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Southeast Alaska News
Moorage rates in Sitka’s harbors are going up next week.
The Sitka assembly last night (Mon 12-23-13) approved the rate hike on second reading, bumping the per-foot monthly charge for permanent berths from $2.64 to $2.80, an increase of a little over 6-percent effective New Year’s Day.
The increase was the result of a master plan completed in 2012 that proposes similar increases in each of the next three years.
There was no testimony from harbor users, although some expressed their concern two weeks ago when the issue was heard on first reading. The general sentiment was that some commercial fishermen might start to look for lower moorage in other communities.
Assembly member Mike Reif questioned that logic at the time. But since then, he has become the lone “no” vote. But it wasn’t because he was worried that the rates were too high.
“I think the rate needs to be a little bit higher. I’d rather enter this maybe being a little too high in the beginning, and then we can cut back.”
Reif was concerned about some of the possible scenarios described by the harbor department that involved abandoning some of the harbor system, or allowing parking lots to revert to gravel. He said, “We’re not just trying to take care of current harbor users — we want to take care of their children.”
There was no support on the rest of the assembly for increasing rates above those recommended in the master plan — but they didn’t rule it out in the future.
Matt Hunter wanted to take a look at how things were going in a year. So did Pete Esquiro. He called Sitka’s “one of the best harbor systems” in Alaska.
“To have something as good as we have is going to cost more money. There’s just no way around it. We have a very large industry here in the salmon and seafood industry that means a lot to us financially. And if we do begin to start closing down facilities, and consider that, it will have some detrimental effects to the overall economy of Sitka.”
Esquiro nonetheless voted with the majority in favor of the 6-percent hike
Assembly member Phyllis Hackett was absent.
The increase keeps Sitka in third place among Southeast’s most expensive harbors, behind the two in Juneau, and in Petersburg. Elsewhere in Alaska, Valdez, Kodiak, Seward, and Homer all have more expensive moorage.
City of Ketchikan Mayor Lew Williams III gave his annual State of the City address last week during the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch. He touched on a variety of concerns and projects, from pipe replacements to public art.
“The state of the city is good. It’s a little interesting at the moment, but it is good,” Williams said as he presented his traditional end-of-the-year report on the City of Ketchikan. One of the first items he stressed was ongoing efforts to discourage illegal drug trafficking in Alaska’s First City.
“One thing that this community wanted was drug enforcement, and one thing you can see that the chief has been doing has been drug enforcement,” Williams said. “If you’ve been reading the paper or listening to the radio, they are making arrests and they are trying to make it difficult for drugs to be sold in this community.”
Williams also talked about the multi-year dock project that the city is working on, which has entered its third phase. Contractors are tearing up the remaining wooden deck on Berths 1 and 2, replacing the rotten pilings, and eventually will resurface the area with concrete decking. In the meantime, design work has begun for the fourth and final phase.
“So, shelters, benches, amenities down there. After all the work is done we want to make it
nice and I hate to say it but that also includes public art,” he said. “That’s a joke. Art isn’t a joke, we will have public art, but I hope we all can agree on what we’d want down there.”
Williams’ “joke” about public art is a reference to a recent controversy over a proposed artistic rain gauge that the City Council initially accepted. Later, following some public criticism of the $95,000 rain gauge, the Council chose to remove funding for it from the budget, which disappointed those who supported the project. Williams touched on that issue briefly during his presentation.
“I’d like to tell you that the rain gauge issue is over, but the city received a letter today from the two artists and they’re not happy,” he said. “Now they’re talking about legal action. I don’t think there’s much they can do about it. I imagine they’re just trying to vent some of their frustration because they did put a lot of work into providing that proposal and ideas.”
In addition to port improvements, the city has been making headway with harbor projects. Williams said the second boat launch at Bar Harbor is complete, which should help during the summer months. Another big project there is the new $5 million drive-down ramp, which Williams predicts will be done by spring.
The biggest project Williams talked about is the hospital renovation. Voters approved bonds for that project in the recent election, and Williams said that work will help support the community’s economy into the future. He said doctors who work for the PeaceHealth-run hospital like it here and want to stay.
“But they need better facilities so they can do more and provide more for the community,” he said. “So, it’s a win-win for the community, a win-win for PeaceHealth, and it’s also going to be good economic development for the community. Not only just building it, but then being able to provide more services for not just Ketchikan but for the surrounding area.”
The city is in the process of selecting a construction manager for the hospital project. Williams said he expects construction will start in the spring. He stressed that the renovation will be paid for through the existing hospital sales tax.
Williams then moved on to what he called the “gritty stuff:” sewer, water and storm drain lines, all aging and some failing. Recent heavy rains were too much for some storm drains, and that led to flooding in some parts of the city.
“Our three major storm drain issues are the Hilltop, east Hilltop and west Hilltop branches,” he said. “They’re all up in Carlanna. If you live in the Carlanna area, you might even have – because back when developers developed those areas, those roads, there weren’t any storm drain regulations – you might even have a storm drain going under your house.”
How to fix the storm drain problem is an ongoing question. Williams said it might come down to creating a Local Improvement District, which would tax neighborhood residents in order to make the needed repairs.
Williams also talked about Ketchikan Public Utilities. The 4.6 megawatt Whitman Dam project should be completed this spring, and the city is negotiating with the Southeast Alaska Power Agency to potentially take over the dam from KPU.
KPU Water hopes to be able to start using the chloramination water treatment facility soon, but the city still is waiting for state permits. And the telecommunications division is well on its way to adding cellular phone service to its lineup.
As he wrapped up his talk, Williams stressed the need for the community to remain flexible.
“You might not always like the way it’s going forward,” he said. “I loved Ketchikan in the 1980s with all the shops downtown; and then the mall came, which was great; and then Wal-Mart came, and that restructures the makeup of your community, but you’ve got to live with it, you’ve got to deal with it, you’ve got to work with it, and you’ve got to go forward.”
Williams said the city must accept change to continue thriving into the future.
KFSK has an open airwaves policy. We encourage the public to express opinions, ideas and creative works. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of KFSK. The following was submitted for broadcast by Mike Schwartz:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here:
If you get sick – really sick – there’s a good chance you’ll end up on a flight out of town. Medical evacuations, called medevacs, are taking more and more Alaskans to in-state and Lower-48 critical-care facilities.
But the medevac system is undergoing changes, with new aircraft, more competition and a shift in patients’ needs. This report is part of an ongoing series on Southeast health care issues produced by CoastAlaska public radio. (Link to all the reports.)
Kj Harris is a Ketchikan bartender who’s been in the business a long time. That almost came to an end about eight years ago – when he felt a strong pain in his chest.
“I had a heart attack and they took me to Ketchikan General (Hospital),” he says. “And once they gave me this massive shot, a blood-buster or clot-buster, they said I had to go south. And I said sure.”
Harris is one of several thousand Alaskans medevaced each year, because they need care not available near home.
In Southeast, they use air ambulances from Airlift Northwest, Guardian Flight and others that mostly serve other parts of the state, such as LifeMed Alaska. The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium used to provide its own service, but now contracts with Guardian.
“We do primarily cardiac patients out of Southeast Alaska. And then we do a fair amount of patients who are ill with an infection that gets beyond the typical infection that can be handled with antibiotics. People who have blood loss, some trauma, preterm labor patients and then a variety of other patients,” Deering says.
“You have the flu season, the respiratory season, that always facilitates a number of transport needs. And also, occasionally neural patients are transported,” adds Shanon Pollock, vice president of business for Salt Lake City-based Air Medical Resource Group. That’s the parent corporation of Guardian Flight and five other air ambulance companies.
A medevac starts when a patient arrives at a hospital or clinic in serious condition, or just needs a higher level of care.
“A physician or a primary care provider must make the determination that a patient needs to be transported from Point A to Point B,” Pollock says.
Point B has to agree to take them. Then a medevac plane’s called in, unless one’s already on the ground.
“So, we have a single stretcher here,” says Shelly Deering as she explains the equipment in the interior of an Airlift Northwest Learjet parked at the Juneau Airport.
“We can monitor 12 leads for our cardiac patients. We can defibrillate them if we need to. We have a transport ventilator, so if somebody has a breathing tube in, we can breath for them on the way down to Seattle,” she says.
Some patients remember nothing, because they’re comatose –or drugged.
But Harris, the Ketchikan bartender, does.
“It seemed like it took days to get from here to Seattle. I’m sure it took a couple hours. But it took days,” he says.
The region’s first air ambulance service was Airlift Northwest, which is part of the University of Washington medical system. It’s flown out of Seattle for more than 30 years. And it’s based an aircraft in Juneau for more than half of that time. (Read about its history.)
Last spring, it added a propeller-driven Turbo Commander, which can land at smaller airports.
It picked up some competition about 10 years ago when Fairbanks-based Guardian Flight put aircraft in Sitka and Ketchikan.
Pollock says Guardian’s become Alaska’s largest medevac provider. (Read about Guardian’s fleet and staff.)
“Like most of us that begin this service, it was in response to a need of not enough medical transport resources in place for the need,” he says.
Guardian uses Learjets, plus more maneuverable King Air turboprops. Pollock says it has 11 planes at seven bases, from Ketchikan to Kotzebue.
“We have more aircraft and more resources in the state of Alaska than Airlift Northwest does. Beyond that, I’m not exactly sure what the differences are,” he says.
There are several:
Airlift Northwest staffs its jets and planes with two highly-trained flight nurses. Guardian uses one, plus a flight paramedic.
Also, Airlift medevacs women with problem pregnancies and Guardian does not.
Some other companies serve the rest of the state. The most recent is Kansas-based EagleMed, which took over fixed-wing flight operations for Alaska Regional Hospital’s LifeFlight service.
Competition isn’t the only challenge facing air-ambulance operations. They’re also carrying more patients in very bad shape.
“We are able to care for sicker and sicker patients because treatments and medications are better than they used to be,” says Jennifer Bryner, chief nursing officer at the Petersburg Medical Center.
“In order for us to transfer somebody with a medical illness, they have to be very sick. So I think for sure they’re sicker today than they were 10 or 15 years ago, she says.”
Shelly Deering, of Airlift Northwest, says one of the big changes she’s seen is the level of cardiac care.
“Patients who used to have a cardiac arrest didn’t survive,” she says. “Now we see more and more of those patients coming back into the communities. And most of the time they come back to their previous state of health.”
And with more services with more aircraft, patients are getting where they need to go quicker. Guardian Flight’s Shanon Pollock:
“Unlike 20 or 30 years ago, I think patients are waiting a lot less than they were, then, for air medical transportation, even if all resources are flying at the time they need them,” he says.
Insurance is another challenge for Alaska’s medevac industry. It’s important, because the flights can cost patients $100,000 or more.
State regulators this fall pulled the plug on Airlift Northwest’s AirCare program, saying it no longer complied with the law.
They also shut down Fairbanks-based Apollo Medi Trans for several months, after it failed to renew its license. But it’s back in business.
Ketchikan bartender Kj Harris was uninsured when he took a $78,000 flight. He says it’s worth the hundred-bucks-or-so annual premium.
“You got the chance, buy the insurance. It saves you tens of thousands of dollars,” Harris says.
Friends helped pay for his flight with community fund-raisers. A few years later, he had a second heart attack and medevac. This time he was insured.
The competition and medical changes are important. But for patients such as Harris, it’s all about the service.
“It saved my life. I was pretty happy with that,” he says.
He still lives in Ketchikan, working the bars and serving on the city council.
The Sitka Assembly will vote on whether to increase moorage fees at Sitka harbors. Former Haines Representative Bill Thomas has filed a letter of intent to run for state office in 2014. Democratic candidate Byron Mallot visited Sitka last week. There’s a new bear cub at the Fortress of the Bear.
In November, work began on Sitka’s ANB harbor. The $7.7 million project will demolish all of the existing structures and replace them with new floats and pilings by early spring. But a small invader in the harbor has added a wrinkle to the usual process.
Sound of drilling.
Workers with the Seattle-based contractor Pacific Pile and Marine are driving piles into the seafloor at ANB Harbor. Sitka City Engineer Dan Tadic watches from the parking lot at ANB Hall.
“What they’re doing right now, they’ve got the basically the tip of the piling on rock, and they’re starting to drill into the rock,” Tadic says. ”And every few feet or so they’re using air to blow the cuttings back out of the piling, so it almost looks like the water is boiling.”
The contractors are drilling about 13 feet into rock to set the pilings. They stop occasionally to flush out the cuttings. At those moments, with water bubbling up and cuttings spraying from the top of the piling, it looks like they’ve struck oil.
The contractors will put in over 60 new galvanized-steel pilings, ranging from 12 to 24 inches in diameter. Those will be followed by brand new floats. The work has to be done by March 15, in time for herring season.
But there’s a side story to the project. In 2010, volunteers with Sitka’s Bioblitz survey found a pair of invasive tunicates – small marine invertebrates – in ANB harbor, as well as several other Sitka harbors.
These tunicates aren’t d. vex (Didemnum vexillum), an invasive tunicate that many Sitkans have heard about before — and that is sometimes compared to the creature from the 1950’s horror movie, The Blob. D. vex can grow extremely fast, blanketing and smothering entire ecosystems. It was found in Sitka’s Whiting Harbor in 2010 — and that’s still the only place in Alaska that it’s been found.
The tunicates in ANB harbor are called botrylloides, or harbor star and golden chain tunicates. And they’ve been much better behaved than d. vex – so far.
Marnie Chapman is a biologist at the University of Alaska Southeast.
“We’re interested in watching the botrylloides group,” Chapman says. ”Because even though at this point there hasn’t been demonstrated massive growth of these, a lot of times what invasives do is they can hang out at very low levels and then all of a sudden something will change about the environment and then they’re able to grow and expand rapidly.”
The concern is that, given the right conditions, the botrylloides in ANB Harbor could suddenly explode, choking out native species. So though the botrylloides have remained fairly contained thus far, officials hope to avoid spreading them further. Because of this, the ANB Harbor project permit requires that all of the material from the harbor be disposed of in a different way than usual.
“A lot of times what happens in Alaska is bits and pieces of harbors get sent all over the place when harbors are decommissioned,” Chapman said. “And so it’s potentially a really effective way of spreading invasive species to really pristine areas in Alaska, to take pieces of harbors and move them somewhere else.”
Instead, the material from ANB harbor will be barged down to Seattle and disposed of on land. The wood will be taken to a landfill. The steel piling will be recycled. And officials hope the process will prevent the harbor’s invasive stow-aways from hitching a ride to any other Alaskan ports.
More people than ever volunteered for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Petersburg this year. It took place on December 14th and despite the nasty weather, a record 14 people turned out. Like thousands of other participants in North America and elsewhere, they spent the 24 hours recording the number and species of birds they observed in the area.
The National Audubon Society started the event 114 years ago and Petersburg has taken part since 1988 according to local organizer Brad Hunter who told Matt Lichtenstein about this year’s count:
For mobile-friendly, downloadable audio. click here.
To find out more about the Chirstmas Bird Count, you can visit Audubon Alaska’s website.
Alaska’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for November was 6.5 percent, unchanged from October’s rate. The national rate for November was 7 percent, down from October’s 7.3 percent.
Alaska’s non-seasonally adjusted rate was 6.3 percent in November, up three-tenths of a percentage point from October.
Here’s some good news for the residents of Kake who have for years feared the demise of the historic Keku Cannery: funding to stabilize the crumbling landmark has been approved
Gary Williams, executive director for the Organized Village of Kake, said the tribe has been authorized to use its Bureau of Indian Affairs transportation funding to stabilize the building, which is located on BIA trust land. Once it’s stabilized, the tribe intends to move its transportation office into the cannery.
MONTEREY, Calif. — The skipper of a fishing boat that has trawled Monterey Harbor for decades says he’s been docked since spring, unable to earn a living.
Jiri Nozicka says a federal quota system enacted to protect both fish and the commercial fishing industry has problems that he can’t navigate.
“How do I plan anything?” he asked, recently standing on the deck of the San Giovanni. “I can’t. It’s impossible.”
KODIAK — Sometimes, Kodiak police officers are glad when the suspect gets away.
Scaring bears away from homes and businesses is a normal task for Kodiak Police Department officers, and is a large part of the job in the fall.
This year, the bears were quiet in the fall but became active in December, digging through trash bins and prowling backyards.
Most bear sightings are called in during the late evening or early morning when it’s dark and the empty streets are inviting to bears.
FAIRBANKS — A nonprofit organization has donated more than a ton of salvaged moose meat to a flood-ravaged Alaska community whose food spoiled in a power outage.
The Alaska Moose Federation donated 2,300 pounds of meat to residents in the remote village of Galena, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Friday.
“Burger, steaks, ribs, soup bones,” federation executive director Gary Olson said. “A little bit of everything.”
KENAI — Less than 20 minutes after a car collided with a moose on the Kenai Spur Highway Thursday, the dead ungulate was winched up onto an Alaska Moose Federation truck and standstill traffic had resumed.
The dead moose retrieval program, which was used to pick up more than 150 moose on the Kenai Peninsula last year, was projected by organizers to shut down earlier this year after a $2.2 million funding request to the Alaska Legislature was denied, forcing the Alaska Moose Federation to seek funding elsewhere.
EAGLE RIVER — The Eklutna River Bridge replacement project is one step closer to completion.
R&M Consultants, Inc. representatives unveiled a draft of the design study report at a Dec. 11 open house meeting at Chugiak Elementary.
The preferred design concept for bridge replacement and roadway upgrade were presented to the public for discussion.
According to project manager Lance DeBernardi, the preferred design is similar to the Ship Creek Bridge in Anchorage.
Former Haines Rep. Bill Thomas has filed a letter of intent to run for state office in 2014, KTOO reports.
Thomas, a Republican, was defeated in 2012 by Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins. Thomas served eight years in the House and served as co-chair of the House Finance Committee.
School districts statewide are expecting to continue slashing their budgets heading into the next school year.
Barring a funding increase from the Legislature when it convenes next month, five of the state’s largest school districts are anticipating cuts between 2 and 5 percent in 2014, most of which will come at the expense of staff and, in all likelihood, classroom teachers.
According to district officials, they simply don’t have much of a choice.
Editor’s note: This is the eighth in the Morris Communications series, “The case for conserving the Kenai king salmon.”
Each spring, as the early-run king salmon start returning to the Kenai River, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game begins a four-month effort to manage fishing in a way that ensures enough salmon swim past fishermen of all types to meet escapement goals.
ADFG sets the escapement goals, which are the number of fish that need to return to produce healthy runs in the future.
FAIRBANKS — The state transportation department has proposed rerouting a dangerous section of Alaska’s northernmost highway amid growing traffic.
The Dalton Highway is primarily a long-haul trucking road used to carry supplies to Prudhoe Bay. But it’s increasingly being used by tourists, leading to accidents, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
The chief financial officers of New York City and the state of California have asked Rio Tinto plc to sell its shares of the company behind the proposed Pebble Mine project in southwest Alaska.
New York City Comptroller John Liu and California State Controller John Chiang said they oversee pension funds that are substantial, long-term shareowners in London-based Rio Tinto. The company owns a 19 percent share of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which recently assumed full ownership of the mine project.
JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on Friday said he supports a new stopgap measure to help individuals whose insurance policies face cancellation under the federal health care law.
But he said he would prefer a long-term solution, and remained hopeful that Congress will work on improvements to the health care law in the coming year.