blows, prompting the benches of both teams to clear and causing embarrassment for the usually collegian ABL.

When Fairbanks residents think of the ABL, their strongest association is likely with the hometown Alaska Goldpanners or the Midnight Sun Game that is a highlight of the season at Growden Park. Fortunately, the Anchorage fracas didn’t involve the Goldpanners. But it’s a poor reflection on a league more often known for relaxed summer evenings and getting to see some of baseball’s future stars before their professional careers begin.

Brawls in Major League Baseball are bad themselves. But those fights usually follow more provocative actions than simple disagreements about the strike zone - usually they follow a pitcher’s successful beaning of opposing players or batters charging the mound after such an attempt. And the stress level in an MLB game is considerably higher - wins and losses are more meaningful when millions of dollars in salaries are on the line. Additionally, as managers and coaches are often fired midseason for disappointing performance, they are in a higher-stress position with regard to their own employment.

At any level, however, there’s no excuse for fighting in baseball about something as minor as balls and strikes. Baseball is supposed to be a diversion from stresses of life outside the diamond, not a reminder of how easy it is to let your temper get the best of you and make a fool of yourself. Especially with families at the park, fights teach exactly the opposite lesson than values sports are supposed to instill, such as teamwork and sportsmanship.

Just as the ABL fight shows the problem of out-of-control tempers in sports doesn’t stop at the major league level, the issue doesn’t stop there either. Parents should be cautious to keep their own behavior in check when they coach or watch youth sports. Even more so than in the ABL, youth sports are a place for the athletes to learn life lessons that have little to do with winning or losing. Part of what they learn, too, is how spectators behave. Teaching them by example to respect both teams and officials will have far greater benefit than showing them that if they badmouth the referee for six innings, they might get a favorable call on a borderline pitch.

Sports themselves aren’t supposed to be serious - they’re supposed to be a relief and an escape. But the lessons we learn from sports are as important of those we encounter anyplace else, and incidents like the one on the baseball diamond in Anchorage this week undermine them. Let’s hope that when ABL teams play in Fairbanks, they have the decency to recognize it’s just a game before coming to blows.

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