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Southeast Alaska News
The initial cost estimate for a new Petersburg police station is much higher than officials had hoped. The borough’s architecture firm has put the total project price at just over nine million dollars. That would include design, permits, site work, construction, inspection, furnishings and contingencies.
According to Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht, the assembly and design committee members had mixed opinions on what the building should cost but in general, he says, they were hoping it would be in the five to seven million dollar range.
Giesbrecht says Architect Wayne Jensen will talk about it with the Assembly Monday during a regular meeting Monday night:
“We’ve invited the design team to come in as well and they’re going to basically present this to the assembly and talk about what…..the alternatives are. I get a sense, from some of assembly members I’ve spoken to, that this is way too high and that we’re going to have to dramatically cut it and that’s a question the assembly’s going to have to answer…..Do they feel this is an acceptable price and we should move forward or do we need to go back to the drawing board? And I think there’s both opinions on the assembly and at least among the design team. So, we’re probably looking at some healthy discussion on Monday.”
The legislature, last year, gave Petersburg 350 thousand dollars for design work on the facility but the borough has not yet secured any construction funding. There was one-point-four million dollars in state money left over from the firehall project. The assembly is asking lawmakers to allow it to be used for the police station instead.
Petersburg’s representative in the Alaska House took advantage of a lull in the 90-day legislative session to make another visit to the community, new to her district this session. Juneau democratic representative Beth Kerttula visited Petersburg last week while other members of the state legislature met with the oil and gas industry in the nation’s capital. Kerttula is serving again as house minority leader and is part of a 10-person minority caucus. She’s introduced seven bills so far this session and is co-sponsor on more than two dozen other bills and resolutions. Joe Viechnicki spoke with Kerttula about the first half of the session.
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With a little over a month to go in the 90-day session, legislators have introduced 241 bills in the first session of the 28th Alaska legislature and more than three dozen resolutions. As of the second week in March, five of the 241 bills have passed both the House and Senate. Those are a bill changing commercial motor vehicle licensing requirements, another marking March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day, the change in cruise ship waste water requirements, a bill eliminating references in state law to “mental retardation” and a bill allowing for longer terms for directors of telephone and electrical cooperatives.
Main street motorists are making detours as work resumes on Petersburg’s downtown road reconstruction project. SECON construction is back on the job and focused on Excel Street to Harbor Way right now. They’ll also be tearing up more of Main Street from Dolphin to Excel as well as Excel to first street before eventually putting down concrete later this spring. At the same time, SECON says it will make sure there’s continued access to all downtown shops. Matt Lichtenstein checked in with SECON project manager Bryce Kidd this week.
KODIAK — In the 1940s and 1950s, medical ships cruised the waters of southwest Alaska, trying to end an epidemic of tuberculosis that infected as many of 90 percent of the regions population.
Doctors now face shortages of tuberculosis detection and treatment medicines even as the aftershocks of that 70-year-old epidemic infect Alaskans anew.
“What we’re having to do due to the national shortage is to ask people to put on hold some of the routine screening of at-risk people,” said Dr. Michael Cooper, Alaska’s deputy state epidemiologist.
JUNEAU — A Senate proposal to overhaul Alaska’s oil tax structure could cost the state up to $1.3 billion next year, hundreds of millions more than plans put forth by Gov. Sean Parnell and a different Senate committee, according to an analysis released Wednesday.
A bill rewarding sea otter hunters was praised and panned at its first hearing on Wednesday.
The measure proposes paying $100 per otter. Only Alaska Natives can legally harvest the protected marine mammals. And federal rules limit processing and sales.
The sponsor is Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican whose district includes Southeast’s outer coast. He wore an otter pelt on his shoulders as he came before the Senate Resources Committee, saying a bounty would slow rapid population growth.
Craig Mayor Dennis Watson, a former commercial diver, says he’s watched as otters moved in — and his catch disappeared.
“For 16 years I stared into a viewer as my partner and myself drug an underwater camera along the bottom of the ocean surveying for sea cucumbers. Through that, I have witnessed first-hand the devastation these creates cause while their numbers grew,” he says.
Scientists estimate the Southeast otter population at around 21,000. Research shows 12 percent annual growth in the southern part of the region, and 4 percent in the north. Other coastal areas, such as Kachemak Bay near Homer, have also seen large increases.
Joe Sebastian, a commercial fisherman from Kupreanof, near Petersburg, says overharvesting is likely the cause of shellfish declines.
He says the bill wrongly blames otters.
“I find it unprofessional, unscientific, racist and culturally destructive. This particular bill, in its present form, is not the way to go and would start the new sea otter gold rush with little or no oversight or scientific direction,” he says.
Bill sponsor Stedman admits the measure conflicts with federal marine mammal protection rules. He says if a bounty isn’t legal, the state could subsidize tanneries to help build the otter-products industry.
He stressed that the bill would not exterminate otters. He says about 850 were killed last year and an increase to about 2,100 would not significantly damage the population.
Former commercial diver Julie Decker of Wrangell agrees.
“Otters are a renewable resource. They can contribute to the economy of Southeast. However, if they are protected and the population allowed to grow at the rate it is growing now, they will destroy all the shellfish resources,” he says.
The committee delayed further testimony until Friday afternoon.
A 19-year-old Ketchikan man has been arrested following an alleged armed robbery Tuesday at Channel View Trailer Park.
According to the Ketchikan Police Department, the man, brandishing a handgun, confronted another 19-year-old man over a debt, and demanded everything in the victim’s pockets.
The report states that the victim handed the suspect a cell phone and a pack of cigarettes, and the suspect then left the area.
Following an investigation, Ian R. Johnson was arrested Wednesday morning, and charged with first-degree robbery, third-degree theft and third-degree assault. Police allegedly found the cell phone and cigarettes in his possession, but did not find a handgun.
The state Board of Forestry will meet March 26 and 27 to discuss statewide forestry issues.
The agenda will include reports on federal forest management in Alaska, including the Tongass and Chugach national forest plans, Roadless Rule implementation, the Southeast land ownership initiative, and the Tongass 77 campaign.
The board also will hear about road projects, the proposed Susitna State Forest, wood energy in Alaska and endangered species listings.
The meeting will take place both days in the conference room at the Department of Environmental Conservation in Juneau. Public comment is scheduled for the afternoon of the first day.
To participate in the teleconference, contact Marty Freeman at the Division of Forestry in Anchorage at email@example.com, or call her at 269-8467.
For special accommodations due to audio or visual impairment, please contact Doreen Dick at the Division of Forestry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-8463. Any individuals wishing to receive future announcements of Board of Forestry meetings by e-mail or in hard copy should contact Doreen to be added to the mailing list.
The Canadian company exploring the potential of a rare-earth mine in southern Southeast Alaska has completed the project’s scoping document, and it appears promising that Ucore will develop the Bokan Mine on Prince of Wales Island.
Randy MacGillivray, community relations director for Ucore, gave an update about the project during a recent Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch.
All numbers are estimates, and are subject to change. That cautionary note kicked off MacGillivray’s presentation, which was otherwise upbeat about the economic viability of the Bokan Mine, located on the western end of Kendrick Bay on Prince of Wales.
And what would the mine produce? Rare earth elements: a group of difficult-to-pronounce metals used in constructing high-tech products such as cell phones, hybrid vehicles, wind-power generators and Department of Defense projects.
China now produces about 95 percent of rare-earth elements, but keeps most of it for production needs within that country.
“A critical thing about rare earth elements is there are two sub-classifications: Light versus heavy,” he said. “The Bokan project is skewed toward the heavy rare-earth elements. That’s significant from an economic standpoint because of the relative value of heavy rare-earth elements versus light rare-earth elements.”
MacGillivray pointed out that most rare-earth elements aren’t all actually rare. The heavy ones are, though, which makes them about 200 times more expensive than the most valuable light rare-earth element.
That means the return on investment is expected to be high, about 43 percent. The capital costs of the mine will be about $221 million, and investors should get their money back in less than three years once production begins.
And when will that be? Well. Ucore is about to start the permitting process with the U.S. Forest Service, so it’s unclear. The company also needs to start a more definitive feasibility study, which will include agreements with potential future customers.
Once it does start, though the mine will produce 1,500 tons of unprocessed rock per day, employing between 170 and 200 people. MacGillivray said they are committed to local hire, and for selfish reasons, too. He said there’s a lot of turnover in the mining industry, which can cut into profits.
“So as opposed to us bringing people from Nevada and Montana who are excited about coming to Alaska and seeing what Alaska’s all about and working here for a while, we want to make sure that we get local people who have families here who know the climate and the situation and are well adapted to staying and becoming long-term employees,” he said.
The mine won’t just extract rock. The processing facility also will be on site. Crushed rock will go through two sorting lines, one using X-rays to separate waste rock from pieces containing the desired metals; and one using magnets to further separate the rock. That’ll bring the amount to be chemically treated down from the 1,500 tons mined to about 350 tons.
The big question in any mining venture is what about the tailings: The stuff left over after the elements have been chemically separated from the rock?
“This is a very unique project, in that all of our milled tailings will be put back underground,” he said.
The processed tailings, mixed with some of the unprocessed waste rock, will be blended into a cement mixture, and used to backfill the mine shafts. That means no tailings left on the surface.
An audience member asked whether any underground streams could carry contaminants to the ocean. MacGillivray said there is groundwater, but Ucore has plans to channel and treat that water.
But, Guy Archibald of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said the safety of such a process is unknown.
“This is very new technology and it has not withstood the test of time,” he said. “How that weathers underground, given groundwater conditions, has yet to be determined. So how safe this technology is in the long run, nobody knows yet.”
Archibald said a study shows that groundwater can leach contaminants such as heavy metals, just like any other tailings. In addition, he said, the waste rock that hasn’t been processed also is potentially dangerous.
“Some of this rock is going to be radioactive, because we’re near the old Bokan Mountain uranium mine, the Ross Adams mine,” he said. “They’re not saying at all how they’re going to handle this material.”
Archibald said that while there are concerns, SEACC isn’t necessarily opposed to the potential mine. He said the group just hopes that any development will be done in a responsible manner.
Ucore does have a “community plan” in the works. MacGillivray said he wants to write that plan with input from area business owners, to make sure the mine can be built and managed to maximize local benefit. He expressed appreciation for Ketchikan’s interest in the project.
“I lived in Juneau from ‘96-‘99, and worked at Kensington from 2002-2006, and it’s pretty nice to come to Ketchikan,” he said.
Once up and running, the Bokan Mine would need between 4 and 6 megawatts of power. That would be generated on-site, although if a road to the mine is approved, a hydroelectric power line is possible in the future. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced a bill in Washington, D.C., to allow such a road, which would go through designated roadless areas.
Rare-earth mining also is on the minds of state lawmakers. The Alaska Senate just approved a resolution that calls on the state to identify deposits, develop an informational database and promote development of the industry through a streamlined permitting process. That resolution still needs to pass the state House.
The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game is conducting the first aerial survey of the herring season today (Thurs., Mar. 14).
During this first flyover, biologists are looking at the distribution of herring predators, like sea lions and whales. That gives them an idea of where the fish are located in the sound, and can help them target areas for fishing.
Fish and Game biologist Dave Gordon says they will also conduct the first herring roe test on Monday (Mar. 18) to see how much mature roe is in the herring.
“I don’t expect there to be a real high percentage of mature roe in the sample,” said Gordon. “There may not be any actually at this point in time. This is on the early side. It’s probably more normal to see the fish ready for harvest around the 25th of March. But we have fished as early as March 16th. The timing changes from year to year, so you want to stay on top of it.”
He says fishery managers will conduct regular tests until the roe reach a certain percentage of their body weight.
“Once you get up to samples that are 8,9,10 percent roe, then you think about putting the fishery on a two-hour notice,” said Gordon. “That’s when everyone needs to think about going fishing with as little notice as two hours. They better be here, and they will be, once they announce two-hour notice.”
On Sunday night (Mar. 10), there was a personal use bait harvest north of Middle Island, just north of Sitka. The average weight of these fish was 161 grams. A number of samples were taken, but the harvesters found NO mature roe.
The Sitka School Board opposes legislation that would allow public funding to pay for private and religious schools.
The board also wants to retain local authority of charter schools, should any be established in Sitka.
Two bills currently in the Alaska State Legislature propose amending the state constitution to remove the language that prohibits spending public money on private education. The amendment is seen as a first step toward the creation of a public school voucher system in Alaska.
A third bill would turn over the control of charter schools to the state.
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School board president Lon Garrison drafted the language of the local resolutions.
“When the state constitutional convention composed Alaska’s constitution, the prohibition on using public tax dollars to finance private or parochial school vouchers was written into the document and approved by Alaska voters for several reasons, not the least of which was the protection for private and parochial schools against interference of the government.”
The Alaska Constitution is specific. Article 7 states “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”
The two bills are known as House Joint Resolution 1 and Senate Joint Resolution 9. Wasilla Republican Wes Keller sponsored the House version. Freshman senator Mike Dunleavy, also a Republican from Wasilla, sponsored the Senate version.
Garrison said the House resolution is a much more straightforward attempt to divert public money into private schools in the name of “school choice.” He said Sen. Dunleavy’s bill would accomplish the same thing, but was cloaked in different language.
“He sees an inequity in what the state carries out in, for instance, helping college students with state loans and scholarships go to private institutions.”
Sen. Dunleavy’s bill would still require amending the constitution.
The board unanimously voted to oppose the proposed legislative bills. But board member Tim Fulton said he did not want the public to think that the vote represented opposition to charter schools. In fact, he said, he generally supported the idea of charter schools, and has participated in committee discussions about creating one in the Sitka District.
Current state law allows the creation of publicly-funded charter schools which operate under the authority of a local school board, and are subject to the same educational standards.
A third bill now before the legislature would change that. House Bill 93 is sponsored by first-time legislator Lynn Gattis, a Republican from Wasilla who was given the chairmanship of the House Education Committee. HB 93 would remove the authority of local school boards over charter schools, and hand it directly to the Department of Education.
Sitka School Board president Lon Garrison drafted a second resolution in opposition of this bill. He was critical of the increase in bureaucracy that might result from having the state directly involved in education.
“The duplication of administration and associated costs will continue to erode the dollars actually spent in the classroom, and not facilitate it. Furthermore, the continued reduction of funding to the state Department of Education and Early Development, and the dwindling pool of experienced staff that will be able to implement the new role of the department as it pertains to this bill makes the success of this law highly doubtful.”
The board vote opposing HB93 was also unanimous.
Sitka School board members will have an opportunity to register their objections in person. They’ll be attending a legislative fly-in to Juneau later this month.
KRBD is offering local photographers, professional and amateur, an opportunity to showcase their pictures, and maybe win a bag of Raven’s Brew coffee! To submit recent photos of local scenery, people or events, just send them to email@example.com. Please include the photographer’s full name, where and when the photo was taken.
Each week, the photo with the most “likes” on KRBD’s Facebook page will win a bag of Raven’s Brew coffee.
Crescent Harbor no longer has 10-day parking. The city has has eliminated longterm parking along Crescent Harbor Drive — it will now be 72-hour parking, except for a short row of 2-hour parking along Lincoln Street.
The city made the change because of limited parking during construction in the area. Further changes might be made in the future as the scope of the project changes. If you have any questions, you can call the police station’s business line at 747-3245.
The Sitka Tribe of Alaska brought on two new deputy general managers: Tristan Guevin and Thomas Gubatayao. Work started at the beginning of February, but they will be formally introduced at a regular Tribal Council Meeting at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, Mar. 20 in the Sheet’ka Kwáan Naa Kahídi Community House on 200 Katlian Street.
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Guevin has been with STA since 2009. He began working with the Tribe on a federally funded Tlingit language revitalization project. It was a partnership between the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Sitka Native Education Program, or SNEP.
Guevin will help oversee the Cultural Resources, Education and Employment, and Social Services programs for the tribe. He is the deputy director of SNEP and says in his new position, one of his goals is to open a tribally run preschool.
“It’s really about connecting our students with the past, with their ancestry. It’s about both the past and moving forward and really giving our students a sense of pride in who they are and carry on that tradition.”
He says revitalizing the Tlingit language preserves the worldview of the area’s earliest known inhabitants.
“There’s a quote that Das dee Ah always says: Everything has the Tlingit language in it. All things living. All things around them. That’s the Tlingit way of life. For me, the language for me is almost a window into a people’s soul. Into the way that they see the world.”
Guevin says the only way they can be successful is through inter-generational learning. One of the cornerstone programs is a summer harvesting program. Kids harvest natural resources — berries and cedar and spruce root
“But it’s about more. it’s about harvesting from one another. it’s about students harvesting the knowledge from the elders. and vice versa. the elders harvesting the knowledge from the students. There’s no definition of who the student is, who the teacher is, that we’re really working together to share knowledge.”
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Sitka Mock Trial teammates Will Pate (Fr), Jesse Bartelds (Sr), and Frilli Utami (Sr), discuss their third-place finish last week at the state Mock Trial competition in Anchorage. Unlike sports and DDF, schools are not divided by size in Mock Trial. West Anchorage and South Anchorage High Schools took first and second.
At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Assembly approved a contractor to build the Sitka Sea Walk, but voted down a proposal to set aside $48,000 a year to maintain (and eventually replace) it. Separately, it gave the green light to the Sitka Harbor Department to apply for one grant, and unanimously rejected another.
CBC Construction bid $1.2 million to build the Sea Walk. It’s a long pathway that will offer visitors — and locals, of course — a straight shot from Crescent Harbor to the Sitka National Historical Park. Right now, the pedestrian route includes cutting across a tennis court and crossing the same street twice.
No problem, said the Assembly. After all, the money for the project comes from a state tax on cruise ship passengers. And Assembly members like Phyllis Hackett said the walkway will only improve the experience for visitors, especially with added improvements, like lighting, and a path that goes out to the end of a breakwater near the Sitka Sound Science Center.
“It’s really popular for locals,” Hackett said. “I think this will be a great thing for visitors. They’ll be easily directed from Crescent Harbor all the way down to the National Park, which I think is a great thing. But also, in addition to that, it’s going to be a great thing for residents on into the future.”
The bid from CBC was the lower of the two received, and well below the engineers’ estimates of about $1.4 million. The construction contract easily passed.
But then came the idea of setting up a fund to maintain the walkway. The total estimated yearly upkeep of the Sea Walk is about $7,000. That includes trash collection, landscaping, cleaning, maintaining the lights, and the odd repair.
But the Public Works Department said in order to prepare for an eventual replacement of the walkway, once it nears the end of its useful life, the city should bank about $48,000 every year.
“I would urge you not to do this,” said Sitka resident Fred Reeder, the only member of the public to testify on the issue. “To think you have to put $48,000 aside for the concrete, and a couple of bridges, it’s too much money. You’ve already got a dedicated fund. It’s called the passenger fee fund.”
In other words, Reeder said, money will continue to come in from the tax on cruise passengers, and so, when the walkway needs repair, why not just go back to that pot of money?
“I think that’s a good point. I think it’s a really good point,” Hackett said. But, she added, she’s also “a little paranoid, because we’ve had so many infrastructure problems, and so many needs that were never planned for in years past, and now all of a sudden it’s coming home to roost, and it’s coming at a point in time when we don’t have the money coming in. We don’t have the capacity to repair the things we need to repair.”
Assembly member Thor Christianson was sitting in the Mayor’s chair in the absence of both Mayor Mim McConnell and Deputy Mayor Pete Esquiro. He said he likes the notion of saving for repairs and maintenance, but that he agreed with Reeder that $48,000 a year might not be the best way to do it.
“I’m hesitant to block off this much money,” Christianson said, “because this is essentially for total replacement, from our portion of the passenger fee fund, because this is exactly the kind of thing we’d be applying to the state for from the state portion.”
Cruise ship head tax money goes to both cities and the state. Cities can take their portion and spend it a certain way, and they can apply to the state for funding for certain projects.
In the end, the Assembly decided saving for maintenance was good, but this version wasn’t the way to go.
“But we like the idea of the idea,” Christianson added, after the unanimous vote against the savings plan.
The Sitka Harbor Department got half of its requests before the Assembly last night. Members agreed to let the Harbor Department apply for a state grant of up to a quarter-million dollars. If Sitka gets the money, it would buy a powered barge that would allow it to collect fish waste and relocate it to open water.
Right now, the city pays a contractor about $42,000 to do that. Sport fishermen are no longer allowed to dump salmon carcasses into the water near fish cleaning floats, because it attracts marine mammals and birds, and those animals can be hazardous to the nearby airport.
The Harbor Department also wanted to apply for nearly the same amount of money to buy an ice making machine. It would provide ice to sport fishermen to help them preserve their Chinook salmon.
Reeder also testified against this measure, saying there are already places to obtain ice.
“If I need flake ice, I’ll go down and buy it from Sitka Sound, from SPC or I’ll go out to Silver Bay,” Reeder said. “You get into the business of making ice… that’s silly. You say, well, it’s free money, we can use that money, and it’ll be free. Nothing’s free. Now you’ve got to provide it with electricity, maintenance… refrigeration is not cheap to maintain.”
Assembly members ultimately agreed, and unanimously rejected second grant application.
JUNEAU — Adults applying for cash public assistance would have to declare their sobriety under a bill heard by an Alaska House committee Tuesday.
It’s a reworked version of HB16, introduced by Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla. The measure initially would have allowed the state to conduct “random and suspicion-based” drug and alcohol testing of adults who receive cash public assistance.
The random-testing requirement was seen by some as an unconstitutional search and seizure.
JUNEAU — A key Senate panel on Tuesday proposed a rewrite of the governor’s oil tax overhaul that a consultant said would make Alaska more competitive for investment dollars but critics see as giving too much to oil companies.
ANCHORAGE — The Anchorage Assembly held four public hearings and listened to 20 hours of testimony on the mayor’s proposed rewrite of city labor laws to curb the power of unions representing municipal employees and save money.
The head of the Assembly says that’s enough discussion time, but opponents want more time to speak out against the proposal.