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Southeast Alaska News

Breakwater next step for Seward's development

Mon, 2014-06-23 00:00

ANCHORAGE — The City of Seward is ready to jumpstart development that has been decades in the making.

When Gov. Sean Parnell signed the fiscal year 2015 capital budget May 28, Seward was officially awarded $5.9 million from the state to complete its breakwater and begin full-scale work on what the city calls the Seward Marine Industrial Center.

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Removing the marks of a troubled past

Sun, 2014-06-22 00:08

ANCHORAGE — Last winter, Mikel Sawyer, 29, was living in a jail cell when he heard a close friend had been shot and killed in an encounter with Anchorage police. Raised in Southern California, Sawyer had been in and out of juvenile facilities and jail since he was 14.

After running from charges in California, he’d ended up in Alaska. Here, he got into more trouble for theft while addicted to alcohol and methamphetamine. After news of the death, grief and rage consumed him. He couldn’t see outside of it, and he wanted to send a message to the world.

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Panel: Don Young violated US House ethics

Sun, 2014-06-22 00:08

JUNEAU — The House Ethics Committee has found that U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska violated House rules by using campaign funds for personal trips and accepting improper gifts.

The committee called on the Republican to repay the value of the trips and gifts, totaling about $59,000, to his campaign and the donors, and to amend his financial disclosure statements to include gifts he had not reported. The committee also issued a “letter of reproval,” or rebuke.

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Convicted killer says he has 3 more victims

Sun, 2014-06-22 00:07

ANCHORAGE — Authorities in Alaska said Friday they are investigating claims by a confessed Anchorage killer that he is responsible for three additional deaths, for a total of five victims.

Joshua Wade, who is serving a life sentence, agreed to provide information on the additional killings in exchange for a transfer to a federal prison outside Alaska, authorities representing federal, state and police agencies said at a briefing for reporters. Asked why the transfer was wanted, Assistant Attorney General John Novak said that was a question for Wade to answer.

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Family alleges school district knew of sex abuse

Sun, 2014-06-22 00:07

FAIRBANKS — The family of a student who authorities say wore a hidden microphone to obtain a tutor’s purported sex-abuse confession has sued the school district, saying it failed to protect the boy from the instructor.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District should have identified the warning signs, the suit filed Friday claimed. District officials didn’t immediately respond to a message left Saturday on the district’s general line.

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Nuchalawoyya celebrated in Tanana

Sun, 2014-06-22 00:06

TANANA — The long blade of Cliff Wiehl’s paper trimmer arced downward through strip after strip of dried salmon, filling the air with a rhythmic slicing noise. The measured swishing of the blade fused with a chorus of voices and the joyful screams of children sharing the lawn where Wiehl worked.

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JDHS grad takes command of brigade

Sun, 2014-06-22 00:05

Juneau’s own Lt. Col. Andrew Koloski has worked his way up the Army’s ranks since graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1988, and now he’s commanding a group of soldiers a little larger than a tenth of the population in Alaska’s capital city.

Koloski is taking the reigns of the 2nd brigade, 4th infantry division, otherwise known as the “Warhorse Brigade,” that is home to some 3,400 soldiers. It’s his third command; the first was a 64-man tank company, and his second was a training squadron about half the size of the Warhorse Brigade.

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Arts Council picked for New Pathways program

Fri, 2014-06-20 15:02

The Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council is one of 10 Alaska art organizations chosen for a three-year program aimed at teaching the groups how to keep up with changes in their communities, in order to remain relevant into the future.


The New Pathways Alaska news release announcing participants of this new venture describes it as an “adaptive change” program that helps arts organizations “accelerate the adoption of ‘next practices’ in the field.”


Here is Ketchikan’s Arts Council’s Executive Director, Kathleen Light, explaining what adaptive change means:

“Being adaptive to what your economy is doing, you’re your community is doing, what’s happening socially or politically within your community, how are you adaptive and able to ride the wave,” she said. “I like to think of it as evolving with your community.”

And if all goes well, they’ll learn how over three years. That’s how long the program lasts, and it will involve at least a couple Arts Council employees plus some board members.

New Pathways Alaska is a new project, organized jointly by the Rasmuson Foundation, Foraker Group and Alaska State Council on the Arts, along with the New York-based EmcArts.

The program is free to the chosen organizations. Light said there will be some meetings they have to travel to attend – paid for by the program.

“And then we have virtual meetings, which our whole entire board can participate in,” she said. “And then we’ll have visits from EmcArts and probably Foraker. And everybody can participate in that.

“Those are the things where everybody gets to learn a little bit and that where I think the value comes in, because we can all spread our knowledge throughout the community with the other organizations, with everybody. We can just disseminate what we’re getting and put it out there.

“I’m thrilled. I’m so excited that we were selected.”

Light said everyone had one month’s notice to apply for the program, which means the organizations chosen already had to be moving in the right direction. She said Ketchikan’s arts council has been adapting to community needs. That’s why the nonprofit recently added an education coordinator position to the staff.

Light hopes that the New Pathways program will enhance what’s in place. And she can already envision it: “If the Arts Council is successful in touching every community member with art, or allowing art to be accessible to every community member, what does Ketchikan look like in 20 years? Isn’t that cool?”

She quickly added that art already is available to everyone in Ketchikan, but they’re not always aware of that fact.

In addition to teaching how to create innovative, adaptive, relevant programming, New Pathways Alaska provides grant funding to help pay for it.

“In year 2, there’s a little bit of funding to take some baby steps with innovative incubation, so developing our innovative programming,” she said.

Then in year three, there’s a chance to receive a $75,000 grant to further develop those innovative programs.

The end result, it’s hoped, are arts organizations so in tune with the communities they serve, that their sustainability is not even a question.

“Sustainability is part of being relevant, right? If you are not sustainable, you’re certainly not relevant. The two go hand in hand,” she said. “If you aren’t sustainable, your programming probably isn’t relevant; and if you aren’t relevant, then you aren’t evolving with your community.”

And, Light said she’s happy to share the information with other nonprofit organizations in Ketchikan, to help them evolve and remain relevant, as well.

Other groups picked as the first participants of the new venture are the Alaska Humanities Forum, Alaska Native Heritage Center, Alutiiq Museum, Anchorage Concert Association, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, the Sitka-based Island Institute, Kodiak Arts Council, Juneau’s Perseverance Theatre and the Haines-based Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center.

Jazz Combo live on Straight No Chaser

Fri, 2014-06-20 14:23

The Sitka Fine Arts Camp Jazz Combo class stopped by the station during Straight No Chaser. Who knew we could squeeze that many students into the air room! They played a few tunes, and sounded fantastic. There will be many great performances happening with the Fine Arts Camp Students coming up, so check out the whole schedule at the Fine Arts Camp Website.

Backdoor Cafe changes hands

Fri, 2014-06-20 13:10

“This is people’s office, home away from home, living room, den, social place,” says Jeff Budd of the Backdoor Cafe, pictured here days before it changed hands. “It is part of the social fabric here.” (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

This week marked the changing of the guard at a downtown Sitka institution. After eighteen years, the Backdoor Café is in new hands.

The new owners say the new Backdoor will be the same as the old Backdoor — only better.


A line stretched out the door of the Backdoor Cafe on June 13, 2014 — the last Friday before longtime owners Bernadette Rasmussen and Darryl Rehkopf handed over the reins. (KCAW photo / Rachel Waldholz)

PETERSON: My name’s Alana Peterson, I’m from Sitka, 28 years old, mom of one…

…and the proud new owner of Sitka’s Backdoor Cafe.

Peterson and her husband, Jose Figueroa, officially took over the Backdoor on June 15. Which means they are now the custodians of a space that many Sitkans regard as their second living room.

KCAW: How often do you think you come down to the Backdoor?

BUDD: How often do I come down…lately it’s a couple, three times a week, but in the past it’s been every day, maybe a couple times  a day

WINSLOW: Some weeks it’s kind of every day, and sometimes it’s only a couple times a week…

SCHAFER: For a while, probably once a day, Monday through Friday [[laughs]]…

Those are Backdoor patrons Jeff Budd, Kathryn Winslow and Brooke Schafer. As Budd says, the coffee shop plays an outsize role in the daily lives of many Sitkans.

“This is people’s office, home away from home, living room, den, social place, tons of business takes place here, great conversations,” Budd says. “Yeah, it is part of the social fabric here.”

And so people are wondering — are the new owners planning any big changes?

“No, no,” Peterson says. “I grew up here and I have fond memories of this place growing up, so the last thing I want to do is [make] drastic changes. My plan of course at the beginning is to try and just keep everything as up to par and the same as it has been with Bernadette.”

That would be Bernadette Rasmussen, who with her husband, Darryl Rehkopf, has owned the Backdoor for the better part of two decades. Along the way, Bernadette — and her baking — have become Sitka institutions.

“But we do have some ideas for how we can grow it,” Peterson says.

Peterson says she’d like to keep the Backdoor open more often in the evenings. She’s interested in holding events with Old Harbor Books, which shares the building, and in holding art classes. But her first priority is to keep things rolling along much as they always have.

She says that when she decided to buy the Backdoor, she knew she needed two things.

“You know, we can’t keep Bernadette,” Peterson says. “So since she’s leaving, I need the staff and I need those recipes.  And those are both things that are going to stay in the immediate future.”

Peterson says that when her mother told her the Backdoor was for sale, she didn’t hesitate. She has an MBA, and her day job is economic development coordinator at Haa Aani, the Sealaska subsidiary. She says owning a small business has always been the goal.

“I always knew I’d do this, so it’s not too scary. I love business, and I want to run a business,” Peterson says. “I’m a risk taker and I love new adventures, so, yeah, I’m really excited.”

As for Bernadette, she preferred not to talk about leaving: She’s letting eighteen years behind the counter speak for themselves.

Learn to enjoy your garden on the Garden Show!

Fri, 2014-06-20 13:02

This week on the Garden Show, Kitty and Mollie talk about all the different ways to enjoy your garden. It’s a journey through the senses! Tune in this Saturday from 5:30-6pm on Raven Radio.

School Board approves new K-8 math programs

Fri, 2014-06-20 12:23

The Sitka School Board voted Tuesday night (6-17-14) to adopt new math curricula for grades K-8.  The change was prompted by Alaska’s switch to new statewide standards.

The new standards call for introducing concepts anywhere from one to two years ahead of when they are taught now. The switch will require some adjustment, said Superintendent Mary Wegner.

“Because the common core is a grade and a half above what the current Alaska [grade level expectations] are…we have students that in a year are going to have to make a huge jump,” Wegner said.

The district has chosen two new programs to align itself with the new standards. In kindergarten through fifth grade, classrooms will use a curriculum called enVisionMATH. Grades six through eight will adopt a program called Math in Focus. Sitka High School has decided not to change its math instruction next year; the high school’s current programs were adopted more recently, and are already in line with the new standards.

The switch was over a year in the making, said Lyle Sparrowgrove, a former Blatchley Middle School and Sitka High School math teacher and administrator who ran the process for the district. A committee of teachers, parents and administrators previewed materials for more than a dozen different programs, and eventually chose three to pilot in each school this spring.

Sparrowgrove said Blatchley teachers were especially excited about Math in Focus, which is based on a program used in Singapore. The curriculum is more challenging than the new standards require. But, Sparrowgrove said, teachers love it.

“The middle school would not get away from Math in Focus,” he said. “We couldn’t drive them away from it.”

He was echoed by Roxann Gagner, a social studies teacher at Blatchley who also has two children at the middle school. Gagner said that initially, she preferred a different math program.

“But every math teacher at Blatchley praised the Singapore math,” she said. “So I’m actually really excited for that math program to come to Blatchley, and both of my children will be in those programs.”

The district will spend up to $332,585 this year to make the change. That will cover the cost of textbooks and materials, and also includes up to $120,000 to hire a trainer to help teachers adapt to the new curricula. The money will come out of the district’s reserve fund.

School board member Cass Pook said that she remembers the last time the school district made a big change in math instruction – and it made her nervous.

“I’m thinking back on when integrated math was adopted, and the pros and cons of that. And the board got hammered for it,” Pook said. “So, I know that you guys have done your homework…and I’m trusting you that this is a good curriculum.”

In the end, Pook told committee members, “you sold me” on the new plan.

Pook voted in favor of implementing the new curricula, along with school board president Lon Garrison, and member Tim Fulton. Board members Jennifer Robinson and Tonia Rioux were absent.

Sitka schools will start teaching from the new programs in September. The first statewide tests based on the new standards will be administered in April 2015.

Sparrowgrove said that choosing the curricula is just the beginning.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said. “These are quality programs. It’ll all depend on quality staff doing a quality job. I’m excited about them doing that.”

“The standards are ramped up,”  he added. “It’s a different world. Little bit of different world.”



Solstice Cruise tonight!

Fri, 2014-06-20 11:20

KCAW general manager Ken Fate and development director Amy Kramer Johnson visit the studio to talk about the station’s Solstice Cruise, happening on Friday night, June 20, 2014. The annual cruise is a fundraiser for the station, and features catered food from the Pub, a cash bar, live music from Arsenic and Lace and Regal Cheese and the promise of spectacular scenery and wildlife.


Open mic focuses on cultural respect

Fri, 2014-06-20 08:55

Members of Cultural Respect Embracing the World (CREW) join KRBD to talk about their upcoming “United As One” open mic, which invites people to share songs, poems, or anything related to their cultural background. The event is Saturday, June 21 at 7 p.m. at the Saxman Tribal House.


Southeast lands $6.7M in PILT payments

Fri, 2014-06-20 00:07

Twenty-nine boroughs and municipalities across the Last Frontier are receiving some $28.5 million in Payment-in-Lieu of Taxes money from the federal Department of the Interior.

Juneau is getting $1.9 million of that, and the rest of Southeast Alaska will split about $4.8 million.

The PILT program is designed to reimburse local governments for the lost property tax value from tax-exempt, federally-owned property within their jurisdiction. As a whole, Alaska has more than 255 million acres of qualifying land.

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Police identify victim in Glenn Highway crash

Fri, 2014-06-20 00:06

ANCHORAGE — Anchorage police say the person killed in a crash of a pickup Wednesday on the Glenn Highway was a 37-year-old Wasilla woman.

Police say Cherilyn Ann Buhler died in the rollover accident.

Police just before 11:30 a.m. took a call on the crash north of Eklutna on the northern edge of Anchorage.

Four people were in the truck.

Buhler died at the scene.

One person was taken in critical condition by helicopter to a hospital. Two others were transported by ambulance with what police say were non-life-threatening injuries.

Gov. Parnell calls Fleener comments 'tall tale'

Fri, 2014-06-20 00:05

Republican Gov. Sean Parnell is calling for a public correction from Lt. Gov.-hopeful Craig Fleener after Fleener wrote in an Anchorage Daily News op-ed that Parnell was an unexpected “no show” at an Anchorage-area conference last week.

The event was put on by the National Congress of American Indians, and Parnell’s office says the governor had informed organizers ahead of time that he would not be attending due to a family scheduling conflict.

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Council OKs coliform study, talks filtration

Thu, 2014-06-19 22:27

The Ketchikan City Council on Thursday approved a $31,000 contract with consulting firm CH2MHill to continue studying the coliform problem at Ketchikan Lakes, the city’s source of tap water. But, one Council member asked management to also compile information about what it would take to get a filtration plant.

For years, Ketchikan Lakes tested fine for coliform. But in 2011, there was a sudden spike, and the levels haven’t gone down. A big problem with that is, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has strict rules about coliform. If the city can’t get the levels down, it’s going to be forced to filter.
The city isn’t worried about its ability to treat water that has high levels of coliform; it’s what happens if the system fails. And that’s something Ketchikan has a little experience with.
Here is Water Division Manager John Kleinegger, speaking to the Council: “Back in 1984, you remember, when you went out to the Carlanna Area, it was about the color of weak tea, and the disinfection process there was not really sufficient and there were over 200 people that were sick.”
That incident prompted the city to stop using Carlanna Lake as a water source.
Council Member Bob Sivertsen noted that the city has a known problem with its water at Ketchikan Lakes, and is moving forward with the study in order to see what could be done to fix it.
“But, having seen all this going forward, one of the things I would like to see at some point is for our management, our water division, over the next couple of months, to look at what filtration would look like for us,” he said.
City Manager Karl Amylon said he can do that.
Amylon also talked about the city’s new chloramine treatment system, which he stressed is unrelated to the coliform issue.
The city recently started using chloramine – a mixture of chlorine and ammonia – to treat its water in order to reduce levels of EPA-regulated byproducts. Those byproducts form when chlorine comes in contact with organic material.
Amylon said the first test results are in. The byproducts now are below the thresholds, but it’s close. Too close. As the weather warms up, he said the levels likely will rise, so they’ve come up with a plan that they hope will keep the numbers down.
“We’re gonna reduce the amount of chlorine on the front end and make it up on the back end,” he said. “By doing that, it’s less time for the chlorine to react with the organics. We put it back it … at approximately the area of chloramination. That could drop us down even more than where we are now.”
Also during the meeting, the Council deferred a motion to use $183,000 worth of reserves to help pay for increased employee health insurance costs. Council members asked Amylon to come back with suggested budget cuts instead of dipping into reserves.
Amylon warned that they might not like his suggestions.
“I can recommend a series of cuts, but I know going into that exercise that those cuts are probably not going to be endorsed by the Council because I’ve recommended them in the past and the Council has not signed off,” he said.
Council Member DeAnn Karlson said, maybe he could provide more options than in the past for the Council to consider.
The Council also deferred action on a compensation plan that would increase salary costs to the city. It will come back to the Council during budget time in the fall.
During Council comments at the end of the meeting, Council Member Matt Olsen suggested that the city place an item on the next city-borough cooperative relations committee meeting agenda that would offer ballot initiatives transferring library, solid waste, museum, civic center and harbor powers to the borough.
Olsen’s proposal was prompted by a recent controversy over borough funding for the city-run library.
Amylon clarified what transferring those powers could mean.
“If you’re asking the borough to assume those powers on an areawide basis, all of the assets as well as the liability would go,” he explained. “So in the case of the library, it would be the debt; in the case of solid waste, it would be solid waste reserves that would go with them. Same with the harbors.”
Olsen’s suggestion received the support of four Council members, so it will go to the committee for discussion.

Parnell gives update on various local projects

Thu, 2014-06-19 15:29

Governor Sean Parnell was in Ketchikan early this week, and while his main purpose was to sign SB99 – a bill authorizing loans to help area mine projects – the governor touched on other local projects, as well.


Parnell told a Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce audience that he likes to focus on creating opportunity, and one of the ways to do that is to provide access to resources. Roads, for example. The Shelter Cove Road, to be specific.

“I’ve been told by DOT that regardless of the Forest Service timber sale in 2015, the road as a state-funded project, will provide access for recreation, for subsistence, fishing, boating, more,” he said.

The Shelter Cove Road project would result in about 10 miles of new, single-lane, unpaved road and bridges; plus an upgrade to existing logging roads and the White River Road. The new road would connect the main road system in Ketchikan to Shelter Cove in Carroll Inlet.

Parnell gave a progress update on the road.

“We purchased the White River Road from Cape Fox Village Corp.,” he said. “We had a contractor out there resurfacing that road. That first segment, that’s going to be done this summer. That’s about five miles. The next piece is another five-mile section on Mental Health Trust land, and we just signed the agreement last week to reconstruct it as a public highway.”

The state has obtained easements, and is working on Army Corp of Engineers permits for the remainder. Parnell said construction could start as early as this fall.

In other transportation news, this year’s North Tongass Highway reconstruction is done now, and the airport runways have been repaved. The state also is taking on replacement of the city’s Water Street trestle.

“That was last reconstructed in the 1970s. It’s had a long, useful life, but it’s time to rebuild it,” Parnell said. “Design is moving forward. If the schedule holds, that two-year project will be on the street in 2015.”

Parnell also talked about the Ketchikan Shipyard, which received $1 million from the state this year. He added that the Alaska Marine Highway System headquarters will remain in Ketchikan.

“We’ve made that permanent. We did it through the purchase of the veneer plant and centralizing offices there,” he said. “It anchors the Marine Highway headquarters in Ketchikan. That’s where it outta be, that’s where it’s going to stay.”

In answer to an audience member’s question about the status of AMHS’s Alaska Class Ferry project, Parnell said that project is still under negotiation between the state and the shipyard. As long as Ketchikan’s shipyard is able stay within the $120 million budget, he says the two ships will be built here.

SEAPA testing leads to brief power outage

Thu, 2014-06-19 14:29

A brief power outage Thursday was caused by a crew error at the Swan Lake Hydroelectric Facility.

Ketchikan Public Utilities Electric Division operates the dam, but it’s owned by the Southeast Alaska Power Agency, or SEAPA.

KPU Electric Manager Andy Donato says that an engineer working for SEAPA was conducting some tests at the dam related to a new computer operating system. The engineer accidentally tripped the machine, and Donato says that knocked out power to pretty much the entire KPU system, starting at about 11 a.m.

Donato says KPU crews quickly fired up the diesel generators and started bringing areas back on line. The last customers had power back by about 12:10 p.m. Swan Lake was brought back on line by early afternoon.

Wrangell also experienced a power outage, lasting about 30 minutes, according to KSTK Radio. KFSK Radio in Petersburg reports that there wasn’t an outage there, but Steve Henson, operations manager for SEAPA, says the entire SEAPA system was affected, some areas more than others.

SEAPA provides power to Wrangell and Petersburg in addition to Ketchikan. The communities are linked through an intertie.

Henson says the engineer working on the system took precautions, but sometime things happen when working on a live system. Henson says they will try to plan better to make sure another outage doesn’t occur.

Donato says that KPU could switch Ketchikan to diesel generators during testing, so that any future errors would not affect the local system.