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Southeast Alaska News

Officials still investigating cause of deadly fire

Wed, 2014-02-12 01:03

FAIRBANKS — Fire officials in Fairbanks continue to investigate the cause of a deadly blaze last month at an apartment building.

“We’re still piecing things together on it,” Deputy Fire Chief Ernie Misewicz told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

He said they have conducted about 25 interviews, but there are still about six people left to speak with.

“I’m hoping by the end of the week to be able to put out some information,” he said Monday. “There are a lot of people wanting to know what’s going on.”

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Board takes steps to aid Mat-Su salmon

Wed, 2014-02-12 01:03

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Board of Fisheries has responded to pleas from Matanuska-Susitna Borough officials and approved new rules for Cook Inlet commercial fishing that are aimed at protecting salmon runs in borough streams.

The rules were put in place to protect Susitna River sockeye and weak runs of coho in popular angling spots such as the Little Susitna River and Jim Creek, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

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License perk for same-sex partners rejected

Wed, 2014-02-12 01:03

JUNEAU— A state House panel on Tuesday rejected extending a proposed perk for military spouses to same-sex partners of military members, citing a pending court case.

State law currently exempts military members legally licensed to drive in their home states from getting an Alaska license while they’re in the state temporarily. HB212, from Rep. Doug Isaacson, R-North Pole, would extend that allowance to their spouses.

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Lawmakers mull arming village officers

Wed, 2014-02-12 01:02

Committees in both the House and the Senate centered the legislative discussion Tuesday on rural Alaska and the village public safety officers who strive to maintain order out in the bush.

The Senate focus centered on SB98. Sponsored by Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, the proposal would remove the restriction that currently bans VPSOs from carrying firearms while working.

“There’s been more and more violence with public safety officers and village public safety officers in particular,” Olson said during a brief testimony before the committee.

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More road, sidewalk work planned in Petersburg

Tue, 2014-02-11 18:36

Petersburg motorists, walkers and cyclists can expect more road and sidewalk construction work on two important thoroughfares this year and next year. The state Department of Transportation is planning rehabilitation and reconstruction projects for pavement and concrete on both Haugen Drive and South Nordic Drive. DOT representatives are in town this week to present the plans to the public.

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New pavement, sidewalks and drainage on South Nordic Drive will be the first project planned to start later this year. That construction will happen between Haugen Drive and the ferry terminal.
A second project will see roadway resurfacing and sidewalk extensions for Haugen Drive. Keith Karpstein is the DOT’s project manager. “We’re just yeah gonna come down, present the two projects, give the public the opportunity to ask questions. And if you live adjacent to Nordic Drive and Haugen Drive, it’d be a good opportunity to come ask specific questions on what we might be doing directly in front of your home.”

Karpstein says there’s a good possibility the two projects will be going on at the same time in 2015. However, the work on South Nordic Drive is expected to start first. “We anticipate the sidewalk and curb and gutter work will take place over the summer of 2014. Also the city’s got some utility work that’s gonna be included in our project. So we’ll most likely get that done this summer. And then paving probably will follow in the 2015 season. Haugen Drive is a few months behind Nordic Drive but there is a chance that some of the concrete work would get started late summer early fall and then with pavement to follow the season of 2015.”

Karpstein says there certainly will be impacts to vehicle traffic during paving in 2015. He says construction will be staged to allow traffic to get through during the work.

One problem area the South Nordic Drive work should address is the potholed bridge over Hammer Slough. “So what we’re gonna do on the Hammer Slough bridge is completely remove all the pavement that’s on top of that bridge. We’re going to lay down a new waterproofing membrane that’ll go on the concrete deck. Then we’re gonna put a new surface of pavement, three-inch section of pavement on top of the bridge. So currently there’s two inches of pavement there and as you know it’s pretty beat up and broken and the underlying bridge deck is exposed. So with the new waterproofing membrane and a thicker pavement section, that’ll certainly clean that up.”

That project will mean new pavement and new sidewalks from downtown out to the ferry terminal. The borough is also redoing a sewer pipe in that area at the same time.

Meanwhile, the Haugen Drive work will mean new pavement and sidewalks from downtown up to Eighth Street. The sidewalks will also be extended up to 12th street on one side, and to the existing bike path on the other. The project also includes resurfacing the pavement from the airport to Sandy Beach. It may include an extension of the existing bikepath past the airport.

“The one thing that we haven’t made the final determination on is the inclusion of the bike path or the shared use path from the airport to Sandy Beach Road. Currently we don’t have the funding to include that portion of the project. So that may or may not be included in the project depending on where we end up with the funding.”

One item that is in the project is a crosswalk on Haugen Drive at Second Street near the new library. That’s been a community concern and frequent topic of discussion for the local public safety board. “So we did get comments from both the community and the borough and we determined that it was a good addition to the project and certainly we recognized the need for it. We did do a pedestrian count last summer that resulted in us making a final determination that a crossing was necessary at that location.”

The state plans to advertise both projects seeking construction companies later this year. They’re both estimated to cost between five and ten million dollars apiece.

The open house is from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, February 11 in borough assembly chambers.

Heavy snow to continue through early Wednesday

Tue, 2014-02-11 14:43

A city snow plow tries to keep up with the heavy snowfall Tuesday morning.

Monday marked the first day of Ketchikan’s first big snowstorm this winter.

Some city streets – even some of the primary corridors – remained snow-covered and slippery Tuesday morning, but City of Ketchikan Public Works Director Clif Allen said crews are pacing themselves so they don’t run out of steam. Because more snow is on the way.

“So while it seems like we’re not keeping up, in fact I’m fairly pleased with how we’re keeping up out there,” he said. “Salt is an important application, and sand. (We’re) just trying to stay ahead of this. We know there’s more coming. We’ll be out there doing everything we can, but that said, I really want to caution drivers to take some extra time, slow down, use your best winter driving skills out there.”

Allen said that Tongass Avenue is part of the state highway, so it’s maintained by the Alaska Department of Transportation. The primary corridors that the city crews focus on include Third Avenue, Jefferson and Carlanna, and downtown.

“Farther down the list, we have all of the dead-ends and of course parking lots,” he said. “Beyond that, we occasionally get to our stairways. Typically, the rain takes care of that before we ever get to them.”

In recent years, the city has acquired some new snow-removal equipment. Allen said that one of those new items has been used to clear the sidewalk on the Third Avenue Bypass.

“There’s a piece of equipment we’re using up there to plow that, and you’ll also see that at work on the hill leading up to the landfill,” he said. “What we haven’t had a chance to use is the snowblower attachment that goes with that. We just haven’t had amount of snowfall to make use of that thing yet. I don’t want to say I hope to, but we’re ready if need be.”

There have been some accidents because of road conditions. One on Monday afternoon involved a school bus and an SUV-style vehicle on Forest Park just south of city limits.

Alaska State Troopers report that the bus driver was headed uphill on a sharp curve near Willow Circle, and the SUV was going downhill at the same time. Both vehicles slid on the snowy road and sideswiped each other at low speed. The SUV slid off the road and hit a stump in the ditch. There were no injuries, though, to either of the drivers, or to the five students riding inside the bus.

Drivers should continue to take care, as a winter snow advisory remains in effect until 5 a.m. Wednesday for Prince of Wales Island, Ketchikan and Metlakatla. A total accumulation of up to nine inches is expected through Wednesday, and snow remains part of the forecast for the next couple of days.

Warmer temperatures and rain are expected by the end of the week.

School Board to consider technology purchases

Tue, 2014-02-11 13:40

Along with discussing the school district’s FY ’15 budget Wednesday, the Ketchikan School Board will vote on funding for online learning programs and on a 3-D printer for Ketchikan High School.

School district officials hope to upgrade the virtual school software to increase its capacity. In the first semester this year that the “Edgenuity” online classes were used, more than 250 courses were taken, and a higher capacity system is needed.

The Board will vote on a $95,000, three-year contract with Edgenuity.

The Board also will vote whether to spend nearly $29,000 on a 3-D printer for career and technical programs at Kayhi. In her funding request, Curriculum Director Linda Hardin wrote that 3-D printers are “quickly becoming a manufacturing standard.”

Kayhi Construction, Drafting and Computer Technology teacher Steve Thomas said teaching students how to use a 3-D printer will give them an “edge up” in the job market. He said the printer could be used in STEM, robotics, calculus, geometry, history and computer classes.

Wednesday’s School Board Meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start and end of the meeting.

The school district is also looking for members to serve on the newly formed Student Safety Committee. The committee will examine district policies that deal with student safety, and make recommendations about those policies to the School Board. For more information, call the superintendent’s office at 247-2109.

Sealaska chair vows to support STA herring lawsuit

Tue, 2014-02-11 13:26

Outgoing Sealaska Board Chairman Albert Kookesh addresses Native leaders during a 2011 issues forum. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

Sealaska board chair Albert Kookesh has vowed to back the Sitka Tribe of Alaska should it decide to sue the state over Sitka Sound sac-roe herring fishery.

At a meeting of tribal leaders in Sitka last week, Kookesh said, ”I’m the chairman of the board of Sealaska Corporation. I told Sitka Tribe 2 or 3 years ago: you guys file suit, we’ll be there. And I’ll make the commitment to you right now. I’m still the chairman of the board of Sealaska. If you file suit on the herring fishery, we’ll be there. Our lawyers will be there. Our money will be there.”

Kookesh announced last month (January) that he will step down as Sealaska board chairman in June, but he plans to remain on the panel as a regular member.

Sitka’s Alaska Native Brotherhood hosted the meeting, which was intended to rally Native organizations around protecting the subsistence lifestyle.

Kookesh sat silent until near the end of the meeting. “Herring fishing in Sitka. You guys are the front line people for that,” said Kookesh. “We know that I live in Angoon. We don’t have herring roe there. We depend on this fishery to get our herring eggs. We depend on you guys.”

For millennia, Sitka’s tribal citizens have harvested herring roe on hemlock branches submerged in the ocean during spawning. The Tribe is concerned that the commercial fishing fleet is over- fishing herring, and threatening their traditional resource and practice.

The commercial sac-roe herring fishery came under state management in the mid-1960s. The egg sacs, which are stripped from females prior to spawning, are a delicacy in Japan and some other parts of Asia.

Kookesh points to Sitka’s herring fishery as one example of many across the state where the state government is indifferent to traditional harvesting practices.

“To me the reality is we need to elect somebody who is sympathetic to the Native community, “said Kookesh. “And is sympathetic to a subsistence way of life and that’s another Native.”

Kookesh urged the attendees to make it their mission to elect a Native governor, and cited the election of Senator Lisa Murkowski as a testament to the collective strength of Alaska Natives. The Native vote is believed to have played a significant role in Murkowski’s 2012 write-in election victory.

State Parks hosting chili cook off

Tue, 2014-02-11 11:42

Members of the Alaska State Parks Advisory Board in Ketchikan explain what the board does and invite cooks (and chili fans) to participate in a cook off.  You can call Cis Coenen at 247-6692 to enter.  StateParks

Banff Mt. World Tour combines joy, inspiration, pain

Tue, 2014-02-11 11:33

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Holly Elliot, with the Banff Mt. Film Festival, and Cindy Edwards, with the Hames Center, talk about tonight’s Banff Mt. Film Festival World Tour (7PM Tue Feb 11, Sitka Performing Arts Center, $15/$10 Old Harbor Books and the Hames Center). Elliot has been with the festival for 16 years — it’s most senior “road warrior.” She says the films are selected from over three hundred submitted to the festival.

Artigras is coming!

Tue, 2014-02-11 11:28

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Jeff Budd, with the Greater Sitka Arts Council, discusses the Sitka Artigras Festival coming this March. For complete information, visit Sitka Artigras online.

Tue Feb 11, 2014

Tue, 2014-02-11 11:23

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Sealaska board chair Albert Kookesh vows to back Sitka Tribe in herring lawsuit. Assembly to discuss community land trusts in work session prior to tonight’s regular meeting. Robidou trial delayed pending high court ruling. Crab fishermen hold off on Southeast opener until Wednesday due to bad weather.

Mon Feb 10, 2014

Tue, 2014-02-11 11:11

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Legislature proposes bill to allow air ambulance membership programs. School board cuts superintendent finalists from three to two. Reifenstuhl to Chamber: Southeast’s nonprofit hatcheries return investment seven-fold. House Fisheries Committee supports extension of seafood tax credits.

Budget officials grilled on 10-year plan

Tue, 2014-02-11 01:02

JUNEAU — Members of the House Finance Committee grilled state budget officials Monday on how realistic their 10-year budget plan is.

The plan drafted by Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget office is intended as a planning tool. The different scenarios include various oil price and production estimates and envision general fund spending of $5.6 billion a year after fiscal 2015. That’s slightly less than what Parnell initially proposed for his spending plan for next year.

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High schoolers push for end to Alaska's exit exam

Tue, 2014-02-11 01:02

JUNEAU — Some high school students traveled nearly 900 miles to lobby state lawmakers on Monday to do away with Alaska’s school exit exam, saying the test is so simple, it’s laughable.

The exit exam was just one part of Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill that drew students, superintendents and education department officials to the Capitol for testimony. The wide-ranging bill also would allow schools denied charter status to appeal to the state and increase the student funding formula, known as the base student allocation.

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Floor of Alaska Senate breaks out into oil tax debate

Tue, 2014-02-11 01:02

JUNEAU — The floor of the Alaska Senate broke into an impromptu debate over oil taxes Monday.

Sen. Cathy Giessel sparked the discussion in a special order, which is when members speak on issues of their own choosing. Hers was entitled “What Could It Look Like?”

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Oil companies spend big to oppose tax referendum

Tue, 2014-02-11 01:01

ANCHORAGE — Major oil companies are spending heavily to retain tax cuts approved last year by the Alaska Legislature, campaign spending reports indicated.

The tax cuts could be repealed by Ballot Measure One, placed on the August primary ballot by referendum. BP and ExxonMobil each have donated more than $1.3 million in the “Vote No on One” campaign, the Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday.

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Senate rejects pay raises for top state officials

Tue, 2014-02-11 01:01

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate passed legislation Monday rejecting pay raises for top state officials, with a Democrat saying the increases were not deserved.

“In the real world, you get paid for your performance,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. “We had a $17 billion surplus. The policies of this administration have left us with a $2 billion deficit this year and $2 (billion) to $3 billion deficits into the foreseeable future.”

The salaries were rejected on a vote of 19-0. The bill still must go to the House for consideration.

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Robidou trial delayed pending high court appeal

Mon, 2014-02-10 22:45

The trial of a former Sitka junior high administrator has been postponed — indefinitely.

Former Blatchley Middle School principal Joe Robidou was scheduled to go on trial this week for six counts of sexual assault, but that now appears unlikely to happen any time soon.

Last month, Robidou’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the indictments. Superior Court Judge David George agreed to dismiss one of the six counts, but let the other five stand.

Robidou’s defense has appealed that decision to the state Court of Appeals.
Assistant district attorney Jean Seaton says it is “allowed, but somewhat unusual” for a defendant to appeal a judge’s ruling — before a case has gone to trial.

Robidou is accused of six felony counts of sexual assault and an additional five misdemeanors. The charges relate to incidents that allegedly happened from May of 2012 to January 2013. All of them involve other adults — teachers who worked for Robidou when he was principal of Blatchley Middle School.

Seaton has no idea how long it will take the appellate court to return a decision. She says the justices look only at court procedure, rather than the details of the case. They will likely review the proceedings of the Sitka Grand Jury which brought the original indictments.

Seaton adds that the Alaska Legislature has taken a stand on indefinite appeals. She says that recent legislation requires the criminal justice system to account for the effects long appeals have on victims.

Most recently, Robidou was the business manager for the Sitka School District, a job he’d taken the week before the charges came to the attention of school officials and police in January 2013. He tendered his resignation sometime after that, and it became official on March 1, 2013, the same day he was indicted by a Sitka grand jury.

Former student to serve 12 years for molesting a child on bus

Mon, 2014-02-10 22:36

A former Sitka High School student will spend twelve years in prison for molesting a six-year-old child on a school bus.

Twenty-year old Alexander Evans received six-year sentences for each of two counts of Sexual Abuse of a Minor.

Note: A word of caution to parents, some details in this story may be inappropriate for younger readers.

According to court records Evans was a high school student who rode an early bus to school in the mornings in the fall of 2011.

The charges stem from incidents which occurred from mid-November 2011 — about a month after Evans turned 18 — through February 2012, when the child’s father took her to SEARHC Hospital and police began an investigation.

Based on the child’s testimony and the defendant’s own admission, Evans was initially charged with five counts of Sexual Abuse of a Minor, for acts ranging from touching the child’s breasts and buttocks, to having sexual contact with her with his finger.

All are Class B felonies under Alaska law.

According to assistant district attorney Jean Seaton, the Alaska Legislature has tightened penalties for some sex offenses since these crimes took place. She says that the 12 years Evans will serve under his plea agreement is likely more time than he would have received if he had been convicted at trial.

Sitka’s school bus policy has not changed as a result of the incident, though supervision has tightened. Superintendent Steve Bradshaw says that district rules, then as now, don’t allow elementary school children to ride with students in grade six or higher. Exceptions can be made, but the older student is supposed to sit apart from the younger children, up front, near the bus driver. He says the rules simply weren’t followed when the abuse occurred.

Bradshaw says that any older student who rides an elementary school bus now must be preapproved by him personally.

Although this sentencing concludes the criminal aspect of the case, Bradshaw was hesitant to comment further, since civil litigation may still be possible.

In addition to serving 12 years, Evans will be on probation for 10 years following his release, when he is approximately 32 years old.