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Southeast Alaska News

Hearing addresses string of Alaska inmate deaths

Thu, 2014-07-17 00:07

ANCHORAGE — A state legislative hearing to address a recent string of Alaska inmate deaths prompted a call for legislation to establish a third-party independent review of such deaths.

Top officials with the state Department of Corrections attended the hearing on Tuesday to answer for the deaths of five young inmates at state correctional institutions between April and June, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Spectators included mental health advocates, families of dead inmates and correctional officers.

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Background checks for volunteer chaperones

Wed, 2014-07-16 21:26

The Lady Kings land in Ketchikan after a three-day trip to Sitka.

Ketchikan High School students are travelers. They travel for sports, music, student government. Before now, volunteer chaperones did not have to go through any official screening before accompanying students on overnight trips. Starting this school year, that won’t be the case.


The Ketchikan School Board Wednesday night approved required background checks for volunteer chaperones on overnight school-sponsored trips. The policy recommendation came from the newly formed Student Safety Committee.

“I believe in having the safest environment for our students as we can and if this is just another tool for that, I’m in favor of it,” Board member Ralph Beardsworth said.

The entire board agreed that student safety is the main priority. But there were some questions.

“I’d like to know how we’re paying for it,” said Board member Colleen Scanlon.  “And if it ain’t broke why change it? We’ve been doing school sponsored trips for a hundred years and have not required background checks and now all of a sudden we are?”

Superintendent Robert Boyle said the details of exactly how much the background checks will cost and what funds the district will use to pay for them are not certain. He said most of the chaperones on students trips are school employees, who have already gone through background checks. He guessed there might be around 30 or 40 volunteer chaperones each year who would need to be screened.

“The cost of the security check ranges to about $100 up to in the hundreds of dollars,” school district HR manager Rick Rafter said. “It all depends on how many last names they’ve had and how many places they’ve lived.”

One other question Scanlon posed: will background checks make it more difficult to get volunteers to chaperone school trips?

“If somebody doesn’t want to go on a trip because they’re worried or don’t want to take a background check, I don’t want that person traveling with at least my kid,” Timmerman said.

The rest of the Board agreed in the end. They unanimously voted to accept the policy update and decided to not bring it up for a second reading.

The Board also accepted two state-funded grants. The Digital Teaching Initiative Grant for more than $800,000 is meant to connect Ketchikan’s online classes with school districts on Prince of Wales Island and in Metlakatla. The Obesity Prevention and Control Grant of $150,000 funds more health-related positions for the district, including a PE teacher and wellness coordinator. Both of those grants are spread out over three years.

Shannon Sines is the new school district curriculum director, and James Sines is the new assistant principal at Houghtaling.

Three new school district staff introduced themselves at the meeting – Shannon Sines is the new curriculum director, her husband James Sines is assistant principal at Houghtaling Elementary School, and Ketchikan High School alum Adam Thompson is the business manager.

Adam Thompson, a Kayhi alum, is the new school district business manager.

Also, three new teaching contracts were approved. Darby Mainardi at Point Higgins Elementary, Peter Stanton at KIC Tribal Scholars, and Elizabeth Hanson at Tongass School of Arts and Sciences.

The next School Board meeting is scheduled for August 13th.

State road projects in Sitka at $70-million and climbing

Wed, 2014-07-16 18:14

While Halibut Point Road repaving remains stalled, crews are beginning the $2-million project on Harbor Drive. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The state has spent nearly $70-million on transportation projects in Sitka over the last five years, and there’s more on the way.

Al Clough is the southeast regional director for the state Department of Transportation. He spoke to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (7-16-14).

Clough tallied up projects going back to the roundabout: The airport runway extension at $24-million, runway paving at $12-million, Sawmill Creek Road also $12-million, Halibut Point Road — including two new bridges — $20-million, and Harbor Drive from the roundabout to the runway — which is just getting started — at $2-million.

And coming up next, a $12-million gravel road extension from Starrigavan to Katlian Bay.

Al Clough says that Halibut Point Road will be done by the end of the summer. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

“The concept there is to construct a single-lane road at low-volume standards, with inter-visible turnouts, to provide recreational access, also access to the rock source that’s in upper Katlian Bay. And potentially be the start of a public roadway network headed in that direction.”

The Katlian Bay road will link the Sitka road system to land owned by Shee Atika, Inc., Sitka’s urban Native Corporation. It will consist of six miles of new construction, and two miles of rehabilitated Forest Service road — open in summer only.

There’s $400,000 in state transportation bonds available to design the project this year. Clough says he’s retained an engineering firm specializing in mountain roads for the project.

“I try to explain Southeast Alaska road building to people who aren’t familiar with the terrain here. The best explanation I can come up with is that it’s like building roads in the mountains, except we don’t have a pass. Our roads are predominantly built along shorelines for the obvious reasons, but we have all the challenges of building through the mountains, it’s just that we don’t have to go up in the high country.”

The Katlian Bay road, plus $900,000 for completion of Sitka’s Cross Trail, are already on the books for the coming year — in a document called the STIP, or Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan.

STIP is a list of realities; another department document, called the Long-Range Transportation Plan, is more about dreams.

Clough discussed Sitka’ most durable transportation vision: a road across the island to either Rodman Bay or Baranof Warm Springs.

“When you start comparing the costs of a completed hard link to a 40 mph standard to Rodman, then you look at what it would cost to punch a tunnel through the mountain — you know, it’s a plan. It’s worth talking about. And we’re looking for feedback.”

A member of the Chamber audience pressed Clough about whether the state should incentivize local hire, given the amount of work happening in Sitka. Clough responded that contractors for marine projects tended to be from out of town, and contractors for road projects tended to be local. He said he had no authority to enforce local hire. Rather, his job was to “get the best value for Alaskans possible.”

Federal agents blow up explosives at Petersburg’s rock pit

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:42

Federal agents destroyed over 50 pounds of an explosive in Petersburg’s rock pit behind the community’s airport Wednesday afternoon. It was a blast that shook some homes and had residents wondering whether an earthquake had struck. The explosives were rounded up by authorities this week after a 59-year-old Petersburg man injured himself in a blast at the rock pit on Sunday.
The blast was large enough to shake a camera on the far side of the large rock pit and felt by residents in town a mile or two away. A small gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officers, along with volunteer fire fighters and media representatives watched the dust settle afterwards.

Brennan Phillips, an explosives enforcement officer with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Seattle field division, said agents recovered over 50 pounds of an explosive called Tovex, along with electric detonators and cord. “Tovex is really a very safe commercial blasting explosive. It really replaces dynamite. Dynamite is still made for specialty applications. Largely what would have been done 80 years ago with dynamite is now done with tovex. Doesn’t have the nitroglycerin in it, it’s safer to handle, it’s cheaper to produce. It’s cheaper for the industry as well.”

Phillips said possessing the explosives requires a license and the material has strict storage standards. Authorities do not know how old the explosives were. “So one interesting thing about that explosives is it had been removed from its cartridges,” Phillips said. “So there is a requirement for explosives to have what we call a date ship code, that’s part of the explosive law and of course ATF administers that law. And those containers had been removed with basically the description and the date ship codes.”

The agents also burned up what they called “a large amount” of smokeless powder they recovered. It can be used to make improvised explosive devices.

Phillips and other ATF officers were in town, along with an detection dog, and agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They were assisting the local police department in investigating Sunday’s unexpected blast. Phillips said they searched for additional explosives. “We conducted through our investigation, searched the areas that we thought needed to be searched. We searched a number of areas. We brought a fair amount of resources into Petersburg here to work with the local police department. I’ll defer to the police department on some of that but I think we’ve done a good thorough check.”

Agents get a closer look at some blasting cord and pipe hanging from the rock wall of the pit Wednesday, after they’d detonated other explosive material. They did not find any additional explosives in that spot.

Sunday’s blast injured a 59-year-old Petersburg man. Police declined to identify him. However, they were searching a home and property owned by 59-year-old Mark Weaver. Petersburg police chief Kelly Swihart said Sunday’s blast occurred in the same rock pit. “The initial detonation was down here by this pile of sand from what we can tell. And the victim was able to drive himself to the hospital. We found more explosives in the truck, determined they were fairly stable probably and made the decision to bring them back here and secure it here because we wanted to make sure everything was in one central location as much as possible.”

Police pointed out what they think was the site of the initial explosion with some remaining clumps of the gelatinous substance along with what appears to be blood stains from the victim.

Swihart said some material was recovered from the vehicle, some residue from the explosion site, and the bulk of the explosives were recovered when officers served a search warrant on property on Cornelius Road about two miles south of downtown. “We don’t have any indication that he was trying to hurt anyone else. There’s some indication that he was trying to hurt himself and there’s some indication that it could have been an accident. So we’re still trying to piece all that together but you know there’s a lot of rumors flying around and we’ve done some precautionary checks with the bomb dog from ATF but we don’t have any indication that he was trying to hurt anyone but possibly himself.”

Swihart did not know if any laws were broken in possessing the explosives.
:22 “The explosives that they’ve identified tentatively the tovex is commercially available and if you’ve got the proper permits and licenses in place you can possess that. And I’m not sure if this individual has those or not the ATF is still researching that. But if there’s a crime here it’s how they were put together and how they were used and that’s what they’re trying to figure out.”

Swihart is not sure how long the investigation will take.

To fish, or not to fish

Wed, 2014-07-16 15:09

The Ketchikan City Council meets Thursday, and among the topics on the agenda is a discussion about fishing off the Stedman Street Bridge, and whether to regulate that activity.


Stedman Street Bridge is a convenient location for salmon fishing. It’s right above Ketchikan Creek, and it’s right downtown, so you don’t even have to drive anywhere to drop a line.

Byron Charles has been fishing there every summer for 20-plus years.

“I think we’re going to see a pretty good run of dog salmon. More dog salmon and probably a lot of humpies this year than anything else,” he said. “The average dog right now weighs about 10 pounds, and that’s pretty huge for a dog salmon.”

So it’s a great place to fish. But, the area also is teeming with cruise ship passengers, which means thousands of tourists stroll along the same sidewalk where fishermen fling sharp hooks and clean their catch.

Citing those issues, in 1999, the City of Ketchikan very briefly banned fishing from the Stedman Street Bridge. But, immediate public outcry led to a quick reversal of that decision – the ban lasted less than two weeks.

Now, though, 15 years later, the issue is back in front of the Ketchikan City Council. It was prompted by an email from resident Ken Arriola, who was concerned about public safety.

Arriola declined to be interviewed for this story, but in his email to the Council, he writes that the bridge has become a QUOTE “bottle-neck chaos,” complete with discarded fish guts and sometimes salty language.

But, there aren’t that many official complaints

“For the most part, we only go down there a few times a year for actual complaints involving the fishermen,” said Ketchikan Police Department Deputy Chief Josh Dossett.

He said the complaints usually are about dead fish on the sidewalk, although there was a more serious problem a few years ago, when one of the fishermen harassed people on kayak tours that went under the bridge.

“But the kayakers don’t go up the creek anymore, so we haven’t had that for several years,” he said.

Back on the bridge, his line trailing in the creek below, Charles said he doesn’t believe the City Council would outright ban fishing from the creek.

“I don’t think bureaucracy is going to overpower what’s been here in providing a service for the community. I can’t see them taking that away,” he said.

One of the concerns is congestion: The fishermen take up space, and then there’s their stuff, taking up space, too, leaving a narrow walkway for pedestrians. Charles said he’d be amenable to regulations about keeping gear off the sidewalk.

“If you take a look, they most recently completed adding on to some parts of the bridge and walkway,” he said. “Like that area there, for example, they could use that for people storing their equipment.”

Charles was pointing to one of the areas designated for people to stand and look down at the creek as a possible storage site. He added that some young entrepreneur could make a buck or two watching the fishermen’s gear.

As far as police are concerned, Deputy Chief Dossett said the department isn’t taking a position on the issue.

“We try to stay pretty neutral when it comes to doing those kinds of things,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that fish down there, and based on our experience – it hasn’t caused us a great deal of issues, but it’s pretty clear there are people who are pretty passionate about it here in town.”

Council Member Marty West placed the bridge fishing issue on the Council’s agenda just for discussion. She said she knows it probably won’t be a popular move, but that seems to be her specialty.

“People ask me to bring up unpopular causes, and I do. This is my latest one,” she said. “Someone asked me to bring it up for discussion and I said sure. I’m not even sure what my opinion is on it. I’m interested to hear what other people think. If there’s a good reason to ask people not to fish off the bridge, so be it. If not, so be that.”

The City Council on Thursday also will consider a contract with Three Dog Construction to demolish the raptor center portion of the Deer Mountain Hatchery. That city-owned building was operated by Ketchikan Indian Community, but the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association is taking over. Part of the operating agreement was removal of KIC’s former raptor area.

The Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.

Alaskan leading Arctic discussion

Wed, 2014-07-16 13:15

Alaska will be represented by one of its own as the nation pushes ahead with Arctic policy development and planning. It was announced Wednesday that Fran Ulmer has been appointed as a special adviser to the Secretary of State.

While she describes the role as a “slight expansion” of her current duties as chairwoman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, it could have big ramifications for Alaska as America is poised to assume the chairmanship of the international Arctic Council next year.

read more

Girl Scouts’ “Wash Away Hunger” event Saturday

Wed, 2014-07-16 12:31

Allison Winger and Ariana Strickland from Girl Scout Troop 4140 talk about their upcoming “Wash Away Hunger” fundraiser. The scouts will be holding a car wash at the Fire Hall on Saturday, July 19, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.


Money raised at the event will go toward the purchase of three Caroline’s Carts, one for each of Sitka’s grocery stores. The carts are designed to accommodate children with special needs. The Girl Scouts will also be accepting food donations for the Salvation Army food pantry, which is running low on donations. For more information, or to volunteer, call 738-2073.



Wed, 2014-07-16 12:00

Information on the medical center expansion, the “No One Dies Alone” program, and volunteer opportunities with CEO Ken Tonjes, Chaplain Sister Arnedene and Community Relations Specialist Marty West.  PHKMC

UAS Ketchikan Report

Wed, 2014-07-16 09:00

Associate Professor Bill Urquhart speaks about how Bachelor of Liberal Arts or Social Science degrees can help prepare those interested in becoming teachers.  UAS071614

Arbitrator: Guard should not have been fired

Wed, 2014-07-16 00:02

ANCHORAGE — A guard on duty the night a serial killing suspect committed suicide in an Alaska prison should not have been fired, an arbitrator found.

Loren Jacobsen was fired weeks after Israel Keyes was found dead in his cell on Dec. 2, 2012, at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Keyes had slit his wrist with a razor that another guard mistakenly gave him and also strangled himself with a makeshift noose.

Keyes was being held on federal charges involving the death of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig.

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Official: Tie between gas project, referendum

Wed, 2014-07-16 00:02

JUNEAU — The decision Alaska voters make on an oil-tax referendum next month could have implications for a proposed liquefied natural gas project, the senior project manager said Tuesday, a point deemed a scare tactic by one state lawmaker.

In an interview, manager Steve Butt said the state and companies that hold leases have a shared interest in making money off the resource. He said if decisions are made that benefit one party at the expense of another, it compromises the project.

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Inside the Outside dollars in the Senate race

Wed, 2014-07-16 00:02

National Republicans are spending millions in Alaska to discredit and oust democratic incumbent U.S. Sen Mark Begich, but with the control of the Senate at stake in November, they aren’t the only ones writing big checks.

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More fish for the taking at Redoubt

Tue, 2014-07-15 17:10

Sitka resident and ADF&G biologist Patrick Fowler dipnetting for sockeye at Redoubt in early July, 2014. (KCAW photo/Rebecca LaGuire)

Subsistence fishermen trekking out to Redoubt Bay near Sitka can now catch up to 25 sockeye salmon at a time. That’s up from a 10-fish limit earlier this summer.

A single household can now take home a total of one hundred subsistence sockeye over the course of the run.

Meanwhile, sport fishermen at Redoubt will see possession limits rise to six sockeye salmon, from four.

The new limits go into effect on Wednesday, July 16.

“It’s great news for everybody involved in the fishery,” said Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologist Eric Coonradt.

The management plan for Redoubt Bay calls for the higher limit when estimated escapement tops 30,000 fish – that’s the total number of sockeye that Fish & Game expects will make it back to Redoubt Lake to spawn.

As of July 14, the Forest Service had counted 8,419 sockeye passing through their weir and into Redoubt Lake. Fish & Game is confident they’ll meet their goals for returning fish, Coonradt said.

“[We have] some pretty good numbers returning,” he said. “It looks like we’re going to easily make –or we already have made — the bottom end of our escapement goal. I think that was about 7,000 fish. And it looks like we may easily make the top end of it, which is 25,000.”

This is the fourth year in a row that Fish & Game has increased the subsistence limit at Redoubt. Last year, the estimated escapement topped 40,000 fish, prompting a small commercial fishery as well.

The Redoubt sockeye run usually peaks around July 20th, Coonradt said, and generally continues into early August. In the last two years, about 250 households have fished the Redoubt run each year, taking between 4,000 and 5,000 sockeye annually.


‘Romeo’ a story of transformation, tragedy

Tue, 2014-07-15 16:14

Romeo was fully wild, but social. He often mingled with Juneau dogs. (David Wilson photo)

His name was Romeo, and his story is almost as tragic as his Shakespearian namesake’s.

Author Nick Jans has just published A Wolf Called Romeo about the black wolf which captivated Juneau residents for seven winters, before being illegally taken by a hunter in 2009.

Jans is the author of several books, and a contributing editor of Alaska Magazine. He’s been working in the state since 1979, when he traveled here with the intention of becoming a large-mammal biologist.

Jans spoke with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey about what he calls the “most transformative experience” of his life.


Nick Jans will be in Sitka this Sunday (7-20-14) signing his new book at Old Harbor books beginning at 11 AM. He’ll read selections beginning at 2 PM.

Native Jazz Quartet

Tue, 2014-07-15 15:05

Ed Littlefield and Reuel Lubag of the Native Jazz Quartet talk about their philosophy and work with the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Their summer workshop offers students a chance to approach jazz from a different angle: “We find melodies that we hold dear, melodies that we grew up with,” Littlefield says, and create jazz arrangements. This year, students are working with a traditional Tlingit lullaby, one that Littlefield learned from local elder Charlie Joseph in the 1980s.


The group applies the same principal to songs gleaned from many backgrounds.

“One of the big concepts behind the group is that you take wherever it is you’re from, whatever your background is, whatever melodies you might have grown up with, and adapt those to the style of jazz,” says Lubag. “My folks came here from the Phillipines. I don’t know a lot about Filipino culture, because they raised us to be Americans. [But] there are a couple melodies in particular that I used to hear my mom sing, and so I brought a couple of those things into the mix.”

The final student performances in the Native Jazz Workshop will be this Friday, July 18, at 7 p.m. in  Room 101 of the Rasmuson Center on the Sheldon Jackson Campus.

On Saturday, July 19, at 7 p.m., the Native Jazz Trio will perform a full-length concert with singer Dee Daniels at the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available at Old Harbor Books.

You can find more information at sitkafineartscamp.org/shows.



Official sees tie between gas project, referendum

Tue, 2014-07-15 14:13

JUNEAU — The senior project manager for a major liquefied natural gas project says the decision made on next month’s oil tax referendum could impact the project.

Steve Butt says the state and companies that hold leases have a shared interest in trying to monetize the resource in a way that works for them all. He says if decisions are made that benefit one party at the expense of another, it compromises alignment.

The state’s working with the North Slope’s major players and TransCanada Corp. in pursuing the mega-project.

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Begich reports his biggest fundraising quarter

Tue, 2014-07-15 14:12

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich brought in more than $1.26 million during the last quarter, his biggest haul so far this cycle. But his campaign spent nearly $2 million toward his re-election bid.

As of June 30, the Alaska Democrat had about $2.2 million available.

Spokesman Max Croes says a big expense has been TV and radio buys, but says the campaign is well positioned financially.

read more

Young holds cash edge in US House race

Tue, 2014-07-15 14:11

JUNEAU — Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young holds a huge cash advantage over his rivals as he seeks a 22nd term in the House.

Young brought in about $130,000 between April and June, with about $100,000 in contributions and the rest in the form of things like rebates and dividends. He ended the quarter with nearly $590,000 available.

The only other Republican candidate to file a report with the Federal Election Commission, John R. Cox, reported no contributions though he reported more cash on hand than at the end of the prior quarter, $4,300.

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Sunday is deadline to register to vote for primary

Tue, 2014-07-15 14:10

JUNEAU — Sunday is the deadline to register to vote, update voter information or change party affiliation ahead of next month’s primary.

Regional offices of the Division of Elections, in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Nome and Wasilla, will be open for voter registration from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The division says it also accepts voter registration applications submitted by mail, fax or email.

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Forest Service announces return of salmon cam

Tue, 2014-07-15 14:09

JUNEAU — Federal officials say a salmon cam in Juneau is returning for a second year.

The U.S. Forest Service is streaming live from the bottom of Juneau’s Stream Creek in the Tongass National Forest.

Officials say the cam operates around the clock. But they say there’s insufficient light during some hours, so the best times for viewing are between 4:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. AKDT.

According to officials, viewers could see large salmon, as well as smaller Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout.

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