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Southeast Alaska News

Petersburg schedules tax free day for May 3

Tue, 2014-04-08 13:26

 Shoppers will have another holiday from Petersburg sales tax next month. Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday approved a sales tax free day for May 3rd.

Local law allows for up to two tax free days a year and typically the borough has held tax holidays in spring and fall. Shop owner Savanne Guthrie represented the Chamber of Commerce’s retail committee which requested the tax free day.“The reason we pick May 3rd is that there are funds flowing again in our community after having crabbing and herring pounding going on,” Guthrie explained. “It is before our tourism hits which is about Mayfest, kicks that off. So it’s a time when we can encourage our community members to get out and shop. They hopefully have a little extra money to do so.”

Other local merchants wrote to the borough assembly about the importance of the tax holidays for their businesses.

Assembly member Nancy Strand wondered if the borough could afford a tax free day. “I see all the letters of support and they say it’s a great way for merchants to offer a deal. They could offer a six percent sale anytime. And I question whether it should always be on the back of the borough that the sale happens,” Strand said.

Most of the year, the borough collects a six percent sales tax on purchases of goods and some services. Finance director Jody Tow noted the borough is ahead of its budgeted amount for sales tax revenue this year by 250-thousand dollars. A tax holiday last October cost the municipal government over 12-thousand dollars in lost revenue.  

Guthrie told the assembly that October tax free day was the highest single day of sales for her business in five years. “And I can give you a couple of reasons for that if you’d like,” Guthrie said. “It was the morning of the breast cancer awareness walk. People were already out and about. Number two, (Permanent Fund Dividend checks) were in. In my shop, in addition to the six percent, I offered 20 percent. So there are reasons, as retailers we’re not just trying to ride along on the back of the borough. We’re trying to take this opportunity that we’ve been given and make the most of it.”

The borough assembly voted 5-0 to approve another tax free day. Mayor Mark Jensen and assembly member John Havrilek were not at the meeting. We’ll have more coverage of Monday’s assembly meeting coming up this week on local news.


Exit exam bill could bring diplomas to more students

Tue, 2014-04-08 12:04

This sign was posted on the high school library doors during testing last week. Photo/Angela Denning

Graduation time is just around the corner and for most seniors that means walking a stage and accepting a diploma. But a few students a year in Petersburg do not receive a diploma because they didn’t pass a test. A bill making its way through the Alaska Legislature would change that. House Bill 220 would repeal the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

Angela Denning stopped into the Petersburg High School last week during test taking time.

The high school is especially quiet. Red signs are posted on the outside of the library doors and several classrooms.

High School Principal, Rick Dormer, says large groups of 10th graders are getting tested in the classrooms and smaller groups are in the library. The signs help others know to stay out because a quiet environment is important.

“You can see we have big red signs, ‘Testing, Do not Disturb’,” Dormer says, “We’re in the middle of it here today and kids are in a room and it’s three hours and it’s make it or break it. And we’ve had kids really crying before the test, crying after the test. It’s high stress, it’s high-stakes.”

There’s a lot riding on this test and students feel the pressure. If they don’t pass it, they don’t graduate with a diploma.

“And they must pass in three areas, reading, writing and mathematics. And they must pass it with a certain score that’s set by the state to earn their diploma,” Dormer says. “So despite anything that a student may or may not do, if they complete all graduation requirements, which has happened here in Petersburg, and do not pass this particular exam in the State of Alaska, we cannot give them a diploma in Petersburg High School. Rather, they get what we call a certificate of completion that is not equivalent.”

The certificate does not hold the same weight as a diploma. Students who want to further their education after high school can’t qualify for financial aid.

Sonya Stein is the Director of the Student Financial Assistance Office at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“The federal department of education requires that a student has a high school diploma or its equivalent in order to be federal financial aid eligible,” says Stein.

An equivalent would be the GED or the General Education Development, which would require students to pass another test.

The exit exam has been required in Alaska for a decade. It was established through state law before the No Child Left Behind Law prompted other standardized tests.

There’s no middle ground with the exit exam.  . .either you pass it or you don’t.

Principal Rick Dormer says it can be heart breaking.

“I can tell you we’ve had two students who have not passed the test by one point, one section by one point,” Dormer says.

In both cases, the school paid some extra money to appeal the results to the state’s education department but it didn’t work.

“We don’t believe that’s the best assessment of a kid’s knowledge of what they know,” Dormer says. “Really any testing is there just as a measure to see what they know and then you build on it and so we don’t agree that high stakes testing is the best measure of what a kids knowledge is and whether or not they deserve a diploma. I think it’s a much more complicated than a one shot test.”

House Bill 220 would work retroactively, so past students who received a certificate instead of a diploma because they didn’t pass the test would be able to get a diploma. They’d just have to request it.

So far the bill hasn’t seen much opposition. It passed the House with a vote of 32 to 5. The Parnell administration and the Education Department support getting rid of the test as well.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Pete Higgins, a Republican from Fairbanks.

Mentoring program for new gardeners

Tue, 2014-04-08 11:55

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Linda Wilson, with the Sitka Local Foods Network, discusses a mentoring program for first-time gardeners. For more information, visit the SLFN online.

Tue Apr 8, 2014

Tue, 2014-04-08 11:48

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Sitka Assembly to take final vote tightening anti-smoking ordinance. Senate Finance Committee releases budget; includes $3.3-million for Harrigan remodel. This is not your father’s shop class. Petersburg family takes the stage at Juneau FolkFest.

Assembly okays school budget

Tue, 2014-04-08 09:56

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly accepted the budget presented by the school board.  Fines for improper maintenance of sewer systems were also approved.  Assembly Member Glen Thompson gives details.  Assembly040814

State Senate boosts Southeast project funding

Tue, 2014-04-08 09:30

Southeast Alaska could get another $27 million from this year’s capital budget.

The Senate Finance Committee added the money to Gov. Sean Parnell’s spending plan, which was released in December.

Petersburg plans to combine its police station and borough offices. Lawmakers just added $1 million to the capital budget for the project. A conceptual model is shown above. (Petersburg Borough image)

Larger new projects include improvements to Juneau’s water system, Petersburg’s municipal building and Sitka’s visitor facilities.

The Petersburg Borough already has $4.1 million in state funding for a new or renovated police building.

The budget would also fund a new fuel tank farm in Kake, construction equipment for Craig, and biomass heating projects in Yakutat, Haines and Ketchikan.

The total value of Southeast projects in the budget is about $163 million. That’s about 9 percent of the statewide capital budget.

Further changes could be made as the Senate Finance Committee fine-tunes the spending plan. More additions, and some cuts, could happen in the House before it’s passed into law. The governor can also veto specific projects not to his liking.

The Senate panel increased funding for the State Library, Archives and Museum building, which is under construction in Juneau. The governor proposed $15 million and the committee increased it to $37.5 million.

Another big project, a road north out of the capital city, continues to be funded at $35 million. That’s a fraction of the total amount needed for construction.

The committee also considered a companion bill that doubled an earlier $500,000 appropriation to the Inter-Island Ferry Authority, which sails between Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan. That proposal came from the governor.

Smaller community projects added by the Senate Finance Committee include:

  • Upgrading the Gustavus Volunteer Fire Department’s 911 Radio System, at about $65,000.
  • Ketchikan Shipyard improvements, at about $1.2 million.
  • Angoon sewer system upgrades, at about $700,000.
  • Repairing and upgrading Klawock’s garbage truck, at $154,000.
  • An ice machine for Pelican, at $300,000.

Library Report

Tue, 2014-04-08 08:49

Linda Lyshol speaks about “An Evening of Chocolate,” activities for children, movies, gardening workshops and more.  Library040814

Where no shop class has gone before

Tue, 2014-04-08 07:31

Pat Kraft and John Neibergall. Kraft is holding a geodesic sphere — with seven concentric geodesic spheres inside it. “There’s no conventional tool that can make this,” he says. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

This is not your grandfather’s shop class.

Late last month a group of high school and college shop teachers and a few of their students gathered for a three-day workshop in Sitka’s state-of-the-art Design and Fabrication Lab.

The use of 3D printers and other computer-controlled equipment has revolutionized shop, and turned one of the most remote classrooms in the building into the coolest place in school.

Listen to iFriendly audio.

KCAW – Tell me your name, where you’re from, and what you’re doing here.
Neibergall – John Neibergall, Sherwood High School. I’m helping some teachers and students get into digital design and fabrication.

Sherwood High is outside of Portland, Oregon.

Neibergall – You got an idea, you want to make a model or an output of something in three dimensions — whether you build it in wood, metal, plastic, 3D print it. You have to visualize it, and then you get to print it. You have an output of a product in your hand. And that’s what get kids excited.

Read a story about a recent project created by shop students in the Sitka Design and Fabrication Lab.

Yes, digital fabrication gets kids excited. But in this workshop the teachers can barely contain their enthusiasm.

My name is Pat Kraft. I’m one of the instructors at Portland Community College, in Portland. I grew up in an era where Star Trek was, you know — Star Trek was young, I was young, and the thought of having a replicator, where you could put something in there and create something just like it.

And now they have the tools to create just about any kind of machine part. Even parts that are not for machines.

Kent Winship models a skull on CAD software, before printing in 3D. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Winship — I’m Kent Winship with Bristol Bay/Dillingham campus, UAF
KCAW — What are you working on right now?
Winship — This is a scan. We’ve got a fetal orca whale that swam up the Freshwater River. Two parents, and one of them was pregnant. So we’ve got the fetus. It’s mostly cartilage. And we’re going to try to scan it, and then print it out in plastic before we lose those cartilage parts.
KCAW – Scan it how?
Winship – A laser scanner than can measure a surface at 20,000 points per square inch. It will record it and put it into a CAD — computer aided drafting program — and we can actually print it out in plastic. And were even talking about trying to mill it out of a CNC mill out of bone or something.

CNC stands for computer numerical control. Besides a pair of 3D printers, this lab has a CNC vinyl cutter, and a laser engraver. What’s got these guys most excited is not necessarily the ability to make a whale fetus, it’s about trying to make that fetus, and failing.

Neibergall and Kraft are pioneering the integration of technology into shop class. They say repetition is education.

Neibergall — Kids are afraid to fail, and this forces them to fail — or fail forward, if you will. If it doesn’t work, you can tweak it…
Kraft — Failure’s okay. Because that’s part of the improvement process.
Neibergall — Because that’s what industry wants: People who aren’t afraid to fail forward. Reinvent. Remodify. And make it right. And it might take four or five iterations. But we can do it quickly.

“I failed…”

Randy Hughey is the recently-retired wood shop teacher at Sitka High. He wrote the grants for Sitka’s Fab Lab and helped a local grant writer, Lily Herwald, develop the proposal for this workshop.

Hughey has microwaved some chocolate chips, with unfortunate results.

“Well, I was just trying to melt chocolate to put into this mold that John has made.”

Metlakatla Science teacher Jason Pipkin watches as the printer creates metric screws for a quadcopter his students are building. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Digitally fabricated custom candy bar molds. This technology gives kids the ability to aim for the stars, but a prom date is not a bad start.

Neibergall — What my kids did is made prom invitations for the young ladies, wrapped it up in chocolate, and it said Prom? on it.
KCAW — Wow!

For a moment, it sounds like the shop class I remember. But it’s not. John Neibergall assures me that I’m looking at a different sort of future for technical education.

KCAW — Shop used to be the dark space at the end of the hall.
Neibergall — Dumping grounds? That’s the term we tend to say. But now the creative piece that is driving the economic recovery is manufacturing. And if we can get young people excited about that and see the career potential, that’s what’s going to help us get out of our slump, if you will.
KCAW — It comes back to Star Trek, eventually.
Neibergall and Kraft — Right!

$1.9B capital budget unveiled

Tue, 2014-04-08 00:06

JUNEAU — The Senate Finance Committee unveiled a $1.9 billion capital budget Monday, which co-chair Kevin Meyer said was in keeping with the goal of a smaller state infrastructure budget.

One of Meyer’s other goals was to have the state finish projects it has started and to maintain Alaska’s existing infrastructure. To that end, the bill includes $37.5 million to finish the state library, archives and museum building in downtown Juneau and $45.6 million to complete the engineering building at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.

read more

SLAM, Juneau Access road top city's capital budget funding

Tue, 2014-04-08 00:06

Juneau’s delegation accomplished one of its top priority for this legislative session by securing the funds needed to ensure the State Library and Museum Project is completed.

The state’s capital improvements budget released Monday includes $37.5 million for the SLAM project, along with millions more for improving Glacier Highway and Egan Drive, and funding for the hotly debated Juneau Access Project.

read more

TRS pulled from education bill in House

Tue, 2014-04-08 00:05

JUNEAU — The Alaska House voted to remove a plan to address the teachers’ retirement system from a broad-ranging education bill it began debating late Monday afternoon.

The House, on a 27-13 vote, also added $30 million in one-time funding for school districts on top of a proposed increase in the per-pupil funding formula known as the base student allocation.

read more

Alaska officials revise oil production estimates

Tue, 2014-04-08 00:05

JUNEAU — The state Revenue Department is forecasting higher oil production than previously expected, though the overall, long-term trend is still one of decline.

North Slope production for this year is now forecast at 521,800 barrels per day, up from the 508,200 barrels per day forecast in December, which Deputy Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman called a “banner headline.”

read more

KPU official responds to electric meter concerns

Mon, 2014-04-07 15:53

Andy Donato brought some new electronic meters to show the Ketchikan City Council the different kinds that Ketchikan Public Utilities uses.

Ketchikan Public Utilities is moving slowly toward a new style of electric meter. But some people are resisting the change. They believe the new meters provide too much personal information, and are potentially harmful to health.

In response to those concerns, the Ketchikan City Council asked Electric Division Manager Andy Donato to give a presentation about electric meters.

Electro-mechanical meters have been used to measure electric use since the late 1800s. They were state-of-the-art technology at that time, but they’re no longer made.

“The problem we have with meters right now is, we don’t have access to newly built electro-mechanical style meters,” Donato said. “All we have left in our inventory is surplus ones: Ones we pull out of service that still test good, and we hang onto them.”

The new kind of meter available now is electronic, which Donato said provides better accuracy, is more reliable, and has lower maintenance costs. Some customers might notice that their electric bills are higher after switching. Donato said that’s because the old-style meters lose accuracy as they age.

“As they wear, and they have typically a 30-year-life, they get higher and higher frictional losses, to the point where they don’t work, or they don’t inventory correctly,” he said. “As a utility company that needs its revenue, it’s important that we have accurate metered service.”

Donato said about one in four or five customers will notice higher bills with the new meters.

He described some of those new meters, which some people have referred to as smart meters. However, “SmartMeters” is a brand name, and those digital electric meters have certain features. Donato said that KPU doesn’t buy SmartMeters.

One of the new meters KPU uses is no-frills, and reads manually like the old-style meters. A second style is the radio-read meter, which allows KPU to read remotely it, from a distance of up to about 100 yards. Donato said that kind of meter is activated only when it’s read, which means a few seconds each month.

“There are folks in the Lower 48 that are really opposed to the Radio-Read style, but particularly the Smart style,” he said. “These don’t have all those frills that do lots of interrogation. The interest or the fear there is RF energy. These, the communication length is about 8 seconds.”

Donato said the RF, or radio frequency, level for that communication is lower than, for example, the natural radio frequency from the Earth, and much lower than the exposure from talking on a cell phone.

A third meter style communicates directly to the utility company through the wires, so it is not read by a meter reader and the power is contained within the wires.

Sometimes, new meters are installed because it’s become challenging to get close to the meter. Some people make the meters inaccessible when they remodel their homes, or enclose a yard. And then there’s the dogs. Laura Huffine reads electric meters for KPU, and attended the Council meeting.

“I love dogs, have a couple of my own,” she said. “I’ve been lucky and never gotten bit, but there are some dogs that act a little different when mom and dad aren’t around. When they enclose their meter in an area where the dog is, it makes it a little difficult for me to get in there and do anything other than have one of these other style of meters where I don’t put myself in jeopardy going in to get the reading.”

Regarding the information collected, Donato stressed that the utility only looks at how much power is used. True SmartMeters can allow a utility to monitor use hourly, and can allow both the utility and customer to manage power by turning off certain appliances, such as water heaters, during peak demand. Donato said KPU’s meters don’t have that ability.

A group called Ketchikan for Meter Choice has formed, and has an online petition asking the local government to not require KPU customers to have the new meters on their homes.

Donato said he understands that some people have concerns.

“Trust me, I’m not here to upset anybody,” he said. “I just want to put the information out there and do what we all decide is best.”

KPU has about 200 surplus old-style meters in the warehouse. And, as long as one is available, Donato said he is willing to work with customers who prefer them. However, Donato said those meters won’t last forever and eventually will have to be switched out.

Alaska to sue for King Cove road

Mon, 2014-04-07 15:15

The state of Alaska is taking its fight with the federal government over a 10-mile, “life-saving” road to King Cove to the courts.

Gov. Sean Parnell announced his intentions Monday in a press release, calling the December rejection of the road “unconscionable.”

“In just the last several weeks, serious health-related evacuations have shown just how critical a road for medical evacuations is for residents,” Parnell said.

The lawsuit will be based on a historic right-of-way, according to the press release.

read more

Bad weather delays chloramine switch

Mon, 2014-04-07 14:34

An engineer who was going to assist Ketchikan Public Utilities in its switch to chloramine water disinfection wasn’t able to land Monday morning because of weather, and ended up in Wrangell.

Water Division Manager John Kleinegger says the engineer landed in time to catch an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry headed toward Ketchikan, and was due to arrive Monday evening.

Kleinegger says the utility might start adding ammonia to the system Monday evening, or perhaps Tuesday evening.

He says chloramine-treated water will first show up in the Bear Valley area, and then will move down Schoenbar Road toward downtown. Some neighborhoods, such as those above Baranof in the Carlanna area, won’t get chloramine-treated water until later in the week, because of the time it takes for the water to move through the system.

Chloramine is a mixture of chlorine and a small amount of ammonia. The city uses chlorine as the primary disinfectant now, but because of high levels of regulated byproducts in Ketchikan’s water, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is requiring that the city make some kind of change.

The city chose chloramine, and has been working toward the new system for about a decade.

A group called United Citizens for Better Water formed this winter to oppose the switch, primarily citing concerns over possible health effects. That group is spearheading a ballot initiative process that, if approved, would ask voters to prohibit the city from using chloramine.

It’s not too late!

Mon, 2014-04-07 12:56

The White Rabbit might have been late for a very important date, but there is still plenty of time for you to support Raven Radio if we missed you during our One Day Drive! We are behind last year’s pace and we need to hear from the almost 200 members that haven’t renewed yet. You can make your contribution online, or call 747-5877 weekdays during business hours. Thanks to those who have already contributed!

MS Walk and info

Mon, 2014-04-07 12:16

Lauren Munhoven shares her experiences being diagnosed and living with Multiple Sclerosis.  She and Jay Rhodes give details about the upcoming Walk for MS.  MS040714

Here is a link to the website

Update: Sealaska dividends include no earnings

Mon, 2014-04-07 11:35

Sealaska CEO Chris McNeil Jr. addresses Juneau’s Native Issues Forum April 2, 2014. The corporation’s spring distribution includes no operating revenue. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

The Sealaska regional Native corporation does not appear to be making much – if any – money. Its spring distribution to shareholders, which is basically a dividend, includes no corporate revenues.

Sealaska distributes payments to its almost 21,600 shareholders twice a year. In recent years, they’ve ranged from about $400 to around $1,100.

The money comes from three sources. The largest is a pool of all 12 regional Native corporations’ resource earnings. Another is Sealaska’s permanent fund. The third is profits from the corporation’s businesses.

“Usually there are. This year there isn’t any operating revenue included in the formula,” says Chris McNeil Jr., president and CEO of the Juneau-headquartered corporation.

He won’t say why Sealaska has no revenues to contribute. But he says the information will be in the corporation’s annual report, due out in May.

“I can’t really provide any details on it until we publish. And we’ve done that traditionally to make sure there is no miscommunication about what is being transmitted to shareholders,” he says.

Hear iFriendly audio 

“Sealaska is so opaque. They don’t really share much about their finances,” says Brad Fluetsch, a shareholder who runs a Facebook page highly critical of Sealaska. He’s also founder and managing director of Fortress Investment Management LLC.

He says even the annual reports lack detail. Earnings and losses are reported in sectors, so the reader often can’t tell which individual businesses are making or losing cash.

Still, Fluetsch says Sealaska’s board was honest when it approved a distribution without corporate revenues.

“I’ll give them kudos for that because that did take some effort on their part. Now what they need to do is hire a management team that can make that zero go away and actually turn it into a positive number,” he says.

McNeil is retiring this summer and the search for a replacement is underway.

This spring distribution totals about $12 million. It gives most shareholders $721. But others receive only $57.

The difference is that pool of resource earnings. McNeil says the biggest contributor is the owner of Northwest Alaska’s Red Dog Mine.

“At this point, NANA is the principal distributor. But cumulatively, Arctic Slope has distributed more revenue than any other corporation,” McNeil says.

Sealaska was a major contributor before its timber subsidiary starting running out of trees.

Most shareholders also belong to a smaller, community-based Native corporation.

Those getting the $721 payment also own stock in Juneau and Sitka’s urban Native corporations. Those receiving $57 are shareholders in a village corporation, from Yakutat to Saxman.

“The portion of the funds that go to tribal member shareholders who are enrolled to village corporations goes to the village corporation. And then the corporations board of directors is entitled to decide whether or not some or all of those funds will be distributed directly to their tribal members shareholders or to retain them in the corporation,” McNeil says.

There are several other classes of shareholders.

Those only holding Sealaska stock get the full $721. Descendents of original shareholders receive the lower amount of $57. And elders get an extra $57 on top of whatever else they receive.

All the amounts are based on ownership of 100 shares. That’s the most common number. But some shareholders have more, or different types, of stock due to gifting or inheritance.

Read last year’s annual report.

Sitka’s greenest businesses

Mon, 2014-04-07 10:32

Listen to iFriendly audio.

Michelle Putz with the Sitka Global Warming Group discusses the eight Sitka businesses receiving green business awards – and why they qualify.

Mon Apr 7, 2014

Mon, 2014-04-07 10:21

Listen to iFriendly audio.

The latest issue of “Sitka Trends” shows a rebound in retail sales, unemployment, and personal income, paired with a decrease in the price of housing rentals. Sealaska’s spring distribution to shareholders does not include corporate revenues. The city and borough of Juneau has appealed to the state Supreme Court to reverse a decision on the northern boundary of Petersburg. “Once Upon Alaska” is a new kids photobook by Nick Jans and Mark Kelley.

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