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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Department of Transportation is considering a Parks Highway route that would bypass Wasilla and help relieve traffic congestion in the city.
Wasilla has long been the center of congestion on the highway, with vehicles passing through traffic signals at local intersections.
Now the state is conducting a study to look at alternative routes to improve the flow of traffic in the area, KSKA reported.
SITKA — Father James Blaney, who served in Catholic churches around southeast Alaska for more than 25 years, has died. He was 76.
Father Peter Gorges said Wednesday that Blaney died of cancer on Dec. 4 in Sitka.
Blaney served as pastor of St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Sitka since 2011 and previously was assigned to parishes and missions across the region.
His service included 12 years as pastor of St. John’s-by-the-Sea Parish in Klawock, as well as time in Haines, Skagway, Hoonah, Petersburg and Wrangell, KCAW reported.
The U.S. Forest Service this month is taking more public comments on a plan to close nine recreational cabins on the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The agency is also proposing to convert three other cabins to three-sided shelters. Officials say the structures are not maintained and hardly used. In addition, other recreation sites on the Tongass could be considered for closure in the future.
For mobile-friendly audio, click here:
The Forest Service says it’s not able to cover the costs of operation and maintenance for the 152 recreational cabins on the Tongass and is proposing to close nine of them. An environmental assessment document published in November outlines the agency’s plans.
“These particular cabins that are being looked at in this document are ones that may not have been used for the last 10 years,” said Victoria Houser, recreation planner on Prince of Wales Island. “They haven’t even been on the reservation system some of them. Like a tree hit one of them and is completely knocked down. These ones are kind of the obvious ones that if we get rid of them hopefully it’s not going to be a huge change to the cabin system in general.”
The nine are proposed for removal are the Beaver Camp, Checats Lake and Red Alders cabin near Ketchikan, Binkley Slough at the mouth of the Stikine River near Wrangell and DeBoer Lake near Thomas Bay on the mainland north of Petersburg. Also on the list are Maksoutof Lake and Rezanof Lake cabins on southern Baranof Island south of Sitka, Square Lake near Yakutat and McGilvery cabin in the Karta Wilderness Area on Prince of Wales Island. Houser said that McGilvery cabin is an example of one cabin that’s no longer safe. “It’s terribly full of black mold because the skylight in the top is broken out. It just gets wet and disgusting in there and it’s not healthy to stay there. And it would cost a lot of money to replace it.”
The agency estimates it would cost $1.8 million to replace those cabins as well as others proposed for conversion to shelters. Rental fees from the cabin program forest-wide each year total just over 300-thousand dollars. Meanwhile, the agency has a backlog of maintenance work, from stocking wood sheds to cleaning out pit toilets in all the forest’s remote cabin locations. The budget for the Tongass cabin program this past year was $1.3 million; that’s been dropping and is expected to continue shrinking.
Houser said the agency’s budget and location of the remote structures also enter into the decision. “A lot of the ones that are in this document aren’t being used at all so they aren’t bringing in any fees and also they’re hard for us to get to. They’re really remote and really expensive to fly to so those things all compound and make these ones difficult to keep up and with our declining budget hard for us to maintain them.”
The nine cabins would have metal and glass removed and then either be burned, or left to rot into the forest floor.
The forest service says it has received comments from the public seeking to keep the Checats Lake Cabin near Ketchikan. Other comments supported keeping cabins in wilderness areas to provide for health and safety, according the environmental document.
In addition to the nine proposed for removal, three old structures are proposed to be rebuilt as three sided shelters. Those are the Harvey Lake cabin on Woewodski Island south of Petersburg and the Big Goat Lake cabin is on the mainland east of Ketchikan. Both would be removed and replaced with three sided shelters. In addition, the Distin Lake cabin on Admiralty Island was originally a three sided shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936. It’s listed on the National Register of historic places and has been modified with a wall added to make it a four-walled cabin. The plan is to convert it back to a three-sided shelter.
Beside those changes, Houser said other cabin closures or conversions could be coming. “We are going to have to look at removing other cabins it’s likely in the future based on the fact that our budgets continue to decline. So we wanna make sure people are thinking about, although we looking specifically in this document at these 11, these 12 cabin locations and these nine removals, we are thinking in a more broad sense into the future of what’s gonna come next.”
The decision on these 12 sites could be out sometime in 2014 from the Forest Supervisor. The agency already had one public comment period on plans to close the cabins in 2012.
This second comment period ends January 2, 2014.
For more information on the proposed cabin removals, click this link:
The email address to submit comments is email@example.com
(Editor’s note: this story has been corrected with an ending date for the comment period of January 2, not December 20 as first reported)
Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker swung through Ketchikan Wednesday, speaking to the local Chamber of Commerce. Walker’s talk focused on his current job as general counsel to the Alaska Gasline Port Authority rather than his campaign, but he did stray a couple of times into politics.
Walker said his first stop in Ketchikan is always the shipyard.
“I get so excited because we don’t make stuff in Alaska. Except here,” he said. “When I brag about Ketchikan I say, ‘My frustration with the state of Alaska is that we play all defense; we don’t play any offense.’ Ketchikan plays all offense, no defense.”
Walker played offense a bit, as well, during his presentation, pointing out what he characterized as Alaska’s errors when it comes to developing the state’s natural gas.
Walker said he worked with various consultants and researchers to learn whether there was a viable and profitable market for Alaska’s natural gas, and the simple answer was: Yes.
He said the largest market for our natural gas would be Asia, because it’s a straight shot over the ocean. And we could provide it at a lower cost than anywhere else. Walker said it could add up to $419 billion in state revenue over the next 30 years. He said the problem is that state officials didn’t move forward with proposals submitted by the port authority and by Asian companies.
“Not a single one of the companies got a call back,” he said. “They contacted me and said, ‘We do these things all over the world and never had a non-response to our letters of intent.’ Obviously, there’s something really wrong with us.”
Walker said the state appears to be waiting for the big oil companies — Exxon, BP and ConocoPhillips — to do something with the natural gas, but it’s been 35 years.
Walker also talked about the state’s oil tax structure, which was amended last session through the controversial Senate Bill 21. Walker opposes SB21, because, he said, it doesn’t make financial sense for the state, and it no longer provides incentive for exploration.
“There used to be an exploration credit. We’ve taken that away,” he said. “Now it’s all associated with production, so we’ve really rewarded those that are already there, doing what they do on the legacy fields, but we really haven’t gone after specific fields, the heavy oil. We should target the heavy oil, the shale oil. It’s like if we were going duck hunting, we just fired a shotgun in the air blindly, hoping a duck’s flying over.”
Walker said Alaska needs to be less patient with oil companies, to make them develop the fields, as specified in their leases. He said the new oil tax structure will not lead to more oil in the pipeline, but it will lead the state toward deficit spending.
Walker is running as an independent candidate, which means he won’t face a primary challenge. He will be on the general election ballot next November.
Another gubernatorial candidate is due to visit Ketchikan soon. Byron Mallott, former director of the Alaska Permanent Fund, is running as a Democrat, and he’ll make a campaign stop next week.
A fault in the power line from the Swan Lake Hydroelectric Dam triggered Wednesday’s systemwide power outage, according to Andy Donato of Ketchikan Public Utilities Electric Division.
At deadline, the cause of the fault was still under investigation, but Donato guessed it was the result of a landslide or a tree falling into the line.
The late-morning power outage was relatively brief, lasting around 30 minutes for most KPU customers.
With the recent approval by the Borough Assembly, Petersburg’s expanded recycling program could start as soon as February. Once it’s up and running, residents will be able to mix or co-mingle all types of recyclables in one city-issued bag for regular, curbside collection. It’s a free service but residents who choose not to recycle will see a 20 percent rate hike for the lowest level of garbage collection. Those who do recycle will avoid that increase. The changes are aimed at substantially increasing recycling efforts in order to lower the borough’s expenses for shipping garbage out of state.
Public Works Director Karl Hagerman has been working to implement the new, co-mingled, recycling program. Now that it’s been approved, Matt Lichtenstein asked Hagerman what residents should expect and when they should expect it:
For mobile-friendly, downloadable audio, click here.
To sign up for recycling or to get more information, contact Petersburg Public Works at 772-4430.
Most halibut charter boat operators will be working under a new regulatory system next year. They expect their clients will get to keep fewer fish. But they’ll also be able to purchase the opportunity to keep more.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just announced it will implement what’s called a catch-sharing plan starting next year.
It covers charter halibut fisheries in Southeast and central Gulf of Alaska waters, known as regulatory areas 2-C and 3-A.
Julie Speegle is a spokeswoman for NOAA Fisheries.
“The halibut catch-sharing plan is designed to provide fishery managers with greater precision in setting halibut catch limits and management measures. Those management measures then can be more responsive to changes in the halibut biomass and fishing effort,” Speegle says.
The current system sets a guideline harvest level for the charter fleet. Officials say that failed to prevent overfishing as the charter sector grew.
The new plan instead allocates that fleet a percentage of a combined catch limit, which also includes the commercial harvest. Commercial fishermen have long been regulated by such limits, which rise or fall each year depending on the estimated size of the halibut population.
Heath Hilyard is executive director of the SouthEast Alaska Guides Organization, a regional charter-fishing coalition. He says the plan will have an impact on his industry.
“And this year, even there’s been an uptick in abundance in area 2C, it’s still going to translate into somewhere in the neighborhood of about a 30,000-pound decline in our overall allocation for 2014,” Hilyard says.
That’s about a 4 percent reduction.
Hilyard says the catch-share plan will affect central gulf charters – from Southeast’s Cross Sound to the far end of Kodiak Island — more than those in the Panhandle.
“We’ve already taken a fair number of hits over the past four to five years. So they’re now facing today what we were facing five years ago,” he says.
For instance, Southeast charter clients have been limited to one halibut a day instead of two since 2009.
The catch-sharing plan has been on the table for years. It’s bounced back and forth between regulatory agencies and the courts – and continues to have critics.
Commercial fishing groups have pushed for the plan as a way to scale back the charter catch.
Kathy Hansen is executive director of the Halibut Coalition.
“The halibut catch-share is a compromise that was developed. And it’s as good as the commercial sector’s going to get for an allocation that reflects the abundance of the halibut resource between the two sectors,” Hansen says.
The plan also includes a provision allowing individual charter operators to expand their clients’ catch.
Linda Behnken is executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.
“The catch-sharing plan includes a mechanism for transfer between sectors that allows a charter operator to lease a small amount of halibut quota from the longline quota shareholder to offer more harvesting opportunities to a client who may want to harvest a second fish when there’s a one-fish bag limit in place,” Behnken says.
The plan will take effect at the start of 2014.
Read earlier reports:
- Halibut sharing plan out for public comment
- Catch sharing plan allocates Southeast’s coveted halibut catch
- IPHC staff present potential limits for 2014
The Ketchikan City Council is wrapping up its annual series of budget review meetings this week, with special sessions Wednesday and Thursday, although City Mayor Lew Williams III says he’s optimistic that the reviews will wrap up tonight.
Both meetings start at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.
With a couple of last-minute add-ons, Wednesday’s meeting should mark the end of the Council’s review of the draft 2014 general government budget. After that, the seven-member body will start on next year’s spending plan for Ketchikan Public Utilities.
Up for a vote are some grants to be added to the city’s Museum, Police and Fire department budgets. But a big item is about $360,000 to replace the leaky roof on the downtown Centennial Building. After those items are discussed, the KPU budget review can begin.
Once the Council is done reviewing both budgets, members traditionally offer amendments to modify those documents. A final vote on the budgets must take place before the end of this month, which means the Council has until its regular meeting next Thursday to complete the process.
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Assembly approves 6-percent moorage hike on first reading. Final application for chinook mitigation fund to close in early January. Herring seiners will target over 17,000 tons in the Sitka Sound Sac Roe fishery in 2014.
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Mt. Edgecumbe wrestlers Moses Jackson (Jr-Kwethluk), Daniel Alexi (Sr-Mt. Village), and Trevor Creed (Sr-Kotzebue) discuss their team’s championship performance at the Region V Wrestling tournament over the weekend. Mt. Edgecumbe captured the regional title for the third straight year in a row. With coach Mike Kimber.
ANCHORAGE — A prisoner attacked at the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward is in critical condition at an Anchorage hospital.
The Anchorage Daily News reports 48-year-old Forrest Ahvakana was injured Friday night. Alaska State Troopers say in a written statement that charges are pending against another inmate in the attack.
Ahvakana was taken to Alaska Regional Hospital. The hospital didn’t list a patient by that name Monday, but a spokeswoman says inmates are often placed in confidential status.
JUNEAU — Former state Rep. Harry Crawford is considering another run for the Alaska Legislature.
Crawford didn’t specify an office in his recently filed letter of intent but tells The Associated Press he is choosing between state House and Senate.
Crawford served five terms in the House before mounting a failed bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young in 2010.
In 2012, Crawford lost the Democratic primary for an Anchorage Senate seat to then-Sen. Bettye Davis. Davis ultimately lost the seat to Eagle River Republican Anna Fairclough.
ANCHORAGE — A 27-year-old woman has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in the death of her nephew, who died of injuries suffered while she was babysitting.
Christina Moua of Anchorage was sentenced Friday in the death of 6-month-old Caiioun Xiong.
Prosecutors say he was shaken and dropped. He suffered a fractured skull, broken collarbone and other injuries in May 2010.
The Anchorage Daily News reports Moua in June pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter. Prosecutors dropped a second-degree murder charge.
FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Department of Transportation is testing a piece of equipment designed to crush ice on highways.
The tool, a Raiko Icebreaker, was used for two weeks on Fairbanks roads and is headed to Anchorage for two weeks of tests, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
“It’s definitely a tool we’re looking forward to using more,” said Dan Schacher, the state Department of Transportation’s maintenance supervisor in Fairbanks.
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell says he doesn’t see the state Legislature taking up the issue of same-sex marriage anytime soon.
Parnell was asked Tuesday if he believes the state needs to revisit the issue, in light of recent court decisions and actions by other states this year, including Hawaii allowing same-sex couples to marry.
He said he didn’t think so.
Parnell says the issue was already dealt with in the state constitution. In 1998, Alaska was the first state to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
JUNEAU — The Alaska Redistricting Board is seeking a final judgment approving use of its latest map in upcoming elections.
Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy last month accepted the board’s plan, saying it met constitutional standards.
Plaintiffs in the case, including two Fairbanks-area residents and the Alaska Democratic Party, decided not to appeal. Board attorneys, in seeking a final judgment, say the plaintiffs also did not ask McConahy to reconsider his decision by a recently passed deadline.
The cost of keeping a boat in Sitka’s harbors will likely increase next year – by about 6%. The Sitka Assembly voted to raise moorage fees at its regular meeting on Tuesday night (12-10-13) – and the increase is probably the first of many.
It currently costs $2.64/foot per month, to keep a boat moored permanently in Sitka’s harbors. That’s about $32/foot, per year.
The Sitka assembly voted on Tuesday night to increase that by 6.15 percent, to $2.80/foot per month, or just under $34 per year.
The increase would go into effect on January 1, 2014.
That means that a 45- foot boat would pay about $7 more per month in 2014: $126, up from $119 this year. In total, that boat would pay $1,512 in moorage fees in 2014, $86 more than this year.
The increase would bring in about $86,500 in additional revenue, according to city finance director Jay Sweeney.
Sweeney and public works director Michael Harmon said the increases are necessary to fund maintenance, services, and major improvements at the harbors. And to keep pace, the fees will have to keep increasing, every year for the foreseeable future.
“If the rate increases don’t continue for the next five years at 6.15 percent, you’re then faced with either borrowing more money to pay for that infrastructure, or delaying those projects farther out into the future,” Sweeney said. “[You're] taking the risk of even greater costs or some type of a substantial infrastructure failure.”
The city had initially proposed a much higher increase – the initial plan called for rates to increase by 28% next year. After local fishermen protested, city staff proposed the current, lower numbers.
But commercial fisherman Matt Donohoe said even the new numbers are too high.
“It’s getting very hard for a small boat fisherman to maintain their business in Sitka,” he said.
Donohoe said that boats might look elsewhere for cheaper harbors, pointing out that neighbors like Pelican or Hoonah already charge significantly less than Sitka. Hoonah, for instance, charges $19/foot per year; Pelican charges just $12. For comparison, Sitka’s rates come to about $32, per foot per year, before the increases.
“There are a lot of small boats in this community that are talking about leaving,” Donohoe said. ” I know that there’s probably no way to keep moorage rates from going up, it’s the way of the world. But there is a point in this curve where you will drive the fishing fleet away from this town. You may not think so, but, you will. You have to remember that.”
Sweeney and Harmon said the city doesn’t have a choice.
“No one likes price increases, but we have to consider what the alternative is and what the risk is of not attending to repairs when they’re needed,” Sweeney said. “I’ve asked the question myself, as a layman, what is the worst case scenario?…The worst case scenario, which is, infrastructure breaking apart and moving around in a storm with boats moored to them. And that is what we greatly fear.”
Several assembly members said they thought that the comparisons to other harbors were misleading, suggesting that other cities have the same infrastructure needs as Sitka, and will also have to raise their rates.
Assembly member Mike Reif said that even if that’s not the case, he doubted the math would work against Sitka.
“Being a commercial fisherman, I do spend just a bit of time under transient moorage in Pelican and also in Hoonah,” Reif said. “And I know, whatever I’m saving if I had a permanent stall there, would evaporate immediately when I try to fill up my fuel tank there, because it’s a dollar a gallon more. And if I could buy food in some of those communities it would be even more than the high cost of Sitka.”
“So, it’s the whole package, the cost of doing business in these communities. They can have the good harbor rates, but, boy, my wallet is a lot lighter when I leave those communities than it is in Sitka if the rates are higher.”
In the end, city officials and assembly members seemed to agree that larger increases might be necessary in the future. Phyllis Hackett spoke for most of the assembly when she said, “I think if we can get where we need to go at 6.15% increase, we are pretty darn lucky. ”
The assembly voted unanimously to raise fees for 2014. The ordinance requires a second reading and vote before it goes into effect.
JUNEAU — For one Alaska city, it’s not rain, sleet or snow that’s affecting mail delivery. It’s a broken postal sorting machine that has prompted officials to fly letters and packages more than 200 miles away to be separated and flown back for delivery.
That has left Ketchikan residents to complain about mail getting delivered up to five days late.
ANCHORAGE — The sale on eBay of a city-owned vehicle used by Sarah Palin when she was mayor of Wasilla is causing a stir in small-town politics: One official says the current mayor is trying to fatten city coffers off Palin’s fame, and the mayor says “guilty as charged.”
The city of Wasilla, north of Anchorage, auctioned off a 1999 Ford Expedition with 74,188 miles used by Palin before she became a household name. A Fairbanks woman won the SUV on Nov. 27 with an online bid of $10,300, about $8,000 above its estimated value.
ANCHORAGE — A commuter airplane that crashed and killed four people outside the southwest Alaska village of Saint Marys had diverted course because of deteriorating weather, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Hageland Aviation Cessna 208B Caravan with 10 people aboard was bound from Bethel to Mountain Village on Nov. 29. The pilot changed course before reaching Mountain Village and headed for Saint Marys about 20 miles away.