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Southeast Alaska News
After multiple discussions and public hearings, the Ketchikan School District FY2015 budget is scheduled for a final vote at Wednesday’s School Board meeting.
Upon approval, the budget of about $41 million will be given to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough for review. The School Board will be able to make changes later depending on funding levels from the state and borough.
In the School Board meeting agenda, there is a resolution regarding the School Board’s stance on chloramine. At previous meetings, community members have asked the Board to take a stand on the use of chloramines to disinfect Ketchikan’s water.
The proposed resolution says the School Board takes no official position concerning the use of chloramines.
The Board will continue to discuss the federal guidelines of the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act and how that might impact things like food served in classroom celebrations and concession sales in Ketchikan schools.
Two amendments approved at the School Board’s last meeting that relaxed some of the regulations were sent to the state Department of Education and Early Development. According to district Business Manager Matt Groves, the Board will need to change the wording of an amendment that allowed food from concessions to be sold during the school day to anyone other than a local student. DEED, with direction from the USDA, says the rule must apply to all students, regardless of where they attend school.
A new survey measuring obesity in Ketchikan students might factor into that discussion as well. Ketchikan School District staff measured the height and weight of 88 percent of current pre-K through 9th graders. The analysis found that 41 percent of those students are overweight or obese.
The Board also will vote on two new contracts. One is a $98,000 contract for Felicia Wells to teach special education at Houghtaling Elementary School. The other is an $84,000 contract for Andrea Marthinsen as the school district physical therapist.
The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start and end of the meeting.
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Tracy Gagnon and Mary Wood from Sitka Conservation Society discuss Earth Day activities, starting with cleaning up garbage caches this afternoon (4-22-14).
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The Sitka Assembly will hear updates on Harrigan Centennial Hall renovation and Blue Lake dam expansion during its work session tonight (4-22-14). A loan to complete the Blue Lake dam expansion is in limbo as lawmakers wrestle with the issue. Crewman rescued after troller ran aground in Sitka Sound. Supporters organized a sit-in protest, and the Alaska Senate voted to make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages. Sitka Representative, and primary sponsor, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins reacts to Alaska Senate passing House Bill 216.
KRBD-FM in Ketchikan, Alaska, is offering a 10-week summertime news intern position, starting in late June or early July.
The intern will receive training on station equipment, including remote and in-station recording equipment; the air-room control board; and computer programs that the news department regularly uses, such as Audition and WordPress.
The intern also will receive training in basic journalism writing and photography, and then will be sent out on news assignments. The intern will be closely supervised, and KRBD’s news director will provide assistance and editing for all stories the intern produces.
Interested college students are encouraged to fill out an internship application, available at the KRBD radio station. Students also can email email@example.com to have an application sent via email.
Most of Monday night’s Borough Assembly meeting revolved around a variety of presentations. The assembly also approved pursuing a school reserve fund and will repair the aquatic center roof. Alan Bailey gives details. Assembly042214
Sitka Little League softball and baseball players, coaches, officials and fans gathered on Saturday at Moller Field to celebrate the opening day of the 2014 season. This is the 51st year for Little League in Sitka with over 350 youth signed up to play ball this year. Games for some divisions began April 19 and will continue through June. For more information visit sitkalittleleague.org.
(Charlotte Kimber photo)
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 52-foot steel-hulled troller Mirage radioed a distress call at about 3:30 AM. The boat had gone aground on the southern shore of Low Island, in surf and strong winds.
Don Kluting coordinates Sitka’s Mountain Rescue team, which also conducts maritime operations.
Kluting says he and three other team members left the harbor in darkness, and used night-vision goggles and a global positioning system to navigate the six miles out to Low Island, where they arrived at daybreak. The team was prepared for the worst.
“Full precautions. We had everybody in drysuits, had tow ropes. We had briefed that we were going try and establish a tow. We had a line gun with us. Basically, getting ready to pull a fairly large vessel out of the surf and try to give them enough to keep the waves from pushing them farther and farther up on the rocks to get him under his own power.”
Low Island is a known hazard in Sitka Sound, or a known recreation area, depending on your point of view. When a swell is running, Sitkans occasionally surf the waters between Low Island and Shoals Point.
Once Kluting and his team found the Mirage it quickly became clear that the stranded troller would not be going anywhere.
“We had breaking surf conditions 100-yards around him in all directions. We had circled around that south end of Low Island trying to figure out a path to get in close. And it pretty much not going to happen, and we made a determination to get a helicopter out from Air Station Sitka.”
Kluting says the rescue boat was able to get within 50 yards of the Mirage while waiting for the helicopter, and stood by in the event the troller capsized or swamped and the two crewmen were forced into the water.
The Coast Guard helicopter rescue crew determined that the safest course of action would be to let the tide go out from under the Mirage. After about 90-minutes, the helicopter landed on Low Island and the two fishermen were able to walk ashore unharmed and board the aircraft.
Kluting says he is not optimistic about an immediate salvage of the Mirage.
“Not a friendly location, getting a larger vessel in there and establishing a tow rope in those conditions is going to be challenging at best. With the tide not being as high, it’s going to be interesting to see if they’re able to drag it off. Or if that next storm coming in doesn’t beat up the hull too bad.”
The weather forecast for Sitka called for winds of 29 knots on Monday, and seas of 13 feet, with seas falling to 9 feet on Tuesday.
Kluting was accompanied on the mission by Gerald Gangle, Tyler Orbison, and Jake Denherder. Kluting says he has received no official word on the cause of the accident. The Coast Guard reports the Mirage has about 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board.
The Mirage is registered to J&J Mirage LLC in Elfin Cove, Alaska. According to state records, it is valued at $200,000.
Borough manager, Steve Giesbrecht, told the borough assembly during their last meeting that the existing comprehensive was created in the year 2000.
“To do this properly involves a tremendous number of public meetings, getting people’s input as well as evaluation of our existing comprehensive plan,” Giesbrecht said.
The old plan did not take into account new borough boundaries. It also didn’t have a harbor development plan, something the borough manager wants to be a priority this time.
“One of the big negatives of our existing comprehensive plan is, for whatever reason, it didn’t address the harbor which is our main economic driver and the comp plan really didn’t go into, in my opinion, enough depth,” Giesbrecht said.
The timeline is still rough. They’d like to start the process in the fall and wrap it up next spring. To do that, they’d put the project out to bid this month. Right now borough officials are finalizing the details of exactly what they want to get out of the plan.
“Very important process,” Giesbrecht said. “This is the very early stages and it starts with making sure this document is asking for the right things.”
Some of the questions to be answered would involve what the infrastructure needs are now and what they will be in the future. Giesbrecht says harbor land use is a main part of that.
“Does the borough, and I mean this in a very broad sense, want to set aside land and say this is for commercial marine activity?” Giesbrecht said. “Sounds really simple, ‘sure we do’. Now do you want to enforce it, meaning when somebody opens up a doughnut shop in a piece of property that the assembly and P and Z board has set aside as marine development, are you going to say, ‘no, you can’t open up’ even though the property might have been vacant for 10 years. See what I mean, it becomes a very, very tough questions and we want to understand not only what they recommend and what the community wants but are we willing to enforce these things down the road? That’s a big part of it.”
Borough Community Development Director, Leo Luczak, told the Planning and Zoning Commission that the plan will include surveys and polls and lots of public meetings.
“It’s a good way to judge if a majority of people want something,” Luczak said. “When we did the last one we had this room packed on a Saturday for about 7, 8 hours as I remember and they even carried it on the radio so there are a number of meetings. It’s a great process.”
The exact price tag of the comprehensive plan is unknown but they’re guessing it will cost between $130,000 and $150,000. It will be paid for by the borough transition funds, which is $600,000 worth of state grant money.
Ideas for what the plan could do are already circulating. Resident, Polly Lee, asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to look into establishing a historic preservation commission. The specific areas she’s concerned about are Hammer Slough and Sing Lee Alley.
While she seeks preservation, she wants the process to be done carefully so there aren’t too many restrictions for landowners.
“It isn’t like we’re going for some national or state standard,” Lee said. “We’re going for local, something that suits our community and hopefully would be written by people who are well balanced.”
Lee said an historical preservation commission, like the comprehensive plan itself, would take a lot of community involvement.
The borough would like to have proposals due May 28 and award the project by June 16.
The borough assembly members also asked to have the scope of the proposed plan on the borough website as another way for the public to weigh in.
ANCHORAGE — A federal judge on Monday rejected five witnesses in the Coast Guard double homicide case on Kodiak Island, ruling that defense attorneys had not established that their testimony was relevant.
One witness appeared in handcuffs after authorities say he tried to carry a handgun past the security checkpoint at the Anchorage federal building.
Republicans in the House and Senate did little Monday to resolve their impasse on the governor’s omnibus education bill, causing the session to push on into today.
There are a number of issues the sides disagree on, but one stands well above the rest in importance — the Base Student Allocation.
FAIRBANKS — Many people think ticks can’t live in Alaska, but a state veterinarian says that’s not the case.
Some ticks, such as hare ticks, have always survived in the state, but nonnative dog ticks also have been found in Alaska, raising concerns for dogs, wildlife and the risk of spreading diseases to people.
Kimberlee Beckmen of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1gNmNF8 ) ticks on small mammals like snowshoe hares, squirrels and birds are endemic to the state.
Mitch Backes, of the Legislative Affairs Agency, stacks empty boxes outside of Sen. Cathy Giessel's office on Monday as the legislature prepares for the end of the session and the move of legislator's office material to their home districts.
This story follows KTOO’s Alaska becomes second state to officially recognize indigenous languages.
When the Alaska Senate passed House Bill 216 just after 3 a.m. Monday (3-21-14), nobody was more thrilled than its primary sponsor: Sitka Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.
“I’m all of 25 years old, but I have never seen anything like it,” he said.
Kreiss-Tomkins introduced HB 216, which makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages. On Easter Sunday, when it appeared the Senate might shelve the bill, supporters staged a 15-hour sit-in at the Capitol to demand it get a vote.
It was just one of four separate points during this legislative session, he said, when he thought the bill was dead. But each time, it was revived.
“They say not to fall in love with or get married with your legislation,” he said. “But I was hopelessly in love and star-crossed with House Bill 216. And I think if anything it was a good thing, because we never gave up.”
Asked if he had expected the kind of attention the bill has received, Kreiss-Tomkins said yes. The revival of Native languages, he said, is one of the most important issues in Alaska.
“This is recognition of Alaska Native languages as Alaska’s languages,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “These Native languages mean the world, I mean, they are who people are. If you talk with Selena Everson, who’s a Tlingit elder here in Juneau, who speaks Tlingit, she grew up having her mouth washed out with soap for speaking Tlingit at BIA schools. The Tlingit language is, as much as anything else, who she is.”
The bill passed the Senate, 18-2. It now goes to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.
As state lawmakers extended their session past its Sunday (4-20-14) deadline, one issue of particular importance to Sitka remained in limbo: a loan to complete the Blue Lake dam expansion.
The city is seeking legislative approval for a low-cost loan from the Alaska Energy Authority, to fund the final stage of the Blue Lake project. The loan would be a cheaper way to fund the project than issuing a municipal bond, which is the city’s other option — and could potentially avert another electric rate hike down the road.
Sitka needs about $18.5 million to finish the Blue Lake project. The Energy Authority requires approval from both the House and Senate before the city can enter into negotiations for a loan.
Sitka Senator Bert Stedman added language authorizing the loan to House Bill 297, which passed the Senate on Thursday night. But the language was dropped over the weekend, in wrangling between the two houses.
For now, the loan authorization is not attached to a bill in either house, and the legislative session could end at any time.
The 90-day session was supposed to end on Sunday, but was extended when lawmakers could not reach agreement on several major issues, including education funding.
Congress has cut the U.S. Forest Service budget for recreation nearly in half over the past five years. In response, Tongass National Forest officials have come up with a new way to allocate funds: Niches. If it’s in the niche, it’s funded. If it’s not in the niche? Well…
The Forest Service’s recreation program has gotten pretty bare-bones over the past few years. Seasonal crews are smaller, and the regular staff has shrunk through attrition –not replacing people when they leave a position.
You may not have noticed the belt-tightening yet, because local districts can apply for special-project funding through federal programs such as Secure Rural Schools and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Those programs are not an assured source of funding, though, and the Forest Service is looking for ways to live within its means.
What does that mean to the public? To start, cabins and trails won’t be maintained the way they used to be.
Clark Simpson is a Ketchikan-Misty Fiords recreation program manager.
“As this money’s been dwindling over the last 5 years, the Tongass Leadership Team has been discussing what we need to do to be sustainable as a recreation program,” he said. “We need to be able to function on the money that’s allocated to us, and we can’t. I’ve supported us through getting money from other sources. And we can’t function like that. And this isn’t unique to Ketchikan. This is across the whole region.”
The solution they came up with is niches. Each ranger district has some service it provides that’s unique. The districts were able to choose three niches each, and that’s where the money will go. Period.
For Ketchikan, Simpson said the three niches are “Ward Lake, which is kinda unique. In essence, it’s like a city park but it’s run by the Forest Service, and it’s very popular. We have flightseeing out in Misty Fiords, and we have Misty Fiords in general. When the tourists come to Ketchikan, a lot of them are like, ‘I want to go flightseeing in Misty Fiords.’ And the other thing that was chosen is, we have a bear viewing area in Hyder. They’re probably getting 15,000-25,000 people a year.”
That leaves a whole bunch of recreation resources in the district unfunded. Like cabins. If they’re in Misty Fiords, then they’re in the niche, but there’s a bunch that aren’t. Such as Helm Bay, Helm Creek, Fish Creek and Naha.
In the short term, people using the cabins first will notice the lack of firewood, because Forest Service crews won’t be going out there to restock the wood pile. Soon after, depending on use, visitors will notice overflowing outhouses, because nobody is going out to pump them.
“Then beyond that, you start to develop deferred maintenance,” Simpson said. “The roof leaks, but we haven’t gotten around to fixing the roof leaking and that leads to bigger problems over time. Then we’ll start to talk about what we can and can’t keep. So, these cabins that aren’t part of a niche are definitely… yeah. That’s what the meeting is about.”
That meeting Simpson mentioned is an open house that’s coming up soon,. Simpson and other Forest Service officials will present information about the budget cuts, and what it means to the district, in hopes of hearing ideas and suggestions from people who use the forest for recreation, such as hikers.
Hiking trails within the Ward Lake niche – Ward Lake, Ward Creek, Perseverance, Salvage and probably Connell — will be maintained. But there are popular trails outside of that niche, such as Deer Mountain and Lunch Creek.
“The essence of what we do is log out and brush the trails,” Simpson said. “So if trees blow down, we cut the tree off the trail. And they do brush in really quick in the rainforest, so we try and get out and brush them fairly frequently. The brushing and the logout will probably be the first thing that people notice. So, you go to hike your local trail, and there will be a bunch of trees down that you have to crawl over or around.”
So what can members of the public do? Simpson says first, they can let Congress know how important recreation is to them. They also can volunteer, but in a way that doesn’t further tax the agency’s dwindling resources.
“What we’d really like is for somebody to be a lead for a group, and then we just have one point of contact and they do all the coordinating,” Simpson said. “It would be great if we had a volunteer group that had a lot of focus, and had somebody who was a really motivated coordinator, and came to us and said, ‘Hey we’ve got five people that want to work on a trail for a few days. What’s a good trail that we can access and do good work on?’”
Those are the kinds of ideas and suggestions Simpson hopes to hear at the upcoming meeting. He expects he’ll also hear some negative comments from people who didn’t realize this was coming.
“I think it is going to be a shock to the public when we just come out and say, ‘Hey! We don’t have the money to keep all this stuff that you’ve been using for a long time open, so we’re looking for ideas,’” he said.
And for those who are angry about this situation? Simpson says he’s right there with them. Over the past 14 years, he says he’s invested a lot of time and energy maintaining those cabins and tails. He doesn’t want to let them go, either, but “there’s not much we can do about not receiving money from Congress. If Congress chooses not to support recreation, I don’t really know what to say. Write your congressman.”
In the short term, though, Simpson said people can tell the Forest Service which facilities matter the most to them and what they’re willing to do to help.
The public meeting about recreation program funding is set for 5:30 p.m. May 8 at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center.
Coast Guard confirms F/V Mirage grounded on Low Island, with no reported injuries or fuel leaks. The “bird blaster” of Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez airport. Delta Airlines performs test flights in preparation for adding Juneau -Seattle route.
Rebekka Esbjornson, Lindsey Klees and Diane Gubatayao speak about this weekend’s production of “The Vagina Monologues.” The show features empowering, funny and sometimes difficult stories. Proceeds benefit Women in Safe Homes. VaginaMonologues
At most major airports someone is paid to chase birds off the runway. But at Sitka’s airport that job is especially challenging.
That’s because 3/4 of Sitka’s runway is surrounded by water. Fish spawn along its banks, attracting hungry birds. That problem was highlighted four years ago when two Alaska Airline jets collided with eagles on takeoff. Dave Tresham is the expert who came in afterwards to make sure the runway is safe.
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Snarge. That’s the technical term Dave Tresham uses to describe unidentifiable bird debris. Avoiding snarge is the goal. It’s also the reason he’s speeding up and down Sitka’s runway 30 minutes before the noon flight departs for Ketchikan. He spots some loafing eagles at the end of the runway and stops the truck.
“So now we have two eagles,” Tresham said. “So, the more you leave the birds alone the more they will show up.”
Tresham chooses a small hand pistol loaded with pyrotechnic shells aptly called screamers. Screamers tend to work best on eagles – who don’t fear much at the top of the food chain. Because when triggered, the screamers spiral wildly and shoot sparks. That’s what it takes to rattle an eagle.
Tresham is a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife specialist stationed at Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport. He notices patterns in bird activity at a very micro level. He has his eyes on every tuft of grass, puddle, and critter.
Tresham: Many times I’ll spend an hour, two hours picking up bugs and worms up off of the runway.
Forman: Really you’ll go to that level of detail?
Tresham: I have pictures of night crawlers. There’s an isopod it’s called a rock loas. That is supposed to stay within a few feet of the shore line. And I’ve picked up literally hundreds of them out towards the center of the runway.
Tresham has been modifying Sitka’s causeway since 2010. In August that year, an Alaska Airlines flight was forced to abort takeoff when a bald eagle was sucked into its left engine. That same week the replacement plane also hit an eagle on takeoff. No people were injured, only fowls, but after that, Tresham was hired to come up with a long term plan for deterring wildlife from making the Sitka runway home. That includes things like filling in still water with gravel or trimming down tall patches of grass.
Forman: So, is there basically a Dave Tresham at every airport?
Tresham: There’s many. Yes. We probably have close to 30 USDA wildlife specialists working the state of Alaska alone.
Tresham’s career path started with the Aleutian cackling goose. His first wildlife management job was removing an invasive species of fox that was preying on the cackling goose to the point of endangerment. He’s devoted a lot of time to kicking animals out of places where they shouldn’t be, but he loves wildlife. It’s tough love.
“I just show up for work even when I’m not working because it’s nice to see the birds the populations,” Tresham said. “Just look at the scenery you have whales and sea lions. Where else can you do it?”
Tresham says the job has turned him into an avid bird watcher. Makes sense, that’s what the job requires. But he’s also become a really tense airplane passenger. His seasonal assistant Heather Bauscher agrees.
“You’re like where is the wildlife person! I see birds!” Bauscher said. “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about that!? Hahaha!”
They are both much more comfortable on the ground – a stone’s throw away from a 737 as it’s taking off. Because that’s where they have the most control.
“We have to the south three to four maybe five eagles flying through those trees. From this distance those birds have felt that bangers going off.”
A banger is used with a 24 gauge shot gun. It’s a longer range shell than the screamer. Loud and resonant.
“…and if anything starts coming in this route I’ll be talking to the pilot to let them know where the birds are at.”
Tresham can literally change the course of a speeding plane minutes before it lands.
“So we have eagles above him eagles below him eagles in front of him,” Tresham said. “So we’ll be talking to the pilot 5-7 miles from the airport if we can see them saying, ‘Hey you’ve got eagles.’”
And the very last resort is what Tresham calls a lethal take. He says he probably chases away close to 80 thousand birds a year in Sitka. And he relies on the lethal take method a lot. It’s usually a glaucous winged gull that just doesn’t get the picture. But, endangered species are off limits.
The noon flight to Ketchikan is almost ready to depart.
Tresham sees a few eagles flying overhead, and takes one more precautionary shot at clearing the runway.
Tresham: And there’s a safe departure.
And in Sitka, there’s another successful takeoff – without a fragment of snarge in sight.
Republican leaders from the House and Senate were unable to work out their differences on the omnibus education bill Sunday and early Monday morning, so the session marches on.
Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene at 1 p.m. Monday. The decision to call it a day came just after 4 a.m. — more than three hours after it was initially announced they would finish their work without an overnight break.
Days of contentious debate between House and Senate Republicans after the Senate version of HB278 was unveiled Friday produced few compromises.