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Southeast Alaska News

Kayhi debate team places second at state

Tue, 2014-02-18 16:54

Ketchikan High School performed well in last weekend’s Debate Drama and Forensics state competition in Anchorage.

According to Coach Dan Ortiz, Ketchikan entered three teams in the Public Forum Debate category, which had a total of 31 teams competing.

Two of the Kayhi teams made it to the semi-final round, and one of those teams — Cheyenne Matthews and Sam Ortiz – made it into the final debate. They lost by just one vote in the final round to a team from West Anchorage.

Petersburg pursues police station, borough office remodel money

Tue, 2014-02-18 11:44

Petersburg officials will be in the state Capital this week seeking funding for a renovated police station and municipal building. The borough assembly on Friday gave the OK for the borough to pursue additional state money for what could be an almost-10-million-dollar project.

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Back in September the borough assembly decided to pursue a combined police station and borough office project and asked for cost estimates and preliminary designs for renovating the old Petersburg city hall.

Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht Friday said he wanted the assembly’s blessing keep going with the project. “We’re looking for your blessing to submit this project to the legislature and say, this is going to be our facility. As part of that I want you blessing in the sense that we can continue moving forward on this project. We don’t have the money for full construction. We do have plenty of money to continue pushing forward on the design process, basically moving the project to, it may be an overused term, shovel ready status so that when the construction money’s available we’re ready to move.”

The borough has four-point-one million dollars in state funding originally secured for a new or renovated police building. The station has a sinking floor and separating walls because of a failing concrete slab. Corey Wall of MRV Architects told the assembly the rest of the building is in good shape. “The slab in the police department was never meant to support the framing of the second floor of the police station that was put on it at a later date and that’s why it’s starting to subside. So that slab needs to be removed but our structural engineer determined that basically the rest of the building was sound and did need some upgrades to be brought up to current structural standards to house a public safety facility but it passed that initial test.”

The structure was built in 1958 and used to house the fire department and library, until those two departments moved into new buildings on Haugen Drive. Wall said the structure is just large enough to fit a renovated police department and jail, along with renovated borough offices. He presented drawings of a rehabbed building that he said would look like new. “The finishes, all the piping, all the wiring, pretty much everything you can see is going to be completely like new, including the outside envelope,” Wall said. “But we also have some advantages which is we get to keep structural items that are not at the end of their life span or don’t even really have a lifespan, we’re not throwing those away and starting new again. So it’s kindof the best of both worlds we’ve found. We’ve done this with a number of facilities and what we’ve found is the trend is actually going towards renovation.”

The estimated price tag for the renovation is seven point one million dollars. However Wall said the estimated cost of the project overall will be nine point seven million dollars. That includes the price of redoing the police communications system, the rent for temporary borough offices while construction work is underway along with design work and construction oversight, furnishings and unforeseen costs. That estimate is about seven hundred thousand dollars above the price tag for a stand-alone new police station. However, Wall pointed out that cost of construction was the same. “So again construction is about the same for a building that’s about four thousand square feet bigger than the other facility was but your project costs are a little bit higher because we’ve put more in on the project cost side. We believe that that’s realistic because that’s what it’s going to take to get the project done completely and correctly but that’s the reason you’re seeing that increase in money for the total project cost.”

Wall said design work was about 15 percent completed. The proposed building would have a new entry and parking area for borough offices, enclosed garage for the police station and would use pre-manufactured jail cells. The building would be heated and cooled with air source heat pumps.

Mayor Mark Jensen said he’d be meeting with legislators in Juneau this week. “I mean we’re meeting with the right people, co chair of finance committee, if we get a chance to go to the governor’s office, and Cathy Munoz, who isn’t our representative, but has expressed she would do everything she can to help us and I believe she’s on house finance so. Tight budget up there this year though so we’ll just do what we can do and see what happens.”

Jensen also asked police Chief Kelly Swihart for his opinion. “Yeah this a great concept we’re happy with it. As we continue we may wanna move some doorways or walls a little bit here and there, move those around a little bit, but I think it’s a great concept and the staff’s reviewed it, everyone seems pretty happy with it,” Swihart said.

The assembly voted unanimously to authorize the mayor and manager to seek state funding for the project.

Stanton Gregor appointed to Petersburg assembly

Tue, 2014-02-18 11:36

Petersburg’s borough assembly has replaced one kind of counselor with a different kind of counselor.

The mayor and assembly Friday appointed 37-year-old Jeigh Stanton Gregor to fill the seat vacated earlier this month by attorney John Hoag.

Deputy clerk Debbie Thompson swore in Stanton Gregor after he was appointed at the start of Friday’s assembly meeting. Stanton Gregor co-owns True North Counseling and Consultation, a business that provides therapy and mental health counseling for individuals, couples and organizations. He’s also worked as a fishing deckhand and an aide in the elementary school.

He’s put his name in for an assembly appointment before but was not chosen for a seat. This time however, the assembly took a vote by anonymous ballot and the Stanton Gregor was elected 5-1 over former mayor Al Dwyer. Those were the only two residents who put their name in for the spot.

That makes four of the six assembly members who have been appointed. The only remaining elected members are John Havrilek and Nancy Strand along with Mayor Mark Jensen. The seats of the other four will all be on the October ballot this year.

Tues Feb 18, 2014

Tue, 2014-02-18 10:08

Listen to iFriendly audio.

Sitka celebrates the Chinese New Year. “Save our Schools” rally held in Juneau. Stedman leads Alaska lawmakers in travel expenses. Trial of former Blatchley Middle School principal set for May.

'Pipe bomb' found in carry-on at Anchorage airport

Tue, 2014-02-18 01:04

ANCHORAGE — Transportation Security Administration agents found what Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport police have described as a “pipe bomb” in the carry-on luggage of a man ticketed on an oil worker flight to the North Slope Sunday, forcing an hour shutdown of the security checkpoint.

The man initially claimed the small explosive was an “avalanche device,” said Jesse Davis, chief of the airport’s police and fire department.

“I don’t know of any avalanche dangers up on the North Slope,” he said.

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Dam project draws attention to renewable goal

Tue, 2014-02-18 01:03

JUNEAU — In 2010, the state adopted an energy policy that, among other things, set a goal of having 50 percent of Alaska’s electric generation come from renewable and alternative energy sources by 2025.

The likeliest way to reach the goal is widely believed to include a major project in south-central Alaska, the proposed Susitna-Watana hydro complex. But the project, which critics see as unnecessary with the state pursuing a natural gas pipeline, is far from assured.

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Exploration off 38%, producing mines strong

Tue, 2014-02-18 01:02

JUNEAU — Mining is good for Alaska’s economy, but while the state’s six producing mines are holding up well, and some even expanding, a sharp 38 percent drop in exploration spending last year is having ripple effects.

Overall, mining employed 4,600 Alaskans directly last year and the overall employment impact totaled 9,100 including indirect jobs created by the spending. Direct payrolls of mining companies totaled $630 million in 2013.

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Photo: Senate Judiciary Q&A

Tue, 2014-02-18 01:01

Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, questions Christie Jamieson, a staff member of Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, during an introduction of Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday. The resolution urges the governor to acquire land in the Tongass National Forest from the federal government

Gov. defends actions for oil refinery's future

Tue, 2014-02-18 01:01

FAIRBANKS — Gov. Sean Parnell said critics of his administration’s actions in a North Pole oil refinery’s impending closure don’t see behind-the-scenes work that could keep the refinery operating.

Flint Hills Resources announced earlier this month that the refinery would cease gasoline production on May 1 and the production of jet fuel by June 1.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://bit.ly/M6SNuW ) Parnell told the newspaper’s editorial board that the price the state sets for refinery “royalty” oil is under review.

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Stedman spends most for legislative travel

Mon, 2014-02-17 17:30

Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman presides over the Energy Council’s 2013 State and Provincial Trends in Energy and the Environment Conference June 21st in the North Dakota Capitol. Energy Council trips made up about 40 percent of Stedman’s 2013 travel expenses.

State officials recently released documents showing how much each legislator spent on travel last year. The totals range from a little more than $1,000 to almost $50,000.

Two of the most expensive travelers are from Southeast.

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Sen. Bert Stedman spent more on legislative travel last year than any other lawmaker.

The Sitka Republican spent more than $47,000 for airfare, lodging, car rentals, meals, per diem and other costs. That’s about a third more than the previous year.

“I’ve never been No. 1 before. I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” he says.

About 40 percent of Stedman’s charges covered meetings and trainings for the Energy Council, which he chaired for most of the year.

The organization includes lawmakers from energy-producing states and provinces, as well as Venezuela. Members meet quarterly, and Stedman attended additional events.

“So it is important that we get outside and educate ourselves on how the industry works and how to structure policies to keep them competitive in a global environment,” he says.

In all, 20 of Alaska’s 60 lawmakers attended at least one Energy Council meeting.

A lot of Stedman’s other reimbursed travel covered trips to most of the 27 communities in his district. It runs from Metlakatla to Haines.

“So you should see rural legislators really stick out, not for out of state travel, but in-state, just because we’ve got to get around,” he says.

Read Stedman’s 2013 travel report.

Some other lawmakers with big districts also racked up large travel bills. But most high-spenders were in leadership posts.

The state paid almost a million dollars last year for all 60 legislators’ travel. That’s up about 50 percent from 2012.

Rep. Peggy Wilson and lawmakers from other states pose Oct. 30 at the U.S. Department of Transportation during a Conference of State Governments Transportation Policy Academy. (CSG photo)

Another Southeast Representative, Peggy Wilson, was eighth on the travel-expense list.

The Wrangell Republican spent more than $35,000 during 2013.

“Now that we have a 90-day session, we actually have more committee meetings outside of the session. And for me to go to a meeting in Anchorage, it takes three days for sure, depending on what time of day the meetings are,” she says.

Wilson serves as majority whip, a House leadership position. She’s in her fourth year in that post. She says that sent her to in-state organizational meetings and other events.

Wilson also traveled to meetings and academies put on by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the Pacific Northwest Economic Region.

That’s where close to half her total travel costs went.

Does she ever turn down invitations to attend?

“Oh my, yes,” she says. “I could be gone all the time. But you just can’t go to every one. So you try to pick and chose which ones you think are going to be the most meaningful.”

Wilson’s 2013 total showed a five-fold increase from the previous year.

Read Wilson’s travel report. 

Southeast’s other three sitting lawmakers were in the bottom third of the travel-spending list.

Juneau Republican Representative Cathy Munoz was 42nd out of 60 with about $7,000 in spending. Sitka Democratic Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins was 52nd at $4,500. And Juneau Democratic Senator Dennis Egan was 55th, with only $3,300 spent on travel.

Former House Minority Caucus Leader Beth Kerttula came in 35th, with about $11,000 spent. The Juneau Democrat resigned her post last month to take a job at California’s Stanford University.



Timber, languages, Murkowski things to watch

Mon, 2014-02-17 01:03

JUNEAU — With the scheduled 90-day session about one-third of the way over, at least four different committees are planning hearings on gas line matters this week in an effort to get as many members as possible up to speed on one of this year’s top issues.

The Senate Finance Committee is planning two-a-days Wednesday through Friday, with morning sessions generally focused on the capital budget and late-afternoon hearings on issues related to the liquefied natural gas project. A fiscal analysis of the gas line agreements also is on Friday morning’s agenda.

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Kodiak man turns pallets into furniture

Mon, 2014-02-17 01:01

KODIAK — One man’s bonfire is another man’s raw material to build an Adirondack chair.

About six months ago, Andy Hathcock began using recycled wooden shipping pallets to make chairs, benches, cubbies, chests and other types of furniture. What started as a way to keep occupied has grown into a handful of commissioned jobs as word of his work has spread around the island.

His recent work includes the benches at the Java Flats coffee shop in Bell’s Flats and the tables at Hope Community Resources, where his wife works.

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Students learn safety, leadership on patrol

Mon, 2014-02-17 01:01

KETCHIKAN — Safety and Pride Patrol leaders at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences officially suited up for the first time Monday, donning orange vests, hats and gloves with reflectors and flashing lights.

They had trained for this moment for three weeks, and they felt ready and up to the task.

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'Angel fund' aim: link investors , new businesses

Mon, 2014-02-17 01:00

ANCHORAGE — The municipality’s 49th State Angel Fund thinks it has a winning investment in a medical industry tech startup called Call Dr.

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NTSB: pilot error led to 2011 midair crash

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

ANCHORAGE — Pilot error led to a fatal September 2011 midair crash involving a boyfriend and girlfriend flying near each other in western Alaska, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

The board determined that pilot Scott Veal was flying alongside Kristen Sprague when he suddenly flew just above her much smaller plane and then clipped its wing on the way back down, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

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Man convicted of smuggling narwhal tusks

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

BANGOR, Maine — A New Jersey man accused of smuggling narwhal tusks into the United States was convicted Friday of federal crimes, several of which carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

A federal jury in Maine convicted Andrew Zarauskas of Union, N.J., on six counts, including conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering for his role in a smuggling ring, prosecutors said. He was released on $25,000 unsecured bond while awaiting sentencing.

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Harborview Medical Center director abruptly quits

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

SEATTLE — The executive director of the region’s top trauma hospital, Harborview Medical Center, has abruptly resigned.

Eileen Whalen’s departure was announced Friday in a memo to staff at the Seattle hospital, The Seattle Times reported. Whalen is a noted trauma-services expert who had been executive director since 2008.

Harborview is the only top-level adult and pediatric trauma center in Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

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Former Alaska territorial governor dies at 94

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

ANCHORAGE — A man who lobbied congressional members for Alaska statehood and served as one of the state’s last territorial governors has died.

Mike Stepovich died early Friday in a San Diego hospital at the age of 94, his daughter, Antonia Stepovich Gore, told The Associated Press. Services are pending.

“Our hearts are full,” she said.

She said the three things that were most important to him were “family, faith and Alaska, and that could be in any order on any given day.”

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House education panel delves into vocational-tech credits

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:09

JUNEAU — The House Education Committee on Friday took up funding aspects of an education bill by Gov. Sean Parnell that would allow vocational credits to be counted as high school credits for participating students.

Under the bill, the 10 vocational schools involved must have such an agreement in place with high schools that send students into their program or face a 20 percent reduction in state funding.

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Concealed carry on campus?

Sun, 2014-02-16 01:08

Fittingly, the bill introduced Friday that would prohibit the University of Alaska Board of Regents from banning concealed weapons on campus actually is the result of campus discussions.

Intern Hans Rodvik approached Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, about the proposal earlier this session. The Senate majority leader agreed to carry SB176 under one condition — Rodvik would be in charge of seeing it through the legislative process.

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