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Southeast Alaska News
Two Petersburg High School students recently received recognition for their aptitude and achievement in science. Junior Diane Murph was one of 90 students nationwide who were selected to spend a week at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas this summer where they’ll study space exploration and engineering with NASA staff. And Petersburg Senior Krissa Davis took part in the National Junior Science & Humanities Symposium in Dayton, Ohio this month. She was invited to be a delegate to the national event after her genetics project took 5th place at the statewide symposium in Fairbanks earlier this year. Matt Lichtenstein spoke with both students and started by asking Davis about her project.
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
The Petersburg High School genetics and advanced placement programs recently received a grant from the Petersburg Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Alaska Community Foundation, to support student-led genetics research.
Petitions are circulating around the state for a referendum to repeal the Legislature’s oil tax bill. If organizers collect enough signatures in time, the question will go before voters in August, 2014. Lawmakers who supported the tax cuts say the oil companies needed the incentive to pick up production. Those who want to repeal the measure point out that the state is giving up billions in revenue with no promise of anything in return.
Matt Lichtenstein discussed the issue with nearly all of Southeast Alaska’s legislators as well as the Lt. Governor when they visited Petersburg for the Little Norway Festival last weekend:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
The annual celebration of Norwegian heritage is Petersburg’s biggest event of the year, so it usually draws several lawmakers from out of town. They often take the opportunity to meet with local leaders and other residents about legislative issues. This year was no exception and the biggest issue was Senate Bill 21. That measure effectively cut taxes on oil production by billions of dollars.
Juneau Representative Cathy Munoz initially voted against the bill because she thought it needed some changes but when it came up for reconsideration, she voted to pass it along with the rest of the Republican majority.
“The main concern, of course, is that the production has decreased so rapidly. Just in my 5 years in the legislature the production has gone down 25 percent and that represents billions of dollars in revenue to the state of Alaska. So, my strong feeling is that the state needs to do something, that there are problem in the current tax policy, in ACES that need to be refined and made to be competitive as it relates to other taxing juristictions in the western hemisphere,” she said while talking with KFSK radio in Petersburg.
ACES stands for Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share. That was the oil tax regime instituted in 2007 under then-governor Sarah Palin. It included a windfall profits tax that increased with the price of oil, reaping billions more for the state. SB21 eliminated that provision, which is often called progressivity.
According to Munoz, Alaska needs to provide an incentive for more production not only at existing oil developments, called legacy fields, but at new sites as well. Republican representative Peggy Wilson of Wrangell also voted for bill. Southeast’s other four lawmakers are against it.
Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins doesn’t see a need for incentives. He points out that under ACES, ConocoPhillips made more than half-a-billion dollars in profit in Alaska just for the first quarter of this year.
“I can’t be persuaded that 500 million dollars in three months needs to be increased, I mean, to incentivize more production…..Maybe I should go into the oil business if that’s too low. I just don’t think people can accept that,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. That’s one of the reasons why he and other critics think there’s a good chance the public will vote to repeal SB 21.
According to the Alaska Department of Revenue, the tax cut will cost the state at least four-and-a-half billion dollars in revenue over the next six years. That’s the forecast. Had the changes been in place in 2012, it would have cost the state one-point-seven billion for just one year. That’s according to Sitka Senator Bert Stedman who thinks SB 21 gives away too much:
“The production that was done in 2012, the vast majority of that is already economic, under ACES, by any measure, rate of return, cash margins. So, when you see 1.7 billion moving, red flags should go up. Something’s wrong,” he said.
Stedman thinks the progressivity under ACES should have been toned-down but not eliminated. He was one of two only two republican senators who joined with democrats to oppose SB 21.
“We’re a political sovereign and we should be treated like one and we should act like one. And we should not act or put up with being treated like a third world country where someone says we’ll take your resources and we’ll give you some jobs. My response is, ‘We’ll sell you our resources and well get the jobs to get the resources out to market,’” Stedman said.
Stedman said he’ll sign the petition to get the referendum on the ballot and once it’s on the ballot, he said he’ll campaign for repeal.
Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell certified the petition drive application as part of his job but Treadwell said he would have voted for SB 21 had he been in the legislature, “You know we’ve kind of set ourselves up talking about this as a giveaway or not a giveaway. We have to really begin thinking about attracting investment. Is it a risk? There’s always a risk. You set up a tax system. You hope you’re going to raise your revenues by raising production.”
Treadwell emphasized that unlike ACES, SB 21 ties oil tax credits to actual production rather than just investment, “You know, People said, if we’re gonna reduce taxes, let’s make sure we get a commitment to produce. The biggest thing we did in SB 21 is pull back the credits that were paid out without production and we changed the timing of the credits so that if you get production, then you get the credit.”
Opponents like Representative Beth Kerttula, a Juneau democrat, point out that the elimination of progressivity means a tax break for oil companies whether or not they step up production, “We changed this tax without one guarantee. Not even a memorandum of understanding. Not even one company stepping up and saying we’re going to put new production into the pipeline which is what we’re so desperately after so we can continue that revenue. But what kind of a negotiation is that?”
Kerttula and a her fellow Juneau Democrat, Senator Dennis Egan, say Alaska’s budget outlook, from funding for education to capital project spending, is much worse under SB 21.
“I hope it works but I just have real reservations about it. We’ve tried crazy stuff like this before and it doesn’t work. We could have tweaked the current legislation and done a much better job for the people. You think capital projects are down this year, just wait,” said Egan.
Supporters of the referendum petition have until July 13th to gather enough signatures. If they succeed, it will be up for a public vote during Alaska’s primary election in August 2014.
The Petersburg assembly will take a closer look at how the borough’s tax assessments are made. That’s in response to complaints from a local property owner at Monday night’s regular meeting. Lynn Escola said she and her husband Paul Johnson appealed their 2013 tax assessment and got an adjustment. So, she didn’t object to this year’s bill. Rather, she had broader concerns. Escola took about 15 minutes to detail what she said were inadequacies and inaccuracies in the borough’s assessment records including conflicting information and a lack of written documentation on how property values were calculated. She also charged there was a lack of transparency and accountability in how the borough manages the assessments, which are contracted out to a private firm.
“To us the borough’s handling of property assessment looks like this: We’re the government. We don’t make mistakes and we certainly don’t need to document for your benefit how we calculate your property value. In fact, we don’t want these documents ourselves because then we’d be liable for the information in them. Now, shut up and write us a check for several thousand dollars. That, in a nutshell, is how Petersburg manages property assessment from the point of view of this property owner. You’re a newly-minted borough assembly with newly-minted residents and properties. This is a good time to take a look at this part of the borough operation. Rethink it. Update it. Upgrade it,” she said.
There were 40 appeals over property taxes this year, but borough assessor mike Renfro had resolved them all prior to Monday’s meeting. Escola was the only person to take her concerns to the assembly.
Renfro attended by phone and said he’d like to get the transcript so that he could provide the borough a written response to all of Escola’s questions.
He said he had addressed the same issues with the couple in person, “I also had our evaluation manuals with me and I explained to them the process in how we came up with the multipliers and how we valued the property.”
Renfro said he would provide his written response to the Borough Manager by July 8th. In addition, Assembly Member John Hoag asked that the manager provide the assembly with an overview of the assessment process, “So we can get an understanding of how the process works and a detailed response of how records are kept and how they’re reconciled.”
Hoag asked if that could be done by the July 15 assembly meeting and there were no objections.
ANCHORAGE — Former police lieutenants in Juneau and Barrow who are charged in criminal cases could have their law enforcement certifications revoked when the Alaska Police Standards Council meets Tuesday in Kenai.
“We have close to 20 (cases) we’re taking a look at this time,” said Kelly Alzaharna, director of the council that is appointed by the governor and made up of four police chiefs, the commissioners of Corrections and Public Safety and four members of the public.
KETCHIKAN — Folks in Ketchikan likely set a new Guinness World Records mark when nearly 2,000 people showed up to race one kilometer in their rain boots.
Exactly 1,976 people showed up for Saturday’s event, trying to set a new mark for largest rain boot race.
“I’m so incredibly proud of Ketchikan,” Shauna Lee, one of the race’s many founders, told the Ketchikan Daily News. “For this town to come out on a day that didn’t start off with the best weather, I’m overwhelmed with pride.”
FAIRBANKS — Low-lying areas of Fort Yukon were under water Monday, a day after breakup on the Yukon River left 15 homes uninhabitable in Circle.
The Yukon River moved past Fort Yukon late Monday morning, and village officials reported to the National Weather Service that the frontage road was impassable and water was up to the steps of the tribal hall.
The ice had jammed about 15 miles upriver from Fort Yukon until it broke Monday morning. The flood warning for Fort Yukon remains in effect until 4 p.m. Tuesday.
ANCHORAGE — An Alaska volcano eruption is prompting regional airlines to cancel flights to nearby communities, including a town that reported traces of fallen ash.
Pavlof Volcano released ash plumes as high as 22,000 feet over the weekend, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Clouds obscured the volcano Monday, but U.S. Geological Survey scientists said seismic instruments at the volcano show continuing tremors.
“Seismically, it’s been pretty steady over the last 12 hours,” geologist Chris Waythomas said late Monday morning.
WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced on Monday that three more states would join the ranks of those given permission to ignore parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law in favor of their own school improvement plans.
JUNEAU — A state judge has ordered 2010 U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller to pay more than $85,000 in legal costs to the Alaska Dispatch after the publication sued to obtain records from his time as a government attorney.
Judge Stephanie Joannides said the online publication, as the prevailing party, was entitled to 20 percent of its total fees but said that fee schedule can be changed for “vexatious or bad faith conduct.” She said it also can be varied for the relationship between the amount of work performed and significance of the matters at stake.
JUNEAU — The state of Alaska on Monday proposed a multiyear, multimillion-dollar plan aimed at determining the true oil and gas potential in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
State officials hope the plan will reinvigorate — and reshape — the debate over whether to drill on the refuge’s coastal plain.
The plan was announced at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy in Washington, D.C., by Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. Parnell appeared by remote.
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law. The measure allowed him to negotiate the movement of Native Americans from the southern states to west of the Mississippi River. And the policy laid the groundwork for the Trail of Tears, which included a forced march of Cherokees out of northern Georgia which took place after Jackson’s presidency.
Last week in Sitka, the former president went on trial before a jury of eighth-graders.
In this courtroom, the lawyers, the judge, the jury and most of the witnesses are all about 14 years old. We’re in the library at Blatchley Middle School. Court comes to order and eighth grade social studies teacher Roxann Gagner, playing the role of bailiff, swears in a witness.
The witness — President Andrew Jackson — is nervous. It’s his fourth time testifying that day. He’s already been shredded by two prosecutors and, as he sits down to testify again, he hopes he knows how to answer his own lawyer’s questions.
I know this because, well, I am playing Andrew Jackson.
“Do you believe that the Cherokee were obligated to follow the laws of Georgia?” says Colton Cummins, 14, one of the defense attorneys in the case. He paces back and forth as he asks questions in a Matlockian southern accent.
Let me tell you: It’s not easy to answer questions as Andrew Jackson might. Facing the prosecutors is no picnic either. They go for the jugular and ask me President Jackson exactly what his problem is with Native Americans.
“What makes them different from any other man? Or woman? Or child?” one of them asks.
“Um. I don’t know,” I say after a long pause, trying to look presidential.
“No further questions,” she counters, immediately.
Kasi Pittser was one of the many prosecutors to put me in the hot seat on the stand. She says she wants to be an attorney when she grows up.
“Because I’ve always been really good at arguing with people. I was really excited to play this role. I was ready to kick some butt,” she says. “It felt really good. I was really proud of myself. I’m going to go call my mom right now.”
Gagner, the students’ teacher, says the students have to research their own roles and are not following a script. Teaching this part of American history as a trial, she says, requires the students to not just memorize the information, but to apply it — to actually know what they’re talking about.
“The lawyers are creating their own questions,” Gagner says. “The witnesses are looking at the biographies of the people they’re playing and pulling out the pertinent information that will determine the outcome of the trial.”
And the students are learning a thing or two about the American legal system, in addition to the Indian Removal Act. They’re expected to follow the procedures of a trial, and to exercise courtroom decorum.
Of course, one judge did have to try his entrance again after high-fiving a defense attorney on the way to the bench, and another lawyer was excused from court after a particularly robust belch. But all of them presented passionate, logical, well-researched arguments on both sides.
“And it’s so appropriate at this age level, because they realize things aren’t just black and white,” Gagner says.
And that leads to a serious point: During the particular incident these students are studying, some 15,000 Cherokee were forced to leave Georgia. More than 4,000 died along the way. Saying it was a brutal experience and that conditions were difficult is, at best, an understatement. Gagner says her students are having fun with the trial, but that they definitely understand the gravity of what happened.
“With all of the situations that we’ve looked at with U.S. history, or any people’s histories, there are always those really difficult, horrendous situations of how people treat each other,” Gagner says. “The students also, earlier in the year, in their language arts class, studied the Holocaust. So, they did have background information on human atrocities that they did apply to this court case as well.”
In all, five classes put me on trial as Andrew Jackson. Three of the juries acquitted Jackson, arguing that he shouldn’t be blamed for events that happened during Martin Van Buren’s term. Two classes convicted him.
Huge cheers erupted in most classes from the victorious side, as other students gasped in disbelief. Who says history is boring?
Organizers say over 400 Sitkans have taken the survey online, or on paper at the library, but they’d like to get to 600 or more.
The goal is to understand how prepared Sitkans are to face rising food prices, or to ride out an emergency like last January’s earthquake and tsunami.
The magnitude 7.5 earthquake that rocked Southeast Alaska on January 4 did not produce coastal flooding anywhere near the scale of the Japanese tsunami the previous year.
But you have to admit, for about 45-minutes many of us wondered if this finally was the big one.
It wasn’t, but Lisa Sadleir-Hart says we should be thinking now about the next one.
“Just like you think about electricity in this town, you should also be thinking about food.”
Sadleir-Hart sits on the Food Security task force, which was formed at last fall’s Community Health Summit.
Before the earthquake, it was primarily about the economics of the food supply. According to the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service’s quarterly food cost survey, food prices in Sitka rose 44-percent between 2006 and 2011.
Now, Sadleir-Hart says the task force is interested in a more three-dimensional picture of food in Sitka.
“It’s going to give us a sense of what’s going on, on multiple levels. One is: How food-secure are households? Are people struggling with these increased food prices that we’re seeing in our community? Are people out gathering and harvesting the foods that are available to us locally? Whether that’s seafood, or game, or the plants and berries that are around here. So how much food do people have on store? We had that big scare back in January, and it was an awakening to many of us that we are not fully prepared.”
Take the Sitka Food Security Survey online, or fill out a hard copy at Kettleson Library.
The survey takes about 10-minutes to complete, but Sadleir-Hart says the data collected will be the cornerstone of developing food policy in Sitka.
Some of that policy may involve warehousing more of our regular groceries above sea level. Some of it may be creating a culture of personal preparedness.
“You know, we are a tsunami-ready community. I guess I would challenge people: Are you a tsunami-ready household? Really, we’ve got to be thinking about having enough food for at least seven days. For some of us, that’s not a problem. To be able to add those extra stores and have them in storage. Folks that are living in a small apartment might not be able to accommodate that, might need to find someone with a larger household to hold on to some of that for them. We also know that there are a significant number of households that are struggling financially — they may also not be able to provide for themselves. So it’s something we need to be thinking about on a larger scale.”
Sadleir-Hart says the task force would like another few hundred Sitkans to take the survey. This November — when everyone’s mind is already on food — the task force will plan a “Food Summit” to present the data, and develop action steps.
Sadleir-Hart is a public health nutritionist, and a registered dietician, and she practices what she preaches. Her own lawn is now a garden, and what her family can’t eat she shares with others at the local farmers market.
She thinks the link between public health and food policy has been neglected too long.
“I’ve been very concerned about our food system, in the United States, the state of Alaska, and in our community. It’s become very apparent to me that we don’t have a sustainable food system.
Learn more about the Sitka Community Food Assessment on Facebook.
And now for some breaking news. Record-breaking, that is.
Nearly 2,000 people turned out in Ketchikan Saturday afternoon to break the Guinness World Record for the largest rainboot race.
According to official U.S. Census records, Ketchikan’s population is just shy of 13,800 people. That’s the whole borough, not just the city. A couple hundred at a time will get together for plays or concerts, but it’s very rare – perhaps unprecedented in the community’s history – for nearly 2,000 people in Ketchikan to congregate in one place, at one time for a single purpose.
But, on a beautiful afternoon with just a sprinkling of rain to get people in the proper mood before the clouds lifted, it happened. A sea of people, all wearing rainboots, gathered, mingled, talked, laughed, sang and finally walked – a few ran – to break a record.
The previous record for what’s officially known as the largest Wellington boot race was held by the British county of Lincolnshire, which is about a two-hour drive from London. It’s known for its attractive coastlines, Lincoln Castle, its local recipe for stuffed chine – a brined pork dish – and, until recently, its world record.
That county broke the record in 2009, when 1,366 people marched a mile in their Wellies. Ketchikan’s race more than met that challenge. The number announced after the race, while not confirmed yet by Guinness, was 1,976.
As the crowd gathered at the starting line, the city’s mayor stood by, ready to kick off the race.
When asked how he was talked into participating, Lew Williams III answered, “They gave me a gun. “
It’s been said, and evidence seems to prove, that Ketchikan residents will use any excuse to dress in costume. So it seemed natural for a few superheroes to find their way into the crowd.
“We are breaking a world record, right?” said Tiffany Pickrell, dressed in a Wonder Woman costume. “And that’s something Wonder Woman does every day.”
And a couple of ducks — more specifically, Rotary members dressed like ducks to promote their raffle drive.
Adding to the festive atmosphere, a trumpet serenaded walkers at the halfway mark.
It wasn’t just local folks walking in the race. People came from neighboring islands to help break the record, and some came from much farther. Femke Boersma and Kelli Breemer are here from the Netherlands, visiting a friend.
Boersma said it was good timing.
“We were very excited that the race was during our time here,” she said. “We’re here for six days, and we feel like we traveled all the way from our own rainy country to help set this record.”
The two had to borrow rainboots for the race, and they say they’re impressed with the ubiquitous ExtraTufs boots that many local residents wear. However, they won’t be taking a pair back to Holland.
At the end of the short trek along Ketchikan’s Third Avenue, volunteers collected wristbands, proving that each participant officially completed the race. The bands, along with other evidence, will be shipped to Guinness headquarters in New York for confirmation of Ketchikan’s accomplishment.
But we know we did it.
Kalvin Traudt of the Tongass Community Foods Alliance and KRBD’s Deb Turnbull were the guests on a call in show about square foot gardening. You can listen to Monday’s discussion here. SquareFoot
The next call-in show is scheduled for Monday, June 3rd, beginning at 8:20 am. The topic? Composting.
Be ready to call in that morning with your questions: 225-9655 or 1-800-557-5723. Or email your questions in advance to email@example.com.
This will be the second in a series of call-in shows focusing on locally grown, sustainable produce and animal husbandry.
ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s Pavlof Volcano sent ash and steam skyward Sunday but not enough to raise the aviation threat for international air carriers.
A satellite at 12:40 a.m. measured an ash cloud at 19,500 feet, just below the 20,000-foot threshold considered to be a major threat to trans-continental aircraft. The aviation warming level remained at code orange, a step below red, the highest of the four levels, said geologist Kristi Wallace of the Alaska Volcano Observatory.
KODIAK — Students at Kodiak Middle School raised $1,000 to give electricity to a school in Mali, west Africa.
The partnership between KMS and the middle school in Dielibougou, Mali began after Kodiak resident Heather Preece brought a longtime friend Mahim Toure from Mali to Kodiak last year. During his one-month Kodiak stay, Toure shared his culture with the people of Kodiak and gave presentations in classrooms and to the community at large.
ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Coast Guard will kick off hearings Monday on how a Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill barge used for Arctic Ocean exploratory drilling ended up aground off a remote Alaska island.
The Kulluk was under tow and bound from the Aleutian Islands’ Dutch Harbor to a Seattle shipyard when it ran into rough Gulf of Alaska water. It broke from its towing vessel, and after four days of futile attempted hookups, ran aground New Year’s Eve in shallow water off Sitkalidak Island, near Kodiak Island.
CHUGIAK — Doña Mahurin has an iron-grip handshake forged by years as a civilian firefighter and medic on the U.S. Army’s Fort Richardson. But those years of toil also took a toll on Mahurin’s back, and the Chugiak retiree now has a difficult time with household chores like cooking dinner.
“I can’t stand there long enough to cook,” said Mahurin, gesturing to the kitchen area in the Chugiak apartment she shares with her husband.
KENAI — A Nikiski Middle-High School student has been recognized as one of the nation’s top scholars and will be honored with a medallion for her accomplishments in Washington, D.C, in June.
Annaleah Ernst is one of141 high school seniors from across thecountry to be named a 2013 U.S. Presidential Scholar.