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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking steps to protect hundreds of walrus that have gathered on Alaska’s northwest coast.
Spokeswoman Andrea Medeiros said Wednesday that the agency has begun its protocol to prevent stampedes among the animals that gather in close quarters on remote Arctic beaches. The measures include limiting flights in the area and warning nearby villages to avoid walrus herds.
ANCHORAGE — Nearly every Alaska resident will receive $900 for their share of the state’s oil wealth, a nice sum to be sure, but nowhere near the amount of the checks before the recession.
The amount of each person’s check is based on a five-year rolling average of worldwide markets, which includes the recession years that were more widely felt outside Alaska. This year’s amount was a bit larger than last year, but still far from the record payout of $2,069 in 2008.
2013 PFD amount is $900. Swanson wants to grow Sitka’s economy. Trollers get extension thanks to lots of coho. Fossil of marine reptile near Kake is first complete specimen found in western hemisphere.
Three candidates running for Ketchikan City Council made their cases at a meeting of the area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.
Judith Zenge, who manages the Plaza mall, told members of Ketchikan’s business community that her priority would be to create better paying jobs in the city.
“I would like to see more living wage jobs,” Zenge said. “I have spoken to many voters and they would like to have jobs that don’t qualify for food stamps.”
Zenge acknowledged that while she may not be as knowledgeable on certain issues by right of having never been on the council, she has given herself a six-month timeline to learn as much as possible.
City Council members Dick Coose and Matt Olsen are running to keep their seats on the council.
Coose says that if reelected he will make it a priority to keep the city’s budget in check.
“I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing,” Coose said. “Watch the city government, keep the budget under control, looking at regulations. I think those are the things that are going to keep the city moving forward and keep us stable, because I don’t think our business climate is stable right now. It’s not good.”
Council Member Olsen told the Chamber – to laughter from the crowd – that even though a Democrat, party politics do not come into play on the council. He says that his priority is to improve and repair Ketchikan’s infrastructure while developing a long term city plan for stability’s sake.
“The one common element to a successful economy,” Olsen said, “is steady government. And if your government is doing this, your economy is going to be doing that. The more stable you are, the better off we are.”
The candidates answered questions submitted by those in attendance at the Chamber meeting, though they were generally in agreement on the issues.
They acknowledged the positive role played by the Southeast Alaska Power Agency. Matt Olsen noted that he hopes SEAPA takes control of a potential dam project at Mahoney Lake.
The candidates discussed what is commonly perceived to be the city’s contentious relationship with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.
Council Member Coose said communication with the borough is key, and that good relations can be kept by “not throwing darts” at one another.
Zenge said that she has heard quite a bit from Ketchikan’s voters about negative relations between the two governments. She stressed that potential contentions be brought to the joint Cooperative Relations Committee, which consists of members of both the city council and Borough Assembly.
Olsen said that he personally supports consolidating the borough and the city but acknowledges that is unlikely to happen. Zenge and Coose agreed that the possibility for consolidation is distant.
Elections for the Ketchikan City Council, Borough Assembly and School Board are scheduled for October 1st.
Tune in to KRBD on September 26th at 7pm for a live call in show with the candidates for City Council.
Two cruise ships canceled their scheduled Thursday port calls in Ketchikan due to inclement weather, according to the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau.
Predictions of high winds and heavy rain forced Princess Cruises to divert both the Sapphire Princess and Star Princess away from Ketchikan. The National Weather Service predicts winds of 35-40 miles per hour tomorrow, with gusts of up to 60 miles per hour.
Rick Erickson, operations manager with Cruiselines Agencies of Alaska in Ketchikan, says that cancellations due to weather are not uncommon.
“This time of year? We’ve been lucky,” Erickson told KRBD. “I recall last year the first part of September we were diverting ships all over the place. To be honest we’ve been lucky that we’re in the third week of September and hadn’t had any.”
Erickson says the two ships will continue south past Ketchikan. The Star Princess will make stops at Vancouver and end in Seattle on Saturday. The Sapphire Princess will bypass Ketchikan and continue on to its final destination in Vancouver.
Three other ships are scheduled to make calls in Ketchikan Thursday. The Oosterdam, which was originally scheduled to arrive Friday, will now join both the Westerdam and Zuiderdam.
More people live in Southeast Alaska now than ever before, and the economy is booming, according to a report from the annual Southeast Conference.
The report uses 2010 as a benchmark while evaluating the region’s economic and demographic standing as of last year. It was presented at the annual conference of local leaders happening in Sitka this week.
More than 74,400 people now live in Southeast Alaska — an increase of about 2,800 over two years. That figure surpasses the record set in 1997, and population isn’t the only rising figure.
Harsh winters from 2006 to 2009 on Chichagof Island has taken a toll on the local deer population. The Hoonah Indian Association, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Forest Service are asking hunters to complete surveys this season to help them better understand the population’s health.
Justin Koller is a subsistence biologist at the Sitka Ranger District. Koller said that that deer population on Chichagof hasn’t needed intensive management until now.
Everyone in the Juneau Empire newsroom was surprised when acting Revenue Commissioner Angela Rodell announced that this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend check is $900. Last year’s check was $878 and we all suspected it would be lower.
Reporters and editors made guesses that the PFD would be as little as $675 and as much as $803. Guesses from our readers on Facebook ranged from $650 to $1,250.
The amount of the 2013 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend is $900.
The state announced the annual disbursement amount at a news conference this morning.
Residents must apply to receive the money, which is available to any resident of any age, provided they lived in Alaska for the previous calendar year. (There can also be limitations based on debts or legal issues — check with the state if you have questions.)
For more information on the Alaska Permanent Fund, and this year’s dividend, visit the state’s website.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is still taking a wait-and-see approach to Petersburg’s sea lion problem in the harbors. A NMFS official from Juneau made a brief trip to the community last week to check out the docks and meet with locals about the issue. The borough, this summer, asked the agency to remove at least one large sea lion in the name of public safety. Despite the visit, NMFS is still not ready to take that step. So, Petersburg will continue pursuing non-lethal measures to deal with the situation. Matt Lichtenstein has an update:
“We don’t want anybody getting hurt and I understand that it can be a scary situation for folks and we want to try to work with the community to find a good solution,” says NMFS Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources, John Kurland who helps protect and manage marine mammals for the agency. He recently spent a half-day in Petersburg, visiting harbor facilities and meeting with local officials and some harbor users concerned about one or more sea lions that have shown aggression towards people.
“That was really helpful to hear from people first-hand about what their seeing and what their concerns are. It’s that more than seeing sea lions themselves. It’s that that I was after in coming down here to get a sense from people what their concerns are and in particular what changes they may have seen in the last month or so in this animals behavior.”
It’s been a little over a month since the borough assembly permanently prohibited the discard of fish waste in Petersburg’s inner harbors, though the harbor department posted signs banning the practice earlier….in the spring. The idea is to eliminate the attractant that draws the animals to the docks.
Kurland commended Petersburg for taking those steps.
“I know it’s not a new issue. I know some of the signage has been up in the harbor for a very long time but people are being more vigilant about it now. You know really in the long run I think that’s what’s going to lead to solutions here. I think it’s going to be locally developed solutions, people figuring out what practices will work and just being safe, being smart and not creating these risky situations that might prompt an encounter with an animal,” says Kurland
Around the time it finalized the fish-waste ban in August, the borough asked NMFS to remove an especially problematic sea lion. However, the agency is not willing to kill that animal or any others at this point.
Sea lions are a federally-protected species. The law does allow the government to kill one if it threatens human safety and NMFS has done that before in Petersburg. However, the agency has told local officials in this case it must first see that, “all reasonable efforts have been taken to eliminate food sources for a sustained period of time.”
And, according to Kurland, it hasn’t been long enough since the fish-waste ban was finalized.
“Part of my concern is if one sea lion were to be removed but the sources of food continue to be available, there are plenty of other sea lions out there and the situation could continue indefinitely and continuing to remove sea lions, I think, that’s not a good option in the long run. So, ideally, what would happen is enough of a change in practices that sea lions would stick to their natural sources of food and not associate humans with food and then you reach sort of an equilibrium; kind of a coexistence,” he says.
Many of the animals haul out on the sea plane float near the fish-cleaning station and boat-launch dock in South Harbor. As soon as a boat pulls up to the dock, the animals often show up looking for the fish scraps and carcasses that were once tossed into the water. The large pinnipeds also frequent other parts of the harbor when people clean fish or bait up gear aboard their vessels.
The towns ban on discarding fish scraps was prompted by an increasing number of complaints about sea lions acting aggressively. Complaints continued this summer about one or more sea lions getting up on the docks and grabbing a fish, going after a dog, or harassing kayakers.
Kurland encourages the public to contact NMFS or the borough harbormaster about any incidents.
“In particular if there is behavior that’s really different from normal, inquisitive sea lion behavior but something that people consider aggressive or out of the ordinary. It’s really important to know that, the date that it occurred, and again, if we continue to see a pattern of that sort of behavior following adoption of the ordinance and other measures taken in the community, that would be a signal that maybe further action is needed,” he says.
Along with the steps Petersburg has already taken, Kurland and other NMFS officials have suggested moving fish cleaning stations upland and preventing sea lions from hauling out on the nearby sea plane float.
In the meantime, the borough still wants NMFS to take action to remove one, possibly two sea lions that have been the focus of a lot of local concern.
Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht was among the local officials and residents who met with Kurland.
“We continue to be really concerned that somebody’s going to get hurt. That was asked last night by some of these people. Is it going to take somebody getting hurt before NMFS takes action? You know his answer was ‘No. It doesn’t take that” but they need significantly more documentation before they’re willing to take a lethal approach. You know, that’s disappointing to a lot of folks,” Giesbrecht says.
Giesbrecht says his staff is considering non-lethal deterrents, like firing noisemaker shells at the animals.
“We’re going to potentially go down there and start trying to chase them off the seaplane float with some cracker rounds to scare them…..make it a little less friendly to be down there hoping that if they move off that float they won’t have such a line-of-site to the cleaning float and maybe it will create less opportunity for them to interact with people,” he says.
The floatplane dock is owned by the Alaska Department of Transportation. Spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says his agency is willing to work with Petersburg and NMFS on the issue.
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SHS Wolves Football coach Beau Hedrick, and seniors Lucky Miguel and Jaren Sumauang, talk about the season’s slow start, as good weather and excellent fishing kept many players on the water longer than expected. The Wolves play next this Saturday (Thunder Mountain, 2PM Sat Sep 21, lower Moller Field).
Admission to the Alaska State Museum will be free Saturday, Sept. 28, for the Smithsonian Magazine’s national “Museum Day Live!” event.
To get in, visitors must present a ticket downloadable from the Smithsonian’s event website at www.Smithsonian.com/museumday. There is no cost to download tickets.
There is a limit of one ticket per household, per email address, but the tickets are good for two people. The Alaska State Museum does not charge admission for children.
A small professional development group is offering grants to teachers in Southeast Alaska to get their math teaching endorsements. Dr. Virgil Fredenberg, faculty for the Southeast Alaska Small Schools Math Network and an associate professor of mathematics education at the University of Alaska Southeast, said that the grants are intended to help teachers be better at teaching math.
The classes that are being offered through the network have been developed with the State of Alaska’s new core standards for math in mind.
The Indian Health Service is proposing caps for funding operational costs at tribally run hospitals and clinics. It’s an issue that pits a traditionally underfunded division of the federal government against the tribes it’s supposed to be advocating for.
It’s more expensive to rent a place to live in Juneau now than it was last year.
The average monthly rent in Juneau, including utilities, rose 3 percent over the year to $1,100, according to the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. The state average is $1,119.
Renting difficulty in Juneau is compounded by the area’s low vacancy rate of a mere 3.5 percent. Renting a two or three bedroom place in the capital city is particularly costly, with rates being the third highest in the state for both categories.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the nation’s top energy regulator came under sharp questioning Tuesday from lawmakers concerned that he may be opposed to coal and natural gas.
Republicans and at least one Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee said they believe that former Colorado regulator Ron Binz favors renewable energy sources such as wind and solar over traditional fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
ANCHORAGE — The state of Alaska wants ConocoPhillips to reopen its mothballed Kenai Peninsula liquefied natural gas plant to provide an incentive for petroleum companies to explore and invest in Cook Inlet.
In a Sept. 5 letter to ConocoPhillips President Trond-Erik Johansen, Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash requested that the company apply for a three-year federal LNG export license for the plant at Nikiski, about 70 miles southwest of Anchorage.
This is the third in our series of five profiles of municipal election candidates.
This is not the first time we’ve profiled Aaron Swanson. He ran for Assembly in 2012, and came in fourth.
“What made me run again was basically the public support; people asking me if I was going to run again and telling me that I should,” he said.
Last year, Swanson was a political newcomer, with no experience in city government. That has changed in the last 12 months. He joined the Police and Fire Commission, where he says he was exposed to the public process in a way that’s made him even more interested in serving on the Assembly.
“Last year I wasn’t really involved in the public process,” he said. “This year I’m on a commission and I’ve had a little more input from being on the commission, as to how the public process works.”
And he says he wants to help shape Sitka’s future.
“Right now, the biggest issue for me is probably the economy,” Swanson said. “What’s going to happen with the economy after, say, the Blue Lake dam project is complete?”
The city’s effort to raise the height of the Blue Lake dam constitutes the largest public works project in city history. It’s also brought scores of workers to town, who are spending money in restaurants and stores, and using services that boost the area economy.
As for the Blue Lake project itself, Swanson says it’s short-term pain for long-term gain.
“I’m not super excited when I open my utility bill every month, but that’s to be expected for the amount of money they’re paying for this Blue Lake expansion project,” he said. “Hopefully with the Blue Lake expansion project it can generate any interest from outside groups to come into Sitka and put in some kind of new industry in Sitka, like maybe a nice sawmill that will require a lot of electrical use, and they could hopefully manufacture lumber for building affordable housing here in Sitka.”
Affordable housing is a big issue for Swanson, too, although he says he wants a better understanding of what constitutes “affordable” in Sitka. He worries about the future, especially as it relates to his own kids.
“I have two boys. Jacob is going to be 6 and Jon is going to be 4,” he said. “Jacob just started kindergarten.”
We asked Swanson if he feels they have a future in Sitka.
“The way Sitka is right now? I’m going to say, probably not,” he said. “They’ll probably finish school here and go off to college and go where the money is. I’d like to see them as adults in Sitka, but I don’t foresee that in the immediate future.”
So, how does Sitka boost its economy into the future? Swanson says there are no silver bullets, but that there are little things that can help. Among them, boosting tourism, attracting new industry, and yes, looking at taxes.
“One thing that would help, and I know a lot of people probably won’t like this idea, would be to keep the taxes at 6 percent for the sales taxes, as opposed to dropping it down to 5 percent in the fall and putting it back up to 6 percent in the spring,” he said. “Leave it at 6 percent.”
But that’s not the end-all, be-all of building a secure financial future for Sitka. That, he says, takes a little from column A, and a little from column B — shoring up the city’s revenue and also keeping spending in check.
Aaron Swanson is one of three candidates for Sitka Assembly. Election Day is Oct. 1.
Southeast population, wages on the rise. Miyasato says he won’t avoid hard choices on Assembly. Wrangell lets web users see realtime electrical data. USCG tows fishing tender to Hoonah after engine failure in gulf. Anchorage might establish sales tax.