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Southeast Alaska News

Expanded curbside recycling going well in first week

Mon, 2014-02-10 10:41

The first week of an expanded curbside recycling program in Petersburg has gone well. That’s according to the borough’s public works director Karl Hagerman who expects to see a big drop in the amount of garbage the community ships to a landfill in Washington state because of the program. The recycled material is also shipped south, but it costs the borough about one third of the cost of shipping garbage.

Over 700 customers are participating in the unsorted collection of glass, plastics, cans, paper, cardboard and other materials. Hagerman says residents are still signing up and thinks people have done a good job of getting the correct materials into recycling bags. Joe Viechnicki spoke with Hagerman about the first week of co-mingled recycling.

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The borough has large and small bags available at the public works office and finance office. Hagerman says he’s heard several reports of birds pecking at recycling bags. He suggests putting out recycling bags in the morning, not the evening before to cut down on access for birds, or buying a separate garbage can to hold the recycling bags. Another item to note, the increased rate for people who are not recycling takes effect this month.

Three things to watch: Golf, Constitution, judges

Mon, 2014-02-10 01:02

JUNEAU — The Legislature has gotten off to a swift start, not unusual for a second session, though this year has lawmakers grappling with budget deficits and the finer points in plans to advance a liquefied natural gas project.

The budget and pipeline remain major areas of focus this week, with House Finance aiming for the closeout of subcommittee work on the budget by month’s end.

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Ketchikan home has custom staircase to loft

Mon, 2014-02-10 01:01

KETCHIKAN — It would seem Ketchikan is the home of many staircases, from plain stairs covered in asphalt roofing shingles to handcrafted pieces of art.

When Martha Jacobson bought her house at the end of Kingfisher Road in 1986, there was plenty she wanted to do to it. One of the main projects she tackled was adding a staircase to access the loft.

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Sitka students prepare for barn dance

Mon, 2014-02-10 01:01

SITKA — Students at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary this week learned how to line up as either a “biscuit” or “butter.”

They created a “spiral” and a “bagel.”

And they held hands, sashayed and do-si-doed to the sound of modern and traditional music in the school music room as the visiting teacher Susan Michaels called the dances.

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Researchers looking for cause of starfish deaths

Mon, 2014-02-10 01:01

ANCHORAGE — Starfish at the Anchorage Museum have shown signs of a wasting disease reported up and down the West Coast, and eight had to be euthanized last fall.

The creatures are dying of sea star wasting syndrome, an affliction that causes white lesions to develop on the starfish’s skin and an unnatural twisting of the arms, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The starfish die after losing their arms and their tissues soften.

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Weather delays Southeast crab seasons until Wednesday

Sun, 2014-02-09 19:07

Crab boats in Southeast are waiting at least until Wednesday for the start of two lucrative commercial crab fisheries in the region.

Fishing was scheduled to open at noon today (Monday, 2/10) for golden king and Tanner crab. However the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced a 24-hour delay on Sunday because of bad weather forecast for the early part of this week. That was followed by another 24-hour delay announced (this) Monday morning, pushing the scheduled start back until Wednesday at noon.

The National Weather Service issued storm and gale warnings into Monday night along with warnings for heavy freezing spray in parts of Southeast where the fleet will be fishing.

The overall guideline harvest level for golden king crab in the region is just under half a million pounds. The biggest portions of that overall GHL are in waters around Admiralty Island, including Stephens Passage, Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait. Once crabbing does start, fishing remains open until the harvest levels in seven areas of the northern Panhandle are caught by the fleet.

Last year the overall catch of golden king was over 510-thousand pounds caught by 33 permit holders. Some of the areas stayed open into the fall with little fishing effort. The average price last year was $10.10 a pound.

As for Tanner crab, Fish and Game estimates there’s four million pounds of mature male crab in the region, down a little from the department’s estimate a year ago. The season length will be announced Tuesday, but it’s at least five days long in the most popular crabbing areas.

Last year the 76 permit holders caught 1,242,433 pounds of Tanner crab. Average price for that catch was $2.27 a pound.

The season could see further delays if the windy weather continues but the new scheduled start for crabbing is noon on Wednesday, February 12th.

(Editor’s note:this story updated 9 a.m. Monday, February 10th)

Parnell says he's not threatening Ketchikan over school funding

Sun, 2014-02-09 01:10

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell said Friday that he wasn’t threatening the Ketchikan Gateway Borough when he said its lawsuit against the state over school funding could “shade or color” reaction to the community’s requests for state money to fund infrastructure projects.

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How JSD spends its payroll

Sun, 2014-02-09 01:10

School districts around the state may have vastly different budgeting priories and operating fund amounts, but they have one thing in common — people are by far the biggest cost.

Personnel costs typically make up somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of a schools’ operating fund, and about half of that money goes to the teachers, according to a Juneau Empire analysis.

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School vouchers move step closer to ballot box

Sun, 2014-02-09 01:09

Giving Alaskans the option to vote on whether or not the state should provide families with vouchers to attend private schools moved one step closer to becoming reality Friday.

The House of Representatives Education Committee narrowly advanced HJR1, which would amend the state constitution and pave the way for tax dollars to be used by students seeking private education.

If approved by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature, voters would then decide the issue this fall.

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Fairbanks wants no part of schools insurance pool

Sun, 2014-02-09 01:09

FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks North Star Borough officials have appealed to the Interior delegation to block a bill that would require Alaska school districts to pool employee health insurance plans.

Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, has been billed as a way to save money through economies of scale, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Borough human resources manager Sallie Stuvek told Interior lawmakers Thursday that the numbers don’t make sense for the borough.

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Military base tax exemptions moves to Senate

Sun, 2014-02-09 01:09

The House of Representatives has quickly approved a bill to open the doors for more military-related business expansion in Alaska.

The House approved HB223 by a 33-2 margin during Friday’s floor session.

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, the proposal allows communities to give up to 10 years of full or partial property tax exemptions to businesses in a Military Facility Zone.

“By allowing tax exemptions, we’re showing the military, and our local economy, that we are ready and willing to work together,” Thompson said in a press release

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Legislative roundup for Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014

Sun, 2014-02-09 01:08


Bill would let Alaskans invest in gas pipeline

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, introduced Senate Bill 164 on Friday, which would enable eligible Alaskans to use portions of their Permanent Fund Dividend to invest in a North Slope natural gas pipeline.

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Carmen Bradford: How I hung up on Count Basie

Fri, 2014-02-07 22:16

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Carmen Bradford has an unmatched musical pedigree, and a lot of nerve. As a 22-year-old, she once opened for the Count Basie Orchestra. Seeing the Count himself waiting in the wings, Bradford approached him and asked him for a job. When he called nine months later, she thought it was a prank and hung up on him! Bradford is the headliner vocalist at this year’s Sitka Jazz Festival. For complete ticket and showtimes, visit Sitka Jazz Fest online. With KCAW’s Ken Fate.

Fri Feb 7, 2014

Fri, 2014-02-07 21:48

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Ketchikan Wearable Artist display “luminescence.” Wrangell High seniors tour KSTK to learn more about community. GCI, KTUU reach agreement restoring NBC News to rural stations.

Reifenstuhl: Regional hatcheries return investment seven-fold

Fri, 2014-02-07 21:33

Medvejie Hatchery south of Sitka is one of the salmon enhancement facilities operated by NSRAA. (Photo courtesy of NSRAA)

Commercial fisheries have never been more important to Southeast Alaska, and the region’s hatchery programs are a critical part of that success.

That was the message Steve Reifenstuhl delivered to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week (Wed 2-5-14).

Reifenstuhl is the general manager of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association based in Sitka. NSRAA is one of two regional nonprofit hatchery programs in the panhandle, and one of the most successful in the state.

In this brief excerpt, Reifenstuhl runs the numbers.

Here’s what the fishing community brings to Sitka–to Sitka’s economy. Nearly 2-thousand people earn money catching fish or processing fish in Sitka. It’ by far the largest employer. Eleven percent of Sitka’s population fishes commercially. Think about it: that’s over one in ten. We have three major processors in town and a combined payroll of $13.5-million. In 2013 they processed 90 million pounds of fish, valued at $72-million. That’s to the fishermen, referred to as ex-vessel value. The first wholesale value of this fish is somewhere around $150-million, as it goes out the processor’s door. And as it swirls around Sitka’s economy, it has a total economic output of over $200-million. That’s just for one year.

Listen to Reifenstuhl’s entire presentation to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce.

Except for a brief detour to Silver Bay Seafoods, Reifenstuhl has been at NSRAA for his entire 34-year career. He discussed the circumstances in the 1970s that led to the creation of NSRAA and its counterpart, the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association — also known as SSRA.

There have been lean years in NSRAA’s history, but not recently. Last season alone it contributed over $20-million in value to the commercial fisheries.

Now, no individual fisherman is getting rich off this. I don’t want you to think that. There are roughly one-thousand hand trollers, but the permit holders that focus much of their time during the season are the power trollers (just under a thousand of those), the seiners (380 of those), and gillnet (425). So roughly 2,000 dedicated fishermen fishing each summer on salmon. That money gets spread among them. I thought it was important not to have a misconception — $20-million is a lot of money. But when you think of it spread out, it’s very helpful but it’s not enough to pay all the bills. Wild stocks are what they really depend on to make their season.

In his half-hour presentation, Reifenstuhl stressed the value of the guided sport fisheries in Sitka, and the contribution of both the commercial and guided sport sectors to Sitka’s tax base.

But he did give the commercial sector exclusive credit for one thing: Voluntarily imposing a 3-percent tax on their harvest to support the nonprofit hatchery programs. An investment of about $33-million over the decades, he said, that has produced value of almost $234-million.

He told the chamber, “I want that to be your takeaway.”

KCAW’s Rachel Waldholz contributed to this story.

Superintendent search down to two candidates

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:08

The number of finalists for superintendent of the Sitka School District has been cut from three to two.

Eddie Campbell and Mary Wegner will be interviewed by the school board and district staff in Sitka next week (Thu 2-13-14).

The school board convened on Thursday night (2-6-14) to discuss the applicants for superintendent, and immediately went into executive session. When they emerged, board President Lon Garrison said that a third candidate, Joseph Krause, is no longer in the running. Krause is currently a teacher in the Kodiak School District.

Garrison did not discuss why the board had decided to interview only two of the three finalists.

“We decided that one of them was not a good fit for us,” Garrison said.

School board member Cass Pook was absent.

Of the two remaining candidates, Eddie Campbell is currently the superintendent of schools in Parsons, West Virginia. Mary Wegner is the current assistant superintendent of the Sitka School District.

Campbell and Wegner will be in Sitka next week. On Wednesday, February 12, there will be a meet and greet with the public at Sitka High School, from 5 to 6:30pm.

The candidates will then have three interviews on Thursday, February 13: one with current Superintendent Steve Bradshaw; an interview with district staff; and an interview with the school board, which is open to the public. The public interviews will take place in the district office board room at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School.

Channel 2 News returns to Southeast

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:01

Channel 2 News will soon be back on the air in Southeast Alaska, and rural cable subscribers across the state who have been without NBC will see that programming return, after an agreement announced on Thursday (2-6-14) between cable provider GCI and the Anchorage NBC affiliate KTUU. 

“We are very excited to be back in Southeast and to have Channel 2 News down there,” said Andy MacLeod, President and General Manager of KTUU.

GCI and KTUU had been wrangling over the terms of a new contract ever since last fall, when GCI bought two TV stations in Southeast: KATH in Juneau and KSCT in Sitka.

In November, the dispute led GCI to drop the KTUU signal in several parts of rural Alaska, leaving about 7,000 households from Barrow to Valdez without access to NBC programming, except what was carried on the state-operated channel known as ARCS.

And in December, GCI removed KTUU’s flagship news program, Channel 2 News, from its stations in Sitka and Juneau. That affected about 14,000 households across Southeast Alaska — both cable and satellite subscribers. GCI temporarily replaced the Channel 2 newscasts with a program called One America News.

But as of 1pm Thursday (2-6-14), most of rural Alaska got their KTUU signal back. Southeast viewers should see Channel 2 News back on the airwaves within a few days, GCI said.

The two companies had agreed on rates as far back as December; but the dispute centered on what would happen if KTUU ever acquired another station.

KTUU president MacLeod said the station is satisfied on that front.

“We got a provision that allows us to build our business into the future, unrestrained,” MacLeod said. “So, that’s a significant thing.”

MacLeod added that the agreement comes at a good time for Southeast viewers who are fans of the winter Olympics, which is carried on TV exclusively by NBC. Channel 2 News has two reporters in Sochi, Russia, following Alaska’s Olympic athletes.

But GCI spokesman David Morris said that negotiations between cable providers like GCI and content providers like KTUU are becoming a national issue.

“Will this happen again in Alaska?” Morris said. “We sure hope not, we’re trying to figure ways out to make it not happen. But the way it’s set up right now, if you don’t have a company, whoever your provider is, who says no to some of these demands, then things will spiral completely out of control.”

The new agreement covers about three years, so Alaskans shouldn’t see any more disruption to NBC programming through at least 2017.



Local, state officials respond to Parnell

Fri, 2014-02-07 18:02

Gov. Sean Parnell’s candid comments Thursday about the potential repercussions of Ketchikan’s lawsuit against the state drew some response.

Sen. Bert Stedman listened to the interview on KRBD’s website Friday, and said he believes it’s the right of every citizen to petition the government.

“As a young state, there are areas of our Constitution that need to be fleshed out a little more through the courts,” he said.

Stedman added that he didn’t believe there will be any backlash against Ketchikan in the Legislature. He notes that a House bill submitted by North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson would do what the Ketchikan lawsuit is asking for, and he doesn’t think North Pole will be discriminated against, either.

Ketchikan’s lawsuit challenges the state over what the borough says is an unfair mandate requiring boroughs and first-class cities to fund a minimum level for local schools. Many communities outside of organized boroughs don’t have to make that contribution.

Rep. Peggy Wilson of Wrangell also listened to the governor’s interview with KRBD, and said that while she hasn’t seen evidence yet of repercussions from the lawsuit, she shares Parnell’s concern.

“Those are sentiments that we all realize happen in the Legislature,” she said. “We don’t usually verbalize them out loud. But I did comment to the Borough Assembly that that was a concern I had. I have no idea whether it will happen or not. But at the end of session, a lot of bills get held hostage.”

Wilson said you never know what reason another legislator might have to stop a measure from passing.

Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst responded that the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly considered options for more than six years, and lobbied for a legislative solution before deciding to move forward with its lawsuit.

“There have been multiple meetings between borough officials and for example, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, as well as other officials of the Parnell administration and others,” he said. “We ultimately came to a point where there was no resolution, so the Assembly carefully and deliberately decided to pursue litigation.”

Assembly Member Agnes Moran, speaking for herself and not for the Assembly, said it would be unfortunate if there were repercussions. She said the lawsuit is the borough’s legal right, and Ketchikan isn’t the first municipality to sue the state.

Moran noted that the point of the lawsuit is not to avoid paying for schools; it’s to find a solution that’s fair to everyone. She said she was surprised to hear Parnell’s comments.

“They were pretty harsh comments,” she said. “I think they came off harder than he intended, and I think there will be a common ground at some point.”

Moran noted that if the community wasn’t obligated to pay a certain amount for local schools, Ketchikan wouldn’t need as much help with capital projects.

City Council approves 8% water rate increase

Fri, 2014-02-07 14:59

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

Water rates for the City of Ketchikan will go up 8 percent across-the-board starting in March. That includes fish processors, which until Thursday were facing a much larger increase.

The ordinance originally called for a 22-percent increase for fish processors, which use significantly more water than any other customer type. A water-rate study commissioned by the city clearly showed that residential customers pay far more for the actual water used than fish processors.

But, the Council chose to amend the ordinance, and raise everyone’s rates equally.

City Mayor Lew Williams III explained that the subsidized rate system probably won’t change until the city moves to metered water.

“Yeah, we’re sort of weird here. Down South, the big users, and they’re all metered and everything, they supply the biggest percentage of cost toward the water,” he said. “Here, we have a set rate and the residentials have always been carrying the load.”

He said switching to metered water is expensive, though, so it will take time to get there. In the meantime, the city likely will raise water rates again by 8 percent each of the next two years.

Ketchikan Public Utilities Water Division has always operated at a deficit. The city has been slowly raising rates over the last few years, with the goal of eventually breaking even.

Also Thursday, the City Council approved the first reading of a half-percent sales-tax increase. The Council had been considering a seasonal sales tax increase, which would have brought in more revenue.

But, in part due to concerns from business owners and the bookkeeping issues that might arise, the majority of the Council decided to move forward with the year-round increase, which would bring the city’s sales tax to 4 percent. If approved in second reading, the new tax will take effect April 1st.

The Council also approved an increase in rates at the Ted Ferry Civic Center, plus a lottery system for groups to book the center during the winter holiday season. Williams said there’s a lot of demand for the space during that limited time frame.

“You have three weekends in December before Christmas, and everybody likes that second Saturday of the month,” he said. “How do we take care of that – some people have been calling in and having that date reserved forever, and we’ve come into some conflict this year.”

Williams says the new system should give everybody an equal shot at the most desirable dates for holiday parties.

Water main breaks on Tongass Avenue

Fri, 2014-02-07 14:54

The rising sun shines on KPU crews working to fix a broken water main on Tongass Avenue Friday morning. (Emily Files photo)

A couple businesses on Tongass Avenue near The Plaza mall were without water for a few hours Friday due to a broken water main.

Ketchikan Public Utilities Water Systems Foreman David Johnston says the old cast-iron pipe cracked because of a rock that was underneath it. He says that, over time, as dirt settled around the pipe, the pressure from the rock got to be too much, and the pipe finally cracked.

Johnston says he got a call at about 6 Friday morning that there was water on the road, and crews were at the site by about 6:30. He says the most challenging part of the repair work was digging down to the pipe. Once they got there, they saw that it was a clean break, so they put a repair band onto the pipe and water was back on before noon.

Johnston says they ran into a little trouble when filling the hole back up again, though. All the city’s piles of fill are frozen, and it’s not a good idea to use frozen fill. When it thaws, he explained, it compresses.

So, crews dug to the center of the fill piles until they found unfrozen fill, and got the road patched up. Traffic was back to normal before 1 p.m.

A small section of the road will remain unpaved in case additional fill is needed.

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