Posts tagged with "Alaska":

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As global ecocide approaches, Trump seeks more oil in Alaska

The United States Department of the Interior issued a notice late last month signaling its intent to "jump-start development" in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), part of a 23-million-acre stretch of oil-rich natural habitat that makes up the largest tract of undisturbed land in the United States. The notice, the latest effort by the Trump administration to increase oil exploration and mining activities on ecologically sensitive federal and tribal landscapes, “envisions clean and safe development in the NPR-A while avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.”  The Washington Post reported that it will take “about a year” to create a new plan for extracting oil reserves from NPR-A, according to Joe Balash, assistant secretary of land and minerals at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The 11-million-acre NPR-A site represents roughly half of a larger wildlife refuge originally set aside by President Warren G. Harding in 1923. It also falls within the ancestral homelands of the Gwich’in Nation of Alaskan Natives, an indigenous community that uses NPR-A lands to hunt porcupine caribou herds that frequent the area.  Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, told The Washington Post, “The [Trump] administration has made my people a target. We will not stand down. We will fight to protect the porcupine caribou herd…every step of the way.” The preserve represents a vital habitat for the porcupine caribou that use the area to birth and nurse their young, and for the many migratory bird species that roost in the region over the summer. It is estimated that NPR-A and surrounding tribal lands could hold up to 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of gas. BLM has started a 45-day comment and review period for the proposed plan, which comes after new oil and gas auctions in Wyoming, Montana, and Utah, according to reports.  Those efforts follow President Trump’s downsizing of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which President Obama previously had increased in size, and come on the heels of a new federal mandate that calls for oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to the east of NPR-A, as well.  The increasing scale and rapid pace of resource extraction under the Trump Administration represent the culmination of a nearly 40-year effort to open these lands to exploitation and comes as the administration scrambles to set into motion a last-ditch move to negotiate lucrative land leases with private parties. Once those leases are set, it will be harder to prevent resource extraction in those areas, even under a different administration, so current officials are racing against time to sell off the rights in the event voters do not re-elect the president in 2020.  This admittedly short-sighted effort is representative of the administration’s push to refashion the Department of Interior into a broker between the federal government, which controls millions of acres of pristine but resource-rich lands, and profit-driven private industry. The trend also represents a larger belief that business interests run ahead of environmental concerns, a priority that was highlighted over the weekend as the United States joined Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait in rejecting a 2017 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that calls for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” in order to reduce the amount of global temperature rise associated with anthropogenic climate change.
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One remote Alaska city is seeking $200 million to flee the rising sea

Echoing a great chronicler of the human condition, the tiny city of Shishmaref, Alaska, is asking whether it’s better to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take arms against a sea of troubles to combat a looming climate change–driven disaster.

Shishmaref is located on an island five miles from the mainland, just north of the Bering Strait. For years, a reduced ice pack has hastened erosion that chips away at the island’s shores and has already drawn buildings into the sea.

Over the past decade, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, a Native nonprofit, and local officials have applied short-term physical interventions to the island to curtail erosion, without success. Doubling down on damage control, the state of Alaska tapped global engineering firm AECOM to produce the “Shishmaref Relocation Site Selection Feasibility Study,” a 300-page investigation that analyzes various scenarios for the City of Shishmaref to stay put or pack up.

Funded by a grant from the Alaska Climate Change Impact Mitigation Program, the study presents four options: Stay, or relocate to one of three different sites on the mainland. Shishmaref, a 607-person city, is majority Native and skews young—the median age is 22.5.

AECOM recommended that Shishmaref stay, citing the cost of moving and inhabitants’ cultural connection to the sea. The city already has massive infrastructure, said R. Scott Simmons, emergency manager for AECOM in Alaska. He cited a $2.2-million, 200-foot riprap seawall at the west end of Shishmaref and a revetment funded by a state grant protect the city from erosion, plus a number of projects in the pipeline: Shishmaref intends to redo its airplane runway, expand the school, and rebuild its roads, with a plan to pave those that are heavily traveled.

Touting these assets, the study, released February of this year, notes that the mainland has more stable soil and less threat of coastal erosion but that a location far from shore would undermine an economy centered on subsistence hunting and fishing.

“Alaska Natives live off the land,” said Simmons. “During annual freeze and thaw conditions, they can’t travel, and that’s the same time some of the sea mammals are migrating. If they live on the mainland, they won’t be able to get across the ice that’s forming—or not formed yet.” He explained it’s too dangerous at these times to travel to the island, which is the community’s traditional access point to the open sea.

The community nevertheless voted 89 to 78 to leave. This is not the first time: In 1973 and 2002,the city’s decisions to relocate unraveled because of logistic to relocate unraveled because of logistic constraints. Now, however, it will cost $200 million to relocate homes and infrastructure to the new site, where, among other improvements, new roads, utilities, and a barge landing will need to be built. The state has granted the city $8 million toward the move; it remains to be seen how the rest of the cost will be covered.

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Alaska’s “Dr. Seuss House” is a real-life manifestation of the revered storyteller’s Whoville

A rambling, gravity-defying structure in Willow, Alaska has drawn a bevy of curious onlookers, who have dubbed it “the Dr. Seuss house.” The structure was built in the aftermath of a forest fire once the trees had regrown, obscuring the owner’s view of nearby Mount McKinley and the Denali National Park. The previous owner spent a decade adding floors, but when he died abruptly, the tower was abandoned for 10 years. Renovations were then taken over a by a new occupant to add more stories, and the sky-piercing structure now comprises 12 floors that gradually taper in square footage. The building bears a striking resemblance to the winding, often structurally implausible structures incorporating endless staircases in Theodor Giesel’s fictional town of Whoville, which is rumored to be based on the Massachusetts town of Easthampton, as well as treehouse designs. The Giesel Library by William Pereira at San Diego State University, almost as much a spectacle as the so-called “Dr. Seuss house,” is named after the legendary storyteller and illustrator himself. The brutalist structure features gravity-defying concrete levels extending from a tapered base.
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Iowa City picks Cecil Balmond for downtown art project

Iowa City this week picked engineer-turned-artist Cecil Balmond to anchor an overhaul of the city's downtown pedestrian plaza. His sculpture will be the focal point of Iowa City's Black Hawk Mini Park Art Project, the first phase of an $11 million streetscape redevelopment project that officials hope to start next year. Balmond's work aims to enliven public spaces with forceful, architectural installations. His studio has strung shafts of light in Anchorage, Alaska, explored the Solid Void of sculpture with a forest of metal filigree in Chicago's Graham Foundation, and woven steel like rope to bridge a Philadelphia railway. The Chicago Transit Authority recently tapped Cecil Balmond Studio to contribute art for an overhaul of the 91-year-old Wilson Red Line station. An artist review panel consisting of Genus Landscape Architects Brett Douglas and Angie Coyer, and Iowa City staff Geoff Fruin and Marcia Bollinger selected U.K.–born Balmond over artists Vito Acconci and Hans Breder. Construction on the project is expected to begin next year.
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Balmond’s Snow Words Brings New Light To Alaska

Cecil Balmond, who famously left ARUP to start his own firm, Cecil Balmond Studio, a couple years ago, has a mesmerizing new project. The ethereal light sculpture, dubbed Snow Words, stretches out towards the Alaskan sky and illuminates the lobby of the new Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage. Suspended between a glazed skylight and a mirrored floor, the 30-foot-high beacon, which opened last month, seems to float within its laser-cut cylindrical shell. Made of LED-lit rods calibrated to a unique sequence, the installation commemorates the officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The tower of light features 24 aluminum tubes containing 206 LED strips encased in acrylic and spaced according to patterns which “draw inspiration from prime numbers.” Each tube is programmed independently allowing for infinite variety as the lights gently pulsate from a bright white to a faded glow. Balmond has been busy—and exhibiting his adventurous, artistic side—since leaving Arup. Some other new work includes Arcelormittal Orbit (2012), the wondrous pavilion with Anish Kapoor for the London Olympics; and Star of Caledonia sculpture in Scotland (2011). More images of Balmond's new work below.