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Southeast Alaska News
The Ketchikan City Council meets in regular session Thursday, and among the items on the agenda is a proposed year-round, half-percent sales tax increase.
The Council has been talking about increasing sales tax within city limits for a few months, and for a while it appeared that the city would have a seasonal sales tax increase, hiking the rate by a full percentage point during the busy summer months, then dropping it to the current level after the tourists have left.
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. If approved, the new city sales tax would be 4 percent, and would take effect April 1st.
Thursday’s vote is the first of two needed before the new sales tax rate is official. A second reading likely will take place during the Council’s Feb. 20th regular meeting.
Also Thursday, the Council has an executive session planned to talk about two Dutch artists who have made a claim for compensation over a rain gauge bid that the Council initially accepted and then decided to not fund. That closed-door discussion will take place at the end of the meeting.
The Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
JUNEAU — The Senate Finance Committee has advanced a proposed constitutional amendment on education.
SJR9, from Sen. Mike Dunleavy, would strike a provision in the state constitution prohibiting use of public funds for the direct benefit of private and religious schools.
The committee heard hours of testimony this week. On Wednesday, during a break in hearing other education bills, committee co-chair Kevin Meyer said there had been a lot of discussion and he didn’t believe the committee needed to hear any more.
ANCHORAGE — Alaska State Troopers say a 17-year-old Palmer boy has been arrested after leading officers on a 63-mile chase on the Parks Highway that ended near Willow.
Troopers say the pursuit began when troopers tried to stop the teenager for erratic driving, speeding and failure to dim headlights around milepost 36 near Palmer.
JUNEAU — The state anticipates awarding a construction contract for the new Alaska Class Ferry this summer.
The final design for the new ferry concept should be completed by the end of this month, according to a KTOO report.
Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Reuben Yost said the state has preliminary estimates from Alaska Ship and Dry dock in Ketchikan and Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle.
Yost says if the shipyard and architect are close on the final estimate, the ferries will be built in Ketchikan.
During a recent Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly meeting, Mayor Dave Kiffer proclaimed Feb. 16th as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in Ketchikan.
James Llanos Sr. of the Alaska Native Brotherhood accepted the proclamation. He says that ANB-ANS Camps 14 and 15 will co-host the celebration. They also are planning the car parade, which starts at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday at Community Connections. Participants will honk their way to Wal-Mart, where organizers will give out free hot dogs.
Llanos says the Discovery Center event on the 16th starts at 5 p.m., and the celebration is open to the public.
Elizabeth Peratrovich and her husband, Roy, were leaders in Alaska’s Native civil rights movement. Elizabeth Peratrovich’s testimony in front of the Territorial Legislature was a key moment leading toward the passage of the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act. That measure was signed into law on Feb. 16th, 1945.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assessor’s Office has announced that this year’s assessment notices were mailed Wednesday, Feb. 5.
According to the borough, the department issued assessment notices for 6,931 parcels. While preparing for this year, department officials say they focused on residential property.
Property owners with questions or concerns about their assessments can call or visit the Assessor’s Office in the White Cliff Building.
A 30-day review period is provided for property owners to discuss concerns with department staff. The valuation can be modified with sufficient evidence, such as appraisals or listings of the property, sales records, engineering reports and inspections.
Due to the recent loss of mail processing equipment at the Ketchikan Post Office, notices were mailed directly from Juneau for speedier processing. The notices should begin arriving within the next few days.
The 2014 valuations also are available online, using the borough’s “Real Property Search” application on the Borough website at www.kgbak.us.
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Juneau Empire bans anonymous comments on website in favor of real identities. Wrangell Museum needs feet for children’s programs. Unalaska seafood worker shares his personal connection to tragedy in South Sudan.
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New MEHS Girls Basketball coach Dane Vincent and players Renatta Olson (Jr-Golovin) Payton Weisz (So-Tok) discuss their prospects for the season, and the recent Battle of the Bridge with Sitka High.
ANCHORAGE — Cars and trucks could be rolling into the city at the end of the trans-Alaska pipeline by Wednesday afternoon, nearly two weeks after avalanches cut off highway access.
A spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Transportation said Tuesday that road crews are nearing completion of snow removal from the last blockage of the Richardson Highway, about 12 miles from Valdez. The highway is projected to open at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
JUNEAU — The rocky launch of the federal online insurance marketplace provided cover for those skeptical of Medicaid expansion, but the issues are separate, the regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday.
Susan Johnson, who is in Juneau for an Alaska Native Health Board meeting, said October and November — the first two months of the marketplace rollout — “were not our brightest moments.”
ANCHORAGE — Flint Hills Resources announced Tuesday that it will close its North Pole refinery, shuttering a major employer in the Fairbanks area and eliminating a local source of gasoline, jet fuel, heating fuel and other petroleum products.
The closure will mean the loss of 81 jobs.
Mike Brose, vice president of Flint Hills Resources Alaska LLC, said the refinery will close because of a difficult refining market and uncertainties over future soil and groundwater cleanup costs that began under the refinery’s former owners, Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc.
ANCHORAGE — Enough petition signatures have been verified to place an initiative seeking to legalize marijuana on the ballot this summer in Alaska, election officials said Tuesday.
The petition has met all the thresholds necessary to appear on the Aug. 19 primary ballot, the Alaska Division of Elections said.
The lieutenant governor’s office said it had verified the signatures from registered voters as of Monday evening. The total of 31,500 was a thousand more than needed, with about 6,000 signatures remaining to be checked.
BILLINGS, Mont. — The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars trying to save more than 1,500 animal and plant species listed as endangered or threatened.
A group of House Republicans say that’s translated into just 2 percent of protected species taken off the list. They called Tuesday for an overhaul to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, giving states more authority over imperiled species and limiting litigation from wildlife advocates.
BILLINGS, Mont. — Republicans in Congress on Tuesday called for an overhaul to the Endangered Species Act to curtail environmentalists’ lawsuits and give more power to states, but experts say broad changes to one of the nation’s cornerstone environmental laws are unlikely given the pervasive partisan divide in Washington, D.C.
A group of 13 GOP lawmakers representing states across the U.S. released a report proposing “targeted reforms” for the 40-year-old federal law, which protects imperiled plants and animals.
JUNEAU — Senate Finance Committee co-chair Kevin Meyer on Tuesday said he believes there is support on his panel to advance a proposed constitutional amendment on education.
Whether there is enough support for it to get past the full Senate, however, is another issue, with a high bar for any proposed constitutional change to clear. A similar proposal is also pending in the House.
JUNEAU — A bill that would give village public safety officers the option of carrying firearms was quickly moved out of committee on Tuesday, even though several state troopers were in line to testify.
“We already had plenty of public testimony last week,” House Community and Regional Affairs committee chairwoman Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said before advancing the bill to the next committee.
The internationally-renowned Irish instrumental band Lunasa starts off its second visit to Alaska with a performance in Petersburg tonight.
The group released its latest CD last year and continues to travel the globe – they’ve played in over 15-hundred shows around the world since they started up in 1996.
The piper for Lunasa played on Bruce Springsteen’s album High Hopes, and the bassist played with the Waterboys before joining Lunasa. Joe Viechnicki caught up with the group’s flute player, Kevin Crawford by phone last week.
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Lunasa also has concerts this month in Anchorage, Homer, Valdez and Fairbanks. Tonight’s concert is at 7 p.m. at the Wright Auditiorium. Tickets are on sale at Lees Clothing or at the door.
Petersburg’s borough assembly will be looking to fill a vacant seat again.
The latest member to resign is John Hoag. He read from a letter announcing that decision at Monday’s meeting of the assembly before leaving the meeting. Hoag is an attorney and said he is representing two clients that might have cases involving the borough. “One issue may be resolvable through disclosure and abstaining from voting,” Hoag said. “The other represents a potential violation of the (borough) charter which prohibits assembly members from representing persons against the borough. One of my clients may have to be defended from a claim, against a client by the borough. While other states such conduct by a member of the legislature may be proper, Oregon is one of them, I have seen it abused elsewhere. I believe that elected officials should try to have their conduct be beyond a claim of impropriety. Therefore I must resign my position with the assembly effective at once.”
Hoag was appointed to fill a vacancy on the city council in 2012 and then elected to the borough assembly a year ago.
The borough will be looking for candidates to be appointed to that seat until the election in October.
He’s the second assembly member to resign in the last half year. Sue Flint resigned her seat in October and Bob Lynn was appointed to fill the vacancy late last year.
In related news, Ronn Buschmann also resigned last month from the Planning and Zoning Commission. The assembly will look for someone to fill that seat until October. The mayor also appointed Stephen Samuelson to a vacant seat on the hospital board and Barb Fish to a vacant seat on the library board.
Have ideas for improvements on National Forest land in the area? A committee of residents from Kake, Wrangell and Petersburg that makes recommendations on how to spend federal dollars is looking for more members.
The Resource Advisory Committee, or RAC, for the three communities reviews proposals and recommends spending money paid out for trail building and cabin work, signs, festivals and other uses on or around Tongass Forest lands in central Southeast. The money is paid out under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000, which was extended last year, for one more year. Joe Viechnicki spoke with Petersburg district ranger Jay Anderson about the group.
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Anyone interested can stop by the ranger district office to pick up an application.
It wasn’t an action item on the agenda, but the issue of seasonal congestion in the Herring Cove area was a hot topic of conversation during Monday’s Borough Assembly meeting.
In his report to the Assembly, Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst noted that a request for the state Department of Transportation to consider a seasonal speed limit reduction for the Herring Cove Bridge was not received positively by DOT officials.
The state responded with a proposal for a speed limit reduction, but only while cruise ships are in port, adding that the borough should hire a compliance officer and make tourists wear reflective safety vests while visiting Herring Cove.
Borough Assembly members didn’t take well to those suggestions.
“This all strikes me as asinine,” said Assembly Member Glen Thompson.
He went on to say that the borough is on record expressing concern about safety hazards on Herring Cove bridge, and he believes it’s now up to the state to find a solution.
“In my mind, they’re taking on the responsibility and they’re holding the bag if someone gets hurt or killed out there, and I don’t think the governor wants that on his record during an election year,” he said. “If they can’t come around to our way of thinking, I think we need to contact the governor and see if he can put some pressure on from up above, because this is absolutely ridiculous. And if you think I’m mad now, wait till we get outside and I’m away from the microphone. “
Tens of thousands of tourists visit Herring Cove during the busy summer season. They go to see the salmon run in the creek under the narrow Herring Cove Bridge, and to watch bears that come to catch those returning salmon. The problem is that the area is not developed for tourists, so many of the tour buses park on the side of the road, and their passengers walk along, and often across, the bridge, which is part of the state highway.
The speed limit in that area is 45 miles per hour.
Bockhorst said that when he brought up reducing the speed limit on a seasonal basis, DOT officials were concerned that doing so would actually make the problem worse, because it would give pedestrians a false sense of security. He said DOT also doesn’t want to endorse pedestrian use of the bridge.
“It is a transportation corridor for automobiles, it is not a tourism facility, so yes they are being hard-line on this issue, but their attitude is, ‘We’re not going to do something that’s going to encourage the use of a highway and a narrow bridge for tourism purposes,’” he said.
The borough has tentative plans to build a pedestrian bridge over the creek that would help the problem, but that’s a long-term solution. In the meantime, Bockhorst said the Planning Department is working with the borough attorney to come up with a permitting process that would require bus companies to comply with safety guidelines. The cost of a seasonal safety officer to enforce those guidelines would be about $10,000, and the Assembly would have to approve that new regulation.
However, time is short for even that to be implemented before the tourism season begins this year. After much discussion about options for the area, the Assembly gave four-hands direction for Bockhorst to ask for a year-round speed-limit reduction by the bridge. The justification is that the area is potentially dangerous even during winter.
In other action, the Assembly voted 6 to 1 to introduce an ordinance that would require all newly built structures within the South Tongass Service Area to hook up to the public water system, if they are within 300 feet of a water main. Alan Bailey voted no.
Another measure that passed was a second and final reading on an ordinance appropriating an additional $150,000 for the borough’s education funding lawsuit against the State of Alaska through the end of June. It passed 4 to 3, with Bailey and Assembly Members Jim Van Horn and Bill Rotecki voting no.
Also Monday, the Assembly gave four-hands direction for the manager to prepare a resolution in support of House Bill 75. That bill would remove the requirement for nonprofit agencies in the state to have an annual audit in order to qualify for listing in the Pick Click Give program.