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Southeast Alaska News
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Hames climbing wall coordinator Blain Anderson, and climbing enthusiasts Tommy Harris and his mom, Patsy, discuss the scheduled grand opening of the new, improved wall on Saturday, March 9. The wall will have areas and routes for climbers of all ages and abilities. For more information visit the Hames Center online.
Mayor Lew Williams III joined us on Morning Edition to discuss last night’s City Council meeting.
He outlined the 2013 capital improvements likely to be made at the Yates Building, Hopkins Alley and elsewhere. The mayor also talked about the latest developments with the soon-to-be-built Ketchikan Skate Park, as well as the Ketchikan Indian Community’s plan to win clear title to the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery.
JUNEAU — Federal spending and resource development drive much of Alaska’s economy but both are threatened as perhaps never before, Alaska’s senior U.S. senator said Thursday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in an annual address to the Alaska Legislature, said years of deficit spending have generated unprecedented debt that jeopardizes the federal government’s ability to meet its obligations. At the same time, she said years of government overreach have limited access to resource development in the state, which could help reduce Alaska’s reliance on federal funds.
JUNEAU — Alaska has moved one step closer to striking “mental retardation” from state laws.
The Alaska Senate on Thursday unanimously passed HB88, which would replace “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” with terms such as “intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
JUNEAU — Lawmakers have begun deliberations on a bill that would require voters to present photo identification when casting their ballots, but one critic said the geography and ethnic makeup of the state would likely make the law unconstitutional if passed.
The House State Affairs Committee began discussing HB3, by Reps. Bob Lynn and Wes Keller, on Thursday. Lynn and Keller serve as the chair and vice-chair of the committee, respectively.
ANCHORAGE — A new management plan for the vast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska splits the Indiana-size area roughly in half between conservation areas and land available for petroleum development, and allows pipelines carrying oil or gas to be constructed through the federal reserve.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Thursday he had signed a record of decision for the reserve west of Prudhoe Bay and south of Barrow on Alaska’s North Slope. He said the balanced approach under the plan was the result of extensive local testimony.
Lawmakers from Southeast Alaska reacted positively to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s address to the Alaska State Legislature Thursday, a speech in which Murkowski sounded familiar themes about energy policy, budget cuts and Alaska’s often strained relationship with the federal government.
Alaska’s senators address the Legislature annually, and Murkowski, the state’s senior senator, was in Juneau Thursday to speak at the Alaska State Capitol and other venues about her work in the U.S. Senate.
“The ATIA is coming to Sitka. I’m excited about this. We’ll be having about 400 delegates, approximately.”
That’s 400 delegates of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, the statewide visitor industry marketing organization.
A typical large convention in Sitka might have 150-200 delegates, and take place in Harrigan Centennial Hall.
Rioux told the chamber she had a different venue picked out for the October gathering.
“We’re able to do all of it on the Alaska Arts Southeast – former SJ campus.”
Sheldon Jackson College closed in 2007 and was turned over to Alaska Arts Southeast – also known as the Sitka Fine Arts Camp – four years later. Rioux says the campus is well-situated for a huge meeting like the ATIA’s, which simply wouldn’t work in Harrigan Centennial Hall. She took a minute to outline the reasons:
The way that our convention areas are set up, they can’t accommodate that large a group. But because the Fine Arts Camp was willing to work with us, the Hames Wellness Center was willing to work with us, we’re willing to hold our general sessions inside the gymnasium. And so all of our general sessions and lunch will be held there. And there will be a trade show that will bring in just under 40 exhibitors that will be exhibiting their products from different locations in Alaska. I know Trip Advisor will be there. That will be held downstairs in Allen Hall. Then there are general break-out sessions every day during those three days where professional development courses are offered. All of those will be held upstairs in Allen Hall. Each of those will have 50 to 75 – maybe up to one hundred – participants.
Rioux encouraged chamber members and businesses to prepare for the arrival of so many guests in town – and certainly not boring guests. Rioux said ATIA members understood the importance of fun.
“This is a convention of 400 people who entertain for a living. We’re in the hospitality industry. So we’re looking to entertain, make sure people have a great time, make sure people have the best of everything we have to offer. And everyone who attends loves participating in those types of things.
Rioux said every ATIA convention had a theme. Sitka has proposed “The Fine Art of Tourism” to celebrate the connection with the campus. She told chamber members that sub-committees had formed to help plan everything from evening activities to gift baskets. She encouraged businesses to contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau with their ideas.
The ATIA annual convention will be held in Sitka October 8 – 10, and conclude just as the Alaska Day Festival is about to open.
Rioux concluded her presentation by screening four short promotional films the Visitors Bureau commissioned last summer. Here’s one of them, from filmmaker Ben Hamilton, with Pioneer Videography.
How many salmon come out of the Tongass National Forest? Someone asked Tongass Fisheries Program Manager Ron Medel that question, and the result was a slide show presentation that he’s given throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
Medel gave that presentation again for a recent Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch.
It’s fairly simple to find out how many salmon are caught in Alaska each year, but the question that Medel set out to answer was a little more specific. He was looking for the percentage of wild, non-hatchery salmon that are caught in Tongass National Forest waters each year.
Not British Columbia fish. Not Southcentral fish. Tongass fish.
Medel found the answer, which is the point of his presentation, but he saved that for the end. Before getting there, he provided some interesting details about salmon in Southeast Alaska.
For example, which of Alaska’s five salmon species makes up the largest share of fish brought to the docks? It’s pinks, by a landslide, and Southeast Alaska lands the most pinks.
“Sockeye come in second, then the chum, coho and king. Just a sliver, a mere sliver of the total harvest, 500,000 plus on average for the past 19 years (are kings),” he said.
When considered by value, though, second-place sockeye jumps the line into first-place, which is why some of the northern fishery areas tend to bring in more money: They’ve got the reds.
That’s all background, though. What about the main question: Tongass fish? Well, just hold on.
“We have to figure where the contributions of these other fish that are not Tongass fish coming from,” Medel said. “So we have to take out the numbers from the Canadian portions of the Stikine, the Taku … and there are some contributions coming from, particularly the far end of Southeast here, the Nass and the Skeena.”
And then there are hatchery fish from throughout the Pacific Northwest, including hatcheries in Alaska.
“In 1980, there were 8.7 million chum released from 8 sites in Southeast Alaska. In 2010, there was 458 million chum released from 19 locations,” he said.
The state department of Fish and Game tracks fish pretty closely, and Medel said that department estimates how many landed fish come from hatcheries versus wild stocks. About 95 percent of pinks are wild.
“On the other hand, 80 percent of the chum right now in the Southeast Alaska harvest are hatchery fish,” he said. “Coho are mostly wild, 80 percent; sockeye mostly wild; kings not even close (5 percent). We just don’t have a lot of king habitat, the big-river habitat.”
So, we’re almost at the answer to the big question. Using studies from Fish and Game, and other research out there, Medel made some spreadsheets, extrapolated data, and…
“That’s the number when you blend it all together: 79 percent of the annual harvest in Southeast Alaska are wild fish from the national forest,” he said.
Following the presentation, one audience member asked Medel about genetically modified farmed salmon, and how that might affect Alaska’s fisheries. He said that escaped farmed fish always are a concern, but another major concern is they will compete in the same market as Alaska’s wild-caught fish.
Alaskans know that wild fish are better.
“But it’s hard to tell that to a consumer, because you go into the Costcos and see row after row of this beautiful, glistening fillet, it’s hard to compete with that,” he said. “It outsells Alaska salmon three to one. And if you have this genetic fish coming on even quicker, it could really put a dip in the market.”
And that could harm Southeast Alaska quite a bit. When you combine commercial, sport and subsistence fishing, the salmon industry in Southeast Alaska has an economic impact that’s just shy of a billion dollars.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration is taking comments through late April on genetically modified salmon that biotech company AquaBounty wants to sell for human consumption. For more information or to leave a comment, go to http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm339270.htm
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Jeff Budd, with the Greater Sitka Arts Council, says now is the time to buy tickets for this year’s Wearable Art Show, Mar 7-8, in Sitka. The event sold out in its first four years. Receptions with the artists follow both shows. Advance tickets at Old Harbor Books. For more information about the ArtiGras Festival, visit the Sitka Arts Council online.
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Sitka High, Mt. Edgecumbe take state titles at Drama, Debate, Forensic meet in Anchorage. Voucher issue, lack of committee referrals create a stir in state capitol. Alaska House unanimously approves resolution opposing genetically-modified salmon.
Federal spending and resource development drive much of Alaska's economy but both are threatened as perhaps never before, Alaska's senior U.S. senator said Thursday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in an annual address to the Alaska Legislature, said years of deficit spending have generated unprecedented debt that jeopardizes the federal government's ability to meet its obligations. At the same time, she said years of government overreach have limited access to resource development in the state, which could help reduce Alaska's reliance on federal funds.
By RUSSELL STIGALL
After its companion House bill passed easily through committee Wednesday, Senate Bill 7, Corporate Income Tax, waits in the Senate Finance Committee after a Thursday hearing. The tax restructuring and relief legislation won't be scheduled for a committee vote until at least Friday.
State and federal officials are holding a meeting in Petersburg today (2/21) to gather initial public input on a proposed road connection between the two communities as well as other options for improving access to and from Kake.
The Federal Highway Administration is just getting started on the environmental impact statement for the project which could accompany a power-line from Petersburg to Kake. That electric intertie is undergoing a separate E-I-S, which is being overseen by the US Forest Service. The draft study for the intertie is expected out sometime this spring.
As part of a story that we originally aired in December, Matt Lichtenstein asked the Federal Highway Administration for an update on the Kake road study, which is well behind the separate study for the intertie.
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“The Kake Access project is only in its infancy. It’s just beginning,” said Doug Hecox, spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration which is the lead agency responsible for the Kake to Petersburg Road EIS.
The Alaska Department of Transportation has already proposed several potential alternatives for road and ferry crossings between the two towns. According to Hecox, those options could change:
“The existing information that the state has put out is useful. But I wouldn’t want anybody to believe that those are the final choices because again the entire process we are about to begin on is to find the best way or the way that the public is most supportive of and it may require some modifications of the existing routes, or the recommended routes.”
The state’s preference for a route on Northern Kupreanof Island has generated controversy because it could end up putting a ferry terminal and road in the heart of the roadless city of Kupreanof, a small community of about 30 people just across the Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg.
Like the intertie, the road would run along Tongass National Forest land. So, Hecox says it will be the Forest Service, not Federal Highways, that will make the final decision on whether the project is approved:
“Our job is simply to make sure the environmental documentation and all the rules ad requirements have been satisfied and that some recommended route appears to be the logical choice for a variety of reasons.”
Transportation, not power is the focus for Federal Highways and Hecox says the agency has been asked to evaluate how to improve access to the very rural community of Kake.
But along with access, road supporters have promoted the project as a way of lowering the cost of constructing and maintaining a powerline.
The State legislature appropriated 40 million dollars for construction of a basic, one-lane gravel road with turnouts on the North end of Kupreanof. That did not include money for the intertie, which has been estimated to cost around the same amount. It also did not include any money for a ferry crossing from Petersburg to Kupreanof Island.
Today’s meeting runs from 3:30 to 6:30 pm in Petersburg’s Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall. Another meeting planned for Kake has been postponed. For more information, you can visit the project website.
Parents can get some help preparing their young children for kindergarten during a workshop tonight at Stedman Elementary in Petersburg. This is the second of three Kindergarten-ready workshops the district is holding this year and tonight’s focus is language. Local educators are encouraging parents with kids from a zero to seven-years-old to take part. Matt Lichtenstein spoke with Elementary School special education teacher Barb Marifern:
The Kindergarten-ready workshop takes place tonight (2/21) from 6 to 7:30 in the Elementary School library. There will be pizza and free childcare at the Petersburg Children’s Center.
Petersburg’s tribally-owned restaurant will be shutting its doors for good next week. That’s according to Petersburg Indian Association Administrator Bruce Jones. He said Wednesday that Seaside House is just not doing enough business to stay open.
“After getting back to work here and looking at the financials for the month of January I have decided and have informed the board that I’m going to close the restaurant effective the first of March. Our last day of operation will be February 28th which is next Thursday,” Jones said.
Jones just returned to work at the PIA in January. He was initially hired as tribal administrator last summer but then fired a couple months later after the Tribal Council, at the time, disagreed with his decision to fire an employee. The council membership has since changed substantially with January elections, a resignation, and an appointment to fill the vacant seat. The new council rehired Jones late last month.
According to Jones, the restaurant has a staff of six.
“You know they’re great employees,” Jones said, “They really worked hard to reduce expenses and our manager came in in September and he did a great job of revamping the menu and getting people to reschedule and getting control of the inventory and that kind of thing. I told the board if we had had him a year ago we wouldn’t be in as bad a situation as we are now. So, he’s done a great job, it’s just the restaurant business is a tough business.”
Jones said Seaside House was just barely breaking even on operations over the last couple of months and has not been able to cover its debt payments for over a year. He said those payments are in excess of eight thousand dollars a month.
“We just don’t have that kind of money floating around. Most of the money that we have comes in on grants that are specific to certain jobs and certain duties and we can’t be using grant money to cover these debts.”
So, according to Jones, it’s time to cut the losses. He expects the building will eventually go up for sale or lease. He plans to discuss the restaurant in more detail with the Tribal Council during its next regular meeting March 4th.
Southeast crabbers are out harvesting Tanner and Golden King Crab. Both seasons opened on February 17th. Tanner boats get six days to fish in the most popular “core” areas and a total of eleven days in the non-core areas.
The Tanner crab stocks are on the upswing in Southeast according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual survey, which is conducted each fall.
“Our estimate of mature male abundance, mature male biomass, was 4.3 million pounds so that was up from the 3.1 million pounds that we estimated in 2011 and the year before that was 2.9 million pounds. So we are seeing tanner stocks in the region abundance trending up,” said Joe Stratman, lead crab biologist for the region.
54 permit-holders registered to fish for tanner crab this year. Those limited-entry boats, which fish with large crab pots, land most of the catch each year. A very small portion comes from fishermen in the open-entry, ring-net fishery. 24 boats are registered to do that this year.
Participation was a little lower last year and the fleet landed a total of 1.1 million pounds, which was the largest tanner harvest in the past eleven seasons. It was worth around 3 dollars a pound or about 3 million dollars total on the docks.
Golden King Crab Fishermen get a total of 590,000 pounds to catch this year. That’s down about six percent from last year. Golden crab is managed differently than Tanner. Instead of setting a season length, state biologists set a separate guideline harvest level or GHL for each of the seven golden crab areas. The GHL is based on data from past fisheries. During the fishery, the crabbers call in their catches and managers shut each area, one at a time, as its GHL is reached. That can be a matter of weeks or more than a month depending on the area.
The GHL’s for the Northern, Icy Strait, and North Stevens Pass areas are down substantially from last year. Catch rates have been declining in those areas, according to Stratman.
“You know I think the intent of these GHL reductions for all three areas is to stop the decrease in commercial fishery catch rates that we’re seeing and to prevent long-term damage to the reproductive potential of the stock. So we thought it was necessary to make those GHL reductions in those areas,” he said.
However, the story is a bit different for the other four golden crab areas known as East Central, Mid-Chatham Strait, Lower Chatham Strait and Southern. Stratman says the Department has been seeing more stable catch rates and other positive data in those areas in recent years. Three of the four saw small increases in their GHL’s this year.
38 boats are registered to fish golden crab this year.
Last year, Golden crab sold for an average of around eight dollars a pound. The 600,000 pound harvest was worth a total of 4.7 million dollars to the fleet.
The Senate Transportation Committee advanced a bill Tuesday to add a 12th seat to the Alaska Marine Transportation Advisory Board, an expansion proponents say will improve local representation for communities on the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island.
JUNEAU — Human trafficking most likely occurs in Alaska, but it is unclear how prevalent the crime is in the state, according to a new study.
The State of Alaska Task Force on the Crimes of Human Trafficking, Promoting Prostitution and Sex Trafficking presented its findings to a joint session of the House and Senate judiciary committees Wednesday. Legislation passed last year called for the creation of a task force that would look at the prevalence of trafficking and prostitution, as well as the services available to help victims of those crimes.