EDITORIAL: Items to watch as an Alaska summer begins

As summer arrives in earnest, it’s a busy time for Alaska, made all the more so this year by a multitude of overlapping municipal and state elections. Here are a few items to keep an eye on as the season gets underway.

Labor shortages persist

A nationwide workforce deficit isn’t sparing Alaska, and one of the starkest reminders recently was Princess Tours’ announcement that it will close its Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge next week, in the height of the summer visitor season, due to a lack of available staff. That’s a tough blow to the Copper Center/Glennallen area, where the lodge is a mainstay both for local jobs and importing customers for other businesses. Of the company’s lodges in Alaska, the Copper River location sees relatively low traffic, but Princess’s issues finding enough seasonal staff there are reflected statewide, particularly in industries like tourism that rely on a big summer workforce.

The labor shortage and other pandemic-related workplace issues won’t be solved overnight, but in the meantime, if you know someone — or are someone — looking for extra work, there have been few better times to be exploring what opportunities are available. Labor is in high demand, and even short-term employees are a godsend for businesses looking for summer staff.

A mental health services crisis

A man who has attacked three people since last December appears to again be experiencing a revolving-door cycle of arrest, failed attempts at prosecution, and release. Owing to mental health issues, Corey Ahkivgak has persistently been deemed incompetent to stand trial despite frequent run-ins with the law, which has resulted in frustrated prosecutors’ inability to pursue cases against him — and, once trial is no longer an option, the state has released him — an unacceptable non-solution that led to Ahkivgak stabbing a woman at the Loussac Library in February.

Based on his 14-year record of arrests and an escalating pattern of violent behavior, it’s clear that neither Ahkivgak nor our community are being well served by the status quo. More than anything, it underscores the multifarious shortfalls of Alaska’s mental health treatment system. These include failures to track patients as they move from arrest to psychiatric facilities and eventual outprocessing back into the community at large, a paucity of long-term inpatient mental health care, and disconnects between the legal system and Alaska’s mental health care ecosystem. Ahkivgak’s case is a dark reminder that we have to do better in addressing our mental health care deficit, or tragedies like the February stabbing at the library will be a recurring pattern.

Elections and more elections

With the June 11 special primary election in the books, it’s only a little more than a week until Anchorage’s next ballots are due. Voters in the downtown Assembly district will be electing a new member to the municipality’s legislative body on June 21; those ballots should already be in hand for the roughly 37,000 eligible voters. With two more elections still to come this year, some degree of voter fatigue (or, in some cases, confusion) is understandable. But the Assembly race is an important one — voters have a broad and varied slate of candidates from which to choose, and local government often affects residents’ day-to-day lives more directly than state or national races. Get those ballots turned in, downtown voters, and you’ll have earned yourselves a break until August, when the special election for U.S. House and state primary races will take place simultaneously.

Be fire safe outdoors

The periodic rains that have finally arrived in Southcentral Alaska notwithstanding, much of our state is still dry as a bone — including massive swaths of the Mat-Su region. And as the fires currently burning in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta area of Southwest Alaska demonstrate, it’s all too easy for small fires to get out of control, threatening communities and choking the air for miles around with acrid smoke.

As you recreate outside this summer, take extra care to be safe with fire. Check to make sure you’re complying by burn regulations — and be aware that sometimes, no burning is permitted or wise. Keep defensible space around your house, and have an emergency plan for evacuation if it becomes necessary — if pushed by the wind, fires can leave you with no time to hesitate. Don’t create unnecessary risks with fireworks or discarded cigarette butts; wildland fire crews already have enough on their plates without people creating more work.

Farmers markets are back

Finally, a big positive of Alaska summer: Farmers markets are back throughout Alaska, and fresh produce, prepared food and handicrafts are in good supply. Even better, in Anchorage, there are several options from which to choose, meaning there’s likely one not far from you.

Farmers markets are an ideal option to support local agriculture and increase the economic impact of your grocery purchases. There’s no middleman — your money goes directly to the people producing the food you purchase. There’s no leakage of money Outside, as there is when shopping at stores. And the produce and prepared foods you buy are fresher by far than those that are transported in, sometimes from a hemisphere away. Every farmers market purchase helps contribute to Alaska food security, reduces money spent and fuel burned transporting food here from Outside, and boosts our local economy. It’s a win all around — and that’s without getting into the benefit of getting outdoors on a beautiful Alaska summer day. Make a point of checking out your local farmers market; odds are you’ll like what you find.

Anchorage Daily News editorial board

Editorial opinions are by the Anchorage Daily News editorial board, which welcomes responses from readers. Board members are ADN President Ryan Binkley, Publisher Andy Pennington and Opinion Editor Tom Hewitt. The board operates independently from the ADN newsroom. To submit a letter or longer commentary for consideration, email commentary@adn.com.