Alaska Airlines will be providing year round service for the community. The Dillingham City Council extended its permit system and quarantine requirement, but incoming travelers don't need to get tested — for now. And the state says the fishery can operate safely, as long as people follow the mandates, but some local leaders are concerned that there isn't enough enforcement and no clear plans in place for if people get sick.
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The Dillingham City Council has extended the travel permit system and mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering into the community until June 29. The ordinance passed last night also addresses confusion surrounding travel to Dillingham from Aleknagik. Anyone who lives on the road system outside of city limits — like Aleknagik residents — can come to Dillingham for Groceries, to go to work, or for medical reasons. Additionally, people can fly into Dillingham and go to their homes outside of city limits.
The city is not requiring testing for incoming travelers, at least for now. City Manager Tod Larson put a memo before the council that would have required travelers to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving. If that person was quarantining in Dillingham, they would have to get tested before coming to the community.
During yesterday’s workshop, several members of the public testified in strong support of required testing, saying it is necessary to prevent an outbreak. Alannah Hurley is the executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay.
Hurley said the state was failing the community, and that the city needed to start requiring testing immediately in order to keep residents safe. Norm Van Vactor, CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, said that regional organizations were trying to work with the state, but may have to put its own protective measures into place.
Council member Kaleb Westfall proposed revisiting all aspects of the ordinance that did not have to do specifically with the travel permit system. That included the testing requirements.
Council member Gregg Marxmiller requested that the council reconsider the testing requirements and the other excluded sections in the next council meeting, which will take place on May 7.
The city will not restrict movement around the Dillingham harbor or the Wood River launch, either. Those areas were designated “Fisheries related use districts” in the proposed ordinance. In discussion, council members raised questions about the practicality of the measures, saying that it appeared to restrict the movement of local residents more than that of outside fishermen. The original resolution would have required anyone needing to conduct business at the harbor — like launching a boat or going to the NAPA store — to quarantine within the harbor area for 14 days. The council also amended the original resolution so that facemasks are not mandated by the city at this time.
Mayor Alice Ruby also proclaimed community clean up days.
Alaska Airlines plans to provide year round support to Dillingham and King Salmon. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon made the announcement at a regional town hall meeting yesterday.
“Alaska Airlines is doing everything they can to get a lease in place for the two facilities which would enable them to bring service out in the very short order,” Edgmon said.
The airline announced last month that seasonal air service in Dillingham would start before July 1, after RavnAir Group shut down due to a steep drop in travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
RavnAir is in bankruptcy court this week. They plan to sell all of their assets to cover the company’s debt. Once those hearings end, Alaska Airlines can work out an agreement to lease those facilities at both the Dillingham and King Salmon airports.
Alaska Air spokesperson Tim Thompson says the airline does not have a definite schedule yet, but they plan to gauge demand once they are able to take off.
"Those schedules could change just like we do throughout other places in the state of Alaska where we might have a daily service during the summertime, because there’s so much demand," Thompson said. "We may do every other day, or two day service in the wintertime but the goal is to be able to provide year round service to the region.”
As of Friday morning, the airline’s first flight to Dillingham is still scheduled for June 1.
Mary Swain, the executive director of the Camai Health Center in Naknek, said that the clinic was ramping up testing and capacity on the east side. They will be opening up their own testing site in Naknek near the clinic. They are also installing a quarantine area for certain cases. Swain said they were working to determine how they would handle a large amount of patients during the season.
Swain said that the Leader Creek clinic will be open for the entire months of June and July. The public health clinic in Dillingham will have an additional nurse working there this summer.
The availability of Medevac flights is another topic of concern heading into the season. Swain said that local residents who needed medevacs would contact the clinic, and that they had a system in place to handle as many patients as necessary.
Heidi Hedberg, the director of the state office of rural health, said that a medevac flight would be a coordinated call between entities -- the processing company would be coordinating with the public health clinic, and the first call would be for a private medevac flight. If that is not an option, the call would go to the state.
Hedberg said the National Guard and Coast Guard would be prepared to transport positive COVID cases.
Subsistence permits in Dillingham will be available electronically this season. The Fish and Game office in Naknek and King Salmon will send people permit forms via post. People email, by post, or in person. Residents of other communities can get permits at their regular vendors. The change is an effort to reduce foot traffic to the office. Here’s Tim Sands, an area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham.
“We will send you a PDF form that you fill out on your phone or on your computer," he said. "It’s a fillable form, you can sign it. You send it back to us. Then we’ll complete our part of the form, with the signature and the number and then we’ll send it back to you and that’ll be your permit.”
Those permits can be saved on your phone, and can be used instead of a printed copy while subsistence fishing this season. There is also a form to report your subsistence harvest at the end of the season, which is also available electronically.
Fish and Game’s offices in Dillingham and King Salmon are open, but only two visitors at a time are allowed into the building.
“If everybody in Dillingham decides that they want to come get a permit after June first, there’s gonna be hours long waits to get permits. So we’re asking people to think ahead, be proactive, and do stuff online as much as possible,” he said.
Commercial fishing forms no longer require a notary. That includes the permit holder agent authorization form. That will reduce contact time with processors and Fish and Game.
Fish and Game also plans to operate all field camps and projects in the region. Sands says that field staff will have limited to no contact with the community when traveling to their sites, all of which will be closed campuses with no visitor policies in place.
The Bristol Bay Borough is working on a way for incomers to safely enter the community. According to Manager Gregg Brelsford, the borough is working extensively with the processors that operate in the community on a joint approach to safeguard residents and the industry against COVID-19 this season.
Brian Vane Clark was found not guilty in the murder of Ella Olsen by an Anchorage jury at the end of March. Clark was cleared on four felony counts of murder in the first and second degree, and one count of robbery in the first degree.
Clark’s trial was conducted over a five week period, it began February 27. It was first scheduled for Dillingham, but bad weather restricted the legal teams from traveling out of Anchorage.
We are still working through the details of Clark’s trial. There will be more information to follow.