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Southeast Alaska News
JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers are debating whether volunteers should be subject to criminal penalties if they fail to report suspected child abuse.
Gov. Sean Parnell’s crime bill, HB73 in the House and SB22 in the Senate, stipulates that volunteer or paid athletic coaches are required to report if they have a reasonable suspicion that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect.
A former Alaska state writer laureate made an appeal at the Alaska State Capitol Monday for a legislative appropriation to help pay for performances of the suicide prevention play she wrote.
Anne Hanley’s “The Winter Bear” has been performed in a number of communities since 2008, the playwright said, and this year and next year, Winter Bear Project organizers hope to stage several more performances in Alaska Native villages throughout Northern and Interior Alaska.
A week after suffering a heart attack in Juneau and being flown to Anchorage for medical care, former state Sen. Albert Kookesh is listed by Providence Alaska Medical Center in fair condition as of this Monday.
Kookesh was initially listed in critical condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman last week.
“Fair” is the second least severe status out of four that Providence Alaska Medical Center may use to describe a patient, while “critical” is the most severe.
Access to the national forest was the primary topic of concern at last week’s Tongass land management plan public meeting in Ketchikan. The event was part of the mandatory five-year review, and was one of a series of public meetings taking place throughout Southeast Alaska.
Southeast Alaska hunters, hikers and berry pickers like to use old logging roads to get deep into the Tongass. Anyone who has tried to bushwhack through the dense rainforest knows why. But in recent years, the U.S. Forest Service has “water-barred” and removed culverts from many of those old roads, making them unnavigable for motor vehicles, and to some degree even for people trying to walk them.
After an absence of about four years, D Jay O’Brien recently visited Prince of Wales Island, which has many miles of logging roads. He says he was taken aback by how many roads had been closed.
“I don’t really see the value in pulling culverts from a perfectly good road and limiting public access,” he said. “If that’s part of this plan, then I’m not in favor of that.”
Merle Schultz argues that closing logging roads after a timber harvest means the forest is pretty much closed to everyone except loggers. He says it’s especially tough for seniors who want to continue hunting.
“I’m 82 years old,” he said. “I can’t pack a deer three, four miles like I used to anymore.”
Ben Williams says it’s not logical to close the old logging roads. He suggests that the Forest Service just stop maintaining the roads, and let nature do its work.
“If God claims them, Mother Nature claims them, whether landslide or washout or whatever, so be it. That’s fine,” he said. “I understand liability. Put up a sign: If you travel these roads, it’s at your own risk. But to take out this infrastructure, that we paid for with tax dollars, which is all of us in this room, and pull it out and destroy it, there’s something wrong with that.”
The Forest Service in 2009 started closing some old logging roads in part because budget cuts meant they couldn’t continue maintaining them all. That’s according to Ketchikan District Ranger Jeff DeFreest. He says that some kind of maintenance is needed, not just because of liability concerns. The public was involved in choosing which roads to keep open, and DeFreest says that specific issue could come up again for comment.
“There was opportunity for public scoping that was done in 2009, and there’s opportunities for that in the future again as well, to look at what road systems are open, or how many miles of road we can afford to maintain,” he said. “And again, that’s to maintain it to a certain standard so that it’s safe, but also so that it’s environmentally sound so that we’re not damaging fisheries or other important resources on Revilla Island.”
Other public comments from the recent meeting focused on logging, pro and con. Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association wants more stands set aside for logging, and Susan Walsh suggested that the Forest Service designate parts of the Tongass for carbon storage, in order to sell carbon credits and thus supplement its budget.
Holly Churchill says that more should be done to maintain cultural heritage resources on the forest, and educate the public about the history of the area.
Mike Round of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association hopes the forest plan can be amended to include a mechanism for his organization to use Connell Lake as a coho hatchery. He says the Forest Service blocked those efforts in the past because the area has been designated for recreation.
“SSRAA still has a great deal of interest in Connell Lake for lake-rearing of salmon,” he said. “It is on the road system, it makes it a much more economic viable project just because we can get to and from that lake. It’s a very low-profile operation. I gather we were unsuitable in that area because we were considered to be a commercial enterprise. That’s kind of stretching it. We raise fish and we let them go in the common property of the State of Alaska. We don’t sell anything.”
Connell Lake is a man-made lake. The dam was built by Ketchikan Pulp Co. in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the City of Ketchikan looked into turning the lake into a hydroelectric project, and in 2010, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough tried gaining ownership of the land through a bill that Rep. Don Young submitted to Congress. So far, though, the lake and surrounding land remains part of the Tongass.
The main point of the five-year review is to determine what, if anything, needs to be amended in the Tongass land and resource management plan.
In addition to input from public meetings, Forest Service officials will take written comments through the end of June. That deadline recently was extended in response to a request from Alaska’s Sen. Mark Begich. For more information and to submit comments, go to http://www.tnf-5yearreview.com/
The family of a Sitka woman reported missing in October is still hoping for answers about her disappearance.
Lael Grant, 33, was last seen by family on Oct. 14. An extensive search was launched, and her vehicle was eventually found along the Nelson Logging Road at the northern end of Sitka’s road system.
Grant’s older sister, Erika Grant Burkhouse, says in the initial weeks after Lael’s disappearance, a lot of tips came in to authorities. But in the more than four months since then, information has dwindled.
Burkhouse says the family continues to wish for a happy ending, but that above all, they just want to find out what happened.
“We don’t know,” she said. “We’re trying really hard to be hopeful, but we just don’t know. That’s the horrible part, not knowing.”
She says police and local authorities have worked hard, but that she also knows they’re busy with many cases. For the family, the last few months have meant a lot of waiting. Burkhouse says it’s taken its toll on Lael’s 10 and 13 year old sons.
“Sitka’s a very small town,” she said. “There have been a lot of rumors going around and the boys have heard those rumors. It’s absolutely horrible. I can’t say anything besides it’s horrible.”
Burkhouse says the Sitka School District has been extremely responsive to the family’s needs, and to helping Grant’s sons cope when they’re at school. And in the meantime, while the family waits for word on what happened, Burkhouse says they’re holding on to good memories.
“Lael is wonderful,” Burkhouse said. “She’s absolutely amazing, she has a heart of gold, she is thoughtful and a great mother, a great sister. Just amazing.”
Lael Grant has been missing since Oct. 14. Anyone with information about her disappearance is asked to call Sitka police at 907-747-3245.
Southeast business, tribal and government leaders meet this week in Juneau for the Southeast Conference’s Mid-Session Summit.
Executive Director Shelly Wright says the event has a leadership focus.
That includes a keynote presentation by Native American motivational speaker D.J. Vanas titled “Integrating the Warrior Culture into Your Culture.”
Wright says a community character-building session is also part of the leadership focus.
“There’s always room for a refresher, there’s always room for re-invigorations, which is basically what this is. It’s not necessarily, ‘Let’s teach you more skills,’ but (putting) insight and excitement into what your skills are,” Wright says.
Southeast Conference members will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Marine Highway System with screenings of a new documentary, produced by Juneau’s KTOO-TV.
The conference first organized to push for development of the ferry system.
Wright says the group’s fisheries, mining, energy and other panels will meet during the summit.
“We do break-out committee work where we can see people face to face, and give people a chance to go see their legislators if they need to, and kind of turn it into a work meeting,” she says.
The conference will hold its annual meeting in mid-September in Sitka.
When he ran for the Alaska House last year, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins visited each community in his district, knocking on almost every door. The strategy paid off. The 24-year-old Democrat won a seat in the Legislature by just 32 votes.
And now that he’s been on the job six weeks, it’s becoming clear that Kreiss-Tomkins’ busy campaign schedule wasn’t a sprint, so much as the start of a marathon.
The early morning hours in state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins’ office, on the fourth floor of the Alaska Capitol, are actually pretty calm. Coffee is dripping into a pot near the door, and classical music plays softly from a speaker as staffers Nancy Barnes, Tully McLoughlin and Holly Smith pore over calendars and answer e-mails. The calm does not last long.
Kreiss-Tomkins arrives out of breath and wearing most of his suit — the jacket and tie are waiting for him in his office. There’s a strap around his right ankle to keep his pants free from the chain on the bicycle he rides to work every morning.
Kreiss-Tomkins represents Alaska’s 34th district — a collection of communities in Southeast that include Sitka, Haines, Angoon, Kake, Craig, Kalwock, Metlakatla and more.
Today, the 24-year-old freshman Democrat gets to the Capitol at 7:55 a.m. with two meetings already under his belt: one at 6 a.m., the other at 7:30. Next on the schedule is a committee meeting.
Kreiss-Tomkins puts on his tie and jacket, and dashes down the hall to the staircase. He says the frenetic pace of today is typical.
“Well, there’s not enough time in the building during the business day, so I’ve taken to scheduling 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. morning meetings,” Kreiss-Tomkins says as he walks down the Capitol’s main staircase.
He ducks into the State Affairs committee. Today, it’s a presentation on the health care system for state employees. The rest of the day includes a Fisheries committee meeting on derelict vessels, a minority caucus meeting, a flash mob protesting violence against women, a Transportation Committee meeting, and then a variety of visits with an official from BP, and local elected leaders from Anaktuvik Pass, Haines, Pelican and Sitka, all of whom are in the building today to lobby their lawmakers.
About eight hours later, after running down to the legislator’s lounge for his first food of the day, and then running back up to his office, holding some food he calls “breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he finally has time to sit down and talk.
KCAW: How is having the job different than running for the job?
Kreiss-Tomkins: If I closed my eyes when I was a candidate, I couldn’t picture that I’d be waking up at 5:45 to get down to the 6 a.m. meeting, to get to this, to get to that. Going to the lounge to scrounge some leftovers… none of that would have been in my mind. I never could have pictured that, unless I worked here as a staffer, which I never did.
KCAW: What’s the bigger challenge to the way you’re doing your job? Being a freshman, or being in the minority?
Kreiss-Tomkins: Everything is a learning curve. The biggest divide in this building, from what I’ve seen, is not party affiliation, it’s geography. It’s coastal versus rail belt. Juneau is not Washington, D.C. The biggest surprise I’ve had since coming here — and I very consciously tried not to have expectations before coming here — is how collegial this place is. It’s surprisingly bipartisan. There are very meaningful working relationships.
KCAW: During the campaign, one of the primary arguments not to vote for you was that Southeast would be giving up a lot of power if you were elected. Do you feel that’s happened? How’s that shaken out?
Kreiss-Tomkins: Yeah. Southeast, and coastal Alaska — we think in terms of Southeast Alaska, but really, our compatriots from Kodiak and Bristol Bay and the Y-K Delta are just as important to our cause as we are to theirs — lost a tremendous amount of power. And I would argue, and I think almost everybody in this building would agree, that the biggest powershift was not the defeat of Bill Thomas, who I ran against, but the loss of the Senate coalition.
The Senate’s bipartisan coalition was disbanded after Republicans won more seats in November. Kreiss-Tomkins says that the bipartisan coalition was also the Legislature’s coastal caucus. The three most powerful senators in the last session came from coastal communities: Kodiak, Sitka and Bethel.
In this session, he worries those coastal voices are diminished. And as a freshman in the minority, Kreiss-Tomkins doesn’t have a lot of power in the halls of the Capitol. But he says for now, he’s just focusing on doing his job well.
KCAW: Assuming you do want re-election, what do you hope you can tell people in 2014 at the end of your first term, and how are you going to get there?
Kreiss-Tomkins: I’m running for re-election. I believe good government is good politics. So performing in this job to the fullest extent of my ability and working absolutely as hard and as smart and as effective as I can, is the best way in which I can make a bid to have my job for two more years — another two year lease.
KCAW: This job seems very personal to you.
Kreiss-Tomkins: Deeply personal. You’re representing people. People’s lives. The legislation we pass affects people’s lives. I can’t imagine more heady stuff day-to-day to consider.
Our interview ended around 6 p.m., after which Kreiss-Tomkins went to a budget hearing before boarding a ferry for an overnight sailing to Kake. After that, it was back to Juneau, for the start of another week running through the halls of the Capitol, sometimes literally.
Lifelong Sitkan and basketball star Herb Didrickson was honored at a sold-out banquet in Harrigan Centennial Hall on Sunday (2-24-13). On February 26 Didrickson and Buck Nystrom, the winningest coach in Alaska football history, will be inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Anchorage Museum. According to his peers, Didrickson was in a class by himself on the basketball court, playing for Sheldon Jackson School in the years before WWII, and then for the ANB in the postwar period. His friend Gil Truitt, who led the campaign for Didrickson’s induction, says that Herb’s speed, dunking ability (though it was not allowed at the time), and menacing defense created a player “thirty-years ahead of his time.”
Canadian trio The Good Lovelies bring their unique and playful blend of original harmony, swing, folk and more to the Wright Auditorium in Petersburg tonight. Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore back up their crisp vocals on stage with guitar, mandolin and banjo. Along with touring Canada, the US and beyond, the Good Lovelies have produced five albums over the past six years.Tonight’s local concert is sponsored by the Petersburg Arts Council and it’s the last stop on the Toronto group’s tour through Alaska.
Matt Lichtenstein previewed some of their music last week and spoke by phone with one of the Good Lovelies, Sue Passmore: For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
The Good Lovelies perform tonight at seven in Petersburg’s the Wright auditorium. Tickets are available at Lee’s Clothing or at the door.
KENAI — For nearly seven years, 2 Sister’s Alaska Seafood operated out of a tiny grey building on Bridge Access in Kenai.
The business, which is driven primarily by internet sales of local and Alaska seafood, finally outgrew its old home and has found a new one in a former liquor and convenience store on Kenai Spur Highway.
“We had no heat, no running water, no insulation, no bathroom,” said co-owner Roylene Stout, with a laugh. When she and founder Annette King needed to use the bathroom “The gas station was just down the road,” she said.
EAGLE RIVER — High-schoolers from Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley and Kenai Peninsula put their engineering skills to the test during a two-day robotics competition Feb. 15-16 at Eagle River High.
The results couldn’t have been better for the hosts.
All 19 Eagle River students, broken into five teams, qualified for the state robotics tournament March 8-9 at UAA.
The Cyber Wolves, made up of Thor Austin, Erik Korzon and Nathaniel Lunod, set a new state record of 410 points in the qualifying round.
The high score surprised the team, Korzon said.
SITKA — Sitka artist Nicholas Galanin has been awarded a $25,000 grant by the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship.
In addition to the unrestricted grant, the honor comes with an agreement to purchase Galanin’s work for the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Ind.
The fellowship annually honors four juried artists and one invited artist who excel in the field of contemporary art.
JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature will hit its halfway point this week, with the Senate taking the lead on oil taxes as legislative leaders look at the spreading the workload and which bills should move.
An abortion bill, school vouchers and budget closeouts are among the highlights this week.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing Wednesday on a bill that would define “medically necessary” abortions.
Surfers from around the world travel to Yakutat’s remote beaches to catch big waves.
Now, the community, hundreds of miles away from the nearest grid, wants to make another use of that power.
“If we’re able to convert that energy that’s pounding on our shores and displace diesel, the state’s going to save a lot of money,” says Chris Rose, founder and executive director of REAP, the Renewable Energy Alaska Project.
“We’re a place that makes sense to test this stuff, because we have higher energy costs than a lot of other places,” says Rose, who’s been watching the project’s progress.
Yakutat Borough Manager Skip Ryman says the bottom line is to get away from diesel.
He says the municipal power plant sells electricity for about 57 cents a kilowatt hour. The state’s Power Cost Equalization Program halves the residential price. But still …
“People are finding that anywhere from 45 to 60 percent of their disposable income has been going for utilities and home heating,” Ryman says. “This in turn is hurting retailers. We’ve been losing families, losing kids in the school system and essentially sending the community into a bit of a death spiral.”
Yakutat, about halfway between Juneau and Cordova, has been interested in wave energy for some time.
A study completed in 2009 recommended devices installed near the shore, rather than father out into the ocean.
“The device that we’re working on is called an oscillating wave surge converter,” says Cliff Goudey is senior engineer for Massachusetts-based Resolute Marine Energy.
“That’s sort of a fancy word for a paddle that sits on the bottom, that’s hinged at the bottom, the hinge being parallel to the shoreline,” Goudey says. “So as the surge of the waves pass over the top, the paddle gets pushed toward the beach and then back and forth.”
The company is working with federal, state and local officials to research and fund the Yakutat project.
It will use Resolute’s Surge Wave Energy Converter, which powers hydraulic pumps, which drive a generator. (Read more about the Surge.)
The device has been tested off the North Carolina coast. But it doesn’t have a track record.
Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center Director Belinda Batten says its competitors don’t either.
“In terms of commercial arrays of wave-energy devices, they currently don’t exist anywhere in the world,” Batten says.
She says Scotland has taken the lead, testing a number of different devices and systems at a major research facility.
“Until we really get the first arrays of small devices in and producing energy over some time where we learn operating and maintenance costs, reliability, sustainability and those kind of those kinds of things, it’ll be tough to call the winners,” she says.
Resolute Marine Energy was recently granted a preliminary permit allowing more research and planning. But it still must clear other regulatory hurdles.
The company and its partners also need to address environmental impacts and conflicts with other users of the area.
There’s the surfers, of course. (Watch a video of Yakutat surfers in action.)
Borough Manager Ryman says that’s not all.
“It is an area used by trollers. You have whale migration off shore. There’s some concern about the noise these may be making and how that might interfere with whale migrations,” he says.
An Oregon wave-energy proposal has drawn opposition from crabbers and recreational boaters.
Yakutat’s project is being designed to meet the community’s power needs for much of the year.
Ryman says diesel generators would fill the gap when needed, especially when the local fish processor operates.
“We now have 26 wind-diesel projects out there that are using sophisticated control technology to marry the wind and the diesel. Wave power’s actually a lot more predictable than wind power,” he says.
Experts say wave patterns can be forecast a day or two in advance.
Goudey, of Resolute Marine Energy, says the project could have statewide implications.
“If we can make this work in Yakutat, there will be other opportunities to do similar things in other locations around coastal Alaska,” Goudey says.
Research and construction could take years, possibly a decade.
In the short term, Yakutat is considering a biomass energy plant to fill the gap. But Ryman says that’s expensive too.
KETCHIKAN — Four dedicated young Ketchikan musicians have been selected to receive the 2013 Sam Pitcher Memorial music scholarships.
The music scholarship fund was started following Sam’s death in 2003 at age 16, from myocarditis. He was a passionate musician who was a member of several local bands, was a co-founder of The Rubber Band rock group and attended Sitka Fine Arts Camp and Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan.
KODIAK — Newcomers to Kodiak often struggle with finding short-term housing or places to stay while on vacation or temporary job assignments — Guardian Landing hopes to solve that problem.
Guardian Landing is housed in a 5-bedroom home with a unique setup. The house has rooms to rent, but it’s not quite a bed and breakfast. Residents can rent one bedroom in the home, or multiple bedrooms, either for a few nights or a few months.
The fully furnished house reserves one bedroom for transitioning Coast Guardsmen.
ANCHORAGE — A 36-year-old Girdwood man has pleaded guilty to causing a 2009 Seward Highway wreck that killed two teenagers.
Benjamin Cosper pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of negligent homicide and a count of third-degree assault. He then asked for forgiveness from the victims’ families, The Anchorage Daily News reported Saturday.
Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton sentenced Cosper to two years in custody, recommending the sentence be served under electronic monitoring.
“There’s no sentence that fixes this for anybody,” Wolverton said.