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Southeast Alaska News
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Newell assumes command of the USCG Cutter Maple in on board ceremony. After two rough years, SEARHC CEO Charles Clement says finances have stabilized. Homeless Connect event shed’s light on Sitka’s invisible population.
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Small bike shelter in Sitka represents a large effort to develop second-growth forest industry. Juneau woman benefits from new insurance available under the Affordable Care Act. Former aide to Kreiss-Tomkins, Kookesh, changes party affiliation to replace Kerttula.
A regional health provider is starting up new eye clinics in Petersburg and Wrangell this year.
The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium will be offering eye exams at the Petersburg Medical Center February 3rd through the 6th. SEARHC is a non-profit consortium of 18 Native communities in Southeast and offers health care services at Mt. Edgecumbe hospital in Sitka along with Juneau Medical Center.
Dr. Pam Steffes said SEARHC has traditionally contracted with other providers to offer services in Petersburg and Wrangell. “The goal really is to bring core health care services, which includes eye care, out to the communities where our patients are, bringing the care as close to them as possible,” Steffes said. “And we have the opportunity to do that with eye care. SEARHC has expanded our eye care providers over the years. We now have four optometrists working for SEARHC throughout the region and that gives us the opportunity to expand and travel out to Petersburg this year and Wrangell as well.”
SEARHC plans a similar clinic in Wrangell in May, and then will be back to both communities in the fall. The plan is to offer the clinics twice a year in both towns.
“You know you think about going in for an eye exam and getting your prescription for glasses but we do also have the ability to do dialated eye health exams, checking for glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, other eye diseases,” Steffes noted. “We can do cataract surgery referrals, just help anybody with comprehensive eye care.”
To schedule an appointment call the Sitka Eye Clinic at 966-8415.
Alaska Power and Telephone is continuing with the complex permitting process for its proposed hydroelectric project close to the Canadian border. Spokesman Jason Custer gave an update to the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
If everything goes perfectly, AP&T could start operating the Soule River hydroelectric dam by 2021. But Custer admits, that’s a very optimistic start date.
To move forward with the proposed dam, AP&T will need a variety of federal permits, plus an amendment to the Tongass National Forest management plan, to change the site’s land-use designation.
Soule River is in Portland Canal just outside of the Misty Fiords National Monument. Locally, the area is called Glacier Bay, and while it’s not technically wilderness, its LUD, or Land Use Designation, is remote recreation.
Custer described what the proposed project would look like once built: “There’s about a 3.1 mile road. The dam’s 260 feet tall. That transmission connection follows the road and turns into a submarine cable. It follows the U.S. border as far as it possibly can before switching to Canadian waters.”
The 77.4-megawatt dam would send all of the power it generates south into the Canadian grid, using a connection through Stewart, British Columbia. AP&T also is working through the Canadian government’s permitting process, and Custer said that adds another layer of complication.
“The thing about the Canada National Energy Board is, even though the processes are unfamiliar, those people are very helpful and very knowledgeable. It’s easy to work with them,” he said. “We’ve just had some preliminary meetings. The biggest challenge so far is that it’s just kind of unfamiliar to us and we’re learning how to work through it.”
Custer said AP&T is the first company attempting to export Alaska’s renewable energy to Canada. He told a story about the risks related to going first.
“When the Corps of Engineers was building dams on the Columbia River, people became concerned about the impacts to fish, and they started putting in fish ladders, and way for fish to get up the dam,” he said. “When they put in the first of those ladders, the corps of engineers guys were sitting at the top, and when the first fish came up, someone grabbed it, bonked it on the head, and mounted it on a plaque, and the plaque said, ‘It never pays to be first.’”
Despite the warning in that parable, Custer said AP&T officials believe the $330 million privately-funded project will be profitable in the long run.
Custer also addressed other potential renewable energy sources in Alaska, and notes that private and public utilities are exploring geothermal, wind and tidal energy possibilities
Southeast Alaska’s developing mariculture industry was one of the topics mentioned during a joint news teleconference Thursday in Juneau, featuring officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Alaska Farm Service Agency.
The news conference was part of Juneau’s annual Innovation Summit, and included Regional Forester Beth Pendleton, Deputy Undersecretary for USDA’s Rural Development Patrice Kunesh, Samia Savell of the Natural Resources Conservation; and Danny Consenstein, director of the USDA Farm Service Agency.
Kunesh focused her remarks on USDA programs in Western Alaska, particularly programs that aim to help rural communities install water and sewage systems.
In his remarks, Consenstein noted that his agency has no employees in Southeast Alaska, but the Farm Service does try to support industry here, including mariculture start-ups.
“We’ve heard this from the people of Southeast that the potential for job creation in shellfish mariculture industry … could help create jobs, particularly in rural areas,” he said. “This is the kind of industry that’s kind of a mom-and-pop. It requires a lot of Alaskan ingenuity and resilience to live in remote area and produce these shellfish, and so the Farm Service Agency has helped through our loan program and other programs we have to try and lower the cost of doing business.”
Transporting materials, for example, can be prohibitively expensive for people trying to set up a shellfish farm in a remote area.
Ketchikan is home to OceansAlaska, which produces some of the shellfish seed used by the state’s mariculture industry. There are oyster and geoduck farms in Southeast Alaska, including remote parts of Prince of Wales Island.
(This story has been corrected. The article originally identified the Farm Service as a state agency.)
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday will consider an ordinance that, if adopted, would require all new-built homes within the South Tongass Service Area to connect to the public water system, if built within 300 feet of a water main.
The ordinance, which is scheduled for introduction only on Monday, also would require existing homes in that service area to connect if sold. But that requirement would not apply if a home were sold to an immediate family member.
According to the borough, the ordinance allows property owners to appeal the requirement if the site makes hooking up to the system impractical.
If the ordinance passes on Monday, it will come back to the Assembly for a public hearing before it can be adopted.
Also Monday, the Assembly has scheduled a public hearing and second vote on an ordinance to spend an additional $150,000 for the borough’s lawsuit over state education funding. That amount is expected to pay for lawsuit-related costs through the end of June.
The Assembly meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan students have made the UAS Chancellor’s and Dean’s lists for the Fall 2013 Semester.
The Chancellor’s List is for students who have earned a 4.0 grade point average while completing at least 12 credit hours. Local students on that list are Tuffina Arnold, Andrew Hoyt, Alexis McColley-Edwardson, Arika Paquette and Adriana Mojica.
Sixteen local students were named to the UAS Dean’s List. For that honor, they must have earned a 3.5 grade point average while completing at least 12 credit hours during the semester.
Those students are Starla Agoney, Yasmine Davis, Holly Filyaw, Sarah Fitzgerald, Mattie Ginter, Samuel Graham, Larissa Greer, Chaix Johnson, Summer Lynch, Tamara Molby, Ciara Rado, Caitlyn Sawyer, Vena Stough, Shauna Thornton, Ann Tyler and Alison Verran.
Fewer people than expected turned out for Sitka’s second annual Project Homeless Connect event on Wednesday (1-29-14), but organizers blame the beautiful weather. About 50 Sitkans received vouchers for goods and services, consulted with health care professionals, and connected with social service organizations. Unlike some places — like downtown Seattle — Sitka doesn’t have panhandlers, or people sleeping on the street, so it isn’t very clear who’s homeless. But, on one day a year during Project Homeless Connect, the community’s most invisible population becomes visible.
Homelessness in Sitka might be inconspicuous, but Stormy is not.
Stormy says, “everything from the base of my skull to my tailbone hurts.”
Stormy is the guy with the long braided ponytail who rides around town on a blue tricycle. He walks with a cane and a limp.
KCAW: What happened to your leg?
Stormy: I got run over when I was 17.
Stormy describes his living situation as “in between.” He says he doesn’t have a home because he’s unemployed, and he doesn’t have a job because it hurts to stand. And since there isn’t a drop-in homeless shelter in Sitka he has to be resourceful.
Stormy: You end up having to either crash or someone’s couch, or you come up with a tent and go out and live under a tree.
KCAW: Is that what’s you’ve been doing?
Stormy: I’ve done that. Yes.
Project Homeless Connect is a one day, one stop shop for Sitkans that also might describe their housing situation as “in between.”
People migrate from table to table collecting information, and receiving on the spot care. There’s a physician seated behind partition ready to prescribe medication, or schedule a doctor’s visit if there’s a shorter term solution that could alleviate pain or discomfort. You can even pick up an identity if you don’t have one. Birth certificates, which are normally $25, have been donated to the event.
“You can’t get a job if you don’t have a social security card and you can’t get a social security card if you don’t have a birth certificate,” says Annabel Lund. “That can seem overwhelming if you’re living in a little tent.”
Lund volunteers with the Red Cross, and holds a seat on the local emergency planning commission. She’s passing out information on what to do in the event of an earthquake. Lund says the biggest barrier for the homeless is not having access to information, as well as other people’s misconceptions.
“Even good hearted people still in the back of their heads think this person is stupid, or a criminal, or even worse: they choose that lifestyle,” Lund says. “Please, it’s a way for you to absolve yourself from having to help in any way.”
Lund volunteers because she feels no one should be homeless in a tight-knit, wealthy community like Sitka. And this event helps shed light on the issue.
Even though it’s only a Band-Aid solution, the recipients say it’s much better than nothing.
Tom says, “They do what they can, but they can only do so much, and what little help they can provide is more than welcome.”
Tom lives out of his truck. He used to drive cab, but lost his commercial driver’s license for two years as penalty for a misdemeanor. He hasn’t managed to bounce back – which he attributes to lack of work and affordable housing options. He’s on long waiting list for housing.
Tom is candid about needing help, but he knows of many others in town who aren’t.
“Most of the people in this position ain’t even here. I don’t know if it’s lack of not knowing about this, or a pride thing,” says Tom. “But there’s also a lot of alcohol problems here in town. And you know, when you’d rather go out and drink then get help…”
This event is designed to empower those that have the courage to ask for help. But, what happens the rest of the year?
KCAW: How do you feel like the community has been doing in dealing with homelessness?
Stormy: Sweep it under the rug. It doesn’t exist. Most people don’t see it as a problem because it’s not them, it’s not affecting them.
In the meanwhile Stormy says he’s battling with social services to get proper treatment for his leg, so that he can turn things around. But, at least for one day he can look service providers in the eye and be heard.
House and Senate Democrats will push legislation this session to expand Medicaid in Alaska.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, told reporters Thursday that expanding Medicaid “makes sense both financially and morally.”
“Congress made a generous offer to the states when it agreed to pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion for the first three years and between 90 and 100 percent thereafter,” he said.
Lt. Commander Michael Newell formally took charge of the Sitka-based Coast Guard cutter Maple today (Thu 1-30-2014), in an Assumption-of-Command ceremony held on the ship.
The Maple is Newell’s first command. He previously served as the executive officer – or second in command — of the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory, which is based in Homer.
Speaking with KCAW before the ceremony, Newell said he’d always wished he’d spent more time in Sitka, and he fought for the assignment on the Maple. He said he’s thrilled to be back in Alaska after a brief assignment in California.
“I want to try to instill in my shipmates that we need to value the experience that we have up here in Alaska,” Newell said. “As a Coast Guardsman you can be stationed anywhere in the world, and not many people get to experience in Alaska.”
“It’s important to me to try to instill in the crew that this may be their only two or three, maybe four years in Alaska, and try to hold onto the memories that they make here.”
Newell took over from the Maple’s executive officer, Lt. Raymond Reichl, who had been serving as temporary commander since October 1.
The Maple’s previous chief, Lt. Commander Fred Seaton, was relieved of command this fall, after the Coast Guard received reports of a “poor command climate” on the Maple, and conducted an investigation. Seaton has been temporarily assigned to Air Station Sitka.
Alaska district commander Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo acknowledged that the ceremony was a new start for the Maple.
“The ship’s been through a lot in the last several months,” Ostebo said. He added that the future of the ship “looks bright.”
Ostebo also used the ceremony to deliver a welcome piece of news to the Maple’s executive officer, Lt. Reichl. After serving as temporary commander of the Maple for the past four months, Reichl has been assigned his first permanent command – as captain of the Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake, based in Everett, Washington. Reichl will leave the Maple this summer.
The CEO of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium says it’s been a rough couple of years, but the organization’s finances have stabilized.
Charles Clement is only 39 years old, but he told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week (1-29-14) that the experience had cost him some gray hairs and about 25 pounds. After taking the top job at SEARCH in early 2012, he had the unpleasant responsibility of reporting a $4-million dollar loss the previous year.interview with media shortly after taking the job, Clement described a rash of problems plaguing SEARCH: issues with vendors, accounts payable, billing systems, and electronic health records. SEARHC has since cut programs, like the Bill Brady Healing Center and its air ambulance service, and restructured its employee benefits.
Clement did not say that every problem was resolved at SEARHC, but he did say that the organization was ready to look outward — and giving a Powerpoint presentation to the Chamber of Commerce was a small step in changing the message.
“I think hopefully you see that our participation is trying to step up and look out to the community about how we might be better partners. And I think through things like this — helping me fix my computer, and get all situated — we have the opportunity to exchange ideas, and develop a message that is sort of cross-pollination of ideas. I’m sure you guys are doing it, but by standing up and saying, Chuck you should do it also, then I’m also on message.”
Clement also discussed the duplication of services in communities, like Sitka and Juneau, where SEARHC is not the only health care provider. It’s been a source of tension in the recent past. Clement said that living in our respective “silos” used to be the norm, but he saw collaboration as the future.
“These are very difficult times to be in the health care business — incredibly difficult times. They are times of great adversity. And the comfort I find is that wherever I go, whoever I talk to, there’s sort of a common interest. There’s no reason for these things to drive us apart. In fact, they should drive us together to find new ways to collaborate, innovate, and not duplicate services within the respective communities that we provide.”
Clement, however, did not rule out the advantages of consolidation, especially in rural health care. Last year SEARHC acquired Sitka Medical Center. He said he receives daily Google alerts about similar moves around the country, as providers try to broaden their base of services.
During Q&A Clement turned to city administrator Mark Gorman and asked him to “throw me a softball.” Gorman, who took the top job in Sitka last October, is the former vice-president of Community Health Services at SEARCH.
Gorman asked, What would help you be successful in Sitka? Clement responded that it was remaining as transparent as possible, and maintaining an atmosphere of collaboration. He said this approach is the key to changing SEARHC’S course.
“I have no desire to repeat the last two years, which was this scramble to put out fires. And it’s incumbent on me to reach out to anybody who will listen and say, By working together we can make sure we don’t put ourselves through this.”
Clement punctuated his address with statistics: SEARHC remains an economic force in the region with annual revenues of about $115-million. It employs about 1,000 people in 18 facilities in Southeast — 500 of whom work in Sitka. The average salary is $66,000 a year.
The School Board meeting Wednesday night marked the first time Ketchikan’s borough management publicly talked with the school board about their lawsuit against the state. As board members looked on, the borough manager used blocks and a ten dollar bill to explain why the borough is suing Alaska over education funding.
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst made a trade with Superintendent Robert Boyle. Boyle gave Bockhorst a $10 bill, and Bockhorst gave Boyle $8.40 in return.
$10 for $8.40? Bockhorst said that’s the kind of trade the Ketchikan Gateway Borough makes with the State of Alaska year after year, but at a scale 2.6 million times greater.
Because of Ketchikan’s borough status, taxpayers are required to fund a portion of the public education system here.
The Borough argues in its suit that the state is shirking its responsibility to fund basic educational need.
Bockhorst held a red block in his hand that represented the money Ketchikan pays each year for basic educational need.
“Ketchikan taxpayers have been forced to pay one hundred million dollars in the past 22 years to backfill the state’s underfunding of basic need,” he said.
Bockhorst says he hopes other boroughs in Alaska will support Ketchikan in the suit.
So far, State Representative Tammie Wilson, from Fairbanks, is the only legislator who has expressed public support. She filed a bill to repeal the local contribution.
After Bockhorst’s presentation, the school board moved on to a discussion of the school district’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget.
One line in the budget board members said would be much discussed going forward is a proposed reduction in the preschool program staff, from eight teachers to five. There could also be cuts to the music program staff, Superintendent Boyle said, but the budget is very preliminary.
“I’m not saying this is a good budget,” Boyle said. “But it feels better than what we have typically.”
Board member Colleen Scanlon said she is not in favor of the preschool cuts.
“What I’ve been told and heard about the preschool restructure right now, I’m not in support of that and I’m gonna want to talk about that more,” she said.
On the proposed school calendar for next year, a five-day vacation is scheduled for Thanksgiving break, instead of the usual three days.
School district HR director Rick Rafter asked board members if they were interested in looking at a potential four-day school week for the middle and high schools, and members said they would like to learn more about the possibility.
Several requests were quickly approved at the meeting. The computer lab at Ketchikan High School will have new iMacs to replace the six-year-old computers there.
A Student Safety Committee, which was the idea of board member Trevor Shaw, was approved.
The board approved a leave of absence for teacher Dan Ortiz, who is running for political office.
And, the policy to boost favor for local bids was adopted.
Federal scientists are predicting a catch of nearly 30 million pink salmon in Southeast Alaska this summer. That’s a little better than the forecast put out last fall by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for a catch of 22 million humpies. But its still not even one third of the record setting catch of 2013.
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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration fisheries scientists compile their forecast based on an annual trawl survey of juvenile pink salmon.
“It’s the peak count in either june or july for a particular year,” said Joe Orsi, a fish research biologist for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau. “They basically have gone to sea for two-three months. And they’ve undergone most of their survival which happens near shore. We’re sampling out in the middle of Icy Strait as all these stocks move past. So we’re getting a sub-sample of the fish as they head out to the ocean.”
In 2012, fishing boats caught over 21 million pinks, when the parents of this year’s run were returning to spawn. Orsi said scientists have started assigning an annual rank for the ocean conditions observed for the outgoing juvenile pinks. That’s based on 17 years of observing other variables like ocean currents, migration timing and predation by other salmon species. Those factors ranked the incoming pink salmon return at number 13 out of the past 17 years.
Federal scientists have been forecasting Southeast pink returns for a decade. Orsi noted the forecast has been close for most of that time. “When we’ve actually made forecasts for the last 10 years, 8 of the last 10 years have been very close, like within seven percent of the actually harvest. This last year was an exception and so was 2006, which was a result of the really poor ocean conditions of 2005. So all in all our forecasts have been pretty good.”
Neither the federal or state forecasts were anywhere near the record setting harvest of 2013. Fishing boats caught over 94 million pinks caught last year, and forecasts were a little more than half of that amount.
On other note for the upcoming season, Ocean Beauty Seafoods does plan to operate its processing plant in Petersburg this year. The facility was shuttered in 2012 after the state ferry Matanuska collided with the cannery building. The company also did not operate the plant in 2010 because of a weak salmon run. That’s not the case for 2014, according to Ocean Beauty vice president of marketing Tom Sunderland. “Certainly the plant’s recovered from the damages that it had. It’s all fine, it’s all running,” Sunderland said. “Everything’s up to speed. And we’re actually hoping for a decent catch in Southeast this year so I think that running the plant will be great for us this year.”
Ocean Beauty and Icicle Seafoods operate Petersburg’s two salmon canneries.
Construction activity in Petersburg picked up a little last year.
The local government issued more permits for building construction and renovations in 2013 than it did the year before.
The Petersburg borough’s building official Leo Luczak compiles the annual numbers. “Well we had over over 2.6 million dollars in new building project evaluations, or values, excuse me, and 86 building permits, that’s up from 64 last year, five new houses, as opposed to two, or maybe it was three the year before and permit revenue was about the same,” Luczak said.
Total value of new buildings constructed in Petersburg last year was over $2.6 million. Some $1.7 million worth of that was in new commercial or industrial buildings, almost nine hundred thousand dollars worth was in new residential home construction.
Luczak expects the construction to continue in 2014. “I think it’s a busy building year once again. I know all the contractors I talk to are booked up. Looks like things are going just fine in the permitting and building aspects.”
Permit numbers in the early part of this century are well below peak construction years during the mid-90s when the city of Petersburg saw several years with over 200 permits issued.
School board member Trevor Shaw gives details. SB013014
You and your family are invited to a garlic-themed potluck for this year’s membership meeting, upstairs in the Sons of Norway Hall.
WASHINGTON — The farm bill moving toward approval in Congress includes a one-year extension of a federal program that compensates rural counties for federal lands they can’t tax. About 1,900 local governments — mostly in the West — received a total of $400 million last year under the program, known as Payment in Lieu of Taxes or PILT.
More than three-quarters of the money went to 12 Western states, with the largest shares going to California, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.
Tlingit-Haida Central Council held its first Native Issues forum at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center Wednesday.
Melissa Kookesh helped organize the lunchtime forums, which are held throughout legislative session. She said the council has held them for at least 10 years and that they’re an opportunity for the community, Native and non-Native, to meet with legislators over lunch.
“We like to break bread with each other and this is a way of breaking the ice, so to speak,” Kookesh said.
ANCHORAGE — Conditions were too unstable Wednesday to clear the only road into the city at the end of the trans-Alaska pipeline, which remains cut off by land from the rest of the state for a fifth day because of avalanches.
Drainage has slowed from a lake formed by one of the slides, and the water is too deep for heavy equipment to pass, the Alaska Department of Transportation said.
JUNEAU — The Senate Education Committee began hearings Wednesday on establishing a reading program for kindergarten through third-grade public school students to meet grade-level expectations.
Sponsor Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, says the bill was not going to be pushed through the system in a hurry in order to give an appropriate time to discuss content and additions.
In many respects, the bill mirrors Colorado’s Read Act passed by that state in 2012.