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Southeast Alaska News

Superintendent search down to two candidates

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:08

The number of finalists for superintendent of the Sitka School District has been cut from three to two.

Eddie Campbell and Mary Wegner will be interviewed by the school board and district staff in Sitka next week (Thu 2-13-14).

The school board convened on Thursday night (2-6-14) to discuss the applicants for superintendent, and immediately went into executive session. When they emerged, board President Lon Garrison said that a third candidate, Joseph Krause, is no longer in the running. Krause is currently a teacher in the Kodiak School District.

Garrison did not discuss why the board had decided to interview only two of the three finalists.

“We decided that one of them was not a good fit for us,” Garrison said.

School board member Cass Pook was absent.

Of the two remaining candidates, Eddie Campbell is currently the superintendent of schools in Parsons, West Virginia. Mary Wegner is the current assistant superintendent of the Sitka School District.

Campbell and Wegner will be in Sitka next week. On Wednesday, February 12, there will be a meet and greet with the public at Sitka High School, from 5 to 6:30pm.

The candidates will then have three interviews on Thursday, February 13: one with current Superintendent Steve Bradshaw; an interview with district staff; and an interview with the school board, which is open to the public. The public interviews will take place in the district office board room at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School.

Channel 2 News returns to Southeast

Fri, 2014-02-07 19:01

Channel 2 News will soon be back on the air in Southeast Alaska, and rural cable subscribers across the state who have been without NBC will see that programming return, after an agreement announced on Thursday (2-6-14) between cable provider GCI and the Anchorage NBC affiliate KTUU. 

“We are very excited to be back in Southeast and to have Channel 2 News down there,” said Andy MacLeod, President and General Manager of KTUU.

GCI and KTUU had been wrangling over the terms of a new contract ever since last fall, when GCI bought two TV stations in Southeast: KATH in Juneau and KSCT in Sitka.

In November, the dispute led GCI to drop the KTUU signal in several parts of rural Alaska, leaving about 7,000 households from Barrow to Valdez without access to NBC programming, except what was carried on the state-operated channel known as ARCS.

And in December, GCI removed KTUU’s flagship news program, Channel 2 News, from its stations in Sitka and Juneau. That affected about 14,000 households across Southeast Alaska — both cable and satellite subscribers. GCI temporarily replaced the Channel 2 newscasts with a program called One America News.

But as of 1pm Thursday (2-6-14), most of rural Alaska got their KTUU signal back. Southeast viewers should see Channel 2 News back on the airwaves within a few days, GCI said.

The two companies had agreed on rates as far back as December; but the dispute centered on what would happen if KTUU ever acquired another station.

KTUU president MacLeod said the station is satisfied on that front.

“We got a provision that allows us to build our business into the future, unrestrained,” MacLeod said. “So, that’s a significant thing.”

MacLeod added that the agreement comes at a good time for Southeast viewers who are fans of the winter Olympics, which is carried on TV exclusively by NBC. Channel 2 News has two reporters in Sochi, Russia, following Alaska’s Olympic athletes.

But GCI spokesman David Morris said that negotiations between cable providers like GCI and content providers like KTUU are becoming a national issue.

“Will this happen again in Alaska?” Morris said. “We sure hope not, we’re trying to figure ways out to make it not happen. But the way it’s set up right now, if you don’t have a company, whoever your provider is, who says no to some of these demands, then things will spiral completely out of control.”

The new agreement covers about three years, so Alaskans shouldn’t see any more disruption to NBC programming through at least 2017.



Local, state officials respond to Parnell

Fri, 2014-02-07 18:02

Gov. Sean Parnell’s candid comments Thursday about the potential repercussions of Ketchikan’s lawsuit against the state drew some response.

Sen. Bert Stedman listened to the interview on KRBD’s website Friday, and said he believes it’s the right of every citizen to petition the government.

“As a young state, there are areas of our Constitution that need to be fleshed out a little more through the courts,” he said.

Stedman added that he didn’t believe there will be any backlash against Ketchikan in the Legislature. He notes that a House bill submitted by North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson would do what the Ketchikan lawsuit is asking for, and he doesn’t think North Pole will be discriminated against, either.

Ketchikan’s lawsuit challenges the state over what the borough says is an unfair mandate requiring boroughs and first-class cities to fund a minimum level for local schools. Many communities outside of organized boroughs don’t have to make that contribution.

Rep. Peggy Wilson of Wrangell also listened to the governor’s interview with KRBD, and said that while she hasn’t seen evidence yet of repercussions from the lawsuit, she shares Parnell’s concern.

“Those are sentiments that we all realize happen in the Legislature,” she said. “We don’t usually verbalize them out loud. But I did comment to the Borough Assembly that that was a concern I had. I have no idea whether it will happen or not. But at the end of session, a lot of bills get held hostage.”

Wilson said you never know what reason another legislator might have to stop a measure from passing.

Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst responded that the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly considered options for more than six years, and lobbied for a legislative solution before deciding to move forward with its lawsuit.

“There have been multiple meetings between borough officials and for example, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, as well as other officials of the Parnell administration and others,” he said. “We ultimately came to a point where there was no resolution, so the Assembly carefully and deliberately decided to pursue litigation.”

Assembly Member Agnes Moran, speaking for herself and not for the Assembly, said it would be unfortunate if there were repercussions. She said the lawsuit is the borough’s legal right, and Ketchikan isn’t the first municipality to sue the state.

Moran noted that the point of the lawsuit is not to avoid paying for schools; it’s to find a solution that’s fair to everyone. She said she was surprised to hear Parnell’s comments.

“They were pretty harsh comments,” she said. “I think they came off harder than he intended, and I think there will be a common ground at some point.”

Moran noted that if the community wasn’t obligated to pay a certain amount for local schools, Ketchikan wouldn’t need as much help with capital projects.

City Council approves 8% water rate increase

Fri, 2014-02-07 14:59

Ketchikan is seen from the water on a beautiful sunny day.

Water rates for the City of Ketchikan will go up 8 percent across-the-board starting in March. That includes fish processors, which until Thursday were facing a much larger increase.

The ordinance originally called for a 22-percent increase for fish processors, which use significantly more water than any other customer type. A water-rate study commissioned by the city clearly showed that residential customers pay far more for the actual water used than fish processors.

But, the Council chose to amend the ordinance, and raise everyone’s rates equally.

City Mayor Lew Williams III explained that the subsidized rate system probably won’t change until the city moves to metered water.

“Yeah, we’re sort of weird here. Down South, the big users, and they’re all metered and everything, they supply the biggest percentage of cost toward the water,” he said. “Here, we have a set rate and the residentials have always been carrying the load.”

He said switching to metered water is expensive, though, so it will take time to get there. In the meantime, the city likely will raise water rates again by 8 percent each of the next two years.

Ketchikan Public Utilities Water Division has always operated at a deficit. The city has been slowly raising rates over the last few years, with the goal of eventually breaking even.

Also Thursday, the City Council approved the first reading of a half-percent sales-tax increase. The Council had been considering a seasonal sales tax increase, which would have brought in more revenue.

But, in part due to concerns from business owners and the bookkeeping issues that might arise, the majority of the Council decided to move forward with the year-round increase, which would bring the city’s sales tax to 4 percent. If approved in second reading, the new tax will take effect April 1st.

The Council also approved an increase in rates at the Ted Ferry Civic Center, plus a lottery system for groups to book the center during the winter holiday season. Williams said there’s a lot of demand for the space during that limited time frame.

“You have three weekends in December before Christmas, and everybody likes that second Saturday of the month,” he said. “How do we take care of that – some people have been calling in and having that date reserved forever, and we’ve come into some conflict this year.”

Williams says the new system should give everybody an equal shot at the most desirable dates for holiday parties.

Water main breaks on Tongass Avenue

Fri, 2014-02-07 14:54

The rising sun shines on KPU crews working to fix a broken water main on Tongass Avenue Friday morning. (Emily Files photo)

A couple businesses on Tongass Avenue near The Plaza mall were without water for a few hours Friday due to a broken water main.

Ketchikan Public Utilities Water Systems Foreman David Johnston says the old cast-iron pipe cracked because of a rock that was underneath it. He says that, over time, as dirt settled around the pipe, the pressure from the rock got to be too much, and the pipe finally cracked.

Johnston says he got a call at about 6 Friday morning that there was water on the road, and crews were at the site by about 6:30. He says the most challenging part of the repair work was digging down to the pipe. Once they got there, they saw that it was a clean break, so they put a repair band onto the pipe and water was back on before noon.

Johnston says they ran into a little trouble when filling the hole back up again, though. All the city’s piles of fill are frozen, and it’s not a good idea to use frozen fill. When it thaws, he explained, it compresses.

So, crews dug to the center of the fill piles until they found unfrozen fill, and got the road patched up. Traffic was back to normal before 1 p.m.

A small section of the road will remain unpaved in case additional fill is needed.

Senate bill would ban cell phone use by drivers in school zones

Fri, 2014-02-07 01:04

The City and Borough of Juneau and other municipalities across the state may soon have the power to ban all forms of cell phone use when drivers are on school property or in school zones.

The Senate Community and Regional Affairs committee took up SB123 for the second time Thursday afternoon and passed the bill unanimously after brief testimony, all of which was in favor.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, enables cities to pass ordinances that prohibit cell phone use on school property and in school zones.

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Fish Board approves Kenai king salmon plan

Fri, 2014-02-07 01:03

ANCHORAGE — New rules to protect king salmon returning to Kenai Peninsula rivers unfairly target commercial fishermen, they said Wednesday after the Alaska Board of Fisheries approved the measures.

Jim Butler, a commercial set-net fisherman and a representative of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said the loss of fishing opportunity will not be equally shared with anglers.

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Photo: Hollywood horror shoot in Fairbanks

Fri, 2014-02-07 01:02

Actress Q’orianka Kilcher, right, gets into character as she and other actors prepare to shoot a scene during the filming of the movie Hollywood movie “Unnatural” on location in Fairbanks. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported that the plot follows a photographer and his entourage of models who are terrorized by a man-eating mutant polar bear while staying at a fishing lodge in the Alaska wilderness.

Walk the taco

Thu, 2014-02-06 18:10

Pacific High School students Tatyanna Isaacs and Jenny Jeter mail proceeds from an Indian taco fundraiser to the Friends of Edna Adan University Hospital in Somaliland. (PHS photo)

It’s one thing to study an international crisis in high school, and another thing to do something about it. Pacific High School students Tatyanna Isaacs and Jenny Jeter learned about high rates of maternal mortality in Somaliland in Hillary Seeland’s Global Issues class. The pair independently organized and held an Indian Taco sale last fall (that’s taco fixings served on classic Southeast Alaskan fry bread) and raised over $500. Here, they’re dropping the check in the mail to the Friends of the Edna Adan University Hospital in Somaliland. Way to walk the talk… uh, taco… ladies!

Parnell warns of lawsuit repercussions

Thu, 2014-02-06 17:40

In a visit to Ketchikan Thursday, Governor Sean Parnell said there could be “unintended consequences” to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the state.

He confirmed some people’s worries, saying the lawsuit could jade his and other lawmakers’ perspective toward Ketchikan funding.

The lawsuit, which the borough filed in January, argues that municipalities in Alaska should not have to pay a local contribution for public education. If the suit is successful, it could hold the state accountable for hundreds of millions more dollars in education spending.

“When Ketchikan asks for money but yet the state might be on the hook in the lawsuit for more money, there’s kind of a reluctance or a reticence to step forward for other projects,” Parnell said.

Parnell says he understands the frustration behind the lawsuit. But he thinks a local contribution for education is a good thing.

“I think it helps keep people connected to the school district and helps really make people interested and invested in the school district and the system that is here for our kids,” he said.

Parnell says the looming possibility of shelling out millions more in education funding could make legislators more cautious about what they spend now. And he says it might particularly affect funding for Ketchikan projects.

“There are unintended consequences from having filed the lawsuit,” Parnell said. “And that’s something your legislators will be dealing with in Juneau this year, and for however long [the lawsuit] takes.”

Alaska lawmakers are currently meeting for the second session of the 28th Legislature.

Full interview:


Aftershocks still register, 13 months after quake

Thu, 2014-02-06 14:39

A little more than a year after a magnitude 7.5 earthquake shook Southeast Alaska, aftershocks continue to register, although with diminishing magnitude and frequency.

According to information from the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, a recent aftershock with a magnitude above 4 hit last September, and a 3.5 aftershock registered just a few weeks ago. These all occurred near Craig off Prince of Wales Island.

The Queen Charlotte Fault runs up the side of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, and along the outer coast of Southeast Alaska from Prince of Wales to Yakutat. That fault has produced several major earthquakes in the past 100 years, and the largest was a magnitude 8.1 that hit in 1949.

Last year’s 7.5 magnitude temblor triggered tsumani alerts and evacuations throughout the region.

A total of about 350 aftershocks have occurred since that Jan. 5th, 2013, earthquake. The aftershocks have definitely slowed down, though, and U.S. Forest Service Geologist Jim Baichtal said most of the recent ones would not have been noticeable to most people.

“Mostly, (earthquakes) under 4 are not felt, unless you’re incredibly close to the epicenter,” he said.

Researchers are still searching for a couple of seismographs lost after the event, that might have washed up on a remote shore. Originally, five of the devices had been lost, but three were recovered, two just west of Prince of Wales Island. A third was found in October, quite a bit north of its origin.

“That one, Teresa Hunt from the Forest Service was out with her family and found it on a beach in Yakutat,” Baichtal said. “So it was deployed off of Craig but ended up on a beach in Yakutat, so these other two may be on Kayak Island or somewhere up on the Chugach National Forest by now, depending on how they got into the currents, or if they got stranded at high tide or whatever.”

The seismographs weigh about 100 pounds each and need to be transported carefully. If somebody finds one, they can call a number on the inside of the glass sphere on top of the device. There is a reward.

A flyer about the lost seismographs, including a photograph showing what they look like, is posted below.

Sen. Begich announces mail-delivery improvements

Thu, 2014-02-06 14:27

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich announced Wednesday that the U.S. Postmaster General has agreed to take action on some recent Postal Service issues that affect Alaska, particularly smaller communities.

Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island have been experiencing significant delays in mail recently because a sorting machine at the Ketchikan Post Office is no longer usable, so all mail has been flown to Juneau for processing, even letters that just need to go across town.

In a news teleconference, Begich said Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe agreed to fix that issue, at least in part. Ketchikan won’t get a replacement sorting machine, but Begich said some of the ideas that came out of the meeting include sorting local mail locally.

“What they’ll first do, my guess is, that they’ll split up the way your mail is delivered,” he explained. “Meaning that when you go to the post office to drop an envelope off or a package off, and it’s just being shipped within the community, there will be a separate box delivery system for that, and also for Prince of Wales Island.”

He added that packages from Ketchikan that have been going to Juneau and then Seattle before heading to their final destinations now will go to Anchorage. While geographically farther, Anchorage is a hub, so the packages can be shipped to their final destinations directly from there, and theoretically with greater speed.

He says the changes should start kicking in Feb. 10.

In addition to the Ketchikan-specific issues, Begich said Donohoe also agreed to roll back a price increase on standard postal rates, which is the new name for parcel post, for rural Alaska.

On top of that, Begich said a bill that just passed out off the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee would require the Post Office to conduct a study and go through the committee before again trying to raise standard rates.

On Jan. 26, standard rates went up by 50 percent for packages over 50 pounds. Begich said those prices should start dropping back in Alaska within a couple weeks

Magazine names Ketchikan 2014 Best Alaska Port

Thu, 2014-02-06 11:34

Ketchikan is the recipient of the 2014 Editor-in-Chief Award for Best Alaska Port, an annual honor from Porthole Cruise Magazine.

Awardees in a variety of categories were chosen by Bill Panoff, the magazine’s publisher and editor-in-chief. The magazine is a cruise industry publication for consumers, with a circulation of about 500,000 in 40 countries.

Winners were announced in the February issue, which has hit newsstands and is available online at http://porthole.com/CurrentIssue/EditorinChiefAwards.aspx

January rains blocked inlet stream at picnic pond near Petersburg

Thu, 2014-02-06 11:33

Employees with the U.S. Forest Service in Petersburg spent part of the day Friday working to restore water flowing into Man Made Hole, a small pond off a picnic area on Mitkof Highway south of Petersburg. The inlet stream was blocked during the heavy rains of a January storm that caused much bigger problems elsewhere in the region.

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About a dozen Forest Service employees chip through the frozen sand and gravel at the inlet stream that feeds fresh water into Man Made Hole, about 20 miles south of Petersburg.

District Ranger Jason Anderson is working with the group. He explained that a rain-swollen creek last month moved sand and gravel into the side channel that feeds the pond. “As the volume from that last storm event picked up, it starts to scour the bed and pick up a lot of rock and sand and in some places significant sized cobble, you know bowling ball sized rock,” Anderson said. “And as it picks up that load it looks to deposit it in places where the change in energy, or the change in flow, allows those heavy materials to settle out and a 90 degree bend like they’ve created to feed this pond is a perfect spot for that.”

Anderson said that sand and gravel eventually built up and blocked the inlet stream. “Well once it filled up the actual side channel then the water started depositing it further up onto the banks and then ran out further into the pond dropping more rock and kind of creating a whole new sort of delta out there past the channel. Once the flows dropped off course all that addition rock became sort of a linear dam to feeding that pond. So we’re just trying to open up a small channel. See what we can accomplish with hand tools and manual labor and if we need to later we’ll try to see if we can come up with some funding to do some heavy equipment work and really open it up.”

About 100 yards separating the main creek from the pond, which is frozen over and continues to drain from the outlet stream. Without new fresh water feeding into the pond, any fish in Man Made Hole could be left high and dry.

Anderson said he’s only heard of a little other damage on nearby forest land from the January rains. “Yeah that we’ve seen. There was some other small slumps here and there. I think Three Lakes Loop Road had a small slump that a member of the public told me about. We’ve had our crews looking at it. It’s plugging up a ditch but it didn’t wash out the road or even block the road. So we’ll get someone on that one pretty soon. Make sure it doesn’t do any additional road damage as the rains come back. But so far this is the most noticable thing that’s popped up.”

Last month saw daily rain records set in Petersburg, during windy, warm and wet weather that caused a little flooding locally and several landslides on Prince of Wales Island.

POW Resource Advisory Committee needs members

Thu, 2014-02-06 11:26

The Prince of Wales Island Resource Advisory Committee needs new members.

RACs make recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service about specific projects the community would like to see funded through the National Forest Receipts program.

The Forest Service is looking for RAC members from a variety of backgrounds and interests. To apply or for more information, contact the Craig Ranger District at 826-3271, or the Thorne Bay Ranger District at 828-3304.

Petersburg to host emergency medical symposium in April

Thu, 2014-02-06 11:25

If you’re planning to get hurt or sick in Petersburg, the second weekend in April this year would be a good time for that. All kidding aside, that’s when the community will see a large influx of emergency medical service volunteers and trainers for an annual regional conference.

It’s actually the 30th annual symposium for the Southeast Region EMS council and will be held here April 10-13th.

“We provide training to EMS providers, from doctors to nurses, mid-level providers and mostly EMTS is what we kindof focus on,” said Kim Nekeferof, a volunteer with Sitka’s fire department and a member of the Southeast Region EMS.

The group plans a pre-symposium April 10th and 11th at Petersburg’s fire hall and hospital and a symposium April 12th and 13th at Petersburg High School. “We are expecting for those pre-symposium days on the 10th and 11th about 40-70 people. That includes our presenters who are from all over Alaska and the United States in general, so we’ll see those. The other days, Saturday and Sunday, will be bigger days we’ll see probably about 60-90, is what we’re expecting,” Nekeferof said.

The gathering is not open to the public but there may some public CPR training offered during that week.

Visiting saxophonist says his passion became an obsession

Thu, 2014-02-06 11:14

Eric Marienthal is a visiting jazz musician for Sitka’s Jazz Fest.  He discusses what led him to professionally pursue jazz saxophone, how he originally wanted to play the trumpet, and how braces played a role in the decision. For complete schedule and ticket information, visit Sitka JazzFest online. With KCAW’s Ken Fate.

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Thurs Feb 6, 2014

Thu, 2014-02-06 10:07

The Sitka School District’s transition to the new Common Core Math curriculum has fallen behind schedule. But, Sitka High School students are not especially concerned with the transition to Common Core; rather, they want a more active role in policy decisions. The Sitka School Board pushes for more funding for locally-sourced food in schools across the state. The final design for the Alaska Class Ferry is expected to be complete by the end of this month, clearing the way for the state to award a construction contract to a shipyard this summer.


Corrections official says inmate calls recorded

Thu, 2014-02-06 01:09

ANCHORAGE — Some private phone calls between inmates and their attorneys have been inadvertently recorded, an Alaska Department of Corrections official said.

An investigation of the recordings is underway, KTUU reported.

DOC deputy director Sherrie Daigle said the problem is technical and inadvertent, and it is tied to Securus Technologies. The Dallas-based company provides phone service to Alaska’s 13 correctional facilities.

“We’re not really sure if it was an IT issue, if it was a training issue, if it was a company issue,” Daigle said.

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Oil and gas executives hail project agreement as significant

Thu, 2014-02-06 01:09

JUNEAU— Executives from the North Slope’s major oil and gas companies on Wednesday hailed an agreement with the state as a major step forward in pursuing a major liquefied natural gas project.

While they made clear there is still a long way to go in determining whether a project will be successful, they said the effort has the support of senior managers and the parties are at a place they’ve never been before in efforts to commercialize Alaska gas.

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