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Southeast Alaska News
Earlier this year, the telecom giant GCI moved into a new line of business, buying three television stations in Sitka, Juneau and Anchorage.
It turns out those purchases were just the beginning. This month (12-12-2013), GCI announced plans to buy three more TV stations in Southeast Alaska.
If approved, the deal could mark a new era in Alaska media.
GCI plans to buy all three CBS affiliates in Southeast Alaska: KTNL in Sitka, KXLJ in Juneau, and KUBD in Ketchikan. The announcement comes just weeks after GCI won federal approval to take over the two NBC affiliates in Southeast — KSCT in Sitka and KATH in Juneau – as well as KTVA, the CBS affiliate in Anchorage.
The newest deal must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission. If it is, GCI will own most of the commercial television stations in Southeast Alaska.
Operating broadcast stations represents a totally new business for GCI.
“GCI has traditionally been in the pipeline business,” said GCI corporate vice president and spokesman David Morris. “Which essentially means we were transporting [signals], either people’s phone calls or internet or cable TV.”
GCI is the state’s largest cable TV operator, and also provides internet, telephone, and cell phone service.
In other words, until now, GCI ran the plumbing. The purchases this fall represent the company’s first major foray into what runs through that plumbing — content.
The company hopes to leverage its technical expertise, dominant infrastructure and deep pockets to transform how Alaskans consume media, Morris said.
“That’s the vision: to be able to access information when you want it and where you want it,” Morris said.
That might mean eventually being able to access all GCI content on your TV, computer or phone, on demand.
“The thinking is, if you’ve got a video-on-demand product, if you get home at 6:15pm and you want to watch the news from the beginning, you can actually just go to your video-on-demand and back it up to start of the news,” Morris said. “If you see your kid on there, on the news and you want to see it again and again, you can back it up.”
GCI’s first step will be to convert programming on its stations to high definition, Morris said.
So far, however, GCI’s purchase has meant a programming change for customers across Alaska. On December 7, viewers across Southeast lost access to Channel 2 News, the state’s highest-rated television news program.
Sitka resident Sabra Jenkins is among those frustrated by the change.
“I’ve gotten to depend on it,” Jenkins said. “And now that I don’t have it, I’m really seriously thinking of not keeping my TV anymore.”
Channel 2 News is produced by Anchorage NBC affiliate KTUU. It was carried on KSCT in Sitka and KATH in Juneau before GCI purchased those stations.
But for months, GCI has been locked in a fight with KTUU over the terms of carrying Channel 2 programming on the stations as well as on GCI Cable. Now KTUU’s morning and evening news shows – about 22 hours of programming each week — are no longer broadcast in Southeast.
In early November, when the two companies could not agree on a contract, GCI also took Channel 2 off cable in several parts of rural Alaska, leaving about 7,000 viewers with no NBC programming, except what’s carried on the state-operated channel known as ARCS.
The disagreement centers on what would happen if KTUU ever acquired another station. GCI says KTUU’s demands would double the cost of carrying the signal; KTUU says the cable company is trying to limit its future growth.
Some say there’s a larger issue at stake. KTUU was part of a coalition of stations that petitioned the FCC to deny GCI’s station purchase in the first place.
“The concern has always been that they would leverage that distribution system, their cable operation, to squeeze out broadcasters,” said Brad Hillwig, marketing director at KTUU.
Whether it’s intentional or not, Hillwig said, that seems to be what’s happening.
“You see then, some of the things that [we] were originally concerned about, perhaps taking shape,” Hillwig said. “With GCI…restricting access to Channel 2 on its cable systems, coinciding with its launch of its own news product.”
GCI subsidiary Denali Media Holdings is in the process of launching a news program on KTVA in Anchorage, to compete with KTUU’s Channel 2 News.
GCI’s David Morris says the cable company will happily put Channel 2 News back on the air as soon as the companies sign a contract. For now, however, it’s unclear when — or if –that will happen.
But there’s one thing on which everyone agrees.
“It’s changing times in Alaskan media,” Hillwig said.
Do you know what your child eats for lunch every day? You might read the school district’s weekly menu, but do you really know? Well, for one week in January, the Ketchikan School District is inviting parents to find out for themselves.
Wellness Coordinator Barbara McCarthy told the School Board that, as part of an ongoing review of the school district’s lunch menu, Parent Lunch Week has been scheduled for the last week of January. No special menus will be prepared, she said; they will be normal school lunches.
“We also will be eliciting feedback at that time with a survey to see what their thoughts are on the menu items and the nutritional value and the value for money and whether they would recommend keeping those items on a regular rotation,” she said.
After that, McCarthy said the committee will work with the district’s head cook on developing new lunch options. Those new options should be nutritious, not too expensive, and most important, items that kids will eat.
“So he’s going to be preparing samples of the new items and putting them out in the lunchrooms during lunch and letting the kids taste them and then vote on their favorite items, and then those will be the ones that are put into the regular rotation when we do update the menu,” she said.
McCarthy noted that a state grant that funds the district’s wellness program might not last beyond this year, so she and the committee are working on ways to maintain a wellness effort even if the program ends. With that goal in mind, McCarthy stressed the need to establish strong policies that promote student health.
“Policy is the backbone of sustaining action,” she said. “This is potentially one of the most impactful things that can come out of the wellness program, especially if it is only a one-year program.”
Using a standard method, the committee scored the district’s policies on a variety of factors related to nutrition and physical activity. Based on those results, the wellness committee came up with some recommended new policy language. Those recommendations include ongoing improvements to nutrition levels in school meals, and providing nutrition information to students and parents.
Another recommendation is to formally discourage schools using food as a reward, especially at the elementary level.
“We want to move toward this idea of creating an environment in the schools that fosters wellness and fosters healthy attitudes,” McCarthy explained. “Using food as a reward can be detrimental to our students learning how to eat when they’re hungry, to eat what’s good for them and not to associate sugary sweet foods with a job well done.”
Increasing physical activity also is recommended. McCarthy said that one way to accomplish that is through short physical activity breaks throughout the day.
The School Board took no action on the issue. Specific policy recommendations could come back to the board at a later time.
Also on Wednesday, the board voted to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes on school grounds, and unanimously approved a request for the Schoenbar Dance Team to travel for a competition in California. The team members will raise the money for the trip themselves, but needed district approval to attend.
Petersburg High School’s boys and girls varsity basketball teams have their first home games of the new season tonight. Teams from Cordova, Soldotna, Haines, Metlakatla and Thorne Bay are in town for the Little Norway Tournament.
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One of Ketchikan’s holiday traditions is the Christmas Boat Parade, when local boat owners decorate their vessels with lights and sail up and down Tongass Narrows.
The parade this year is set for late Sunday afternoon. Organizer Jon Dorman, who is the assistant fire chief for the Ketchikan Fire Department, says that so far, a SEAPRO vessel and the city’s fire boat are the only ones in the parade, but he hopes many more will join.
“We’re hoping for as many boats as we can get. It’s been real popular in years past, and anybody who wants to participate, just throw some lights on and come on down to Peninsula Point,” he said. “We plan to leave about 4:30 on Sunday.”
From Peninsula Point, the Christmas Boat Parade will head south toward downtown Ketchikan. It will continue on to Saxman, then boats will turn around and come back to downtown Ketchikan.
For more information, contact Dorman at the fire station.
The governor’s office announced new appointments to state boards this week, and two area residents were on the list.
Doug Ward, director of shipyard development for Ketchikan’s Vigor Alaska, formerly called Alaska Ship and Drydock, was reappointed to the Alaska Workforce Investment Board.
And Brian Templin, the city planner for the City of Craig, was reappointed to a seat on the Alaska State Emergency Response Commission.
Ketchikan School Board member Michelle O’Brien gives an update on Wednesday’s meeting. SB121913
ANCHORAGE — The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday night to spend $4.4 million on a recreation center with indoor tennis courts.
The Alaska Tennis Association had originally asked the state Legislature for $7.2 million to build the courts in the Turnagain neighborhood in west Anchorage. President Allen Clendaniel says he’s disappointed at the lesser amount but glad to finally have a decision on the funds.
ANCHORAGE — A Wasilla man’s artwork will adorn T-shirts and pins created for the grand opening of the Hard Rock Cafe in Anchorage next spring.
The company says in a release that 43-year-old Stafan Wilson’s design in the Calling All Artists contest feature moose antlers and guitars over an inlay of Anchorage and the Chugach Mountains. It will be featured on limited-edition items.
FAIRBANKS — Alaska State Troopers a 20-year-old Wasilla man suffered frostbite and hypothermia after a foot chase in 20-below temperatures in Cantwell.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://is.gd/5A8mul ) says Samuel Wade was treated at a Fairbanks hospital before he was taken to Fairbanks Correctional Center Tuesday.
With less than a month to go, nearly half of the expected Kenai Peninsula Borough applicants for state disaster aid have applied for up to $16,200 in grant money to help them recover from the Kenai flooding earlier this fall.
According to an information release from the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 52 State Individual Assistance and Temporary Housing Assistance applications for the Oct. 27 and 28 flood were complete as of Monday.
The Gustavus ferry terminal sustained minor damage to its vehicle transfer ramp after an intense winter storm Saturday. Alaska Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said an early estimate of the damage is about $20,000.
“It was a combination of a severe storm with a higher than usual tide and the right direction of sustained wind,” Woodrow said. “We’re fortunate that ferry service was not affected.”
Coast Guard Sector Juneau responded to a disabled vessel 25 miles northeast of Sitka Tuesday.
Two injured boaters were rescued from the 32-foot vessel Atlantis by a Coast Guard Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew. The pleasure craft reportedly struck a rock on the shore near Salisbury Sound. The boaters were transported to emergency personnel in Sitka and taken to Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital.
The Sitka Tribe has begun its search for a new general manager. The tribe’s former general manager, Ted Wright, recently left the position to become the general manager for the Stillaguamish tribe in Arlington, Wash. Wright took the position in January of 2011 and had previously held the position for three years in the early 90s.
The tribe is accepting applications for the position through the end of January.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks will offer graduate veterinary medicine classes beginning in the fall of 2015. The classes are part of a partnership with Colorado State University that will allow Alaskan students to complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.
“The partnership makes the program viable, since developing a standalone program would be cost-prohibitive for UAF,” the university said in a statement.
Two Sitka hunters sustained serious injuries Tuesday evening (12-17-13), after their boat struck a cliff in Kakul Narrows, about 25 miles north of town.
Both men have been hospitalized, one in Seattle.
The ground was not a beach, however. It was a sheer cliff face.
Speaking from his hospital bed Wednesday afternoon (12-18-13), Galanin told KCAW that he had dozed off in the passenger seat after a long day of hunting. He awoke just moments before the crash and dove toward the back of the 31-foot Almar.
Both men were knocked unconscious. When Galanin came to, he summoned help and began to steer the boat south toward Sitka. McGraw also revived, and was able to assist.
A Coast Guard helicopter was already airborne at the time of the accident, and was quickly on scene.
Sitka Mountain Rescue also responded in the harbor skiff. Rescue captain Don Kluting says the Almar’s power and steering were still operable, despite the crash.
“The damage to the boat was all in the bow — the impact area was the bow. There was glass everywhere in the cabin. It was kind of a mess on board the boat.”
Kluting says McGraw had already been packaged in a litter and hoisted into the helicopter. Galanin was also taken on board.
“We went ahead and stood by while the Coast Guard helicopter went in and conducted hoist operations, and then went in and picked up their rescue swimmer on the beach. They went ahead and landed.”
McGraw and Galanin’s boat was in Neva Strait by this time. A good Samaritan vessel operated by Jerry Matthews and Noah Mayo had assisted in getting the distressed Almar to the beach, between Whitestone Cove and High Water Island.
Both McGraw and Galanin were flown by the Coast Guard back to Sitka. Galanin was hospitalized for a broken rib, four spinal fractures, and cut on his head; he says McGraw was injured by colliding with the Almar’s steering column. McGraw was subsequently medevacked to Seattle for further care.
All that remained was to salvage the damaged boat. Good Samaritans Matthews and Mayo brought the Almar alongside their craft, but it became clear that it was taking on water.
Kluting says they made an unusual decision.
“Together we determined that the best course of action was going to be to actually drive the 31-foot boat back. The engine was still running, the prop was undamaged. To get the bow — the area that had been significantly damaged — out of the water.”
Rescuers were met by family members of the victims at the Starrigavan ramp at about 6 PM, and the damaged Almar was hauled out on a trailer. Troopers estimate the damage to McGraw’s vessel at $30,000.
Here’s a little video from Saturday, when there was quite a bit of flooding in Ketchikan following about 13 inches of rain in five days. This was shot on Freeman Street next to Ketchikan Creek, and you can see just how close the creek water was to the road.
The Ketchikan City Council’s regular meeting Thursday will start with two public hearings, one each for the city’s general government and Ketchikan Public Utilities budgets.
The Council has been reviewing and adjusting the two budgets in a series of special meetings the past couple of months. Thursday’s meeting should mark the end of the process, some last-minute changes, and a final vote approving both.
The city must approve both budgets before the end of this year.
First readings of two ordinances that would change the city’s sales tax structure also are on the Council’s agenda. The first would increase the sales tax cap from $1,000 to $2,000; and the second would establish a seasonal sales tax increase for just the summer months, effective this coming April.
During a Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday, Ketchikan Visitors Bureau CEO Patti Mackey noted that vendors who sell their tours aboard cruise ships already have set their prices with those cruise lines. The extra 1 percent sales tax was not factored into those prices, she said.
The Chamber speaker, City Mayor Lew Williams III, said the Council can talk about that during Thursday’s consideration of the measure. He added that he believes the tax cap increase will ultimately fail.
Other ordinances on the agenda include a wastewater and a water rate increase.
If the ordinances pass in first reading, they must come back to the Council for a second vote before they are enacted.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
Democratic candidate for governor Byron Mallott of Yakutat swung through Ketchikan on Wednesday. He met with various community groups, and stopped by the KRBD radio station for an interview with local media representatives. He touched on a variety of issues, from timber and Medicaid expansion to the state’s controversial oil tax structure.
Here is a portion of Mallott’s conversation with KRBD’s Leila Kheiry.
Below is the complete interview, which lasts about 36 minutes and includes Ketchikan Daily News reporter Nick Bowman.