The U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Wainwright, Department of Public Works is holding a meeting of the...
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Southeast Alaska News
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.
FAIRBANKS — Kristen Sullivan didn’t think homemade dog biscuits would take over her life when she made her first batch in 2009.
As she remembers it, she began experimenting with baking dog treats when it was 40 below outside her small cabin off Goldhill Road. She named the snacks after her dog Ruby, who later died when she was hit by a car. Early batches were based on ingredients Sullivan researched on the web.
FAIRBANKS — State lawyers are reviewing documentation filed by the Alaska Innocence Project in its efforts to overturn the convictions of four men in the fatal beating of a Fairbanks teenager in 1997.
Department of Law Criminal Division Director John Skidmore said it’s too early to say if the documents will affect the case, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Friday.
FAIRBANKS — The financially strapped Alaska Dog Mushers Association plans to maintain a full-race schedule.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the decision was reached Thursday. The schedule includes hosting the Limited North American Championships and Arctic Winter Games at the Jeff Studdert Racegrounds, as well as the Open North American Sled Dog Championships in downtown Fairbanks.
“Right now, as it stands, the race schedule remains the same as was approved at the annual meeting in March,” association president Mike McCowan said Friday.
WRANGELL — Wrangell residents will determine Tuesday whether city-borough sales tax will drop from 7 percent to 5.5 percent.
Voters will act on a ballot initiative on sales tax that’s the highest, along with Kodiak, in the state.
The sales tax brings in about $503,000 a year. It supports basic services such as police and public schools plus extras such as the spring health fair and Fourth of July fireworks, KSTK-radio reported. The public radio station itself receives money from the city and borough and faces a cut of $9,200 if the initiative passes.
ANCHORAGE — To the chagrin and worry of Alaska transportation officials, Apple reactivated maps app directions Friday that guide drivers to the edge of a runway instead of a terminal at the Fairbanks airport.
Apple had notified Fairbanks International Airport officials that the faulty directions had been disabled.
Officials, though, noticed the app was back to giving the misguided directions on Friday and was also providing another route that leads to the taxiway.
They don’t know why the app was reactivated with more faulty directions.
JUNEAU — About 32 percent of Alaska’s 2013 public high school graduates were eligible for state-sponsored merit scholarships, preliminary figures suggest.
Of the 2,475 graduates eligible for Alaska Performance scholarships, about 830 are using them this fall, according to preliminary data from the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education.
KODIAK — Sailors are used to changing weather. When it comes to the ocean, that’s about the only reliable thing.
The National Weather Service provides the best glimpse into what the changing weather will bring, but starting Oct. 1, it’s the forecasts themselves that will be changing.
On that date, forecasters will change the boundaries of their forecast areas in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. It’s a small change on the map, but it promises a big difference for sailors who rely upon the weather service’s marine forecasts.
KETCHIKAN — After talking about it for 20 years, Karl Richey has opened his own jazz club.
Richey started playing jazz in the 1960s in San Francisco, where he grew up. He played in a variety of venues, even putting out his own self-titled album in 1969. He performed in “Hair,” a Broadway-style musical, in San Francisco and Los Angeles and continued to play his music.
KETCHIKAN — Residents have filed a petition to incorporate the Southeast Alaska community of Edna Bay as a second-class city.
The proposed city would include about 23 square miles of land and more than 4 square miles of tidelands and submerged land, KRBD reported. The group behind the effort filed its petition with the Alaska Local Boundary Commission.
Legislation that would exempt Alaska from the U.S. Forest Service’s Roadless Rule hasn’t moved out of committee since it was introduced in February by Sen. Mark Begich and co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The bill would allow roads to be built to the proposed Niblack and Bokan mines on Prince of Wales Island.