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Southeast Alaska News

Petersburg High wins first track meet in over 30 years

Mon, 2014-04-28 17:05

Freshmen Izabelle Ith breaks the record in the 100 meter hurdles. Photo/Brad Taylor

The Petersburg High School girls track team won their first meet in over three decades. The girls took first place in Ketchikan over the weekend while the boys’ team took third place. The girls also broke four school records.

The teams participating in the meet besides Petersburg included Ketchikan, Thunder Mountain, Sitka, Juneau, and Thorne Bay. A few of those schools have twice as many athletes on their teams as Petersburg.

But the other girls’ teams were not even close to Petersburg who finished the meet with 100 total points, 20 more than second place Ketchikan and 32 more points than third place Thunder Mountain. The Petersburg boys earned 67 points which was just two points behind second placed Sitka. The Ketchikan boys team won with 87 points.

Besides winning the meet, the Petersburg girls also broke a few school records including the four by 800 meter relay. In the relay were Kylie Wallace, Robyn Schwartz, Fran Abbott, and Hannah Pfundt. The team ran it in 10 minutes and 54 seconds.

Freshmen Izabelle Ith broke the record in the 100 meter hurdles AND the 100 meter dash. Her time in the 100 hurdles was 16.37 seconds and she finished the 100 meter dash in 13.22 seconds. She was also just one inch off from the long jump record at 15 feet, 7 inches.

Senior Grace Weller broke the school record for the two-mile race with a time of 12 minutes, 7 seconds.

Winning the meet was definitely special for the girls’ team. But perhaps no one was more excited than their coach Brad Taylor who has been waiting for decades for the stars to align. It was the school’s first win in the 32 years he’s been coaching track in Petersburg.

First mega cruise ship docks in Ketchikan

Mon, 2014-04-28 16:06

The Volendam cruise ship docked in Ketchikan Monday.

The first mega cruise ship of the year docked in Ketchikan Monday. Holland America Cruise Line’s Volendam carries more than 1,200 passengers. The cruise started in Japan and Ketchikan was the final stop before the cruise ends in Vancouver.


An employee at the Ketchikan Visitor Center is explaining the city’s bus system to a tourist couple wearing rain gear. The center is filled with tourists from the Volendam who are taking shelter from rain and asking questions about Ketchikan.

Kerry is the visitor services coordinator here.

“I think we’re off to an okay start,” she said. “It’s always exciting, the first ship is always kind of exciting. There’s a lot of energy in the air.”

Bill and Terri Heaver from Williamsburg, Virginia, were heading out of the center and into town. They were on the cruise for their 50th anniversary. Terri said she was hoping to see eagles.

“I had no idea Alaska was so vast,” said Bill.

Bill and Terri Heaver are tourists from Virginia.

Outside of the visitors center, it’s cold and rainy. But that’s driving people into the shops lining downtown Ketchikan. A lot of those shops have been closed all winter, and are just opening for the season today.

“It’s really exciting because when the winter’s here it’s kind of like a ghost town downtown,” said one employee at the jewelry shop Alaska Bear Company. “So when the cruise ships come in it’s like the downtown is really alive.”

Two tourists from Singapore, who were visiting Ketchikan for the second time.

A tourist  named Corrine from Singapore said it was her second time in Ketchikan.

“[It's a] fantastic place, magnificent glaciers, scenery,” she said. She was on the cruise with her father.

While most tourists were positive about Alaska, some had criticism.

A group of tourists from Canada and Australia sit in a downtown coffee shop. They were critical of their previous stop in Juneau.

“I just want to say, Juneau, for being the capital of Alaska, needs to improve itself a lot,” said a tourist name Kel, who is from Calgary. “It left a really bad impression on people on the ship because it’s so run down, a lot of intoxicated people on the streets.”

The only complaint tourists seemed to have about Ketchikan was the rain. The next cruise ship docks in town May 4th. About 850,000 cruise ship passengers are expected to visit Ketchikan this season.

Yukon Popcorn Emporium opened for the season Monday, in time for the first mega cruise ship.

Project to restore herring, starting with Sitka

Mon, 2014-04-28 14:00

Aerial view of the Starrigavan boat launch, looking south. (ADF&G photo)

Before statehood and the advent of scientific management, Southeast Alaska’s herring populations were harvested — and depleted — without much thought for the future. Herring reduction plants were numerous in the region in the early twentieth century, but the industry was short-lived. Many believe the herring population in Sitka Sound now is a fraction of what it was in those days, and wonder if herring stocks — like salmon — can be restored. A recent grant intends to launch that effort.

Listen to iFriendly audio.

Just look at Raven Radio’s Facebook page. Photos of active herring spawn in Sitka Sound and hemlock branches coated with eggs are the kind of posts that go viral. It’s clear that many more than the 9,000 people that live in Sitka are herring obsessed.

“Culturally it’s important obviously as a major subsistence resource in the Sitka area but also very important in trade,” says Chuck Smythe, the Director of the history and culture department at Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Smythe says there are places that used to attract herring that don’t anymore. “Some of the oral history suggests that herring just sort of stopped coming and moved to another area.”

He is working with the Sitka Tribe to figure out why they stopped coming, and how the population might be restored throughout Southeast. The Alaska Native Fund granted SHI $15,000 to develop a herring restoration plan in the Sitka vicinity. They chose Sitka because it still attracts heaps of herring. Jeff Feldpausch, STA’s Resource Protection Director, agrees. “Right now Sitka has one of the larger herring stocks in Southeast.” Close to 80,000 tons of herring.

“So, if you were looking at transferring eggs to other locations Sitka would probably have the biomass available,” says Feldpausch, “as far as herring eggs to be able to do that.”

Figuring out exactly how to transplant herring eggs is the tricky part.

“I’ve been told stories about how harvesters from other communities would come over to Sitka and pick up eggs for their community and on their way home they would place a few branches in the water in different locations,” says Feldpausch.

Anecdotes like this one will be heavily weighted in the brainstorming process. But, a recent study on Pacific herring will serve as the framework. Anthropologist Tom Thornton was the principal investigator of the Herring Synthesis Project. Smythe says it’s the most thorough attempt to date at demystifying the Pacific herring.

Forman: And so, why now?
Smythe: Well it was just realizing that this significant study had been completed. I came to the realization that it would be good to use this information and take it to the next step.

The Herring Synthesis Project combines archaeological, biological, and cultural data. It identifies things like how herring were distributed throughout Southeast, what factors could have changed spawning location, and where herring could thrive. And basically concludes that there are a lot less herring than there used to be.

Feldpausch says the goal is to return herring to historical levels, “before the late 1800s.” Back before commercial sac-roe fisheries, back before herring were mainly reduced to oil, and back before herring were simply fished for bait.

Smythe says he is in the midst of working his way through Thornton’s study. “And there’s just a lot we don’t know about herring.” Smythe says there are a number of factors that explain why herring left certain areas: pollution from logging and the pulp mill, other industrial activities that may have contaminated the water, or hatchery salmon released when the herring are most vulnerable – to name a few.

STA will host a panel discussion of experts in June. Thornton’s study will serve as the framework for the discussion. And Feldpausch says the project is a productive step. And hopes the end product will be implemented throughout Southeast.

Sourdough Bar to go smoke-free this week

Mon, 2014-04-28 13:26

The historic Sourdough Bar is joining a growing trend in Alaska. As of Thursday, smoking will no longer be allowed in the downtown establishment.

Wally Kubley, co-owner of the bar and a non-smoker, says he’s wanted to go smoke-free for quite a few years, but there was a bit of an “in-house conflict” that delayed that decision.

A statewide smoking ban has been proposed in the Legislature, and while it didn’t make it through this year, Kubley says he believes it’s going to happen soon. With that in mind, he and the Sourdough’s other owners agreed a few weeks ago to make the switch.

Some communities in Southeast, such as Juneau, have decided to ban smoking in public places, including bars. Individual bars in other towns, such as Wrangell, are choosing on their own to go smoke-free.

Kubley says he believes the switch will improve business. Tourists like to visit the Sourdough, to look at all the historic shipwreck photos that are displayed throughout the bar. However, he says many of those out-of-town visitors turn around at the door when they get a whiff of the secondhand smoke hanging in the air.

Kubley notes that many local residents also won’t come into the Sourdough Bar, and he hopes they will now feel more welcome.

On top of all the other benefits, Kubley says it will take significantly less time and effort to clean the bar each night, and should cut the annual “deep cleaning” in half.

The switch to a smoke-free Sourdough happens this Thursday, May 1st.

Ketchikan places 6th on another top-10 list

Mon, 2014-04-28 12:18

Ketchikan is seen from the water on a beautiful sunny day.

Ketchikan has again made it onto a top-10 list. This time, we are one of the 10 best places to live in Alaska.

Movoto.com, a real estate website, has a blog that placed Alaska’s First City in sixth place. Nobody from the company actually visited the locations on the list; researchers relied on number-crunching, instead. They looked at amenities, cost of living, home and rent prices, income, student-teacher ratios, the crime rate, taxes and weather.

That last one, though, didn’t appear to factor in precipitation; just temperature and air quality.

The No. 1 place on the list was Sitka, followed by Anchorage, Juneau, Barrow, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Bethel, Valdez and North Pole.

Ketchikan was lauded for its weather and air quality, as well as its short commute time, averaging about 13 minutes.

A fair number of Alaskans weighed in on the article in the “comments” section, and most were critical of the list and the factors used to create it. One of the commenters suggested that the website submit the list to The Onion, a well-known satirical news site.

To see the list for yourself, click the link below.


Polio isn’t history, Sitkans raise awareness

Mon, 2014-04-28 12:07

Listen to iFriendly audio.
In recognition of National Infant Immunization Week Sharon Bergman, Shannon Haugland, and Penny Lehman discuss how they are raising awareness about the need for polio eradication today.

Mon Apr 28, 2014

Mon, 2014-04-28 11:47

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Sitka Tribe received a grant to figure out how to restore the herring population throughout Southeast. An update on Ketchikan’s new student nutrition and physical activity guidelines. Tlingit elder Cyril George Sr. of Angoon died at the age of 92.

Herring showing up in Seymour Canal, Tenakee Inlet

Mon, 2014-04-28 09:25

Pacific herring. Photo courtesy of ADF&G.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is starting to see herring in the Juneau District. Biologists conducted aerial surveys of Seymour Canal and Tenakee Inlet yesterday (Sunday).

In Seymour Canal, they saw approximately 215 sea lions and seven whales. Three small schools of herring were observed on the Stephens Passage shoreline just north of Pt. Hugh Light. The majority of the sea lions were inactive in several large rafts at Pt. Hugh and another at Cloverleaf Rocks. A possible spot spawn was observed near Gambier Island on the Big Bend shoreline but no fish or predators were seen in the area.

In Tenakee Inlet, approximately 46 sea lions and two whales were seen. Many schools of herring were observed on the beach in the core area between Strawberry Island and Crab Bay. Fishermen were actively catching fish and filling pounds. On the Chatham shoreline, 40 sea lions and one whale were seen, widely scattered in small groups between South Passage Point and Peninsular Point. Department staff planned to be on the grounds in Tenakee last evening.

The next survey of the Juneau area is planned for today (Monday).

MTV finds wild crowd in Alaska for 'Slednecks'

Mon, 2014-04-28 00:02

NEW YORK — MTV says its upcoming series “Slednecks,” about a wild group of young people in Alaska, isn’t “Buckwild” on ice.

The production company that made “Buckwild” is behind “Slednecks.” Clips of the new series shown to advertisers Thursday featured loud arguments, a snowmobile rider flipping and crashing, and people jumping naked into a lake through a hole cut in thick ice. The show is expected to premiere this fall.

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Construction season approaches across Alaska

Mon, 2014-04-28 00:00

ANCHORAGE— Construction season approaching on most Alaska highways

By Elwood Brehmer, Alaska Journal of Commerce

Alaska’s second season, that of road construction, is upon us.

The Parks Highway will get a major face-lift starting this year, with a dozen projects along the entirety of the Anchorage-Fairbanks link.

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Fire in downtown Petersburg damages apartment

Sun, 2014-04-27 21:22

Photo courtesy of Petersburg Borough.

A fire Friday evening caused damage to an apartment upstairs of Lee’s Clothing in downtown Petersburg. There were no major injuries from the fire although four people were treated by medics.

The fire started in the kitchen when the resident of the apartment fell asleep after he had started to cook dinner. A boiling pot of oil caught on fire which then spread. Dave Berg, Spokesman for the Petersburg Fire Department, says the resident woke up and responded quickly.

“He woke up fortunately when the smoke was coming down, he heard the pops and rattles of the fire on the stove,” Berg says. “He woke up and realized it was more than he could handle. First of all he tried to put out the grease fire by putting something, a plate over the pot but it was blazing up so hot already he couldn’t get close enough to do that and he got slightly injured. So, he ran out into the hall, he got a fire extinguisher, there were a couple of them in the hallway and he came back in and he was able to extinguish the fire pretty much all himself.”

During this time, someone had made an emergency call to the police dispatch. The call came in at 6:15 p.m.

By the time fire fighters and medics arrived with two fire trucks and an ambulance, there was only some smoldering hot spots in parts of the ceiling which they put out.

The resident of the apartment was treated for a slight burn on his forehead and arms. Also, two women and an infant who were living nearby were taken to the Petersburg Medical Center for possible smoke inhalation.

All four people were released shortly after.

The fire department was on scene for about 45 minutes. Even though the fire was short lived, Berg says the damage was extensive to the kitchen area.

“Most of the kitchen will have to be replaced, there was a lot of smoke damage in the apartment,” Berg says. “The ceiling above the kitchen was blackened by smoke and fire and heavy smoke damage throughout the unit.”

To a lesser degree, smoke reached into the nearby apartments and downstairs as well. The fire department used a ventilation system to try to clean out the air in those areas.

All told, Berg says it could have been a lot worse if the resident hadn’t woken up right away.

“It could’ve been very bad because the smoke was definitely coming down very quickly,” Berg says. “Fortunately, he knew exactly where there was a fire extinguisher in the hall and was able to use it to extinguish the fire to a great extent and to that we think that the building was certainly saved from further damage.”

Berg says the fire department, which is run by volunteers, did a great job responding to the fire.

KCAW News, Sentinel win at annual Press Club Awards

Sun, 2014-04-27 18:39

Breaking news, features — or just a few laughs. KCAW News won top honors in the 2014 Alaska Press Club Awards. Robert Woolsey, John and Finn Straley, and Rachel Waldholz brought home four 1st-place awards and one 2nd-place, including two “All Media” awards. Our hats are off to our colleagues at the Daily Sitka Sentinel, who also struck gold in several print categories. Sitka may be small, but we know the news!

See the complete list of 2014 winners.

Best Environmental Reporting – All Media

Second Place: Robert Woolsey, Invading dove remixes Alaskan soundscape

“A well-researched and beautifully reported story about invading doves that was music to our ears.” – Maryana Bradas, judge.

Best Humor – All Media

First Place: Robert Woolsey, John Straley, Finn Straley, Santa to children: Website working, presents will arrive!

“Nice satire and deadpan delivery…. The best of the bunch!” – Tom Goldman, judge.

Best Breaking News Story – Radio

First Place: Robert Woolsey, Couple escapes as landslide destroys cabin

“Good writing and good use of an interview with one of the survivors made this a very compelling and listenable story.” – Corey Flintoff, judge.

Best Reporting on Health or Science – Radio

First Place: Robert Woolsey, Ninja captures mooing rhinos

“Good use of sound that truly transports the listener.” – Harlod Mester, judge.

Best Profile – Radio

First Place: Rachel Waldholz, Nose to snout at Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear

“I loved the sound throughout this piece. The writing was excellent and the story was unique. It was just a lot of fun and creative.” – Jeff Stein, judge.

Jury convicts Alaska man in Coast Guard killings

Sun, 2014-04-27 00:06

ANCHORAGE — A federal jury in Alaska on Friday convicted a man of murder in the shooting deaths of two of his co-workers at a Coast Guard communications station on Kodiak Island.

James Wells, 62, was charged in the 2012 shooting deaths of Coast Guardsmen Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle. Wells, a man with thinning gray hair and a long white beard, did not testify at his trial.

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Success or bust?

Sun, 2014-04-27 00:04

The 2014 Legislative session was a success — or a complete bust — depending on which party you ask. Both sides agree on one point, however: The decisions made during the 28th Legislature will impact generations of Alaskans for years to come.

In the waning days of the regular session, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved bills that addressed the state’s growing unfunded liability in its Public Employees’ and Teachers’ Retirement System and propelled forward plans to build a natural gas pipeline.

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Court rules same-sex couples have equal tax rights

Sun, 2014-04-27 00:03

ANCHORAGE — Same-sex couples in Alaska are equally entitled to the same state property-tax exemptions for senior citizens and disabled veterans as married couples, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The decision upholds a 2011 Superior Court ruling on a taxation case involving three same-sex Anchorage couples who sued the state and municipality of Anchorage 2010 through the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

Joshua Decker, executive director of ACLU of Alaska, hailed the opinion, saying it shows that discrimination has no place in the state.

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Mackey to run for State House / Wilson announces retirement

Fri, 2014-04-25 17:42

Ketchikan Visitors Bureau President and CEO Patti Mackey announced today that she has filed to run as Republican candidate for State House.  House District 36 seat is currently held by Wrangell Republican Peggy Wilson. Wilson announced on the House floor today that she would be retiring.

Mackey made her announcement during a KVB sponsored luncheon. She previously challenged Wilson in 2012 in a three way race with Agnes Moran of Ketchikan in the Republican Primary election.

Long-time Ketchikan teacher Dan Ortiz is running as an independent.

House District 36 represents Ketchikan, Saxman, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Hydaburg, Hyder and Loring.

We will update this story with comments from Mackey, and possibly Wilson, by Monday.

Large percentage of Ketchikan students overweight or obese

Fri, 2014-04-25 17:37

The Ketchikan School Board on Wednesday (April 25th) heard a presentation on the results from a Student Growth Screening Survey. The survey indicates about 42 percent of district students, pre-kindergarten through 9th grade, are either overweight or obese. An additional 6.5 percent of the student population is ranked as severely obese.

Barbara McCarthy is the Ketchikan School District’s Wellness Coordinator. McCarthy says with parental permission, 88 percent of all students enrolled in the Ketchikan School District participated in the survey. Height and weight measurements were taken to determine a student’s BMI or Body Mass Index. McCarthy says BMI measurements are evaluated differently for children than adults.

“In adults it’s a simple ratio or weight to height. For children we have complex growth screen charts. You have to have the age up to the exact month, and that’s why this analysis was done by a statistician at the Department of Health and Social Sciences. It is different for calculating this prevalence for children than it is for adults. It’s a little bit more complex.”

McCarthy acknowledges the use of the BMI is not perfect, but says it is a simple screening tool that is less invasive than other methods.

“It’s been generally accepted to be a fairly good indicator. On individual levels you might have a very athletic student who is very muscular and would have a high BMI even though they would not be overweight or obese. That’s why there’s a letter that will be sent home directly to the parents and it specifically states this is a screening tool, not a diagnosis.”

She says it will be up to parents to decide whether or not to share the information with their children. McCarthy encourages parents with concerns to contact their healthcare provider. She added that the Ketchikan public health center will have a drop-in health clinic May 6th through 9th for those who would like to recheck measurements or seek referrals.

At 28 percent, pre-kindergarten students had the least prevalence of being overweight and obese. Ketchikan 6th graders had the highest rate at 52.9 percent. The percentage of overweight and obese male students was slightly higher than females. Obesity among white students was slightly lower than among American Indian/Alaska Native students. While the home environment may be the greatest influence, McCarthy says school plays an important role.

“Schools are the second most powerful institution when it comes to student health. I agree, families are number one. To move forward in addressing the obesity agenda, families have to be onboard. I think through the wellness program we have had a lot of positive engagement with families, but you cannot ignore the influence that schools have on student health.”

McCarthy says school breakfasts and lunches are the only meals some students get in a day. She says wellness and nutrition policies adopted by the school board can make a difference.

“Consistently studies show that students who eat well, students who are active, perform better academically, they are more likely to go on to higher education, and they have fewer classroom behavior issues. I would urge you to think about the long-term consequences of this policy. Students who are in kindergarten right now, this is going to be important for them for their health and for the funding they are going to receive for schools.”
McCarthy says it will be difficult to change attitudes, and eating habits, but it is critical to establish policies that encourage healthy eating and exercise.

This is the first year the Student Growth Screening is being done district wide. McCarthy says results will provide a baseline that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the school wellness and nutrition program over time.

Animals on parade!

Fri, 2014-04-25 15:55

The 13th Annual Parade of the Species took place today, starting at Pioneer Square and ending at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Participants (both kids and adults) dressed up as their favorite animals and took to the streets in celebration of Earth Day.

Court rules same-sex couples have equal tax rights

Fri, 2014-04-25 11:36

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples are equally entitled to the same state property tax exemptions for senior citizens and disabled veterans as married couples.

Friday's ruling upholds a 2011 Superior Court ruling on a taxation case involving three same-sex Anchorage couples who sued the state and municipality of Anchorage 2010 through the Alaska American Civil Liberties Union.

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Reporter class

Fri, 2014-04-25 11:30

KCAW news fellow Emily Forman (l) and reporter Rachel Waldholz discuss reporting technique with NPR’s Sonari Glinton. (KCAW photo/Shady Grove Oliver)

Good reporters are made, not born. Once a year journalists across the state convene at the Alaska Press Club conference to discuss literally everything under the bright Anchorage sun. This year, NPR’s Western Bureau chief Jason DeRose and business reporter Sonari Glinton spent two days in workshops with reporters teaching the craft of broadcast journalism. KCAW’s Rachel Waldholz and Emily Forman were at the head of the class!