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Southeast Alaska News
Guardian Flight takes over all SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium medevacs on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
SEARHC Chief Operating Officer Dan Neumeister says a contract signed last week puts Guardian in charge of all medical evacuations.
“Guardian will be responsible for providing services wherever our clinics are. So at Angoon, (if) you need to fly out on a float plane, they’ll be responsible for either providing their own float plane or subcontracting out and getting a plane, putting their people on it and going to get our patients,” he says.
SEARHC laid off the nurses who staffed their own medevacs.
Guardian is Alaska’s largest medical evacuation operation, with bases in eight cities, including Sitka.
Neumeister says turning all medevacs over to Guardian will be simpler and more efficient.
“We had tried to perform the services ourselves part of each day. And we found that that was not as effective, even though we had very dedicated employees providing the service,” he says.
SEARHC has cut several programs this year to save money.
JUNEAU — There will likely be some glitches associated with the rollout of the online health insurance marketplace in Alaska — surges in use, people getting lost on the website or delays in response time, a federal official said Monday.
However, such issues won’t diminish the fact that on Tuesday, millions of people around the country who have been “locked out from the peace of mind of getting health insurance” because of past health problems will now have access, said Susan Johnson, a regional director with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Prince of Wale Islands residents will also be hitting the polls Tuesday.
In Craig, incumbent Dennis Watson will face Miranda Mikesh for a two-year term as City Mayor.
Craig voters will also decide who will fill two three-year terms on the City Council. Vying for those seats are Jan Storbakken, Joni Kuntz, Dan Price and Virginia Sprague-Lawnicki.
Dolores Owen and Scott Brookshire are running unopposed to fill two, three-year terms on the Craig school board. Three people are vying for a one-year term on the school board. They are Kim Scheidecker, Michael Kampnich and Miranda Mikesh.
In Thorne Bay, there are two three-year terms open on the City Council. Raymond Slayton and Risa Carlson are running unopposed for those seats.
However three people are running to fill a one-year term on the Thorne Bay City Council – Terri-Lynn Redding, Patrick Tierney, and Robert Hartwell.
Thorne Bay voters will also decide whether or not to reinstate an occupancy tax of 4 percent.
In Coffman Cove, there are three City Council seats open. Bryce Brucker is running unopposed for a two-year term on Seat C; and Perry Olson is running unopposed for a three year term on Seat F. There are no candidates running for Seat G, a three-year term. A decision will likely be made through write in votes.
Information for Klawock and Hydaburg elections was not available by story deadline.
Local elections are Tuesday, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Boroughwide, voters will choose two members each for the Ketchikan School Board and Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly.
Running for School Board are incumbent Dave Timmerman and two newcomers, Camille Booth and Trevor Shaw. School Board President Ginny Clay did not seek re-election to her seat.
For the Assembly the two incumbents, Alan Bailey and Bill Rotecki, are both seeking re-election. Challenging them is former Assembly Member John Harrington.
Those voters who live within the City of Ketchikan also will choose two City Council members. The two incumbents, Matt Olsen and Dick Coose, are running to retain their seats. The challenger for that race is political newcomer Judy Zenge.
City voters also will decide whether to approve up to $42 million in bonds to pay for planned Ketchikan Medical Center renovations. City officials say the bond debt will be paid for with existing sales taxes, and no new revenue source will be needed for the project.
Also Tuesday, voters in the Saxman Precinct will vote whether to establish a Saxman-South Tongass Fire and EMS Service Area. If passed, emergency medical and fire protection services will be shared by the South Tongass Service Area and the City of Saxman. The new boundaries would take effect in January of 2014.
Tune in to KRBD after polls close at 8 p.m. for live updates on the local election results.
House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt visited Ketchikan for the first time last week, and managed to be here for those two sunny days. He spent some time touring the island, and spoke to some local organizations, including the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce.
Pruitt is a lifelong Alaskan, but he hasn’t made it to many places in Southeast. Other than Juneau, he’s been to Haines, and stopped briefly at the airport in Sitka. He said his visit to Ketchikan was enlightening.
“I really didn’t know that there was all this industry going on down here,” he said. “You’ve got some of the old facilities that you guys are investing in, the aquaculture, the mariculture down here.”
The Anchorage Republican said that seeing Ketchikan and its economic needs first-hand could help him when he’s making decisions in future legislative sessions.
“When I’m looking through that piece of paper — well, hundred pages – knowing that there are certain priorities down here, I’ll probably be more inclined to go to thos individuals that represent the area and say … I saw this was a priority because it’s going to provide jobs, and I’ll be more inclined to ask them why or why not were these included,” he said.
Sites Pruitt visited include the Southern Southeast Alaska Technical Education Center, the shipyard and Ward Cove, where he learned about OceansAlaska’s work to provide seed for Alaska shellfish farmers. He said that industry has great potential for growth, and Southeast should take the initiative to attract more mariculture business to the region. He noted that Texas had success with a different kind of industry.
“When Colorado chose to – they made some laws that affected gun manufacturers in their state – Texas offered up Texas,” he said. “The way they were able to get the manufacturers to move down there was actually to have the highest leadership go to those companies and say come down. In turn, they actually have two or three manufacturers that are moving to Texas.”
Pruitt said that with ocean acidification causing problems for oyster seed growers Down South, it would be prudent to let them know what Southeast has to offer. After all, he said, if they have to move anyway, why not here?
Pruitt also was asked about the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s proposal that the state fully fund basic education, rather than require a local contribution. He said that while the funding may be welcome, it might come with some less-welcome consequences.
“I think the long-range discussion that would come into it is if we start taking over more funding, wouldn’t the argument also be that the state should take over more of the administration and operation of that money,” he said.
During his presentation to the Chamber, Pruitt talked primarily about the oil tax reform bill that the Legislature approved last session. He said the bill is an important next step in the state’s evolving tax structure, and will help encourage the oil industry to invest in Alaska.
Pruitt predicts that some of the next big topics likely will be the proposed natural gas pipeline, workman’s compensation and the state’s laws regarding domestic violence and sex crimes.
“As a state, we are known outside of Alaska as the number one place to go if you’re a sex offender,” he said. “I couldn’t figure out why that was the case. That disturbed me. I’ve come to understand a couple of things that we’re working on that potentially can scale some of that back. It comes down to the ease of being able to come up here and disappear into the crowd.”
Pruitt said that while people should have an opportunity to start over, that opportunity shouldn’t come at the expense of a community’s peace of mind.
Brian Templin, Chair of the Southern Southeast Local Emergency Planning Committee; and Stacy Mank from Public Heath speak about efforts to get POW communities prepared for emergencies, and what you can do. POWEmerg
WASILLA — A pilot walked away after crash-landing his small airplane on the Seward-Meridian Highway in Wasilla.
Alaska State Troopers say there is a small airstrip near the highway. It appears the plane had trouble after taking off, and the pilot wound up crash landing on the highway.
The pilot reported no injuries.
Troopers were called at 8:30 a.m., and the road was reopened about an hour later.
No other details were immediately available.
Aaron Swanson, Ben Miyasato, and Steven Eisenbeisz took questions during KCAW’s live on-air forum Thursday night (9-26-13).
They heard from a wide range of callers, including skeptical voters and one woman who identified herself as “Granny Goose.”
One of the most common arguments candidates for office make is that they’re different. Elect me, they say, because I bring something to the table that isn’t already there.
So it was fitting, then, that one of the earliest questions to come in from a listener to Thursday night’s forum dealt with that difference. What is the current Assembly doing that you don’t like, the listener wrote. He asked the candidates to “be specific.”
Aaron Swanson took aim at utility bills, and said as they increase, life gets harder for younger families like his, whose incomes aren’t terribly disposable.
“That’s something the city could also look into — putting a budget plan (together), where you take all your bills and figure out how much you’re going to be spending per year, and have a balanced bill each month, and maybe one catch-up bill in the middle of the summer, when your heating is going to be down.”
The city is raising rates to help pay for a massive expansion to the Blue Lake hydroelectric dam. Steven Eisenbeisz also agreed that raising electric rates was something he didn’t like.
“However, at this point we are too far into the Blue Lake dam project to not finish this. Raising the rates, as bad as it might have been for many people in town, is at this point, an absolute necessity. We can’t spend as much money as we already have and simply give up on it. We have to continue at this point.”
For Ben Miyasato, it was the budget. He said he’d like the city to be more careful about how it uses its money.
“Spending. I hear the same thing about spending. Please keep that in mind — don’t spend what you don’t have, and to start putting some aside.”
It’s all well and good to ask candidates what’s bugging them. But listeners also wanted to know what the Assembly candidates were going to do about it. One asked what fresh ideas they would bring to the Assembly table.
Ben Miyasato says he’s interested in the idea of building a road across Baranof Island, to connect to a ferry terminal closer to the Marine Highway’s main thoroughfare. He’d also favor a marina on the eastern Baranof shore.
“If you have a dock over across the island, you’ll be able to have other communities that will be able to take their own personal watercraft a shorter distance and be able to get on the road system over here to Sitka, to be able to use such things as the hospital, shopping. It opens it up for more public access.”
Aaron Swanson says he’d like to have a sawmill in Sitka again, using local timber.
“You could use that lumber, you could probably sell it cheap, and use it to build affordable housing. Another new and fresh idea would be adding a dock out at Sawmill Cove Industrial Park for the fishing fleet that could be coming in after a major boat haul-out.”
And Steven Eisenbeisz says he wants to look at the city’s water supply.
“One new and fresh idea that I’ve heard around town, and is actually rapidly gaining steam around the country, is about the fluoride that we have in our water here.”
Eisenbeisz says he’s heard studies that say fluoride is a poison, while others disagree. And he says consumer filters to remove fluoride from water are expensive.
“Plus, the city pays a substantial amount of money every year to add fluoride. I’d like to see if there’s community support behind removing fluoride.”
If you were worried about the forum being bound up on complicated policy and wonky budget talk, you needed look no further than minute 52.
“Hi, Steven, this is Granny Goose.”
That’s Eisenbeisz’s grandmother, Eleanor King, fresh off the plane from California.
“I just got in tonight, and I wanted to say hi to you…”
She also had a question.
“Did you have any ideas or thoughts about the tourism here? What you were going to do for them?”
Eisenbeisz said he’d like to see Sitka better marketed.
“Sitka is one of the most historical towns in Alaska, and we don’t tell that story adequately. Juneau has a much more limited history, although they did have a lot of gold mining, and they tell their story a lot better to see this gold mining.”
Miyasato says he’d target marketing toward nations with emerging economies, whose citizens are starting to acquire disposable income, like China.
“Their middle class is one of the fastest growing on this planet, and when you get more over there in their population that are having expendable dollars or yen or wan or whatever their currency is, this is something to look at as to whether we should be expanding marketing for tourism dollars to come here to Alaska.”
Swanson says he’d like to bring cruise executives to Sitka and ask them what we can do to better attract their customers to town.
“And probably add tour agents, travel agents. Have them all come up to Sitka, have the Assembly and the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau get a work session going, find out what we can do here in Sitka to help promote more cruise ships coming to Sitka.”
Of the three candidates running for Assembly, only two appear on the ballot. Miyasato and Swanson’s names will be printed on the ballot handed to voters on October 1st.
Eisenbeisz is running as a write-in candidate.
Election day is October 1st.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Hosts Mollie Kabler and Kitty LaBounty look at garden clean up, composting, potatoes, and apples in a mini version of The Garden Show.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
KCAW assembly candidate forum recap. Ballot Prop 1 has not been controversial, but not everyone agrees extending the 1-percent seasonal sales tax is a good idea. David Wilcox, Sitka High boys win 3A regional Cross Country title.
A blast from the past~! Here’s a promotional picture of Raven Radio’s country and bluegrass hosts from the mid-80′s featuring Hank Nelson, Richard Williams and Paul Clements a.k.a. Pablo. Hank sent this photo recently with a note to “KCAW – The bright and sunny side of your radio dial.” Keep the sun shining on your community station with your contribution! We are just over $16,000 and need your help to reach our $55,000 goal!
This year’s Alaska cruise-ship season has ended. Close to a million passengers sailed through Southeast this summer, with many traveling on to points north and west.
It was a good summer pretty much everywhere in Southeast Alaska. So, we all should have good memories of the season. Right?
The retired lobbyist is one of about two dozen painters, carvers, print-makers, photographers and potters who run the store as a co-operative.
Her family is also in the flight-seeing business, so she knows warm and sunny skies bring in more of those customers. But when it rains, it’s better in the gallery.
“So they’re wandering around town. And all the shops in the downtown area kind of benefit ‘cause they’ve got money to burn,” she says.
The gallery is one of hundreds of businesses around Alaska catering to summer tourists.
They include gift shops, bus tours, salmon bakes, photo safaris and Gold Rush shows.
“I would say for the 30,000 to 40,000 Alaskans like myself that depend on the visitor industry for our livelihood, it was a good season,” says John Binkley, whose family run paddlewheel riverboat and gold-mine tours out of Fairbanks.
The former state lawmaker is also president of the Cruise Line International Association’s Alaska chapter.
“We finally pulled back from a low point here a few years ago to the million-visitor mark on the cruise side. And although we’re not quite back to where the peak was, we’re headed in that direction now,” he says. (Read a report from the start of the season.)
I think everybody’s into the new economy. It’s the new norm and if we’re going to go on vacation we might as well just go and do it,” says Jeannie McFarland, vice president of the Prince of Wales Island Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband also own McFarland’s Floatel, a lodge near Thorne Bay.
“We have a ton of returning people and they bring their friends and their friends’ friends and, of course, it makes our business survive,” she says.
Small-town lodges and other off-the-beaten-path attractions cater mostly to independent travelers. Most larger businesses depend on those aboard cruise ships.
This year’s projected million-passenger mark was expected to be the best since 2009, before politics and the recession brought them down.
Binkley says a couple of late-season factors made the total lower.
“We lost a few ports of call due to weather. And also there were some mechanical problems with one of the ships and a couple of the actual cruises were cancelled near the end of the season,” he says.
But still, it was a good year. And that’s part of a trend.
“Between 2010 and 2012, visitor industry employment increased by 7 percent in Southeast Alaska. That’s 400 jobs,” says Meilani Schijvens of Sheinberg Associates, who authored a recent regional economic report.
She says next season will be a bit different.
“In 2014, the number of cruise ship passengers visiting the region actually might be slightly lower than it is this year by 23,000 passengers. And that’s because two Princess ships will be redeployed and replaced by a very small amount of less capacity,” she says.
Binkley says the ship shuffle comes as lines try to avoid new, stronger federal air-pollution regulations along the U.S. coast.
“They’ve been working under the assumption that the emission control area, which requires them to burn very expensive fuel, would be in effect. And that influenced their decisions to move ships to other locations,” he says.
Carnival and some other cruise lines have won waivers from those rules in exchange for installing new emissions control equipment.
But that happened after schedules were set. So any change won’t hit Alaska til 2015.
Some in the industry expect more growth in future years, pushing numbers to new highs above the million-passenger mark. A question is: how much will tourists be willing to spend?
“We definitely noticed that trend of people spending less money and being careful and watching for things that are on sale,” says Juneau Artist Gallery member Thyes Shaub.
“I think that maybe a few more people are spending a little bit more. But I think they’re still being pretty careful with their money. We’re still seeing a lot of people that come and pay cash. I think that people decide this is the amount I’m going to spend on my trip and when that’s gone out of my little satchel, I’m done,” she says.
The large cruise lines sailed 28 ships to Alaska ports this year, one more than in 2012. Together, they made close to 500 separate voyages.
School board candidates field your questions during on-air forum. No commercial red or blue king crab fishery in SE this year. Hoonah man recovering from bear mauling. Ed says thanks and farewell.
The decision to extend the seasonal one-percent sales tax increase for two additional years to pay down school bonds has not been very controversial compared to many propositions put before Sitka voters recently. But there are mixed opinions about the issue.
You can approach prop 1 with a deep, institutional memory of Sitka’s finances over the last twenty years. Or you can look at it like Tim Fulton, who serves on Sitka’s school board. He says prop 1 will free up needed cash.
“If we put relief on the General Fund, there’s more access to funding for our schools.”
Prop 1 would move nearly $2-million in debt from the General Fund column in the city’s ledgers, to the column under 1-percent seasonal sales tax. While this is really no more than an accounting maneuver, it happens to save the General Fund about $380,000 dollars in payments each year.
The savings will not necessarily be forwarded to schools. But, Fulton says, it’s not a bad start.
“Honestly, there isn’t an arrangement. But I think that this assembly — and I’m very optimistic about our next assembly candidates — that they’re willing to work with the schools, and they see education as a priority.”
Assembly member Mike Reif might agree. “It’s really neat to see that this community has embraced this way of doing things to keep our schools in very nice condition.”
Reif co-sponsored the ballot ordinance, with Thor Christianson. Sitka is carrying a total of about $30-million in debt on school bonds — 70-percent of which will be reimbursed from the state. These projects, like the Performing Arts Center and other major school improvements, were originally funded through the seasonal sales tax.
The bonds in prop 1 — for the remodel of Sitka High School and Baranof Elementary — were passed in 1996, prior to the seasonal sales tax. But Reif says there’s room in the seasonal sales tax fund to cover those bonds.
“We’re actually collecting a little bit more money in seasonal sales tax, than we’re obligated to pay the state each year for our bonds.”
It will mean keeping the seasonal 1-percent sales tax around a couple of years longer — until 2024, rather than 2022. If tax revenues continue to rise, it would be possible to pay down the bonds sooner.
But there are still those who think extending the seasonal sales tax is a breech of faith with the public. Fred Reeder testified on the ballot ordinance before the assembly when it was first introduced in February, and his opinion hasn’t changed. I called him about this issue and he told me “If you go to voters and tell them a tax is going to sunset, you’ve got to be honest and leave it where it is.”
Reeder is a former mayor, and the port director for Cruise Lines Agencies of Alaska. He told me that he went to the assembly just to speak for himself: He is genuinely worried about the public losing faith in government if the tax never sunsets.
Not everyone shares that worry. Aaron Swanson is running for assembly in this election, saying he’d like to represent a younger constituency. Extending the sunset is not a problem for him.
“My thought is that instead of fluctuating the tax between 5- and 6-percent in the fall and in the spring, is to just leave it at 6-percent year round.”
As a school board member, Tim Fulton says he is worried about the perception that the goal line is moving. But with this latest remodel of Pacific High, he thinks the district has pretty much completed the work it started when it first started bonding back in the nineties.
“I don’t see us coming back to the citizens of Sitka for increasing this seasonal sales tax anymore.”
But, Fulton says, he wouldn’t mind having a conversation about Sitkan’s expectations for their schools, and how to fund them.
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON — It took nearly seven decades, but the Army finally recognized Arthur Owens for his bravery during World War II.
More than 68 years after Owens saved two injured soldiers from a tank under heavy fire, he was awarded seven medals including the Silver Star and Purple Heart on Sept. 19 at the National Guard Armory on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Alaska Army National Guard commander Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges said the ceremony was held to correct a longstanding wrong.
A cow and a young bull moose galloped around Alder Drive after something spooked them in an east Anchorage neighborhood on Saturday.
ANCHORAGE — Voters in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will decide in Tuesday’s election on whether to allow the borough to enact a 5 percent tax on areawide alcohol sales.
The tax would offset the burden on property tax payers, but opponents say the measure unfairly targets a specific industry.
The proposed tax was introduced in June by borough Assemblyman Steve Colligan. It was approved the following month for the ballot.
Colligan said he sees the measure simply as a sales tax, KSKA reported.
JUNEAU — The government’s online health insurance marketplace is scheduled to go live Tuesday, allowing Alaskans to shop for private insurance and meet the requirements of the new federal health care law.
It’s not clear just what the new marketplace will look like or how smooth the rollout will be, though the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expects a fully functioning site to be operational Tuesday.
SITKA — Jamal Moss is one of the scores of scientists working on the most exhaustive studies to date on the fisheries of the Gulf of Alaska.
Moss, a principal investigator for the ongoing Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystems Research Project, was in Sitka last week preparing for another study of Southeast fisheries. The multi-year project started with a pilot study in 2010 and focuses on the survival rates of black cod, Pacific cod, rockfish, pollock and the arrowtooth flounder.
Alaska’s capital city lies near a fault line and on the coastline, so tsunamis are a danger. The city is also located at the base of the Coast Mountains — a threat for avalanches.
Still, Juneau’s biggest liability is not in its surroundings, but what lies beneath the city.
Much of downtown is built on filled land supported in part by wooden pilings, making a downtown fire the biggest threat to the city.