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Southeast Alaska News
SAN FRANCISCO — When Liz DeRouen needs any kind of health care services, from diabetes counseling to a dental cleaning, she checks into a government-funded clinic in Northern California’s wine country that covers all her medical needs.
KIRUNA, Sweden — Arctic states agreed Wednesday to let nations that are located nowhere near the Earth’s north to become observers to their diplomatic council, boosting rising superpowers China, India and South Korea that are seeking to mine the region for its untapped energy and other natural resources.
The European Union also was tentatively granted observer status to the eight-state council but must first address several questions about its bid, including concerns about its ban on Canadian seal exports.
Renovations to the Alaska State Capitol are set to begin within the next few weeks, the president of Juneau architectural firm Jensen Yorba Lott Inc. said Wednesday.
Wayne Jensen, whose firm is under contract with the state for design work on the Capitol’s overhaul, said Juneau construction company Alaska Commercial Contractors Inc. is “supposed to start mobilizing about the end of this month.”
The top state official in charge of water quality says cruise ships have cleaned up their act considerably over the last fifteen years.
Michelle Bonnet Hale is the director of the Division of Water for the Department of Environmental Conservation. She spoke to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (5-15-13)
Hale was on the road to assure the public that a controversial bill passed this spring by the legislature would not impair the state’s ability to ensure that cruise ship wastewater met quality standards.
HB 80 repealed several of the regulations placed on cruise ships by the public in a 2006 citizen initiative, and allowed water samples to be taken in mixing zones behind ships, rather than at the point of discharge.
Hale told the chamber that the cruise industry had already begun to upgrade its sanitation technology in 2004, following several high-profile pollution cases involving fecal coliforms. She said “the initiative addressed a problem that had already been solved.”
She said the state’s remaining concerns were the levels of ammonia, copper, nickel, and zinc.
Here’s an excerpt of her remarks on copper:
In 2003 researchers in the state of Washington found in one study (that they’re trying to replicate now) that copper at low concentrations in freshwater had an impact on juvenile salmon’s ability to smell – called their olfactory capability. And we know how important that is because it’s their ability to smell that gets the fish back to their streams and rivers of origin. So it’s a very alarming study. Researchers pointed out that additional research was needed, and that this study couldn’t be extrapolated to salt water. So additional research in salt water was needed. In salt water there are a couple of things that happen: One, fishes’ bodies change when they go from fresh water to salt water. Their physiology changes, the way they take things in changes. And the second is that freshwater, especially in a place like Alaska, is a very pure water. And saltwater is simply not pure – there’s a lot in it. That also has an effect on what happens to the copper. So, recently there’s a draft study by those same researchers on the effects of copper in saltwater on fish. Those same researchers found that the effects on fish of copper in saltwater happen at about 50 times the concentration that it happens at in freshwater.
Hale is a chemist by profession, and a lifelong Alaskan. She told the chamber that her staff knew how to protect water. “We have the tools,” she said.
A Petersburg Fisherman early this month recovered more than half of the hand-carved cedar paddles that had been lost by the One People Canoe Society late last month. A local hunting guide located their missing canoe as well. Two of the group’s canoes broke loose while under tow during bad weather on their journey to the historic Shakes Tribal House Rededication in Wrangell. They were thrilled to hear about the finds. Matt Lichtenstein reports:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
Borealis Brass calls itself America’s Arctic Brass Ensemble. The members are classical musicians, composers and professors who hail from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. They include Dr. Karen Gustafson on trumpet, Jane Aspnes on horn, and Dr. James Bicigo on trombone. They’ve performed around North America, Europe and Asia. This week, they’re playing Petersburg for the Little Norway Festival courtesy of the Petersburg Arts Council. They’ll be joined by their student, Petersburg High School Graduate Campbell Longworth, on trumpet.
Gustafson and Bicigo played a couple duets during an interview with KFSK’s Matt Lichtenstein yesterday:
For mobile-frindly audio, click here
Borealis Brass will give a mini-concert at noon Thursday in the Borough Assembly Chambers. We also heard from their student, Campbell Longworth, who will be performing with them. The Quintet’s full concert is at 7 pm Friday at the Lutheran Church Holy Cross House. The performance is sponsored by the Petersburg Arts Council.
Four days of art, food, music, dancing, drama and more get underway Thursday with the start of the 2013 Little Norway festival in Petersburg. It’s the 55th year for the town’s Mayfest celebration, which highlights local Norwegian heritage and commemorates May 17th or “Syttende Mai” which is Norway’s constitution day.
This year’s festival includes new offerings as well as traditional events like the parade, the pageant and, of course, roving bands of Vikings and Valkyries, clad in armor and animal skins. Matt Lichtenstein spoke with the Festival Committee’s Katie Eddy and Holli Flint about the events for Thursday, May 16th, the first day of Mayfest:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
A detailed schedule of all the Little Norway events can be found here or look for the printed version in the Petersburg Pilot and around town.
Also, you can tune in Thursday at noon, when we’ll talk about all of Fridays events.
Winter king salmon trolling was slow in Southeast Alaska for much of this past year, very slow, but the commercial catch brought sustained, record-high prices. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the fleet landed just under 26 thousand, four hundred kings during the winter season, which runs from mid-October through April. The state manages the winter fishery with a 45,000 king cap.
This winter’s total harvest was 55 percent of last year and seventy percent of the five-year average, according to Troll Management Biologist Pattie Skannes:
“Catch rates this year averaged about eight kings per landing and that’s down from the five-year (average) of 10, almost 11 per landing and the 10-year (average) is about 12. So, catch rates do seem to be down. There’s, no doubt, a number of factors that contribute to that. I’ve heard that the water was unusually cold and the fish seem distributed a little differently this year than we normally see. There were actually very low catches in areas where its normally the best and there were some fairly good catches in areas where we don’t often see much action in the winter from”
Skannes says that included Sumner Strait in southern Southeast.
“I looked at the catch distribution since January 1st for this year and what I saw was the most was taken near Sitka, which is normal. However, it was only 44 percent and that was followed by Sumner Strait and that is rather unusual. We don’t usually see a very big portion of the winter catch coming from Sumner Strait. The third highest was Yakutat Bay and the fourth was lower Chatham Strait.”
Skannes says this winter’s dockside prices were higher than ever on a region-wide level. Kings averaged ten dollars a pound throughout Southeast for four straight weeks.
“We’ve never seen that. There have been a couple of years where the price may have reached ten dollars a pound for a few of the processors yet the region average was below ten. So, this was certainly very high. It was over ten dollars a pound between roughly February 17th and march 16th.”
The market held exceptionally high prices through the end of the winter season and into the spring. 441 Trollers made landings this winter which is about on par for the past decade. The kings had an average weight of about 12.5 pounds which is a bit bigger than last year. An estimated 13 percent of the winter kings were Alaska hatchery fish which compares with 11 percent over the past ten years.
Since the winter season closed, Southeast Trollers have been targeting hatchery fish in the spring openings which are much more limited in time and area.
About four years after the first attempt to stop Ketchikan Fight Club from using the city-owned Ted Ferry Civic Center, some officials are bringing the topic up again.
During its meeting Thursday, the Ketchikan City Council will consider a motion barring the popular boxing and mixed martial arts competition from staging events at the civic center.
Council Member Bob Sivertsen requested that the item be placed on the meeting agenda.
“One of the reasons why is we’ve had some issues in the past up there in regards to clean up and some issues we’ve had with inebriates,” he said. “I just think it’s the wrong venue for our Ted Ferry Civic Center. I don’t have any problem with the Fight Club itself, I just think it’s being held in the wrong place.”
Sivertsen said the issues aren’t new. He detailed some of the problems that have been noted by Civic Center employees, including intoxicated people wandering into the wrong bathrooms, and beer or blood on the center’s carpeting.
“I think we had an issue where they used a tarp that was moldy, and the mold got imbedded in the carpet and it took hours to get that cleaned up,” he said. “It’s not one instance, it’s a compiling of a number of incidents that makes us need to take a look at it.”
In a memo to the Council, Civic Center Manager Rhonda Bolling offers some suggestions if the city continues to allow the Fight Club to use the center. They include purchase by the city of tarps that the Civic Center would store and place before each Fight Club event. Bolling estimates that the tarps will cost $5,000 to $10,000.
She also suggests additional fees for cleaning beer or blood, and to pay for additional staff needed to maintain the bathrooms. She’d also like additional private security guards provided by the Fight Club organizers.
Also Thursday, the Council will discuss what to do about the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery, which has been operated for many years by Ketchikan Indian Community.
KIC announced earlier this year that it planned to close the hatchery because it loses money each year. Tribe officials suggested that a subsidy, perhaps through the state cruise head tax, would help keep it open.
The Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. Thursday in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
To a lot of us, running seems like work, or at least, exercise. But for a group of girls in Sitka, running is actually pretty fun. They’re part of an after-school program that combines running with learning important life lessons. It even inspired one fifth-grader to dream about her future.
Nikkia Brazell is 10 years old and loves to run.
“It feels really fun,” she said, “and sometimes when you get to run with your friend, you have fun, you get to laugh.”
But she hasn’t always been into running. She started liking it a lot more when she joined Girls on the Run last year. It’s a national after-school program designed to inspire girls to be confident and healthy.
Girls on the Run got its start in Sitka five years ago. Every spring, girls in grades three through five meet in the school gym at Keet Gooshi Heen twice a week.
Brian Sparks is a domestic violence prevention specialist at the women’s shelter in town, Sitkans Against Family Violence, or SAFV. He organizes the local branch of Girls on the Run. He says he hopes the program strengthens bonds among girls and makes them less likely to become victims of violence in the future.
“It’s a program that I think really creates resiliency within the girls individually and also within their peer groups and within the community,” he said.
Every practice has a lesson. It might have to do with how to stop bullying or resist peer pressure. Kym Johns is Nikkia’s coach and is leading today’s lesson.
“One very powerful idea that we are going to talk about today is the power we have to choose our friends,” she tells her team of girls.
The game encourages girls to choose friends who celebrate who they are just the way they are. Kym reads positive and negative messages, like, “Awesome job” or “You could have done better than that.” Depending on the type of message, the girls either run in a circle with a bounce in their step or slowly drag their feet.
For Nikkia, one exercise stands out among the rest: Silent running. “Well it’s to help think of stuff that might encourage others and you,” she said.
And she says running silently gives her quiet time to think about what she wants to do and who she wants to be. “I thought about being a teacher, and a coach for girls on the run. I also want to learn how to speak Tlingit because I have already learned the Pledge of Allegiance in Tlingit.”
Brian says the idea is that these girls will bring the lessons they learned in Girls on the Run into the future, and that it’ll lead to greater social change.
“They spread these lessons,” he said. “Let’s say the not gossiping lesson. Well, okay so for somebody who’s not in Girls on the Run starts to gossip, there’s this critical mass of girls who have attended Girls on the Run who don’t accept that behavior anymore.”
On Saturday, all the girls’ hard work is put to the test. They’re running a 5K race along the ocean, through Totem Park. They organize into running groups and pose for a group photo.
Nikkia ran the 5K last year, and says that even though it was really hard, she was proud that she set a goal and stuck to it.
Yakutat is gearing up for an influx of birders.
They’re coming to the northern Southeast Alaska community to celebrate the return of the Aleutian tern, a somewhat rare seabird.
There’s a lot yet to learn about its migration patterns. But what Yakutat residents do know is that the seabirds return every spring.
“We have one of the southernmost known and one of the largest known breeding colonies of Aleutian tern,” says Susan Oehlers, a Forest Service biologist and one of the Yakutat Tern Festival’s organizers.
“So we decided we wanted to have a birding festival highlighting the Aleutian terns as well as the other natural and cultural resources here in Yakutat,” she says.
The tern festival began in 2011. This year’s event runs May 30th to June 2nd.
It attracts bird-watchers from around the state and the Lower 48.
But Oehlers says it’s not all about birds.
“It’s a very family-friendly festival. It’s for birders and non birders. So we have field trips looking at birds, but also all the great scenery we have here like the Hubbard Glacier and Russell Fjord and getting out into the bay,” she says.
Bird-banding and calling sessions are among events planned for kids.
The festival has a focus on Alaska Native culture and will include performances by Yakutat’s Mount Saint Elias Dancers.
Tlingit carver Doug Chilton is the festival’s featured artist. Authors and language experts Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer are the keynote speakers.
Festival field trips will take birders to the Aleutian tern’s breeding grounds. But they won’t get too close.
“They are sensitive to disturbance. So we keep a distance from where they’re nesting. But you can still get a pretty close-up view of them and possibly even see one on a nest,” she says.
The Aleutian tern lives in Alaska and eastern Siberia. Researchers are studying Yakutat’s colony to learn more population trends, nesting and migration patterns.
A second measure transferring Tongass National Forest land to Sealaska is before Congress on Thursday.
It’s stopgap legislation turning 3,600 acres over to the Southeast-based regional Native corporation. Two parcels are proposed, one on the Cleveland Peninsula and the other at Election Creek on Prince of Wales Island.
A much larger bill before Congress would transfer about 70,000 acres.
Sealaska CEO Chris McNeil says it’s needed to keep logging operations going.
“Obviously we’d like the more systemic bill, but it’s important for us to be able to recognize that we have important timing and operational considerations to achieve. And that’s why there’s the second bill, which is really a subset of the first,” McNeil says.
Both measures are sponsored by Alaska Congressman Don Young.
They and four others will go before the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs at 10 a.m. Thursday, Alaska time.
Similar legislation is before the Senate.
The House version of the larger measure includes more of what Sealaska asked for. The Senate bill shows more changes resulting from negotiations with environmental groups, small communities, tour operators and other critics.
Young’s measures are House Bill 740 and House Resolution 1306. The main Senate bill, sponsored by Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, is Senate Bill 340.
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The Southeast Alaska Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is seeking locals interested in entering the health care field. AHEC Director Carlen Williams and Education Coordinator Christa Bruce speak about the recruitment and training center and opportunities available. AHEC051513
For more information, contact Carlen Williams at (907) 228-8455 or go to www.seakahec.org
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Sitka High senior Chatham Connor took first in shot put and discus in the regional Track & Field meet in Juneau last weekend. Both the Wolves boys’ and girls’ teams captured regional titles. They head to Anchorage for state next week.
Sitkans Against Family Violence will receive $50,000, and have its own line item in the budget – meaning it will not have to compete with other non-profits for city funding next year.
The move prompted a discussion weighing the value of social services in the community against other expenses, like maintaining streets.
Restoring SAFV funding has been a consistent theme of assembly member Thor Christianson over the past few months of budgeting. During his previous term ten years ago the assembly dropped SAFV from the budget, and created a pool of money that all non-profits could apply for.
“I didn’t like that. I didn’t realize at the time just how big of a change that was going to be. So, I’d like to move that we appropriate $50,000 to SAFV specifically as a line item in the budget.”
Christianson’s amendment was welcomed by Mayor Mim McConnell and Phyllis Hackett, both of whom had interest in raising the amount the city contributes to local non-profit organizations – currently budgeted at $100,000.
The trouble is that Sitka’s 2014 budget was built on an almost-Faustian bargain by the former administrator.
Interim administrator Jay Sweeney reminded the mayor of this.
McConnell – Jay, if the assembly had decided to spend another $100,000 on non-profits, what kind of impact would that have on the future budget?
Sweeney – I don’t know that I can tell you what kind of impact it would have on the future budget. The one thing I can tell you though – and this hasn’t been brought up in tonight’s discussion – and that is that a portion of the reason that the administrator delivered a balanced budget in the first place, is that the amount of money the public works director has recommended be designated for capital improvements and repairs of infrastructure was trimmed far below the recommended amount. That’s the trade-off.
The Public Works Department has identified road maintenance projects alone totaling over $3-million dollars – with Edgecumbe Drive at the top of the list. The 2014 budget provides $500,000.
Increasing funding for the rest of Sitka’s non-profits proved difficult, as Phyllis Hackett soon learned.
“I’d like to amend this to increase support to non-profits by $100,000…”
Hackett’s motion received no second.
The issue for Pete Esquiro was less about pitting the value of social services against the value of roads, and more about a deficit budget. The 2014 budget was $125,000 in the red. This was his line in the sand.
“The part of the recommendation that has to do with the $50,000 to SAFV – I’m for that. However, I’m totally against deficit spending. Always have been, always will be.”
Esquiro was willing to increase the amount of money going to SAFV by deducting that amount from the $100,000 set aside for all non-profits. Mike Reif and Matt Hunter agreed, but their amendment failed.
The fear of a projected deficit was tamed by some good news. Interim administrator Sweeney reported that higher-than-expected state revenue sharing in 2012, plus federal Secure Rural Schools funding, had produced a surplus for this year – about $1.1-million – which the city could have at its disposal for next year.
Now it was Hackett’s turn to question Sweeney.
Hackett — Jay, if we do accept this amendment and we do approve this budget the way it is, do you feel it’s deficit spending? Knowing that we have this anticipated surplus coming in? Because it doesn’t feel like deficit spending to me. I just want to get your take on that.
Sweeney – It depends on your perspective.
Sweeney said if you looked at 2014 as an isolated year, it was in deficit. But, if you took a multi-year perspective, not a deficit – and also not unprecedented. Previous assemblies had used surpluses to balance deficit budgets.
Only Pete Esquiro remained unconvinced. The motion to give SAFV $50,000 and its own line on the budget passed 6-1.
Before closing out work on the budget, Mike Reif decided to use some of the remaining surplus to address the document’s biggest flaw.
“The amendment I’m making is to increase the amount allocated to Edgecumbe Drive from $223,000 to $720,000, an increase of $500,000.”
Reif agreed to make the increase contingent on the projected surplus becoming a real surplus, at the end of this fiscal year on June 30. Sweeney put the odds of that happening at 75-percent.
The assembly unanimously approved.
KENAI — Buccaneer Energy has started drilling its first Cosmopolitan Prospect well with the Endeavour-Spirit of Independence jack-up rig, which arrived nine months ago from Singapore.
The company began drilling near Anchor Point on Sunday, the Peninsula Clarion reported. The area off the Kenai Peninsula is known for its shallow gas reserves and deeper oil prospects.
FAIRBANKS — The state Department of Transportation has acquired property used by a half-dozen businesses that will allow widening of a busy Fairbanks street and is negotiating with one more.
Spokeswoman Meadow Bailey told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that widening of Third Street near the Gavora Mall on Fairbanks’ east side still depends on acquiring property used by a Holiday Station, which includes gasoline pumps and a convenience store.
The project, however, needs only the property occupied by the gas pumps and not the store.
ANCHORAGE — Scientists say small lava flows have been detected on two restless volcanoes in Alaska.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory says satellite images show the lava partly down a flank of Pavlof Volcano Tuesday in a low-level eruption 625 miles southwest of Anchorage. Geophysicist Dave Schneider says minor steam and ash emissions are visible from the community of Cold Bay 37 miles away.
Pavlof is the second Alaska volcano to erupt this month.