Youth Fishing Day will be Saturday April 26 at the 21 Mile pull-out on Haines Highway. There...
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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — Flint Hills Resources announced Tuesday that it will close its North Pole refinery, shuttering a major employer in the Fairbanks area and eliminating a local source of gasoline, jet fuel, heating fuel and other petroleum products.
The closure will mean the loss of 81 jobs.
Mike Brose, vice president of Flint Hills Resources Alaska LLC, said the refinery will close because of a difficult refining market and uncertainties over future soil and groundwater cleanup costs that began under the refinery’s former owners, Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc.
ANCHORAGE — Enough petition signatures have been verified to place an initiative seeking to legalize marijuana on the ballot this summer in Alaska, election officials said Tuesday.
The petition has met all the thresholds necessary to appear on the Aug. 19 primary ballot, the Alaska Division of Elections said.
The lieutenant governor’s office said it had verified the signatures from registered voters as of Monday evening. The total of 31,500 was a thousand more than needed, with about 6,000 signatures remaining to be checked.
BILLINGS, Mont. — The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars trying to save more than 1,500 animal and plant species listed as endangered or threatened.
A group of House Republicans say that’s translated into just 2 percent of protected species taken off the list. They called Tuesday for an overhaul to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, giving states more authority over imperiled species and limiting litigation from wildlife advocates.
BILLINGS, Mont. — Republicans in Congress on Tuesday called for an overhaul to the Endangered Species Act to curtail environmentalists’ lawsuits and give more power to states, but experts say broad changes to one of the nation’s cornerstone environmental laws are unlikely given the pervasive partisan divide in Washington, D.C.
A group of 13 GOP lawmakers representing states across the U.S. released a report proposing “targeted reforms” for the 40-year-old federal law, which protects imperiled plants and animals.
JUNEAU — Senate Finance Committee co-chair Kevin Meyer on Tuesday said he believes there is support on his panel to advance a proposed constitutional amendment on education.
Whether there is enough support for it to get past the full Senate, however, is another issue, with a high bar for any proposed constitutional change to clear. A similar proposal is also pending in the House.
JUNEAU — A bill that would give village public safety officers the option of carrying firearms was quickly moved out of committee on Tuesday, even though several state troopers were in line to testify.
“We already had plenty of public testimony last week,” House Community and Regional Affairs committee chairwoman Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said before advancing the bill to the next committee.
The internationally-renowned Irish instrumental band Lunasa starts off its second visit to Alaska with a performance in Petersburg tonight.
The group released its latest CD last year and continues to travel the globe – they’ve played in over 15-hundred shows around the world since they started up in 1996.
The piper for Lunasa played on Bruce Springsteen’s album High Hopes, and the bassist played with the Waterboys before joining Lunasa. Joe Viechnicki caught up with the group’s flute player, Kevin Crawford by phone last week.
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Lunasa also has concerts this month in Anchorage, Homer, Valdez and Fairbanks. Tonight’s concert is at 7 p.m. at the Wright Auditiorium. Tickets are on sale at Lees Clothing or at the door.
Petersburg’s borough assembly will be looking to fill a vacant seat again.
The latest member to resign is John Hoag. He read from a letter announcing that decision at Monday’s meeting of the assembly before leaving the meeting. Hoag is an attorney and said he is representing two clients that might have cases involving the borough. “One issue may be resolvable through disclosure and abstaining from voting,” Hoag said. “The other represents a potential violation of the (borough) charter which prohibits assembly members from representing persons against the borough. One of my clients may have to be defended from a claim, against a client by the borough. While other states such conduct by a member of the legislature may be proper, Oregon is one of them, I have seen it abused elsewhere. I believe that elected officials should try to have their conduct be beyond a claim of impropriety. Therefore I must resign my position with the assembly effective at once.”
Hoag was appointed to fill a vacancy on the city council in 2012 and then elected to the borough assembly a year ago.
The borough will be looking for candidates to be appointed to that seat until the election in October.
He’s the second assembly member to resign in the last half year. Sue Flint resigned her seat in October and Bob Lynn was appointed to fill the vacancy late last year.
In related news, Ronn Buschmann also resigned last month from the Planning and Zoning Commission. The assembly will look for someone to fill that seat until October. The mayor also appointed Stephen Samuelson to a vacant seat on the hospital board and Barb Fish to a vacant seat on the library board.
Have ideas for improvements on National Forest land in the area? A committee of residents from Kake, Wrangell and Petersburg that makes recommendations on how to spend federal dollars is looking for more members.
The Resource Advisory Committee, or RAC, for the three communities reviews proposals and recommends spending money paid out for trail building and cabin work, signs, festivals and other uses on or around Tongass Forest lands in central Southeast. The money is paid out under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000, which was extended last year, for one more year. Joe Viechnicki spoke with Petersburg district ranger Jay Anderson about the group.
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Anyone interested can stop by the ranger district office to pick up an application.
It wasn’t an action item on the agenda, but the issue of seasonal congestion in the Herring Cove area was a hot topic of conversation during Monday’s Borough Assembly meeting.
In his report to the Assembly, Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst noted that a request for the state Department of Transportation to consider a seasonal speed limit reduction for the Herring Cove Bridge was not received positively by DOT officials.
The state responded with a proposal for a speed limit reduction, but only while cruise ships are in port, adding that the borough should hire a compliance officer and make tourists wear reflective safety vests while visiting Herring Cove.
Borough Assembly members didn’t take well to those suggestions.
“This all strikes me as asinine,” said Assembly Member Glen Thompson.
He went on to say that the borough is on record expressing concern about safety hazards on Herring Cove bridge, and he believes it’s now up to the state to find a solution.
“In my mind, they’re taking on the responsibility and they’re holding the bag if someone gets hurt or killed out there, and I don’t think the governor wants that on his record during an election year,” he said. “If they can’t come around to our way of thinking, I think we need to contact the governor and see if he can put some pressure on from up above, because this is absolutely ridiculous. And if you think I’m mad now, wait till we get outside and I’m away from the microphone. “
Tens of thousands of tourists visit Herring Cove during the busy summer season. They go to see the salmon run in the creek under the narrow Herring Cove Bridge, and to watch bears that come to catch those returning salmon. The problem is that the area is not developed for tourists, so many of the tour buses park on the side of the road, and their passengers walk along, and often across, the bridge, which is part of the state highway.
The speed limit in that area is 45 miles per hour.
Bockhorst said that when he brought up reducing the speed limit on a seasonal basis, DOT officials were concerned that doing so would actually make the problem worse, because it would give pedestrians a false sense of security. He said DOT also doesn’t want to endorse pedestrian use of the bridge.
“It is a transportation corridor for automobiles, it is not a tourism facility, so yes they are being hard-line on this issue, but their attitude is, ‘We’re not going to do something that’s going to encourage the use of a highway and a narrow bridge for tourism purposes,’” he said.
The borough has tentative plans to build a pedestrian bridge over the creek that would help the problem, but that’s a long-term solution. In the meantime, Bockhorst said the Planning Department is working with the borough attorney to come up with a permitting process that would require bus companies to comply with safety guidelines. The cost of a seasonal safety officer to enforce those guidelines would be about $10,000, and the Assembly would have to approve that new regulation.
However, time is short for even that to be implemented before the tourism season begins this year. After much discussion about options for the area, the Assembly gave four-hands direction for Bockhorst to ask for a year-round speed-limit reduction by the bridge. The justification is that the area is potentially dangerous even during winter.
In other action, the Assembly voted 6 to 1 to introduce an ordinance that would require all newly built structures within the South Tongass Service Area to hook up to the public water system, if they are within 300 feet of a water main. Alan Bailey voted no.
Another measure that passed was a second and final reading on an ordinance appropriating an additional $150,000 for the borough’s education funding lawsuit against the State of Alaska through the end of June. It passed 4 to 3, with Bailey and Assembly Members Jim Van Horn and Bill Rotecki voting no.
Also Monday, the Assembly gave four-hands direction for the manager to prepare a resolution in support of House Bill 75. That bill would remove the requirement for nonprofit agencies in the state to have an annual audit in order to qualify for listing in the Pick Click Give program.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Tuesday that the Southeast Alaska commercial geoduck clam fishery has been canceled this week.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association geoduck committee recommended that there be no live geoduck clam fishery until the committee’s normally scheduled meeting on February 14th.
The committee also unanimously voted to suspend paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) testing until that time.
During the Feb. 14th meeting, the SARDFA geoduck committee will discuss concerns with officials from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation over the situation with China and current geoduck clam sampling protocols for PSP and arsenic.
Chinese authorities say they detected PSP and arsenic in geoducks from Ketchikan and Washington state. In December, China banned shellfish imports from the Pacific Northwest.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly approved an ordinance requiring new homes and those within a certain distance of the water main to tap into the South Tongass line. Bill Rotecki gives details of the meeting. Assembly020414
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SHS Music director John DePalatis brings his Vocal Jazz Ensemble to the studio: Hallie Bernhoft, Samantha Robinson, Rosie Palof, Destony Rosas, and Cassie Gillespie perform ‘Til There Was You from ‘The Music Man.’ The Sitka JazzFest runs this Thu-Sat, Feb 6-8. Tickets are $10/$25/$45 for an all-Festival pass.
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Two Sitka men indicted on weapons, drug charges after store employee notices stolen firearm. Blatchley health curriculum draws criticism from some concerned parents. Straley’s “Cold Storage” arrives in bookstores today.
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill drew bipartisan criticism during a joint hearing of the House and Senate Education committees Monday.
Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, both questioned the bill’s section on charter schools.
Among the concerns was whether school districts would be forced to fund a charter school if they chose not to open it but the Alaska State Board of Education approved the school.
If the annual upward trend of repeat offenders in Alaska continues at the current 3 percent rate, by 2016 the state will need a new prison, according to data presented by Sen. John Coghill’s office during a judiciary committee meeting.
An omnibus bill currently in the Senate would create a Criminal Justice Commission, 24/7 sobriety program and increase the felony theft threshold from $500 to $1,000, among other things.
Coghill, R- North Pole, is one of the four senators behind the push to reform criminal justice in Alaska.
ANCHORAGE — The National Transportation Safety Board has released interviews and other information collected as part of its investigation into the fatal crash of an Alaska State Trooper helicopter known as Helo-1.
The approximately 2,000 pages of documents released Monday draws no conclusions as to the cause of the crash of the Eurocopter AS350 B3 that killed pilot Mel Nading, Alaska State Trooper Tage Toll and snowmobiler Carl Ober on March 30, KTUU-TV reported. A report is expected later this year.
JUNEAU — The Alaska Food Policy Council is conducting a series of town hall meetings across the state to answer people’s concerns on food security.
The hearings also will touch on how much local food is produced in different Alaska regions and the methods used in making food production easier in each region.
The council, which is dedicated to Alaska increasing local food production, held its first meeting on the subject in Nome on Friday, with a second meeting Monday in Juneau, KTOO reported.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Four national Native American organizations on Monday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children in the private adoption and public child welfare systems, saying civil rights violations there are rampant.