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Southeast Alaska News

Soboleff wins Sealaska board seat, Nelson becomes chairman

Sat, 2014-06-28 23:30

New Sealaska board member Ross Soboleff. (Courtesy 4 Shareholders for Sealaska)

The Sealaska regional Native corporation has a new board member and a new board chairman.

Shareholders elected Juneau businessman Ross Soboleff to an open seat.

They also re-elected incumbents Rosita Worl, Sidney Edenshaw and Ed Thomas. A resolution limiting discretionary voting failed.

Joseph Nelson was named by the board as chairman. He replaces Albert Kookesh, who remains on the panel but stepped down from the post.

Results were announced at the end of the corporation’s annual meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel near the Seattle-Tacoma airport. About 6,000 of Sealaska’s 21,600 shareholders live in the Pacific Northwest.

New board member Soboleff was part of an independent slate called 4 Shareholders for Sealaska. Fellow members Carlton Smith, Margaret Nelson and Karen Taug were not elected.

Though he was the only one to win, Soboleff says the slate’s message was powerful.

“Most of the board members I’ve spoken to know shareholders are interested in very positive changes in the company. They and me are in the leadership and we have to figure it out together,” he says.

The slate, and most of the six other independent candidates, criticized the board for allowing corporate operations to run into the red by about $57 million last year.

“I would say central to what we came forward with was a turnaround plan for the company,” Soboleff says.

The slate’s Smith was enthusiastic about the results, even if he and two other members lost.

“It’s a powerful victory for shareholders today and it’s a change that’s been wanting to be implemented,” Smith says. “What we’ve got is the beginnings of a brand new board.”

He says the slate cast all its discretionary votes for Soboleff to make sure one member won.

Sealaska’s new CEO, Anthony Mallott, also says the results are a turning point.

“If today’s meeting isn’t proof of change, I don’t know what is,” he said in a press release. “We’ve heard from many people about what is expected of Sealaska, and the great news is that these are the things we’re already working on.”

It’s unusual for Sealaska to have an open board seat. Retiring members usually resign before an election and the board appoints a replacement who then runs as an incumbent.

This year, board member Byron Mallott announced he would not seek re-election so he could pursue his Democratic run for governor. But he completed his term rather than resigning. That guaranteed someone new would fill the seat.

A resolution changing discretionary voting to weaken the board’s hold on ballot counts failed.

Board candidate Mick Beasley, who authored the measure, says he’s frustrated, but would likely try again. He said he may also pursue a term-limits measure, as he has done before.

He was not optimistic about the election’s results.

“I see very little change,” he says.

In all, 13 candidates ran for four board seats this year.

Longtime incumbent Thomas was the top vote-getter, followed by incumbents Edenshaw and Worl. Challenger Soboleff won the fourth seat with the next-highest count.

The board runner-ups, in order of votes received, were Beasley, Myrna Gardner, Ralph Wolfe, Smith, Nelson, Taug, Michelle McConkey, Will Micklin and Edward Sarabia Jr.

The voting share counts are below. Each shareholder casts a vote per share and most own at least 100 shares.

• Edward Thomas 677,440
• Sidney Edenshaw 674,874
• Rosita Worl 674,447
• Ross Soboleff 508,216
• Michael Beasley 472,611
• Myrna Gardner 390,509
• Ralph Wolfe 244,425
• Carlton Smith 206,829
• Margaret Nelson 156,551
• Karen Taug 151,966
• Michelle McConkey 137,691
• Will Micklin 112,261
• Edward Sarabia Jr. 102,166

World Cup 2014: Sitkans wake up to soccer

Sat, 2014-06-28 09:30

World Cup action in 2010 did not seem to grip Alaskans the way the 2014 contest has. (Flickr photo/Damien Sachs-Dromsen)

Every four years most of the world grinds to a halt to watch the World Cup of Men’s Football — and the game finally may have caught on in Sitka.

Local watering holes opened for breakfast last Thursday (6-26-14), and tuned their flat-panel televisions to soccer, as the US met Germany for a pivotal game that would send the winner into the final stage of the tournament.

KCAW’s Rich McClear has lived in Europe for most of the last 20 years. But this past Thursday, he was in his hometown watching Sitkans react to their newest favorite sport.


The US men will meet Belgium in their first Group of 16 game, noon Alaska time, on Tuesday July 1, 2014.

The first problem is I don’t have a television, which makes watching the World Cup matches a challenge. I can watch them on my iPhone in Spanish, there is an app for that, but Football should be watched in a cheering group, not on a small screen. I opted for the Westmark, which was open for both breakfast and football, and I found myself at a convivial table — even though there was a bona fide German sitting there.

“Martina Kurzer, I am German and I am American. This is the best game EVER. I cannot lose. (Laughs) It’s true.”

This was not the way I am used to watching Football in Serbia, where I lived for several years. Looking around I realized I was the only man at the table. In Serbia, Football was a man’s sport. One female sport’s journalist I worked with told me she was often the only woman in the stands. I asked Martina if she had been a football fan in Germany.

“Of course, I’m German, it’s like being a baseball fan here.”

I told here that in Serbia, she would stand out as a female football fan.

“Oh, that’s interesting, I tell you a story. My Grandmother did not answer a telephone when there was football, or soccer on TV. So it goes back many generations.”

The US team would advance in the tournament if it tied or won. At the end of the first half the score was tied. However in the second half Germany scored. The crowd at the Westmark was NOT like a crowd in Serbia. There were no loud demonstrations of frustration or anger, but rather calm analysis, and even appreciation of the German goal.

(All Women’s voices.) Long Long Drive. it was a good kick. Can you believe that? It Went right through, wow.

Near the end of the game, it looked briefly like the US team would tie and assure itself a berth in the playoffs but…

Oh, no no no!

Close but no goal. In the end the US lost but still advanced to the next stage because Portugal beat Ghana by one goal in a game that ended seconds after the US-Germany match. Technically the US and Portugal were tied in their groups but the US advanced because Portugal had more goals scored against it than had the United States. Soccer playoffs are more confusing that US Baseball’s Wild Card.

Martina left the venue happy.

I think it’s great, both teams advance so it’s perfect.

In the next stage of the Cup, however, there are no second chances. The Round of 16 is a single-elimination format. Here’s hoping the US men — and our new love of international football — survive.

Sitka’s health: #2 and looking to improve

Fri, 2014-06-27 16:28

After eight months of suspense, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has announced the six winners of the foundation’s nationwide Culture of Health prize. Sitka — unfortunately — didn’t make the list, but healthcare educators say that just being recognized as a finalist has been a shot in the arm.

Sitka was one of just 12 finalists for the prize, picked from over two hundred and fifty U.S. communities for a strong focus on healthy living.

“We were not selected, much to our chagrin,” said Doug Osborne, a health educator at the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. “One of the things they said was – and there is some truth to this – is that well, you get everyone together and that’s great, and you have people who come up with ideas, and the citizen-directed and the grassroots is awesome. They wondered if we might be even stronger if we can give them some data, if we can give them some information so we can make a little more data-driven goals, little more data-driven decisions. We’re six points higher than the state average when it comes to excessive drinking, when I look at these numbers that is our Achilles heel.”

Osborne was referring to results from the 2014 County Health Ranking and Roadmaps, an ongoing project of the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

For the past five years, researchers looked at 29 areas that affect health in every county of the U.S. Sitka was near the top of the 2014 list. Last year, sixth place. Lisa Sadleir-Hart, board president of the Sitka Local Foods Network, said a yearly meeting of health care professionals and residents contributed to the change.

“We moved from sixth ranked in the state to number two, and I can’t help but think that part of it has to do with our annual health summit where the community members gather, they select specific goals to try to improve the health of our community,” said Sadleir-Hart.

But Sitka’s County Health Rankings need to get even better if the community hopes to win the Culture of Health award — the $25,000 cash prize — next time.

“So here we are, the second healthiest community in Alaska, however, we have these four areas where we could do some improvement on. And the areas were injury deaths, and we’re above the state average there…preventable hospital stays, and that has to do with clinical care, and then uninsured – we’re actually three points higher at 25 percent – so one in four of our adults didn’t have health insurance when they put these numbers out – the state average is 22 percent. Not having health insurance is not good for your health,” said Osborne.

Osborne and Sitka Community Hospital health educator Patrick Williams say the most troubling result was the rate at which some Sitkans binge drink or drink to excess, defined as three or more alcoholic drinks a day.

Osborne said it was worth it to go through the lengthy and complex application process for the Culture of Health award because it helped focus attention on how Sitka residents can become healthier.

“And see if we can take this idea of citizen-driven health promotion – not what someone in Washington DC wants to do or somebody in Juneau, but what people here want to do. And the thing that’s exciting for me, apart from the prize, is just what if we got to the point where every year, we would pick these two goals, and we would figure out a recipe that we could follow, that would help these two goals become reality?”

Osborne said he and his colleagues will reapply for the Culture of Health award in 2015.

Vandalism, shooting halts work at KYI paintball site

Fri, 2014-06-27 15:58

Vandalism and nearby gunshots prompted a local nonprofit to halt work on a summer work effort by a team of AmeriCorps volunteers, who came to Ketchikan specifically to build a new paintball field for local youth.


Six young volunteers working for AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps program have been in Ketchikan for about three weeks. They’ve been working in the forest to clear brush, make safe pathways and build obstacles for Ketchikan Youth Initiatives’ new paintball field.

They have three weeks left to complete the project, but now, that might not happen. Here’s team leader Max Webster, describing how they recently found the paintball headquarters building when they arrived at the work site, just four miles down Revilla Road:

“Walking up there we found one of the protective boards that had been nailed up to protect the windows had been knocked off, and the door had been completely smashed in,” he said. “So it was some sort of heavy object – an ax or a crowbar or something like that – which left these really deep grooves in the door handle and bent the whole lock system down and around. So this double dead-bolted door had been completely smashed in and pushed in.”

Webster said it definitely was a tool that was used, and not the act of a determined bear seeking food. But, he said, it doesn’t appear that the person who did the damage was out to steal anything.

“It’s hard to account for because no item of value was taken from the facility, even though we had some tools that could be taken and swapped, and there was paintball paraphernalia that could have been sold as well, and none of that was taken,” he said.

Instead, Webster said some bottled water was taken out and cut open, along with some apple juice. And tools were strewn across the road.

“It’s not one of those things that you could easily say that somebody (was) just looking to find some profit, some quick money,” he said. “It was just a blatant act of vandalism.”

This isn’t the first time that Ketchikan Youth Initiatives paintball facility has been vandalized. But, KYI administrator Bobbie McCreary said this time is different.

“We’ve had lots of vandalism over the seven years that we’ve been out there, but never as violent as this,” she said. “It’s always been more mischievous vandalism, but unfortunately they’ve also shot up the building sometimes, and that’s always a concern because there might be someone in the building. But this was so aggressive that it was really a concern.”

Even more so, because there had been someone shooting a gun out in that area just the day before. And the shooter was too close.

Webster said a crew was working in the new paintball area, along with some local youth volunteers.

“A couple of members of the AmeriCorps team who were down working on the new paintball field could hear bullets passing through the trees around them,” he said. “Within 50 yards of where they were, they could hear bullets hitting wood, passing through branches and leaves. It was enough of a concern for them to take cover and vacate the area that they were working in.”

Webster said that’s definitely a problem, but it’ll be even more of a problem if people continue to shoot in that area once the site opens to kids for paintball games.

Getting people to stop, though, could be a challenge. Some people have been target shooting around there for a long time. McCreary said KYI has a lease agreement with Cape Fox Corp., which owns the site and the surrounding land.

“They have a full-time security person who has often run into people shooting out there, and had that day actually confronted someone telling him not to shoot,” she said. “They said, ‘Oh well, there’s lots of shells here; everybody’s shooting.’ So it’s really important for the community to step up and tell somebody to tell somebody to tell somebody that this is not OK.”

Because of the safety concerns, the AmeriCorps team has halted work at the paintball site, although Webster said he hopes they can get back to it soon.

“We do have a really great space picked down there, and we do have a lot of work into it,” he said. “The paintball field itself, once we resolve these issues, still will be a tremendous recreational resource for kids in this community. It’s just about doing the legwork now to make sure that it remains safe in the future.”

In the meantime, the AmeriCorps volunteers are working on other projects for KYI, and for other Ketchikan nonprofit agencies.

McCreary said the vandalism and the shooting have been reported to Alaska State Troopers. Troopers are asking anyone with information about the vandalism to call 225-5118. Callers can remain anonymous.

Post-Graduate Fellowship in Community Journalism

Fri, 2014-06-27 14:00

Application Deadline: July 22, 2014

I – Program Overview
Raven Radio’s post-graduate fellowship is a 30-week program intended to bridge the period between the completion of a journalism student’s education and the beginning of his or her career.
The Fellowship offers a recent graduate the opportunity to…
– Gain substantial expertise in a professional newsroom.
– Refine live broadcast and production skills.
– Experiment with and develop multi-media production skills.
– Explore complex news issues in a diverse community, region, and state.
– Write, edit, and produce sound-rich, in-depth stories for local, state, and national distribution.
– Establish professional connections to NPR, the Alaska Public Radio Network, National Native News, and other affiliates.

The Fellowship is modeled on Raven Radio’s summer internship program for journalism graduate students. Both programs take talented students from a demanding academic culture, drop them into a fertile news environment, and add mentoring and structure (deadlines!). The internship program is now in its second decade; seven of the last eight interns have all won state broadcasting awards. KCAW’s 2012 intern, Rachel Waldholz, won for this piece about the Tenakee Bath House.

We subsequently hired Rachel as our full-time reporter in January of this year.

Emily Forman delivers the evening news. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

While the KCAW internship is about training, the Fellowship is about opportunity. Our 2013-14 Fellow, Emily Forman, produced this story about airport safety for NPR’s Morning Edition:

You can see more of Emily’s work here.

To learn more about the KCAW Fellowship directly from Emily, you can email her at emilylforman-at-gmail.com.

Our 2012-2013 Fellow, Anne Brice, also produced this spot for NPR News.

You can see more of Anne’s work here.

And you can email her at briceanne-at-gmail.com.

The Fellowship benefits more than just the successful applicant. The benefits to KCAW and to the community of Sitka are substantial. The Fellow contributes to…
– Expanded news coverage in the fall-winter-spring months.
A broader variety of stories, many of them more in-depth than typical daily news stories.
– A diversity of voices providing the news.
– An expanded website, and multi-media features that tell our stories in new, engaging ways
– More live coverage of community-based issues (public forums, town hall meetings, Tribal council, etc.)
– Improved coverage of our remote listening communities.
– Greater flexibility to work with NPR West on repackaging local and regional stories for national newscasts (See an example at http://www.npr.org/2013/03/14/174222954/as-his-home-melts-away-teenager-sues-alaska).

– An overall higher level of reporting due to the expanded network of news sources and relationships that the Fellow develops over time.

II – Criteria
A candidate for the Raven Radio Post-Graduate Fellowship has completed an undergraduate or graduate degree program in Journalism or a related field of study, and has acquired competency in news writing and broadcast journalism (or multi-media production) at the academic level. Someone with an M.A. in Journalism from UC Berkeley or Columbia looking to create a professional portfolio and to establish contacts within public broadcasting is a candidate; a college graduate with no prior experience who may be thinking about going into journalism is not. On the other hand, an established print reporter hoping to transition into broadcast would be considered for the Fellowship.

III – Work expectations
The Raven Radio Post-Graduate Fellow, after an initial training period, becomes our colleague in the news department. We work a 40-hour week, often in the evenings and sometimes in the early morning. We share news hosting duties on four 12-minute newscast each weekday. We file stories as often as we can, and post to our regional FTP site, the KCAW website, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The Fellow – like all members of the news department – observes the ethical standards of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). In a small community like Sitka, protecting the station’s reputation for objective, open-handed reporting is paramount.

IV – Stipend, Duration, and Lodging
The Fellow will receive a stipend of $4,500 for a thirty-week period:
– Mon Sep 23, 2012 – Fri Dec 13, 2013, 12 weeks
– Mon Jan 6, 2014 – Fri May 9, 2014, 18 weeks

The mid-winter break is optional. The Fellow may work any 30-weeks between the approximate start and end dates.

The Fellow will be covered by the station’s workman’s compensation policy, but no other insurance benefit is provided. The stipend is paid only for weeks worked – there is no paid leave.

Raven Radio will provide the Fellow with housing. Relocating during the Fellowship is likely.

Raven Radio will provide airfare, housing, and per diem for the Fellow to attend the annual meeting of the Alaska Press Club in April 2015.

V – Transportation
Sitka is located on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska, about 2 hours by air from Seattle. There is no road access. Alaska Airlines offers several flights a day, and there is regular ferry service aboard the Alaska Marine Highway. Although a personal car is not necessary for the Fellowship, the least expensive way to bring one to Sitka is to drive it to Prince Rupert, BC, and board an Alaska Marine Highway vessel there.

VI – Application deadline
Applicants must submit a letter of interest, resume with references, and audio samples by Tuesday July 22, 2014. E-mail submissions are welcomed. Submit applications to:

Robert Woolsey, News Director
KCAW-FM Raven Radio
2B Lincoln Street, Ste. B
Sitka Alaska 99835
907 747-5879

Steve Will.

The Raven Radio Post-Graduate Fellowship in Community Journalism was created to honor the memory of Steve Will. Steve worked in different capacities at Raven Radio over a period of about twenty-five years. Like many of us who have made careers in public broadcasting, he began as volunteer and, the story goes, he wasn’t all that good at first. Steve finally did find his groove in the news department, eventually becoming its director. His years in that job were marked by a major labor dispute at the town’s largest employer, the Alaska Pulp Corporation mill, and then the eventual shutdown of the mill itself. Despite the deep divisions in the community Steve’s reporting is still remembered as honest, even, and compelling. He went on to win one of the most prestigious national awards in broadcasting – the Ohio State – for a series he produced during that period on the sexual abuse of minors. Steve later was detailed voluntarily to serve as a regional reporter, in an experiment that shaped the present-day CoastAlaska Network. He left broadcasting for a while to write for the Daily Sitka Sentinel, but returned in 2006 as Raven Radio’s program director. Steve’s death in a bike accident in 2007 in no way canonized him. His reputation as committed journalist and passionate advocate for community broadcasting was well-established, well-deserved, and well-earned.

Raven Radio Celebrates the 4th of July with free Root Beer Floats!

Fri, 2014-06-27 13:34

Raven Radio invites you to enjoy free root beer floats, lawn games and live music at the Cable House after the parade on Friday, July 4th. We’re ready to serve more than 500 root beer floats… so come and get yours!Thanks to Harry Race Soda Shop, Baranof Island Brewing Company, Sitka Sound Seafoods and Northern Sales!

This is just a drill

Fri, 2014-06-27 12:19

The U.S. Federal Building on Ninth Street in downtown Juneau was evacuated at noon Friday, but fortunately there was no reason to freak out. It was only a drill.

The evacuation was part of the Federal Protective Service’s active shooter response drill, said FPS Chief of Public Affairs Jacqueline Yost.

FPS is an agency of the Department of Homeland Security and it runs the drill in Juneau twice a year to ensure tenants of the federal building know what to do in case of such an emergency.

read more

Point Higgins School light pole hit, damaged

Fri, 2014-06-27 11:47

Alaska State Troopers are looking for the driver who was “spinning brodies” in the dirt parking lot at Point Higgins Elementary School, lost control and hit a light pole.

On Thursday afternoon, Troopers reported that the light fixture at the top of the pole was knocked off, fell to the ground and was destroyed. Troopers are asking the public for any information about the incident.

“Spinning brodies” is a maneuver where the driver attempts to spin the car, creating circular skid marks in the snow, ice or, in this case, dirt. The term is derived from Steve Brodie, who in 1886 jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge to win a bet, and survived. “Taking a brodie” originally meant to leap or fall in a dramatic way.

Join me as a member of Raven Radio!

Fri, 2014-06-27 11:12


Thank you! Our spring drive was a success but with fewer new members than usual. That’s OK! You can invest in your community station right now with a contribution of any size! Join the family of friends, neighbors and puppies that keep Raven Radio flying strong!

Draft regional transportation plan out for review

Fri, 2014-06-27 09:45

The state’s latest draft plan for transportation in Southeast Alaska calls for construction of roads near Juneau, Petersburg and Sitka. It also recommends retiring some mainline ferries in the region as new Alaska class ferry boats are built. The plan is out for public review this summer.
The Southeast plan is part of a bigger statewide planning effort for roads, ferries and airports. The last version came out in 2004. Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the document covers DOT priorities over the next two decades.”That provides the department a starting point and an endpoint of goals to achieve over those next two decades,” he said.

The draft plan recommends pursuing three major road construction projects. Those are the road out of Juneau along the Lynn Canal to the Katzehin River. From there ferries would connect to Haines and Skagway. Another is the proposed road from Kake to the eastern side of Kupreanof Island. That would allow for a shuttle ferry connection across the Wrangell Narrows to Petersburg. A third proposed road would run across Baranof Island from Sitka to a proposed ferry terminal at Warm Springs Bay.

“So extending those roads or creating road access between communities helps shorten ferry routes, improve access and improve the amount of people that you can transport or that can move throughout these different corridors” Woodrow said. “So that’s the purpose of putting those three roads that have been identified in the plan. But the plan also calls for maintaining the existing transportation infrastructure that we already have in Southeast Alaska as well as existing ferry routes.”

The draft plan notes the Sitka to Warm Springs Bay connection is not expected to happen within the next two decades unless the state gets additional transportation funding. If it did come to fruition, the DOT would end direct ferry service to Sitka, and instead serve Sitka through a new ferry terminal at Warm Springs.

The recommended road projects are controversial and carry large price tags. The road out of Juneau for instance is estimated to cost over half a billion dollars. An earlier decision on that project was challenged in court and the state was ordered to consider ferry service as an alternative to the road. A supplemental environmental review could be out sometime this year.

Malena Marvin is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the regional environmental organization that took the Juneau Access project to court. “Overall we’re just disappointed that DOT isn’t recognizing the state doesn’t have the finances to support this kind of road budget. You know perhaps 10 years ago it was reasonable to think we could keep building boondoggles forever. But at this point funds in federal highways are drying up and we really have to choose priorities. Are we going to build giant dangerous expensive roads that we cant afford to maintain, that no one really needs or are we going to maintain the ferry fleet that we rely on to get from community to community?”

The plan says the DOT will need 61 million a year for new project construction and another 67 million to refurbish or maintain existing ferries, roads and airports. That adds up to two and a half billion dollars over 20 years and does not include the cost of a Baranof road and terminal at Warm Springs Bay.

Other recommendations include retirement of mainline ferries – those older ships that connect Southeast Alaska communities to Bellingham Washington or Prince Rupert British Columbia. It recommends replacing or retiring the Malaspina, Matanuska and Taku by the year 2024. Two planned Alaska Class ferries would take up service in Lynn Canal and one new mainline ferry could be built for an estimated 226 million dollars. Another 50 million dollars would go to build an airport in Angoon.

“Well I think that for the first time in a long long time what has been presented is actually a plan,” said Robert Venables, chair of the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board, which advises the Alaska Marine Highway System. “There’s going to be a lot of public comment and input. But I think rather than previous editions that were really a compilation of projects and wishlists and no real direction, I think this document actually does provide a framework for discussing how the department of transportation can address moving goods, people and services throughout the region in a manner that hopefully meets this needs over the next 20 years.”

Woodrow notes that while recommendations are in the plan, it does not mean those projects will happen. “And it’s important to point out this is a plan. It doesn’t necessarily mean everything in the plan is going to be enacted over the next 20 years, such as the Warm Springs Bay. I think in the plan it lists several times that it’s unlikely funding will be made available for it, but it’s important to list out because that’s one way we can improve transportation access in Southeast Alaska.”

A 2004 plan included some other big road projects that are no longer recommendations of the latest version. Among those were a road across the Cleveland Peninsula north of Ketchikan and a road up the Bradfield Canal into Canada.

The DOT will be taking public comment and holding meetings around the region. Dates and places have not yet been announced. They’re hoping to publish a final plan sometime in the fall.

The draft plan is available on the DOT’s website. Comments can go to dot.satp@alaska.gov

How will Sealaska solve its money problems?

Fri, 2014-06-27 08:45

Sealaska VP Rick Harris and CEO Chris McNeil pose at the corporation’s board room. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

Sealaska holds its annual shareholders’ meeting Saturday near Seattle. A new CEO will take over, as will a new board chairman or woman. And, at least one new board member will be seated.

All will face the challenges of a new economic reality. The Juneau-based regional Native corporation has been losing money and plans for recovery are somewhat uncertain.

Sealaska recently told its about 22,000 shareholders about its financial problems.

The corporation’s annual report showed operational losses of about $57 million last year. Revenues from investments and other sources brought that down around $35 million, but it’s still a lot of money.

Outgoing CEO Chris McNeil Jr. says Sealaska is doing fine. It has a three-point plan to bounce back.

“One, of course, is achieving our land entitlement before Congress. The second is making one or more highly profitable acquisitions in 2015. And then also, it would have to significantly increase its federal contracting with higher margins.”

The first is controversial federal legislation turning 70,000 to 80,000 acres of Tongass National Forest timberland over to the corporation.

4 Shareholders for Sealaska slate members Ross Soboleff, Margaret Nelson, Karen Taug and Carlton Smith pose in their regalia. (Courtesy Lucy Nelson)

It’s stalled in Congress. But if it’s passed, it will allow Sealaska to reinvigorate its shrunken logging subsidiary, once the corporation’s economic powerhouse.

Rick Harris is executive vice president of the corporation.

“We will be effectively running out of timber by the end of this year or sometime early in 2015,” Harris says.

Some of the targeted timberlands have high-value, old-growth forest. Others have, or will have, second- or young- growth trees big enough to fell and sell.

Harris says Sealaska is developing markets for those smaller trees, which already make up a fifth of timber sales.

“We’re working with the customer, we’re working with them to identify the supply we have, both for mature timber and second growth. And then helping build a plan, with our customers, so we will be able to supply their needs and that they have the mills that are capable of handling the type of wood that we can deliver,” Harris says.

Carlton Smith is one of four business-oriented shareholders running for the board as a slate.

“The board has struggled with replacing timber income. And we’ve had 20 years to plan for this,” Smith says.

He says Sealaska would do better getting involved in Alaska’s oil and gas industry and helping shareholders find employment there.

One way, he says, is to join other Native corporations campaigning against repealing the state’s oil and gas tax structure.

“We need to make a commitment to the future of Sealaska’s involvement in Alaska commerce. And that takes place in Anchorage,” Smith says.

Smith wants the corporation to open an office in the state’s largest city.

Karen Taug, another member of the shareholders slate, says it’s time to close or at least move Sealaska’s office in Bellevue, Wash. That’s the home of several subsidiaries, as well as the CEO’s main office.

“They could very well pay rent somewhere else at a much cheaper rate, rather than in a high-rent area of Bellevue. Q: Does it seem to you that that was created so Chris McNeil could live and work down south? A: Yes,” Taug says.

Corporate officials won’t give many details of the second part of their recovery plan, to buy one or several new, profitable business. That’s because it’s still being developed.

But McNeil says they’re considering areas that could employ shareholders in Southeast Alaska or the Pacific Northwest.

“We’ve taken another look and will continue to look in the fisheries sectors,” McNeil says.

Other areas include organic foods and expanded mariculture.

Sealaska’s already backing small, tribally-owned oyster farms. VP Harris says it creates businesses that take a realistic approach to village employment.

“Jobs that are the kind of thing people that want to do. And it’s consistent with the way they live their lives, instead of us coming and saying you have to change the way you live in order to have a job. We’re saying, let’s create jobs that meet your needs,” Harris says.

Shellfish farming is part of Sealaska’s Haa Aani division, which focuses on job development within Southeast.

But Smith and some other critics say that’s not where to look if you’re trying to boost corporate profits.

“I don’t know how a company that’s not making money by itself can be generating economic development elsewhere. And even though it theoretically does touch the lives of our shareholders, it certainly would not be the No. 1 priority at the moment,” Smith says.

Corporate officials say Sealaska needs to try to get more leverage out of government contracting.

But contracting is part of the corporation’s problems. About $26 million was lost when that subsidiary badly underestimated two federal construction projects in Hawaii.

The independent slate’s Ross Soboleff also wants to lower costs by reducing pay and bonuses for board members and top managers.

“My personal opinion about the board compensation now is it’s high. And when the top levels of your company tighten their belts and cut their own expenses, it sets a very important precedent and the tone of the company,” Soboleff says.

Soboleff, Taug and Smith are three of 13 candidates running for Sealaska’s board. Their slate also has a fourth member, Margaret Nelson.

Three board incumbents are seeking re-election: Sidney Edenshaw, Ed Thomas and Rosita Worl.

Other candidates running independently are Myrna Gardner, Mick Beasley, Michelle McConkey, Will Micklin, Edward Sarabia Jr. and Ralph Wolfe.

CEO McNeil will officially retire at the annual meeting. Treasurer and chief investment officer Anthony Mallott will take his place.

Senator: Oil export ban 'outdated relic'

Fri, 2014-06-27 00:14

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, released a report Thursday that shows America is the only advanced nation in the world that employes a ban on oil exporting. She’s calling the report, “A Ban for One: The Outdated Prohibition on U.S. Oil Exports in Global Context.” The report shows that countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are net importers of oil that also export oil for a variety of reasons, such as quality of exported oil not matching domestic demand.

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Drug bust on fishing boat leads to more charges

Fri, 2014-06-27 00:14

KETCHIKAN — Ketchikan police have charged another suspect in relation to a November drug bust on board a fishing boat in Bar Harbor.

Shawn D. Petersen, 30, has been charged with third-degree controlled-substance misconduct, after police allegedly found two bags of methamphetamine — totaling just under a gram — near where Petersen allegedly was sitting on Nov. 20, when police made contact with him on board the fishing vessel Prince.

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‘Lefty’ O’Neal: Crossing the color line in the Negro Leagues

Thu, 2014-06-26 17:04

Dick “Lefty” O’Neal during a recent visit to Sitka. He never thought he’d write about his experiences in the Negro Leagues, but teammates urged him to do so. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

A little bit of baseball history visited Southeast Alaska this summer. Dick “Lefty” O’Neal is the only person to have crossed baseball’s color line — in the opposite direction.

O’Neal is white, but he made his mark in baseball pitching in two of the country’s semi-pro Negro Leagues.

O’Neal hails from Arkansas, where he was highly recruited pitcher in American Legion Baseball in the late 1960s. He was scouted by at least 16 major league teams. But he had the misfortune to draw a low draft number, and by 1972 he was training for a tour in Viet Nam.

Luckily, the Air Force recognized his abilities and stationed him in Biloxi, Mississippi, as an athletic specialist for the Keesler Air Force Base baseball team. He was sometimes called upon to pitch, and that’s when he struck out 9 batters in a game against the famed Biloxi Dodgers.

O’Neal would later join Biloxi — one of three white players ever to play in the Gulf Coast League. Two years later, he became the first-and-only white player to join the San Antonio Black Sox, when the Air Force moved him to South Texas.

O’Neal published a book about his experiences in 2009 called “Dreaming of the Majors, Living in the Bush,” which is being developed into an independent film.

He stopped by KCAW during a cruise ship call in Sitka recently, and spoke with Robert Woolsey on the front porch of the Cable House:


O’Neal is now a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. This week, he’s in Birmingham, Alabama attending the National Negro League Reunion.

Segregated baseball, by the way, continued until the recent past. The South Texas league where O’Neal played lasted until the 70’s. The Gulf Coast League played its last games in 1986.

Cypress String Quartet

Thu, 2014-06-26 16:59

One of the founding members of the Cypress String Quartet, cellist Jennifer Kloetzel, and Sitka Summer Music Festival director Zuill Bailey visit the KCAW studio to talk about
Schubert and the quartet’s upcoming performance.


Americorps team in Ketchikan for community service

Thu, 2014-06-26 09:53

A team of six AmeriCorps NCCC volunteers are in Ketchikan clearing a new paintball field for Ketchikan Youth Initiative. The team members talked about their experience with AmeriCorps and Ketchikan.


Trial opens in Native language voting lawsuit

Thu, 2014-06-26 00:09

ANCHORAGE — A federal trial began this week in a voting rights lawsuit filed by several Alaska villages, alleging the state has failed to provide accurate, complete translations of voting materials into Native languages.

State officials denied voting rights to Alaskans with limited English proficiency because voting information lacked Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Gwich’in translations, according to the lawsuit filed last year on behalf of four Native villages and elders with limited English skills.

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Bethel council releases investigation on manager

Thu, 2014-06-26 00:09

BETHEL — The city of Bethel has released results of an investigation into city contracts and nepotism that led to the firing of its city manager last month.

The Bethel City Council in March paid an outside law firm $40,000 to conduct the investigation. The results, which detailed improperly awarded contracts, special agreements and violations of nepotism rules, chronicled mismanagement on the part of former manager Lee Foley and questioned some city policies, KYUK reported.

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State plans meetings on Ambler road despite village objections

Thu, 2014-06-26 00:09

NOME — Residents of an Alaska village are boycotting two days of meetings being conducted by a state agency to discuss a 220-mile road to the Ambler Mining District.

Second Chief PJ Simon said community members did not believe their sentiments were adequately taken into account when the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority held a road meeting in the village of Allakaket last year, Nome radio station KNOM reported.

The road proposal is also drawing protests from other villages in the Koyukuk region.

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Years of research reveal more about iconic orcas

Thu, 2014-06-26 00:09

SEATTLE — Scientists studying Puget Sound orcas for the past decade now know they are among the most contaminated marine mammals, with pollutants particularly high in young killer whales, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration summarizes a decade of research findings that reveal the mysterious lives of a small population of endangered killer whales that frequents the inland waters of Washington state.

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