Puppy lost in the Chilkat Lake area. His name is Ollie (OH- LEE) he has a black face, looks...
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Southeast Alaska News
School Board member Ralph Beardworth gives and update on the February 12th meeting. SB021314
A House of Representatives committee discussed a bill Wednesday that would outline the policies governing police usage of unmanned aircraft over Alaska.
Representatives on the House Judiciary Committee took no action on HB255, which is sponsored by Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, and several others.
The bill is the result of work done by the Legislative Task Force on Unmanned Aircraft Systems — an entity established by HCR6 last year to develop policies for drone usage in Alaska, Hughes said.
Alaska Chief Justice Dana Fabe identified five ambitions for future progress during her State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the state Legislature on Wednesday.
Fabe highlighted the gains of the state’s judicial system over the past decade before launching into the branch’s goals going forward.
“We are willing to embark in new directions when the time and circumstances warrant it,” Fabe said.
Legislation introduced Wednesday would tighten state laws on lawmakers’ ability to vote when a conflict of interest has been pointed out.
The tandem of legislation, SB172 and SCR15, would require majority approval for a lawmaker to cast their vote if they’ve previously noted a significant conflict of interest relating to a particular issue.
A Community Land Trust is another step closer to reality in Sitka.
The Sitka Assembly Tuesday night (2-11-14) awarded $7,500 to the Sitka Community Development Corporation to support the non-profit’s creation of a trust.
The funding will support the salary of the non-profit’s director, Mim McConnell, who is also Sitka’s mayor.
McConnell recused herself from assembly deliberation on the matter, but spoke as a member of the public. She wanted to assure her colleagues on the assembly that she was not in it for the money.
“I will continue to work, even without pay. As I’m doing right now. I’m not getting paid right now. Even though they want to pay me, the money just isn’t there. But I’ve continued to work — and I will continue to work — because I believe in this so much, and I feel so passionately about it.”
The assembly approved the request, with Pete Esquiro dissenting. The funding comes from a $10,000 emergency fund the city sets aside for non-profits.
The Sitka Community Development Corporation has been working with a consultant, Burlington Associates, on establishing a local community land trust. Burlington’s Michael Brown briefed the assembly in a work session before Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Brown, and SCDC chairman Randy Hughey also outlined the program for the Sitka Chamber of Commerce the following day.
The goal of a community land trust is to create affordable home ownership for people of middle income. CLT’s own the land under the homes in perpetuity, and homeowners buy and sell only the houses themselves.
In a place like Sitka, where scarcity is driving up the price of land, this can lower the purchase price of a home significantly — and make the difference for someone trying to qualify for a mortgage.
It will also lower the potential return when the house is sold, but that’s the deal people make, Brown says, when they buy a home in a community land trust.
“When they choose to leave, if they ever decide to sell, we ask them to leave the affordability that we created for them, so that another family in the same circumstances as the original owners has that same benefit.”
Brown said that most people live in a CLT home for 5-7 years, and then transition to the traditional marketplace.
Community land trusts are owned by a non-profit board — in this case the Sitka Community Development Corporation — and homeowners pay a small monthly fee to the trust to cover management costs.
Homeowners also agree to maintain their properties in a way that retains the value of the property — much like a homeowner’s or neighborhood association in the traditional marketplace.
Randy Hughey helped give the chamber audience some perspective on the problem, as a long-time resident of Sitka.
“The reason that a community land trust makes so much sense — I think — because we know very well that you can’t just step into this as young family and buy a house here. Because of that, in 1992 there were 1,800 and some students in school. Twenty years later, there are 1,300 and some students here. 500 students fewer. That’s a pretty clear demographic. Only people who are our age and who have accumulated some wealth can get into this. That’s a bad idea for a community.”
Hughey said the SCDC would develop a formula based on area median income — or AMI — to qualify prospective buyers. In Sitka, the median income is roughly $75,000 dollars per household. Hughey said the formula would qualify households with incomes 20-percent higher than that — or $90,000.
“$90,000 or $75,000 won’t buy a house in Sitka. This is not low-income housing. This is median-income housing. This is the working professional. Last year I helped a Math teacher with ten years experience and a Masters degree buy a 1970s run down trailer — because that’s what she could afford.”
Hughey said the Sitka Community Development Corporation expected the city to donate land for the first home in the trust. He said the SCDC would like to market its first property this year — in 2014. Members of the chamber audience seemed receptive to the idea. Former mayor Fred Reeder said he thought this was a better idea than putting people into homes which they couldn’t afford. “That nearly wrecked the country,” he said.
Michael Brown said it was a matter of political will.
“Ultimately it’s going to be up to you as the business community, you as the citizenry of this community to say, We’d like to have some housing that’s going to be affordable for folks who are otherwise priced out of the market, because we’d like them to be able to continue to live here.”
Randy Hughey was more blunt. He said Sitka was desperate for housing. The effects on the community were becoming hard to ignore.
“We’ve been talking about affordable housing for a decade here folks. What’s the other idea?”
The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday night (2-11-2014) approved an economic development loan of $350,000 to the Baranof Island Brewing Company. The brewery will use the money to invest in a more efficient grain mill, which it said will allow it to meet a demand for its beer that right now is outstripping its brewing capacity.
The brewing company also plans to launch a new line of canned beer. As of now, the brewery distributes most of its beer in 22-oz bottles. Brewery owners Rick and Suzan Armstrong said that cans are cheaper to ship into and out of Sitka, more environmentally friendly, and have a longer shelf-life – and contrary to what you may have thought, Rick Armstrong said, they don’t change the taste.
“You can’t taste a flavor difference in the can. What you can taste is the aluminum lid of the can. So if you’re a true beer nerd you should pour it into a glass before you drink it,” Armstrong said, to laughter.
It is the brewing company’s third loan from the fund since the brewery was founded in 2009. The Southeast Alaska Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund, also called the Stevens Fund, was created to support projects that diversify the local economy, and provide employment outside the timber industry. The brewery currently has six full-time and five part-time employees. It estimates the expansion will allow it to hire two more full-time employees.
During the meeting, the assembly also heard from Sitka Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, who called in from Juneau with this report:
“In short,” he said. “The state is going broke.”
Kreiss-Tomkins said that the state has seen a dramatic shift in the past few years from budget surplus to budget deficit – one that is particularly evident in the capital fund, which pays for major infrastructure projects.
“Three years ago, the legislature was writing almost $2-billion in capital projects into the budget,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “Two years ago, that number went down to $1.1-billion, and then last year that number’s now at $400-million. And this year it’s probably going to be even less than that, I would guess in the $300-million range.”
That’s a reality that hit Sitka this year: the city had hoped the state would chip in about $18.5-million to finish the Blue Lake hydro project, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely. The city is now applying for a low-cost loan from the Alaska Energy Authority to cover that final $18.5-million – but even the loan requires approval in both houses of the Alaska legislature.
To that end, a delegation from Sitka, including Mayor Mim McConnell and City Administrator Mark Gorman, will be in Juneau tomorrow (2-13-2014) for a marathon round of meetings, to discuss the Blue Lake expansion with legislators, the governor’s office, and perhaps the governor himself.
The assembly also heard a report from Gorman, who had accompanied the McGraws, owners of the Old Sitka Dock, on visits to several cruise ship companies this month.
“Sitka is clearly seen as a different port to the cruise ship industry,” Gorman said. “The descriptors of ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ were used by seven cruise ship companies we visited, and I think, in there lies an opportunity for branding…They talked about the marquee ports – Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway – and said, ‘Sitka is not one of those, and our guests, our passengers, always come back and say, we love Sitka for being a real community.’ So I think we need to capitalize on that.”
The Assembly also passed on final reading an ordinance encouraging city agencies to purchase goods and services locally.
The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday night authorized the city to spend up to $250,000 to develop a new solid waste management plan.
The vote marks the start of a total reexamination of how Sitka deals with its trash.
The city plans to hire the firm CB&I (Shaw Environmental, Inc., a Chicago Bridge and Iron Company) to draw up the plan.
City Administrator Mark Gorman spoke for many in the room when he said he initially had “sticker shock” at the cost. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot, he said.
“We’ve received some comments from the public,” Gorman said. “Saying, a quarter of a million dollars, what is this buying us?”
What it’s buying is a top-to-bottom assessment of how Sitka handles its waste now, what it could do differently in the future, and how much it all might cost. The study will cover everything from trash and recycling to composting and bear problems. The city last created a waste management plan in the 1990s, Gorman said, and it’s about time it was updated.
“The price seems high, but not doing it, I think the price will be considerably higher,” Gorman said.
Public works director Michael Harmon is heading up the effort. He said one of the big issues the plan will address is whether to ramp up the city’s recycling program. Right now, residents can drop off household recycling at the Sitka Recycle Center. But Harmon said that other communities across Southeast are trying a different approach.
“[In] Southeast, in particular Juneau and Petersburg, there’s a big focus, even Ketchikan, looking at upping their recycle program and moving to curbside recycling, where you get it collected at your home-site,” Harmon said.
Gorman said that Sitka currently has a fairly low rate of recycling.
“And if you make access easier, for example curbside recycling, you can drive that way up,” Gorman said.
But the plan will address much more than just recycling – everything from how much waste Sitka can expect to generate in the future – and how much it will cost just to maintain existing services – to what would be required to add new services, like composting.
Harmon said that CB&I was chosen in part because they’ve worked with other Alaskan cities, including Kodiak and Juneau, and understand some of the challenges that Sitka faces as a remote island community. Sitka currently ships its garbage by barge and rail to the Roosevelt landfill in eastern Washington; recycling is also shipped to Washington State.
A team from CB&I will be in Sitka the week of March 11 to kick off the effort. They will meet with the assembly and city staff, and hold several public meetings to hear from community members.
Harmon said he hopes for a final plan to be ready this fall. The city’s current contracts for garbage collection and off-island disposal expire in 2015, and Harmon said that would be a good time to make any changes, if the city does decide to transform the way it takes out the trash.
The record setting pink salmon catch in Alaska last year has left seafood processing companies with several year’s worth of inventory of canned product, although not all of the pink salmon winds up in a can. In fact, industry in recent years has been freezing and reprocessing around half of Alaska’s pink catch. Analysts say that move has helped weather the boom and bust cycles of salmon returns.
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“The 2013 pink harvest was the largest on record,” said Joe Jacobson, director of the state’s division of Economic Development, testifying before the House fisheries committee this month. “It’s led to a glut of supply and it will probably, there will be downward pressure on prices because of it. And it’s really been a pretty tremendous impact.”
Fishing fleets caught 219 million pink salmon in Alaska last year. That helped fill up an estimated four million cases of tall pink cans and its left companies with almost five million cases in inventory.
“Even though the catch was big, we’re not having any real problems moving through it,” said Tom Sunderlund, vice president of marketing for Ocean Beauty Seafoods, one of the companies that processes pinks in Alaska. He says the demand for Alaska salmon seems to keep growing. “That isn’t to say we don’t have a lot of inventory, we do. We’re in a heavy inventory position right now and that’s always a little worrisome when you’re holding more inventory than you want but it is selling well. That’s what I’ve heard from other processors as well. No one’s in any kind of panic mode. Nobody feels the need to start dropping prices or taking any kind of drastic action. So at this point even despite the heavy catch it looks like it’s going OK.”
Companies say a can of salmon has a shelf life about six years so processors don’t need to sell all of the 2013 catch right away. Andy Wink is a seafood analyst for the McDowell Group, a consulting firm that works with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Given where sales have been the last several years, we’re looking at inventory of about 2.6 years, in terms of how much supply do we have and how much inventory do we have. So that would take us beyond 2015 even if we did not can another salmon for the next couple years.”
Wink says a chronic oversupply depressed prices in the early 2000s. “That made it very difficult obviously to sell new production, but through a lot of hard work, through lot of marketing and actually through just shifting a lot of that product out of the can, we were able to bring that inventory down and price has improved as a result. So I think we’ve probably in this area before but it has been some time.”
Pinks that don’t end up in cans are often headed and gutted, then frozen and shipped overseas for more processing. That’s become an increasing portion of the catch, according to the Institute of Social and Economic Research’s Gunnar Knapp. “Processors have increasingly started freezing salmon and shipping it to the far east to countries like China, Vietnam and Thailand for reprocessing into value added products.”
That fish is processed into many different kinds of products, including pouched pink salmon and then sent back to the US or elsewhere around the globe. “I think that what is going to make things somewhat easier with this year than compared to other years is that not as large a share is going into cans. And so they’ve got a big inventory but it would have been a lot bigger if it was all going into cans,” Knapp says.
Analysts say that product diversification has helped drive down inventory and improve prices for Alaska’s pinks. Wholesale prices for cases of tall pink salmon cans topped 100 dollars in 2012 and 2013, more than double what they were a decade ago. There’s some expectation that those high prices will start dropping. But there’s also help on the way for the big inventory of cans.
The Department of Agriculture will be buying 20 million dollars of canned pink salmon for food assistance programs across the country. That’s an expanded purchase over past years and the decision was hailed by Alaska’s Senators in January.
Analyst with the McDowell Group, Wink says it will be a process to move through the big catch. “But I think there is the capacity for the market to absorb it. And again one other thing for canned salmon, especially with this buy by the federal government, the hope is we can introduce new people to the product. Because it’s really hard to double production, or triple it and then assume you’re gonna move that into the same number of consumers. When that happens you’ve gotta get new people buying the product.”
That’s where marketing comes in.
“Well it certainly presents a marketing challenge when you have such a huge catch and trying to maintain the value,” says Tyson Fick, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s communications director. “But it’s very much a good problem to have.”
Fick says ASMI will be spending an additional one point five million dollars to move pink salmon and notes companies don’t want to hold a big can inventory for too long. “And at the same time we don’t wanna be dumping product on the market and crashing the price because that’s not good for anybody either. So that’s where the marketing effort comes in is to try and maintain the value, while at the same time incentivizing product moving.”
That means recipe and coupon campaigns to bolster sales in traditional domestic markets for canned pinks, places like the southeastern United States. Fick says they also hope to market some of the Alaska product to canned food companies in the United Kingdom. “Looking to partner in the UK with places like John West and Princes, where the UK is a very big traditional canned salmon market, currently more focused on sockeyes but again this is an opportunity to come in at a little bit lower cost with our largest canned salmon export market.”
Fick says canned salmon’s biggest competitor is probably canned tuna fish and other proteins that customers reach for in the supermarket. Traditional customers are the baby boomer generation and their parents but ASMI also wants to promote canned fish to new potential customers in the younger generations.
Crab boats in northern Southeast Alaska were out fishing Wednesday for Tanner and golden king crab after two days of weather delays.
The two fisheries were scheduled to open Monday but were delayed 48 hours because of high wind, cold and freezing spray in central and northern parts of the Southeast panhandle.
Shortly before the start of crabbing Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced a six-day Tanner crab season for the most popular “core” areas of Southeast. Those areas will close at noon Tuesday, February 18. Other waters will be open until Sunday, February 23rd. Season length is based on estimated crab biomass and number of pots registered in the fishery. 59 pot vessels are signed up and will be using 47-hundred and 20 pots this season.
Meanwhile, some crabbers are out seeking golden king crab. That season also opened at noon Wednesday.
Ketchikan School District Superintendent Robert Boyle gave a “State of the Schools” address at Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce lunch, and touched on a number of topics. Boyle discussed education strategy, interventions to help struggling students and the numerous cooperative programs the district runs with local groups and businesses. A big topic right now is education funding. Boyle addressed the district’s budget for the coming school year, which the School Board is in the middle of drafting.
The State of Alaska requires that school districts spend at least 70 percent of their budgets on direct instruction, and many districts struggle to reach that standard. In fact, some ask for waivers year after year.
“We’re at 79 percent,” Boyle told the Chamber audience. “If we use a $32 million budget for our school district, we’re up there (at) $2.7-$2.8 million above and beyond what is required for direct instruction.”
Superintendent Boyle said that’s a result of a concentrated effort to keep costs low in every way so that as much money as possible can be spent on students. He said they’ve cut fuel and electricity consumption – and hope to reduce heating costs even more by converting some schools to biomass boilers. Boyle said they also keep busing as efficient as possible, look for grants wherever they can, and maintain a small central office staff.
Boyle said the Ketchikan School District’s central office is about 4 percent of the overall budget.
“Statewide, the next lowest is 7 percent,” he said. “We could increase our district office expenses by $900,000 and still be the smallest percentage of a district office of anyplace in the state of Alaska.”
Boyle said other district offices in the state run from 7 to 14 percent of their budgets.
“Our district office is small. It’s a lean machine and we’re getting some things done,” he said.
Despite saving wherever possible, the Ketchikan School District still faces budget challenges. The district budget lists the programs and costs, some required and others optional, in order of priority. The optional items are underneath the mandatory programs, and in the middle of the list is a red line. Items below the line are not funded – at least not with expected money.
Some of the items below the red line right now include music programs for the elementary schools, a dean for Houghtaling Elementary School, five administrative staff members, school supplies and materials, new computers and extracurricular activities.
Boyle said some of the items under the red line will most likely be funded. There will be some carryover funds from this year, and the state is talking about increasing the per-student allocation.
“We’ll have more money, we’ll be more successful than what the red line is today, but that’s where we are today,” he said. “We’re confident that the music program will be funded.”
Activities funding, though, is pretty far down the list. Whether it will remain in that spot is up to the School Board.
Boyle said activities continue to be a problem, not just for funding reasons, but because of increasing transportation issues, and students missing out on class in order to attend competitions in other communities.
“We’re going to try and address that in a number of different ways,” he said. “One of them may be the suggested creation of a four-day calendar at the high school level, or a calendar that doesn’t fall five days every day, every week, every month. We’ve got to do something different so we can address transportation issues.”
Boyle invited members of the public to attend School Board meetings, in order to offer suggestions and input about the budget and other topics of interest.
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Susan Michaels is the artist-in-residence at Keet Gooshi Heen elementary school. She’s been teaching students traditional American country dancing. Her work culminates this Friday with a live barn dance for the students and general public (6:30 PM Fri Feb 14, Keet Gooshi Heen, no charge) with Sitka’s contra band Fishing for Cats. Michaels hails from Los Angeles, where she’s been calling dances for 30 years.
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Assembly authorizes spending $250,000 to create new solid waste plan. Decision on funding Community Ride is postponed until spring budget planning. ADF&G conducting subsistence surveys in Sitka. Legislators respond to governor’s position on Ketchikan school funding lawsuit.
Sitkans may hear an unexpected knock at their doors this February, if they haven’t already. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game will survey 200 randomly-selected households to find out what was harvested in Sitka last year.
Davin Holen, a program manager with ADF&G’s Division of Subsistence says he may show up at your door with questions like this: Was your households harvest and use less, the same, or more than in recent years?
“It could be that populations or stocks of fish are down, or people weren’t able to access those resources,” Holen says. “So it just gives us an idea of what has changed over the last few years and what might be impacting people’s ability to meet their harvesting goals.”
The survey is part of a project aimed at filling information gaps on harvesting throughout the state.
Holen says, “that includes all wild resources whether they harvest it under sport fish regulation, or subsistence regulations, or hunting. It’s all wild resources that come into the household.”
At the last state Board of Fisheries meeting, the department realized that Sitka hadn’t been surveyed since 1996.
“Here in Sitka there’s also declines in shellfish that we identified at the last Board of Fisheries meeting and there are several of those issues that led us to the decision to spend what small funds that we have,” says Holen.
So, if your address made the list here’s what you can expect. For starters, the survey is completely voluntary, anonymous, and confidential. Depending on your level of harvesting activity, it can take 15 minutes to an hour. A trained surveyor will ask for basic demographic information, as well as how you hunt, gather, and fish. They want to know about techniques, the tools you use, and where you go.
Holen says there is also an economics section. “This is really an important section for us because it takes money to go out and access resources. You have to have a boat, or motor, and sometimes jobs interfere.”
The survey is also designed to reflect cultural practices.
“Subsistence is a lifestyle that involves the harvest of wild resources and also the sharing of wild resources with your family, your neighbors,” says Holen. “So that’s something we identify in rural communities, that people are bringing resources into their household whether they harvest it themselves or they’re given them.” He says sharing resources tends to be a cultural tradition in many rural communities.
As for the 10 year rural reauthorization cycle, Holen says that’s determined by the federal government and he represents the state. The information he gathers could be used in that process, but that’s not the purpose of this survey.
For Holen it’s about painting a complete picture of harvesting across the state. And identifying trends. For instance, in many rural Alaskan communities 70% of a community harvest comes from 30% of households. It’s up to the boards of fisheries and game to then decide what to do with that information.
The crew will be in town until February 24th, or until they determine that the survey is complete.
Republican Gov. Sean Parnell raised more than $400,000 in campaign donations from April 25, 2013, to Feb. 1 of this year. Parnell’s report is the first filed by the three main gubernatorial hopefuls.
More than 93 percent of that money was donated by Alaskans. In total, more than 1,100 individuals donated, and the donations ranged from $5 to $500.
Chief Justice, Dana Fabe delivered the Annual Address to the Legislature
JUNEAU — A bill that would allow municipalities to post certain public notices online rather than in newspapers advanced from a state House committee Tuesday.
Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said the bill, HB275, is part of an effort toward making government agencies more efficient while not compromising the public’s need to know.
The bill would give municipalities the option of posting mill rate, foreclosure and redemption of foreclosure notices on municipal websites that are accessible to the public instead of being published in newspapers.
Lawmakers discussed a bill Tuesday that would make repaying victim restoration costs a top priority for dividend funds collected from incarcerated Alaskans.
The bill, SB104, is sponsored by Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, and would set a ranking system of how prisoners’ dividends should be used.
“There’s not a priority in statute in how money from prisoners’ Permanent Fund dividends is spent,” Dyson told the Empire after the meeting. “This makes sure the victim gets money before the state departments do.”
JUNEAU — Alaska students’ scores on Advanced Placement exams are lagging behind the national average.
A report Tuesday from the College Board shows nearly 15 percent of Alaska seniors scored a 3 or higher last year on the exam, which is a way to earn college credit. Most colleges or universities require a score of at least 3 on a scale of 1-5 to award credit.
The national average was about 20 percent.
FAIRBANKS — Fire officials in Fairbanks continue to investigate the cause of a deadly blaze last month at an apartment building.
“We’re still piecing things together on it,” Deputy Fire Chief Ernie Misewicz told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
He said they have conducted about 25 interviews, but there are still about six people left to speak with.
“I’m hoping by the end of the week to be able to put out some information,” he said Monday. “There are a lot of people wanting to know what’s going on.”
ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Board of Fisheries has responded to pleas from Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials and approved new rules for Cook Inlet commercial fishing that are aimed at protecting salmon runs in borough streams.
The rules were put in place to protect Susitna River sockeye and weak runs of coho in popular angling spots such as the Little Susitna River and Jim Creek, the Anchorage Daily News reported.