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Southeast Alaska News
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.
NEW YORK — If you don’t get a job because you’re a woman, or you get fired because you’re black, or you get transferred to the night shift because you’re gay, there’s a law for that. But if you’re punished at work because you need time to take your child to the doctor or talk to your confused elderly mother, you might be out of luck.
Cold Storage, Alaska is Straley’s eighth novel, and his first since 2008’s The Big Both Ways.
But Straley says he actually wrote Cold Storage before his last novel, and had put it in a drawer.
“The feedback I got from publishers was that it wasn’t violent enough. It didn’t have a strong enough revenge ending where everybody gets shot up. One of their reactions was, Well, I don’t see the big deal about this bunch of oddballs in this little Alaska town.”
Although Cold Storage is a mystery, Straley says it has its share of screwball humor. He revisited the manuscript when his publisher, SOHO Press, hired a new editor. She liked it, and the book went into production.
Cold Storage ties in with The Big Both Ways. The latter’s young protagonist, Annabelle, appears in Cold Storage as an older woman. The story is set in the early 1990s, during the first years of the Clinton presidency.
But it is not set anywhere real. Although Ketchikan, Juneau, and his hometown of Sitka loom large in his earlier work, Straley says the community of Cold Storage is pure fiction.
“I wanted to write in my own made-up universe, for this whole series of books that are going to be the Cold Storage series. So I created my own little town which is an amalgam of Tenakee, Pelican, and Port Alexander. Sort of my own little universe.”
And that universe is populated with fictional residents. But Straley doesn’t hesitate to give locals full credit for helping him create his novels’ rich characters.
“I still just love the way this place shapes people. We have amazing intellectuals that roam the docks and the waterways, and bars and cafes — and not just intellectuals but characters, roustabouts, fishermen, fisherwomen. It’s a great place to work and live.”
Straley lives in Sitka with his wife Jan Straley, a marine mammal biologist based at the Sitka Sound Science Center.
Straley himself works full time as an investigator for the state Public Defender Agency. He’s not bothered that six years have passed since his last book.
“Writing novels is a hard job, especially if you already have a hard job — which I do!”
In addition to writing novels, Straley is also a published poet. His collection, The Rising and the Rain was published in 2008. And two years ago, a work by Straley was included on a list of great poems prepared by the National Poetry Foundation for it’s national recitation contest Poetry Out Loud. He is the former Writer Laureate of Alaska.
Straley will be signing copies of Cold Storage, Alaska today (2-4-14) in Sitka at Old Harbor Books. He’ll read from the novel tonight at 7 PM at Kettleson Memorial Library.
KCAW’s Melissa Marconi-Wentzel contribute to this story.
This month, eighth graders at Sitka’s Blatchley Middle School will see a new class added to their schedule: comprehensive health education, including basic sex ed. The state doesn’t require the class, but educators feel strongly that middle school is the time to address healthy relationships.
But some parents object to how the school has handled the program.
In late January, about 35 people gathered in the Blatchley Middle School library to hear Principal Ben White address a particularly hot topic: health education.
“Health, comprehensive health, it’s needed at the middle school level,” White told the assembled community members. “It’s needed badly.”
Comprehensive health education can cover everything from nutrition to bullying to substance abuse — and, of course, human sexuality, including issues like abstinence, birth control and sexually transmitted infections. The State of Alaska doesn’t require health education in middle school, and until this year, Blatchley didn’t offer it. That came as a surprise to some parents.
“I was surprised to find out that there was no sex ed going on, no real health curriculum going on at Blatchley,” said Kristen Homer, whose daughter is a 7th grader at the school. “And that the 8th graders had had no education about sex since their 5th grade puberty class.”
Homer is a nurse practitioner and works at Sitka’s Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Last year, she and several other parents approached White to push for some kind of health curriculum at the school. Homer ended up teaching a three-day class for 8th graders in the spring.
“We talked about, you know, it’s pretty basic: anatomy and physiology, what are the body parts, what do they do, how does the menstrual cycle work, how do people get pregnant,” Homer said.
This year, the school decided to implement a more comprehensive health class. Starting this fall, 7th graders took a course based on a national curriculum called the Teen Outreach Program, or TOPS.
But because health education isn’t mandated by the state, Blatchley didn’t have the funding to train staff in the curriculum. So White looked outside the school for a teacher. The State of Alaska offers grants for nonprofits to have staff members trained in the TOPS program. In Sitka, the nonprofit that received the grant was the local branch of Planned Parenthood.
White stressed that Planned Parenthood had no role in writing or developing the curriculum – they just received a grant to have a staff-member teach it. But for most of the parents present, that was beside the point.
Lisa Melnick has a daughter in the 6th-grade at Blatchley.
“That’s a pretty big attachment to an organization,” Melnick said. “I mean, she’s not coming from nowhere, she’s coming from the Planned Parenthood organization.”
Melnick and others argued that having a staff member from Planned Parenthood teaching in the school amounted to a tacit approval of the organization’s national agenda, including its support for abortion rights.
For this spring, Blatchley has discontinued TOPS. The health classes are all voluntary, and student participation in TOPS dropped to about 48 percent, White said, due to a combination of families opting out of the program, and students choosing to take PE, which was offered at the same time.
So this spring, only 8th graders at Blatchley will take a health class.
The 8th grade curriculum is called “The 4th R” (as in, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. The “fourth r” is for relationships). It will be taught by Blatchley’s two PE teachers, along with Elena Gustafson, a staff member at the nonprofit Sitkans Against Family Violence.
White stressed that the curriculum covers a whole range of issues.
“I think it’s very easy to get hung up, at least it seems to me that it’s very easy to get hung up on the “sex ed” part of the health curriculum,” White said. “That is a component and it should be a component, but that’s not the curriculum.”
“I would disagree on that,” said Peter Melnick, whose daughter is a 6th grader at Blatchley. “It doesn’t need to be a component. If this is not mandated, we should be able to choose. Because there is no law, there is no legislative action here. This is a choice that the school is making. We should be able to choose what is being taught to our students, to our children.”
“And you do get to choose,” White said.
“That’s kind of a logical fallacy to say that it is needed,” Melnick said.
“And I would argue until I am blue in the face with you –” White said.
“And I would argue back,” Melnick said.
“Being a middle-school principal,” White said. “Knowing that we have kids who are sexually active, knowing that that’s a reality for many of our kids, and knowing that they do not have access to the information to protect themselves, it needs to be a component. Now, that being said, I fully respect a family’s choice to deal with it on their own terms with their kids as they see fit. However, I can’t base my decision for the entire student body on fifteen families or twenty families that I know are on the ball.”
White emphasized that students can opt out of any individual lesson, or the entire class. But most of the parents present said that sex-ed simply doesn’t belong in middle school. In the words of one mother, teaching anything other than abstinence “is like handing them the tools to do the exact thing we’re trying to stop.”
Others stressed that sex ed should happen within the family. Charles Horan doesn’t have a child at Blatchley; but he was asked to attend the meeting by fellow members at St. Gregory’s Catholic Church. And he spoke for many in the room when he said, “You can’t discuss human sexuality in a moral or ethical vacuum.”
Principal Ben White said that in an ideal world, the state would just mandate health education in middle schools and fund a dedicated health teacher. Until that happens, he said, Blatchley will keep trying different options – and, he said, he trusts that parents will keep offering feedback.
Two Sitka men have been indicted on several charges of trafficking in drugs and stolen firearms.
A grand jury last Friday (1-31-14) indicted 45 year old Michael Pizarro on one count of Theft in the second degree, one count of Misconduct Involving Weapons in the third degree, and one count of Misconduct Involving a Controlled Substance in the second degree.
The grand jury indicted 22-year old Samuel Petro on one count of Theft in the second degree.
The charges stem from an incident on the afternoon of Saturday, January 25, when an employee of Orion Sporting Goods reported to police that a customer was in the store, in possession of a stolen firearm.
According to court records, officers arrived and spoke to Michael Pizarro, who said he was in the store purchasing ammunition and accessories for a gun. Officers asked if Pizarro currently had the weapon on his person, and he responded that the gun was in a case in his vehicle.
At this point, according to police records, Pizarro allegedly denied for a second time having a gun on his person, and then said, “Oh yeah,” and reached into his pocket and withdrew a .25 caliber Raven Arms handgun.
Police immediately secured the weapon, and accompanied Pizarro to his car in the parking lot.
Inside the car, officers found a .45 caliber Springfield semi-automatic handgun. A check of the serial number revealed that the Springfield had been stolen from a Marine Street home about a week earlier.
The Springfield .45 was the weapon that caught the attention of the Orion employees, when Pizarro had taken it into the store earlier.
According to court documents, Pizarro told officers that he purchased the Springfield from Sam Petro for $300, without a bill of sale.
At the time of the incident, officers allegedly discovered Pizarro in possession of over $9,500 in cash in $20 and $100 bills.
Later that evening, officers executed a search warrant of Pizarro’s Monastery St. residence and found a quarter of a gram of heroin packaged for distribution, just under 4 grams of heroin in an orange plastic container, and two scales commonly used to measure narcotics — one of which was disguised as an iPhone.
Based on street values in Sitka, police estimate the value of the heroin at over $4,000.
Pizarro allegedly admitted to officers that he distributed roughly a half ounce of heroin in Sitka per month.
Pizarro was arrested and charged. He was released on $5,000 bail. Both Pizarro and Petro were scheduled to appear in Sitka Superior Court Monday afternoon (2-3-14) to answer the charges.
It’s easy to argue that the healthcare industry is an important part of Southeast Alaska’s economy. Hospitals are major employers — if not the largest employers — in many of the region’s communities. And then there are other services, such as air ambulances and clinics.
But while some operations are expanding, others are cutting back. And that’s left some medical staffers without a job.
For seven years, Gale Kehres worked in one of the best offices in the world. At least that’s what she’ll tell you.
“I get to see the mountains and I get to see the glaciers, and I get to see animals. We can take pictures if it’s on a leg of the flight that we don’t have a patient,” she says.
Kehres was a flight nurse for SEARHC, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. It was her job to travel with, and care for, patients as they were medevaced to Anchorage or Seattle, either 600 miles northwest, or 800 miles southeast.
But at the end of September, she lost that job.
“They brought us into a meeting in our office and told us that we cost too much,” she says.
SEARHC changed the way it provides medivac services, and its flight nurses were given a choice: Look for a new assignment within the regional healthcare provider, or find a job elsewhere.
“And what I want to do, if I can’t fly, would be emergency medicine. I’ve done critical care, I’ve done medical/surgical nursing, I’ve done supervising and I’ve done day surgery stuff,” she says. ”I don’t really want to go back to those things. I would want to work in emergency medicine. There are no current emergency medicine jobs available at SEARHC.”
SEARHC is arguably Southeast Alaska’s largest private employer, with 836 people regionwide. More than half of those work in Sitka.
But a huge portion of SEARHC’s funding comes from the federal government. Or it did, before automatic budget cuts known as sequestration took effect. SEARHC blames federal cutbacks for a series of changes it has made in the last several months.
It closed its residential substance abuse treatment program. It put an indefinite hold on its community health aide training. Its Front Street Clinic in Juneau was targeted for closure and has only stayed open through independent fundraising.
“You make the hard choices now so the future choices will be more clear-cut,” says CEO Charles Clement.
“When we’re forced to look within to decide what it is that is most in alignment with our core mission and vision, that’s really the struggle. It doesn’t come down to one person making a decision, it doesn’t come down to two people making a decision, it doesn’t come down to people making decisions in haste. It comes down to lots of conversations, and lots of very difficult conversations,” he says.
Clement says the conversations at SEARHC are changing, though … “from what it’s going to take for us to survive, which is the conversation we’ve been having for the last X many months, years, to what it’s going to take for us to thrive. ”
Just a couple miles from SEARHC’s Sitka campus, the picture is a little rosier.
“Our employment has grown 15 percent since 2009.”
Hugh Hallgren is the administrator of Sitka Community Hospital, a 12-bed facility owned by the city. Back then, it had about 150 full-time equivalent employees. Now, that number is closer to 175.
The hospital has emphasized growing its outpatient business and added other services, too.
“Neurology, urology, cardiology. Plastic surgery is a big crowd-pleaser here,” he says.
That’s reconstructive surgery, as well as cosmetic, Hallgren adds.
Comparing SEARHC and Sitka Community Hospital is comparing apples to oranges. They’re funded differently, they serve somewhat different populations, and one is much larger than the other. But still, two hospitals in the same town, with different economic pictures, at least illustrates how hard it is to track the health care industry.
Here’s what we do know: Last year, more than 3,200 people worked in the health care industry in Southeast Alaska. That’s up 4 percent since 2010. And the industry pays out more than $162 million in wages to its employees in the region. That’s also up from 2010, by about 9 percent.
To understand economic impact, analysts look at something called a multiplier. It’s a measurement of where the money goes after it’s been spent in the region. You take ten bucks you made and spend it at the grocery store, which then pays it to one of its employees who then spends it (at) at the drugstore, which… you get the picture.
Jim Calvin is with the Juneau-based McDowell Group.
“We have relatively low multipliers in most sectors of the Alaska economy, because we manufacture very little. All of the food and clothes and furniture and cars we consume are manufactured outside of our state,” he says.
So money leaves pretty quickly. And painting a picture of the exact economic impact of health care on the Southeast economy is very difficult. Still, Calvin says one thing is clear:
“It’s been one of the fastest growing sectors in the Alaska economy for the last 10 years. Will it continue to grow at that pace? Probably not. But we do expect as the overall population increases, and as the senior population in particular grows, that we’ll see increasing healthcare related activity in the economy,” he says.
Now that we know all that, what does it mean for Gale Kehres, the flight nurse we met at the beginning of the story?
“If I can’t get a job here in Sitka, I have a couple options. I can become a travel nurse, or I can move away from Sitka,” she says. “I would rather not move away from Sitka. I really like living here. But if that’s what the future holds, then that’s what I’ll have to do.”
A Ketchikan man who recently moved here from Juneau faces multiple felony drug and weapons charges, on top of charges related to alleged federal probation violations.
According to Ketchikan police, 34-year-old Michael T. Miller was arrested on a federal warrant in early January, but that was after he had been arrested three times for allegedly driving without a valid license. Police say that the first of those arrests came after Miller drove through the side of the Talbots Building on Dec. 31st.
Miller was taken into custody on the federal charge on Jan. 8th at a North Tongass Highway business where he worked and also was living. During the arrest, police allegedly found drug paraphernalia in his possession.
On Jan. 9th, police searched Miller’s business and home with assistance from the department’s search dog, Booker. They allegedly found about 4 grams of methamphetamine inside a closet, along with what police say is evidence of drug sales. Police report that they also found a loaded handgun with a concealed carry holster, and two loaded magazines.
Miller has been charged with four felony counts related to drug possession and sales, as well as felony possession of a concealable firearm.
According to online court records, Miller was served an arrest warrant Monday on those charges while in custody at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau, where he continues to be held without bail.
Luminescence was the theme of the Ketchikan Arts Council’s 28th Wearable Art Show. Dozens of local artists designed 3D creations for models who danced down the runway to music that matched their look.
There were dragons, sea creatures, butterflies, and monsters that glowed in the dark and flashed LED lights.
But what is the process behind the glowing dresses and towering headpieces? Well, here are some the materials the dozens of wearable artists used:
Pop cans, hula hoops, grocery bags, electrical wire, piping foam, peacock feathers, shells, barnacles, dry ice, and zip ties.
“The different things people can do with just basic materials, and most people tend to reuse whatever they have around, and create some amazing things,” said artist Lynn Jorgenson. She used green plastic grocery bags to make Christmas tree-inspired dresses.
Abbie Sweetman is one of the artists who put reused materials to work. Her bio molecule-inspired costume has kitchen utensils and wires wrapped around. She says there were some challenges.
“Making it can be frustrating when things don’t really work out,” Sweetman said. “When you stab yourself with electrical wire or burn your fingerprints off with hot glue, but it’s only by working hard on your costume that it’s more fun showing it off.”
With the hours and hours that go into making these pieces, and the near impossibility of some of them turning out, some artists ask themselves why they do it. Many say it’s addicting.
Anne Froeshle has participated in Wearable Art for seven years. This is her first year modeling her creation, which looks like a spider with cobwebs flowing from its legs.
“There’s gotta be something quite remarkable about the wearable art show if you’re going to spend hundreds of hours working on a piece late into the night, in order for it to be on the runway for two minutes in the show,” she said. “There’s nothing like it. It’s its own art form. It moves, it lives. It’s the fact that you make a creation, then it comes to life.”
It comes to life on a long black runway framed with white lights. Models line up backstage, and as they’re introduced, they stand behind a white curtain, dramatically showing the outline of their costume.
Then, the music starts, and they strut onto the runway
Susuan Heisler stood backstage getting her models, Jessi Minshall and Elizabeth Avila ready. Jessi and Elizabeth were dressed as a candle and a moth. Their performance on stage told a story of the moth’s undying love for the flame.
“What I love is that my models get what’s inside of me, my vision that I saw, they created that on stage,” Heisler said.
Backstage there were many veteran artists, some who have been making wearable art for over a decade. There was also a younger generation of daughters and nieces and grandchildren partnered with their artistic family members.
Jackie Keizer’s nieces, Coree and Nicole Embree, were modeling her creations, which, by the way, were made with thousands of hand-died zip ties. They were luminescent sea creatures.
A few of the artists described the wearable art show as “uniquely Ketchikan.”
“The amount of amazing talent we have in Ketchikan and the artists that we have and how lucky we are to have these people just right here in such a small community is amazing,” Heisler said.
Other communities in Alaska have followed Ketchikan’s lead, and they now have Wearable Art Shows of their own. They include Juneau, Petersburg, and Sitka.
Next year’s Wearable Art theme in Ketchikan is World Beat. Ready artists? On your mark, get set, glue gun!
O’Brien was nominated for and appointed to the volunteer position. She said it’s an exciting opportunity.
“There’s roughly 39 Rotary clubs in our district. What this means is that in the years 2016-2017, I will be there to assist all of those 39 clubs in the various goals that they have,” she said. “It could be community service projects, worldwide projects, membership. Each club is a little bit different; each club has its own personality.”
Ketchikan is home to two Rotary Clubs, and O’Brien is a member and past-president of First City Rotary. The other Rotary in Ketchikan is Rotary 2000.
O’Brien is active in a variety of Rotary projects, including the youth exchange program and training sessions for regional meetings. She works for Ketchikan Public Utilities, and is president of the Ketchikan School Board.
O’Brien said that her goals as district governor are to make Rotary relevant, exciting and surprising.
“Relevant enough to have our Rotarians so engaged with Rotary that it’s one of their top to-do things each week; exciting because that keeps members wanting to be involved; and yet surprising for people that might visit, and to give them that aha moment: ‘Oh, I didn’t know Rotary was that cool,’” she said.
O’Brien said the way to achieve that is through communication, letting people know what Rotary is about and what club members accomplish. She cites the youth exchange program, which sends local students abroad each year and brings students from other countries to experience life in Southeast Alaska.
Rotary clubs also donate their time and funding for local projects, such as improvements to Black Sands Beach State Park; and global projects, such as eradicating polio.
O’Brien said many people initially join Rotary for the camaraderie.
“And then everyone has this Rotary moment, if you will, where they go, ‘It’s so much more than just this weekly club meeting.’ And they become passionate about various projects,” she said. “For me it’s youth exchange. Both my daughters have been on youth exchange, and I love working with the kids.”
Ketchikan’s Rotary 2000 was the first Rotary club in Alaska, founded in 1925. First City Rotary was founded in the mid-1980s.
There are about 34,000 Rotary clubs worldwide, with 1.2 million members.
Jesse Kiehl, Sam Kito III and Catherine Reardon were announced Monday morning as the candidates that Gov. Sean Parnell could choose from to fill the House district 32 seat vacated by democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula.
Parnell has 30 days to appoint someone to the seat, which Kerttula officially resigned from on Friday, Jan. 24.
Maura O’Dell and Kalvin Traudt of the Tongass Community Foods Alliance speak about garden planning during a call-in show. GardenPlan1
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Susan Brawnlyn is offering an Art Aerobics class (6:30-8PM Wed Feb 5, Yaw Art Building, Sheldon Jackson, $15 at the door). She says it’s more than painting to music — it’s a chance to express artistic feelings in a big, uninhibited, messy way.
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Exchange program for Mid-East high school students bridges cultures in post 9-11 world. SEARHC starting eye clinics in Petersburg and Wrangell. Mariculture discussed during Juneau’s annual Innovation Summit.
ANCHORAGE — Commercial and sport fishermen bitterly divided over the allocation of diminishing Kenai Peninsula king salmon returns will take their concerns to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which began two weeks of meetings Friday.
Anglers want restrictions on commercial fishing to protect the livelihood of guides, hotels and other businesses that cater to fishermen seeking to catch a king with a rod and reel.
BREMERTON, Wash. — The Chinese ban of shellfish imports from the U.S. West Coast will continue indefinitely, according to a letter sent by Chinese officials to a U.S. agency.
The letter dated Jan. 23 was sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and raises new question about U.S. health standards for shellfish, the Kitsap Sun reported Saturday.
PETERSBURG — The annual Grand Camp of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood will descend upon Petersburg in early October.
More than 300 Native leaders are expected for Grand Camp, which will run from Oct. 7-11, KFSK reported.
Organizers of the event have asked Petersburg’s borough government to donate space at the community gym for the Grand Camp for out-of-town delegates.
ANCHORAGE — The Army is flying a new bird over south central Alaska — and the pilots sit in the back of a Humvee.
Paratroopers with the 425 Brigade Special Troops Battalion on Thursday trained with a RQ7 Shadow unmanned aircraft system. The remotely operated aircraft are designed to provide reconnaissance for troops without putting observers in danger.