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Southeast Alaska News

Fishing company pleads guilty

Thu, 2014-04-24 00:07

ANCHORAGE — A fishing corporation based in Washington state has been fined after pleading guilty to illegal fishing operations in Alaska waters in what authorities called a case of law misunderstanding.

Fishermen’s Finest Inc. pleaded guilty in a Cordova court on Monday, according to Alaska State Troopers. Executives of the Kirkland, Wash., company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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BP to sell 4 smaller fields, retain ownership of Prudhoe

Thu, 2014-04-24 00:07

BP announced Tuesday it will sell four of its North Slope assets to Houston-based independent Hilcorp Energy. The agreement includes all of BP’s interests in the Endicott and Northstar fields and 50 percent of BP’s interests in the Milne Point field and Liberty, an undeveloped offshore field still under development planning.

Oil and gas pipelines associated with those fields are included in the sale, BP said in its announcement.

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Legislators reach education compromise; vote scheduled for Thursday morning

Thu, 2014-04-24 00:06

Republicans in the House and Senate agreed on the omnibus education reform bill late Wednesday, and the funding level falls between what each side wanted.

The compromise on Republican Gov. Sean Parnell’s education bill, HB278, provides $100 million in education funding for each of the next three years. Those figures will be split evenly between one-time funding and increases to the Base Student Allocation, the amount the state pays school districts per student.

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Mining prospects favorable for POW

Wed, 2014-04-23 17:23

Representatives from the mining industry, regulatory agencies and local businesses touted the economic benefits of mining to Southeast Alaska during a Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon today (Wednesday, April 23). Two Prince of Wales Island projects were the focus of the discussion – the Niblack copper, gold, silver and zinc prospect; and the Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare earth elements project.
Graham Neale of Heatherdale Resources is project manager for Niblack. Neale says Southeast Alaska is ideal for mine development.
“There’s a workforce that’s already ready. They want to go to work. A lot of the trades that already exist or existed in the past are easily transferrable to the mining industry. A lot of the service and support businesses that support industrial development and responsible mineral development already exist.”
Neale says Alaska ranks number one in the world for mineral potential according to a study done by the Fraser Institute, an independent research and educational organization based in Canada.
Deantha Crockett, Executive Director of the Alaska Miners Association says the need for minerals, especially rare earth elements, is only increasing.
“We’re all going to keep using our devices. We’re all going to keep driving our cars. So why is it important to mine? And then why is it important to do it here? We have an incredible permitting process. It’s very important it’s stringent, it’s rigorous, and it should be.”
Crockett shared results from an economic study on mining in Alaska completed by the McDowell Group.
“We have an average wage of $100,000 within our industry. That’s twice the state average income for any other industry. The local revenues that you’ll see in here are really staggering facts. It’s a really good way to tell what’s working, and what we need to keep doing.”
She says the Alaska Miners Association will do what it can to further development in Alaska. The AMA is an umbrella organization for the mining industry in the state. Crockett says a major role of AMA is to advocate for the industry and to speak to lawmakers about mining issues.
Representatives from Ucore (YOO-core), developer of the Bokan-Dotson project, are in Juneau speaking with legislators and were unable to attend the luncheon.
Several in attendance spoke in favor of Senate Bill 99. Amendments to the bill would give the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) the ability to issue bonds for the Niblack and Bokan mining projects.
Heatherdale CEO Patrick Smith says even if SB99 is approved, it does not provide the mining industry any guarantees, but does allow AEIDA to provide funding more quickly.

“When we get to the point in time when we’re putting the financing package together – and these are large capital investments – it gives them the ability to go through their process, go to their board of directors and make and investment in the Niblack project. If it meets their due diligence.”
Smith says the prospects are excellent for Niblack.
“Few projects around the globe are as advanced as Niblack is that have the potential to be in production in a reasonable period of time. If you check the boxes for ‘being in Alaska,’ the regulatory environment, the legal environment, the fact that we have so much community support for this project. You just go down and look at all the positive attributes of this project, and you can see why several companies are looking very seriously at joining with us in a joint venture.”
Smith says Heatherdale Resources will work aggressively to move the Niblack project forward.
Local business owners and regulators also spoke during the well-attended presentation. Many were heading to Prince of Wales Island for a Mining Symposium in Craig. The symposium runs through Friday (April 25th).

Stedman Elementary to start new math curriculum

Wed, 2014-04-23 15:51

Math is difficult to learn for some students. To help make it easier and to meet state standards, the Rae C. Stedman Elementary School in Petersburg will be approaching the subject in a new way starting this fall. The Petersburg School Board, in its last meeting, approved a new math curriculum.

The new curriculum is called “Go Math K-5” and it’s been a long road leading up to it.

When first grade teacher, Michelle Brock, approached the school board about it, she brought along a large bag that caught their attention.

“This bag is about a tenth of all the different math stuff we’ve looked at,” Brock said. “I mean really, because we have all this different kind of materials.”

Teachers were introduced to new state standards last year and Brock said it was intimidating.

“And you look at it and it’s just like, ‘this is overwhelming, I have no idea’,” Brock said. “And we’re educated people and know how to teach math and there’s a lot of things in there that you just have to sit down and go through step by step.”

Erica Kludt-Painter is the Elementary school principal said, “It’s a huge process, teachers have spent a lot of time working on it.”

Kludt-Painter said they are looking at changing how they teach math in order to meet the new state standards, standards that she called “intense”.

“They pounded it into us as administrators and also just to work with our staffs on that as far as kind of the different way that we’re approaching mathematics instruction,” Kludt-Painter said.

Kludt-Painter says the “Go Math” curriculum is closely aligned to the state standards and should make meeting them easier. She said they’ve summarized the standards for each grade level into documents that are each about 7 to 8 pages long but she told the board to not be fooled by that.

“There are literally hundreds of hours that have gone into that document,” Kludt-Painter said.

The biggest difference with “Go Math” is in the instruction.

Fourth grade math teacher, Dan Sullivan, told the board that the material is about the same. He said it’s the WAY they would teach it that would change.

“In my grade it hasn’t particularly added, it’s more like taking things away, but more depth on the things that we do teach…move a little bit slower,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan gave this example of how the fourth graders would approach math differently.

“Making sense of problems and persevering in solving them,” Sullivan said. “And so a really big picture with kids and really focusing in on understanding what the constructs of these problems are.”

Another new “Go-Math” approach is called “mistake analysis”.

“I think it’s pushing it to say celebrating mistakes but mistakes aren’t bad things, we make mistakes when we learn,” Sullivan said. “I tell my kids constantly, ‘if you don’t make a mistake, you already knew this and I’m not teaching you anything, you already understand this concept, so mistakes are good things, we learn from our mistakes’.”

Another change that the new program could lead to is assessing students more often, such as taking smaller weekly tests instead of larger ones once a month.

The school board voted 4-0 in favor of the “Go Math” curriculum.

Gorman: Managing ‘conflicting expectations’ in Sitka

Wed, 2014-04-23 15:21

Mark Gorman said that in the recent past Sitka had been financed like someone “with a rich uncle,” but the community’s proactive approach to the future was noteworthy. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)


6 months into his tenure as municipal administrator, Mark Gorman says Sitka is going to become more self-reliant — through a combination of increasing local revenues and exploiting economic opportunities.

Gorman spoke to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce Wednesday afternoon (4-23-13).

He reassured the overflow crowd of business owners and others that Sitka was up to the challenges of the new retail economy. He put up a slide of a Sears store closing its doors in the lower 48.

In my walks around town there is great anxiety in the local business community. How do we compete with the internet? With the big box stores? What we are facing in Sitka is being faced by main street America. This is happening everywhere. And in talking to merchants and businesses that are doing well, there are some common issues that I see there. They are providing a product or a service that when you need it, you need it now. They have a high level of convenience. They have a high level of service. And price seems to be less of a factor. And they have a niche. There is something special about what they’re providing. I heard yesterday on Raven Radio — it was very interesting — a promo for Murray Pacific. And they’re promoting their business with 1-hour docking service if you come into Murray Pacific. And I thought, My goodness, that’s pretty innovative. How many stores offer 1-hour docking if you go in? Very much a niche market, but very creative.

Gorman discussed the nuts and bolts of city hall. He contradicted the popular notion that city staffing is expanding out of control. He said growth in the labor pool has been about 1-percent a year for the last seven years.

Gorman was concerned about revenues, which have been stagnant in Sitka for the last 4 budget years. He said that bulk water sales remain a bright prospect for Sitka — but on an unknown timetable. He discussed the unrealistic expectations Sitkans may have about the community’s relatively low tax rates, as more and more of the burden of paying for services shifts to local taxpayers.

But Gorman also pointed out opportunities for efficiency. He said no one has ever come into his office and complained about garbage pickup, which is handled by a private contractor, and has had stable pricing. Gorman said the city could identify more areas of public-private partnership.

My belief is that as we move forward as a community and start to address issues of sustainable revenue streams and services, we’re going to have to have a much closer discussion on what public-private partnerships look like in Sitka. And I have to point out that this conversation’s going to be a little threatening to people. It’s going to be a little uncomfortable as we explore the possibility of Are there things that the private sector can do more effectively, more efficiently than we as city government. As we move forward we need to ask three questions: Should CBS (City and Borough of Sitka) continue providing the service? Could the private sector provide equal or better service? And if yes, could it do so at a lower price?

Gorman discussed his commitment to Sitka, as a full-time resident for 22 years. He dropped in observations about some of the good things happening in the community, and remained upbeat throughout his presentation. He pointed to Sitka’s Fish to Schools Program, which has become a statewide leader, and called Sitka “The Silicon Valley of Seafood.” He held up a bottle of Leaf Vodka, made with water from Blue Lake.

“Combine this with some of our locally-produced salt,” Gorman said, “and we can have Sitka Margaritas.”

Music performances planned this week

Wed, 2014-04-23 10:05

Roy McPherson speaks about the Jerry Galley Memorial Scholarship Concert and Ketchikan Community Concert Band performances. 23band

“The Jungle Book” to be performed by more than 260 students

Wed, 2014-04-23 10:02

Students from Fawn Mountain Elementary speak about the musical they’ll be performing on May 1st.  23jungle

Ford-Slack steps down from Sitka High School

Wed, 2014-04-23 09:58

PJ Ford-Slack has been at Sitka High for 4 years. (SHS photo)

Sitka’s high school principal has resigned.

PJ Ford-Slack met briefly with district superintendent Steve Bradshaw and his successor, Mary Wegner, before Monday night’s school board meeting and indicated that she would not sign her contract for next year.

Tuesday morning it became official.

Ford-Slack is known to everyone as “Dr. PJ.” Mary Wegner says she will be missed.

“Dr. PJ has been a champion for students in the four years that she’s been here. And we are sorry to see that she’s turned in her resignation today, effective at the end of her contract, which is ten days after students leave. And she will — I believe — stay in Sitka, and we hope to have her continue to be involved in our programs as we can, just not as the principal of the high school.”

Wegner didn’t know what role Ford-Slack would serve in the district in the future — only that she would be welcome when available. Ford-Slack is helping manage a medical crisis in her immediate family.

Ford-Slack’s departure is creating a third vacancy in the district’s administrative team. A search is currently underway for assistant principals at Blatchley and Sitka High. Wegner says this is a good foundation for recruiting a new principal at the high school.

“Sitka’s an amazing place and we do really good things, and I think we’ll draw good candidates. And we’ve definitely appreciated the contributions that Dr. PJ has made over the time that she’s been with us, and she’s leaving the high school in a good position to move forward.”

Prior to her taking the job of principal at Sitka High, PJ Ford-Slack was a superintendent in Delta.

Sign-Ups for Denali Road lottery to open May 1

Wed, 2014-04-23 09:57

ANCHORAGE — Sign-ups for the annual Denali Road lottery are set to begin May 1.

Officials with Denali National Park and Preserve say people can apply for the lottery until midnight May 31.

People can no longer sign up for the lottery by regular mail. Entries can be made online or by phone.

Winners of the four-day lottery will be announced in mid-June.

Under the lottery, 400 vehicles will be allowed to travel the road with day-long permits each day from Sept. 12 to Sept. 15, weather permitting.

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Middle school Home Ec, Shop may fall to budget cuts

Wed, 2014-04-23 09:35

The school board cuts will not affect the overall ratio of teaching staff to students. Blatchley Middle School Principal Ben White went on a recent recruiting trip to the Seattle teaching fair. (KCAW photo/Ed Ronco)

The Sitka school district will not lay off any teachers next fall, but at least two programs could be cut.

The Sitka school board Monday night (4-22-14) passed its final budget for the coming year, with conservative assumptions on enrollment and state and federal revenue. But it’s not likely that any of the cut programs would be restored, should additional funding come in.


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The programs on the chopping block are at Blatchley Middle School and Baranof Elementary. Under the district’s proposed budget, Blatchley would lose either its shop program or Home Economics. The Home Ec teacher doubles as an English as a Second Language — or ESL — instructor. If Home Ec goes, so will ESL, and the instructor would replace a reading teacher who is retiring.

Under this scenario, Baranof Elementary would lose a reading specialist, leaving only two in that building, and two in Keet Gooshi Heen.

The board was not particularly happy to balance the budget by dropping programs. Tim Fulton was worried about losing ground in the lower grades.

“I’m having heartburn with that cut, and one of the reasons is what it does to programs that have shown to be successful, and our goals that we’ve set out here of decreasing that achievement gap.”

The “achievement gap” is the difference in school performance between Native and non-Native students, and between students from different income levels.

Fulton and fellow board member Cass Pook disagreed on which program at Blatchley should go.

Pook thought it should be Home Ec, since it had already been eliminated in the high school.

“I think it makes more sense to have the Home Ec program go before the shop, just because the shop is at the high school, and they can move up. The foods program is already cut at the high school. If we’re going to cut one or the other, I personally would choose the Home Ec program.”

Tim Fulton had a different perspective.

“On the food side of things we need something in place, so it’s better to have it at Blatchley. I understand the feeder piece going into the shop. But at least we’re giving them the opportunity to learn there.”

The budget for next year is just under $20-million, and leaves $400,000 in reserves. There are currently 1,321 students in the district, and the board is playing it safe and assuming that there will be fewer next year.

As of deadline for this story, state funding remains a question mark. The state senate has offered a bill that would inject one-time funding of $500,000 into the district; the house’s education bill would contribute an additional $300,000 to Sitka’s budget, each year for the next several years.

And in an about-face from its position at the beginning of the budget process, the district is including a $500,000 contribution from the federal Secure Rural Schools program — a funding source which was once thought dead, but has been revived by a powerful bloc of senators from the western US who hope to push it through the full Congress soon.

Board president Lon Garrison thought it was appropriate to be cautious.

“And so there’s a lot to figure out yet. I think this conservative approach is a good way to go, without taking teachers out of the classroom. It let’s us kind of move people around a little bit, to see how things are going to work. If enrollment is greater than we anticipate, there’s a possibility we can figure out how this thing might work. I think we have to adopt this budget, which is more conservative than we’ve done in the past. We have to finally bite the bullet and make it happen. And I would urge you to support it, even though you don’t like it.”

When asked by Cass Pook if any of the cut programs would be restored should the district’s finances improve, Garrison responded that it was unlikely. “If we approve this budget, then this is where we’re going to go.”

The school district will introduce a new Math curriculum sometime early in the next school year; an English Language Arts curriculum will follow sometime mid-year. The costs involved in the transition haven’t been pinned down.

Superintendent Steve Bradshaw has estimated that buying new materials for the Common Core might cost over a quarter-million dollars.

He supported the budget as written, even though it cuts programs, because it has a built-in buffer to buy the new curricula. “I’d rather make a couple of tough choices now, than eight next year,” he said.

The school district budget must be transmitted to the Sitka assembly for approval by May 1.

Assembly approves Centennial Hall design

Wed, 2014-04-23 06:00

An architect’s rendering of the renovated Harrigan Centennial Hall (Courtesy of McCool Carlson Green)

The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday night (4-23-14) unanimously approved the latest design for the renovation of Harrigan Centennial Hall.

The assembly had two options. They could approve a more “basic” renovation, including a new roof, new plumbing and electricity, new bathrooms and a new kitchen. Or they could endorse the architects’ full plan, which includes a new space for the Sitka Historical Museum, larger meeting rooms, and a more ambitious overhaul of the building’s exterior, including new landscaping on the hall’s south side.

At a work session before the assembly’s regular meeting, the building design committee, made up of Sitka residents, joined city staff in unanimously supporting the more ambitious plan.

Committee member Fred Reeder called Centennial Hall the “crown jewel” of Sitka.

“Every Sitkan either gets married here or dies here,” Reeder said, to laughter. “Or does something in this building.”

The city estimates that the full expansion would cost about $16-million, which would come from a combination of outside grants and the commercial passenger excise tax, also known as the cruise ship “head tax.”  The city already has over $10-million on hand, and the Alaska House and Senate have both included over $3-million for the project in their proposed capital budgets. The final budget, however, has been held up in last-minute legislative wrangling.

City Finance Director Jay Sweeney said that it’s in the city’s interest to make this project happen, whether or not the state funds materialize.

“If there is one single project that I would step forward as finance director and say that we had to do, and do right, and do the best we could, it would be the centennial building,” he said. “It’s the one place everybody steps foot in.”

Sweeney said that if necessary, the city can borrow from itself – essentially taking money from an existing fund and paying it back over time with future head tax dollars.

“And if it winds up that CPET funds for some unknown reason, are found to be objectionable to be used in this way, then I’ll find you a different way to pay for it,” Sweeney said. “I’m confident that there are multiple avenues to get this funded and it’s the right thing to do.”

In the end, the assembly voted 7-0 to approve the full expansion.

 

 

 

 

School bond group donors face election fines

Wed, 2014-04-23 00:02

ANCHORAGE — Donors to groups formed to support the passage of school bond issues are facing hefty fines from state election regulators.

Some, like Bob Bell’s engineering firm, could be fined as much as $19,000, he told the Anchorage Daily News.

State law says both the groups — like School Bonds Yes! and Anchorage Tomorrow — and those who give them $500 or more must file reports with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Commission officials declined to say how many people have received letters informing them of potential fines.

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Capital budget one of last big pieces pending

Wed, 2014-04-23 00:01

JUNEAU — One of the last big pieces to be resolved before lawmakers wrap up their work is the capital budget.

The House began taking up amendments Monday. Sunday was supposed to mark the end of the legislative session, but ran long after the House and Senate failed to find agreement on an education plan.

Capital spending in the budget, as it left the House Finance Committee early Monday, was about $2.2 billion. But that did not include additional education funding, which House and Senate negotiators were trying to reach consensus on.

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Not done yet

Wed, 2014-04-23 00:01

JUNEAU — House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday worked toward resolution on an education bill that’s been prolonging the legislative session, but a key lawmaker said the process won’t be rushed.

“It will come together really as quickly as we can find consensus in the building over either today, tomorrow or throughout the coming week,” said Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, who is chairman of the bill’s conference committee.

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Sitka Tribal Council welcomes new GM

Tue, 2014-04-22 18:06

Sitka Tribal Council welcomes new STA General Manager Lawrence Spottedbird. (KCAW photo/by Emily Forman)

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska welcomed a new general manager last week. Lawrence Spottedbird replaced Ted Wright after a lengthy search. Council members and the public formally welcomed Spottedbird at the Tribe’s monthly meeting last Wednesday (4-16-14).


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Although he has never worked for a tribal government, Spottedbird spent 34 years working with tribes and Native American entrepreneurs on business and economic development.

Spottedbird: Gunalcheesh, Chairman. And thank you also to the Tribal Council and to the people of Sitka. I feel already welcomed to this community. So I’m really looking forward to working with the Tribe and now that I’m on the tribal government side I’ll have to learn the protocols and the governmental part of management.

Throughout the meeting, many community members – both tribal and non-tribal citizens – presented on a range of issues.

82 year old tribal elder Ethel Makinen said she had never attended a Tribal Council meeting. But, made an exception on Wednesday to praise Sitka’s multicultural preschool that opened last fall. The preschool program called Wooch.een Yei Jigaxhtoonei received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg foundation earlier this month (April). It’s designed to bridge the achievement gap between Native and non-Native students by teaching Tlingit language and culture, which Makinen considers invaluable.

Makinen: I feel that our language our way of life, everything is important. And we need the young people to know our culture. Maybe they’ll never catch on to be fluent speakers but they’ll know about the culture. They’ll know who they are where they came from.

Representatives from the Sitka Ranger District, Sitka School District, and Sitka National Historical Parks Service also made introductions and shared ongoing project plans – that also included City Administrator Mark Gorman.

Gorman: I just wanted to formally introduce myself to the tribe and let you know my door is open to you all. We are meeting on a regular basis with the tribe in formal meetings. We are very looking forward to our government to government meeting in the next few months.

Part business part social, the point of these meetings between the tribal and municipal government is to build relations and discuss areas of joint concern.

A number of tribal citizens also addressed the Council. Some expressed concern over the delivery of Indian healthcare services. Others demanded a better process for handling and maintaining sacred burial sites.

When asked what are the Sitka specific issues that he’s most eager to address, Spottedbird mentioned the importance of language and cultural preservation, year-round jobs for tribal citizens, and showcasing Tlingit culture to attract tourists.

For now, Spottedbird says his door is always open. And welcomes any opportunity to listen and learn about what matters in Sitka.

Drug task force boards ferry, arrests suspect

Tue, 2014-04-22 16:06

A drug dog sniffed out alleged cocaine and methamphetamine on Monday, leading to an arrest on board the state ferry Kennecott.

According to the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, members of the Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs task force, K-9 Lutri, and Alaska State Troopers in Ketchikan boarded the ferry at about 9 a.m. Monday, and contacted Kenneth R. Bradley, age 49 of Washington state.

Bradley allegedly had residual amounts of suspected crack cocaine on his person. A K-9 sniff later led to a search warrant for his luggage. According to the bureau, 2 ounces of bulk methamphetamine was found in the luggage, along with 32 small plastic baggies also containing methamphetamine.

The bureau estimates the street value of the meth at $15,000.

Bradley faces felony drug charges based on the results of the search. He also was arrested on an outstanding $2,500 warrant for an unrelated criminal charge.

More tourists are expected in Petersburg this year

Tue, 2014-04-22 15:33

Dave Berg looks over a spread sheet of this year’s visitors at Viking Travel, Inc. Photo/Angela Denning

More tourists are expected to visit Petersburg this summer than in recent years. Located on Mitkof Island, the small town cannot accommodate large cruise ships because of its shallow channels. But that’s just the sort of thing that some visitors are looking for.

It’s tough to put an exact number on how many tourists come to Petersburg every year, but it’s definitely in the thousands. The closest figure might be from the Alaska Visitor Statistics Program, which shows about 14,000 came in 2011. That number includes visitors by plane, cruise ship and ferry.

Dave Berg has operated Viking Travel, Inc. in Petersburg for 31 years.

“It looks like it’s going to be a better year for us,” Berg says. “We’re seeing a great increase in the number of independent visitors than we’ve seen in the past.”

“Independent travelers” is an industry term that means people who visit on their own outside of the large cruise ships.

“Most of the time they have Petersburg as part of an overall Alaska experience,” Berg says.

The phone lines in Berg’s office are busy these days. He’s dealing with people from all over the world. He says the increase in tourists is partly due to his business buying out Alaska Ferry Adventures in Homer. They were doing the same line of work—setting up travel packages for visitors. He’s now trying to get those people to come to Petersburg.

The main local draw is whale watching. There are also kayaking trips, the Bella Vista garnet mine, and the nearby Anan Bear Observatory. But Berg says it doesn’t have to be that adventurous. People just appreciate walking around the harbors and talking to fishermen.

“Just the small town atmosphere, the village that we have, the village feel of Petersburg versus places with the large cruise ships,” Berg says. “There’s a big difference in the experience that people have by coming to small towns.”

Marilyn Menish-Meucci runs the Petersburg Visitors Information Center.

“The independent traveler loves Petersburg,” Menish-Meucci says. “All the businesses here are locally owned. The only chain we have that is a national chain is Wells Fargo. And so that is huge to people because every time they buy an item in this town, the money stays in this town.”

Menish-Meucci says keeping it local is not only good for attracting tourists but also for local businesses.

Petersburg’s Chamber of Commerce Director, Cindi Lagoudakis, agrees.

“There’s more fuel sales, the gift shops see an increased business and I think some pretty steady clientele in the summertime from independent travelers,” Lagoudakis says. “The food businesses certainly see an uptick and in part that’s why some businesses are only open in the summertime as we have more people coming through town and can support those additional businesses and those dollars flow through town.”

It didn’t hurt that Yachting Magazine recently designated Petersburg as one of the best small towns in the country to visit.

“So, we’ve had a lot of people calling on the phone asking more questions about what Petersburg is like what we have to offer, questions about our harbors, and some really increased interest in what we have to offer here in Petersburg,” Lagoudakis says.

She says it’s often the small town charm that they’re after.

“What I hear again and again from folks that are visitors to town is how friendly the community is,” Lagoudakis says. “I think in part is because we don’t have so many people. There’s enough new people but not so many that you feel bombarded by it. And people will say hi to people in the street or they will offer to help you find something or tell you a little bit about why they like Petersburg and it makes it a very desirable place to visit and to live.”

Petersburg’s tourist season runs roughly from May 15 to September 15.

There will be one large ship– the Caledonian Sky—which is scheduled to be here twice but won’t be able to dock at the harbors because of its size. It carries about 150 passengers and will have to anchor out in Scow Bay or Frederick Sound.

A Gold Rush theme ship is scheduled to be here 12 times. Last year, it came up twice.

Assembly doesn’t like tidelands lease options

Tue, 2014-04-22 14:58

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly had a long discussion about tidelands leases on Monday, and eventually gave direction to the borough Planning Department to come up with a new method of reviewing and adjusting those leases.

Back in the day, the State of Alaska was in charge of tidelands leases. But over the years, the state transferred tidelands to municipalities. Planning Director Tom Williams said some of the leases the borough holds are 25 years old, and the rent rates have never been adjusted.

That sparked a process. There were assessments, input from leaseholders, staff recommendations, adjustments to the code. It’s all very complex. And it doesn’t appear to be getting less complicated.

Williams told the Assembly that the code now calls for leaseholders to pay 10 percent of the property value, not including improvements. But, some leaseholders thought that was too much. Borough staff looked into how other Southeast communities deal with tidelands leases, and Williams said Sitka had recently lowered its lease rates.

“I contacted the Sitka planning director and got some information on how that transpired, and they were going through the same process we were,” he said. “They were coming up on rent renewals and they found that 10 percent was a deterrent to development in the community, so the planning director proposed a 4.5 percent rate of the market value.”

Williams proposed that Ketchikan do a little better than that, by charging 4.5 percent of the property value, which is lower than market value. Ketchikan borough planning staff offered a few other options for the Assembly to consider, such as the existing 10 percent rate, an 8 percent rate, and a rate that changes based on the prime rate.

The Assembly didn’t seem to like any of those options, though. Assembly Member Glen Thompson said that rent on the tidelands needs to encourage development, and he doesn’t believe the options do that.

“You can invest your money in your property or you can leave it in the bank. If we create a situation through property taxes or tidelands leases where it’s better for them to leave it in the bank or invest somewhere else, then we’re defeating our purposes here,” he said.

Thompson added that each existing tidelands lease should be evaluated individually, taking into consideration its location, the economic value that the leaseholder’s improvements provide to the community and rate shock – in other words, the reaction a leaseholder might have to a rent adjustment after 25 years of no change.

Assembly Member Todd Phillips had a suggestion: “The thing that stands out the most to me is Ketchikan being open for business. At this point, I’m not sure what would work. In my mind, I was thinking maybe we should do a 1 percent, then increase 1 percent a year and cap at 3 (percent).”

Phillips said that kind of program would allow businesses to plan their budgets to accommodate rate increases over time, rather than all at once. There was no Assembly action on Phillips’ suggestion.

Later, Thompson made a motion directing borough staff to bring back a modification to the tidelands lease ordinance that provides for new leases, and details how the borough will address existing leases. He said the original lease rate should be the basis for the borough’s evaluation process, to not punish leaseholders for making improvements.

“When 10-mile was originally put in there, when that lease was developed, there might not have been a road out there, there might not have been power out there,” he said. “Look at Gravina Island, when we had that one we had no power, no roads, no nothing. But when we put a business out there, we put some sort of economic engine out there, it creates the growth and it creates that development. Then we come back 10-20-30 years later and say, ‘Geez, you’ve done such a great job we’re going to penalize you for it.’ I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Assembly members approved Thompson’s motion, and added that they would like the cost of making improvements to a site considered, as well. Phillips pointed out that some tidelands are costly to develop, and in the long run the community will benefit from those improvements.

The tidelands leases all have reversionary clauses, which means the property will come back to the borough at the close of the lease.

Also Monday, the Assembly voted to move forward with repairs to the Gateway Aquatic Center roof, and to work toward a settlement agreement with the contractor rather than file a lawsuit.

Ketchikan students prep for boat trip to Petersburg

Tue, 2014-04-22 14:55

Ketchikan High School’s boat, the Jack Cotant.

A group of Ketchikan high school students and teachers is preparing to sail to Petersburg on Wednesday. They’ll be taking the Ketchikan School District’s boat, the Jack Cotant.

It’s a clear, 50-degree day with calm skies and waters. Mark Woodward is one of the teachers riding the Jack Cotant up to Petersburg. He’s standing on the docked boat, which looks clean and empty. That will change tomorrow, when eight students and two other teachers, including Captain Rick Collins, load onto the converted pocket seiner.

“There are five core students that are going for oceanography/maritime sciences,” Woodward says. “And then [three student] deckhands are going through the maritime program.”

It’ll be a two day trip up to Petersburg. The crew will stop Wednesday and Thursday night to sleep at cabins along the way. On Friday they’ll arrive in Petersburg. Then, five of the Ketchikan students will fly back, and their places on the boat will be taken by Petersburg students, who will take the two day trip back down to Ketchikan.

Along the way, students will learn about navigation, safety, marine biology and more. They’ll catch some crab and halibut to study and maybe serve up for dinner.

The trip isn’t just for fun — the students will be getting credit for it.

“AKLN, which is Alaska’s Learning Network, I told them what we were doing and they think it’s unbelievable,” Woodward said. “So we’ve come up with a 70-hour course. They’ll get a half an elective credit for doing this.”

A half credit is equivalent to a semester-long traditional class. Woodward says the Ketchikan and Petersburg school districts have been planning a trip like this since last year.

“The reason why I do this, is I think this is the best education — the best classroom we have — the Tongass and the North Pacific Ocean,” Woodward said.

Matthew Kelly is a junior high school student who takes both maritime and oceanography classes. He’s one of three Ketchikan students who are serving as deckhands and going on both legs of the trip.

“On the way up to Petersburg I’m gonna be a mostly oceanography-related student and on the way back down [I'll work on] more maritime stuff,” Kelly said. “For oceanography, we’ll probably be doing a few sample things like plankton tows and checking the salinity of water. And then for maritime we’ll be doing a lot of navigation.”

This will be the longest trip the Jack Cotant has taken in recent years. Woodward says the Ketchikan School District hopes that in the future they can organize similar trips to more towns to give other high school students a chance to learn on the ocean.