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Southeast Alaska News

It’s not too late!

Mon, 2014-04-07 12:56

The White Rabbit might have been late for a very important date, but there is still plenty of time for you to support Raven Radio if we missed you during our One Day Drive! We are behind last year’s pace and we need to hear from the almost 200 members that haven’t renewed yet. You can make your contribution online, or call 747-5877 weekdays during business hours. Thanks to those who have already contributed!

MS Walk and info

Mon, 2014-04-07 12:16

Lauren Munhoven shares her experiences being diagnosed and living with Multiple Sclerosis.  She and Jay Rhodes give details about the upcoming Walk for MS.  MS040714

Here is a link to the website http://walkwas.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Walk/WASWalkEvents?fr_id=22849&pg=entry

Update: Sealaska dividends include no earnings

Mon, 2014-04-07 11:35

Sealaska CEO Chris McNeil Jr. addresses Juneau’s Native Issues Forum April 2, 2014. The corporation’s spring distribution includes no operating revenue. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

The Sealaska regional Native corporation does not appear to be making much – if any – money. Its spring distribution to shareholders, which is basically a dividend, includes no corporate revenues.

Sealaska distributes payments to its almost 21,600 shareholders twice a year. In recent years, they’ve ranged from about $400 to around $1,100.

The money comes from three sources. The largest is a pool of all 12 regional Native corporations’ resource earnings. Another is Sealaska’s permanent fund. The third is profits from the corporation’s businesses.

“Usually there are. This year there isn’t any operating revenue included in the formula,” says Chris McNeil Jr., president and CEO of the Juneau-headquartered corporation.

He won’t say why Sealaska has no revenues to contribute. But he says the information will be in the corporation’s annual report, due out in May.

“I can’t really provide any details on it until we publish. And we’ve done that traditionally to make sure there is no miscommunication about what is being transmitted to shareholders,” he says.

Hear iFriendly audio 

“Sealaska is so opaque. They don’t really share much about their finances,” says Brad Fluetsch, a shareholder who runs a Facebook page highly critical of Sealaska. He’s also founder and managing director of Fortress Investment Management LLC.

He says even the annual reports lack detail. Earnings and losses are reported in sectors, so the reader often can’t tell which individual businesses are making or losing cash.

Still, Fluetsch says Sealaska’s board was honest when it approved a distribution without corporate revenues.

“I’ll give them kudos for that because that did take some effort on their part. Now what they need to do is hire a management team that can make that zero go away and actually turn it into a positive number,” he says.

McNeil is retiring this summer and the search for a replacement is underway.

This spring distribution totals about $12 million. It gives most shareholders $721. But others receive only $57.

The difference is that pool of resource earnings. McNeil says the biggest contributor is the owner of Northwest Alaska’s Red Dog Mine.

“At this point, NANA is the principal distributor. But cumulatively, Arctic Slope has distributed more revenue than any other corporation,” McNeil says.

Sealaska was a major contributor before its timber subsidiary starting running out of trees.

Most shareholders also belong to a smaller, community-based Native corporation.

Those getting the $721 payment also own stock in Juneau and Sitka’s urban Native corporations. Those receiving $57 are shareholders in a village corporation, from Yakutat to Saxman.

“The portion of the funds that go to tribal member shareholders who are enrolled to village corporations goes to the village corporation. And then the corporations board of directors is entitled to decide whether or not some or all of those funds will be distributed directly to their tribal members shareholders or to retain them in the corporation,” McNeil says.

There are several other classes of shareholders.

Those only holding Sealaska stock get the full $721. Descendents of original shareholders receive the lower amount of $57. And elders get an extra $57 on top of whatever else they receive.

All the amounts are based on ownership of 100 shares. That’s the most common number. But some shareholders have more, or different types, of stock due to gifting or inheritance.

Read last year’s annual report.

Sitka’s greenest businesses

Mon, 2014-04-07 10:32


Listen to iFriendly audio.

Michelle Putz with the Sitka Global Warming Group discusses the eight Sitka businesses receiving green business awards – and why they qualify.

Mon Apr 7, 2014

Mon, 2014-04-07 10:21


Listen to iFriendly audio.

The latest issue of “Sitka Trends” shows a rebound in retail sales, unemployment, and personal income, paired with a decrease in the price of housing rentals. Sealaska’s spring distribution to shareholders does not include corporate revenues. The city and borough of Juneau has appealed to the state Supreme Court to reverse a decision on the northern boundary of Petersburg. “Once Upon Alaska” is a new kids photobook by Nick Jans and Mark Kelley.

‘Trends’ report shows economic upswing in Sitka

Mon, 2014-04-07 07:00

SEDA director Garry White is most concerned about “leakage”: the money that leaves Sitka through internet sales or industrial activity that could occur locally. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)


Sitka’s economy is continuing to tick upwards, based on statistical data.

The latest issue of Sitka Trends shows a rebound in retail sales, unemployment, and personal income, paired with a decrease in the price of housing rentals.


Listen to iFriendly audio.

Garry White is the director of the the Sitka Economic Development Association, which publishes the Trends newsletter.

Gross retail sales in Sitka jumped $10-million between 2011 and 2012. White is careful about trying to read too much into that statistic.

“I’d attribute it to a couple of different things: The Blue Lake project was just kicking off then, and you’ve got contractors in buying lots of local stuff. And we have other construction projects happening around town. And inflation’s a part of it too. We’ve got increased gas prices, and groceries have gone up some.”

The increase in retail sales has meant an increase in sales taxes collected by local government — $400,000 more went into city coffers in 2013 than in 2011.

Unemployment has also decreased — a full percentage point since 2011. It stands now at 5.1-percent. That’s over two points below the national average.

But the statistic alone doesn’t tell the full story: The Department of Labor reports Sitka’s workforce has also decreased over the past two years — by over thirty employees.

That, plus small bumps in prices, says White, means that things may not be all that great for Sitka’s wage earners, regardless of the overall numbers.

“You look at little jumps and you don’t realize what a percentage that is. For instance, the Sentinel went from $.50 to $.75 — that quarter doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s a 50-percent increase. If you used to buy something for $1 and now it’s a $1.25 at the grocery store, that’s a 25-percent increase. Over a volume, those percentages add up.

Happily, per-capita income is up in Sitka, by over $1,000 from last year. And a bright spot — at least for consumers — is the cost of housing. The market for rentals is down over 8-percent. An efficiency apartment in Sitka now goes for $790, down from $860 last year. And there are corresponding decreases for larger units.

Buying a home in Sitka, remains an expensive proposition, though the average list price for single-family has come down by almost $150,000 over the last two years.

Despite the closure of a couple of key retail locations, Sitkans appear to be spending more disposable income on entertainment venues. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Again, White is reluctant to perform too much analysis on a limited set of data. But, like the rest of us, he can observe things happening in the community that aren’t quantified by government. He talks about a conversation he had recently with city finance director Jay Sweeney.

“What’s the barometer of how the economy is doing in Sitka? Is that the downtown retail stores are flourishing? The fish plants are jam-packed? Is it all the different construction jobs? It’s hard to manage. And one thing that he had brought up was that you can look at these events: Last weekend we had the Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet — sold out. The Roller Derby bout — sold out. A number of different entertainment venues: the Wearable Art show a couple of weeks ago — sold out. So people are going out and spending money with disposable income. Yet we’ve got empty downtown retail shops.”

White says empty stores are a symptom of his biggest economic concern: “leakage.” He says shopping local — and developing local industry — are both critical to keeping more money in Sitka.

Money for The Road? Alaskans weigh in

Mon, 2014-04-07 00:03

The final funding allocation for a proposed road out of Juneau that would effectively connect the capital city to the rest of the state should be known this week.

The revised capital budget bill, SB119, which initially included $35 million for the Juneau Access Project — $5 million in state funds, and $30 million in federal dollars — will likely be revealed early this week.

With less than two weeks left in the regular session and the updated budget not yet public, Alaskans chimed in on the governor’s proposals Thursday and Saturday.

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House Resources version of gas-line bill takes shape

Mon, 2014-04-07 00:03

JUNEAU — The House Resources Committee version of a bill to advance a major liquefied natural gas project was starting to take shape Saturday, as members dug into a thick stack of proposed changes.

The committee, with a reputation for finely parsing language, was making slow but steady progress in an amendment process that began Friday. The panel planned to resume work Sunday, after making a slight dent in the stack after hours of meeting Saturday.

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Soldotna tobacco shop goes viral in smoking ban debate

Mon, 2014-04-07 00:02

With a smoking ban bill in both the Alaska Senate and House of Representatives, Lucky Raven Tobacco owner Patricia Patterson took a different approach to express her disagreement to lawmakers.

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Ketchikan students get a taste of Japan

Mon, 2014-04-07 00:02

KETCHIKAN — The 27-year relationship between Ketchikan and Gero-Kanayama, Japan, continues to hold strong.

Students from Gero and Kanayama middle schools visited Ketchikan during 10 days in March to take part in the annual education exchange. Former Ketchikan resident Tony Hatano-Worrell served as chaperone for the eight students, making this his seventh year serving as chaperone in the program.

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Double Rock Band to perform at Alaska Folk Festival

Sun, 2014-04-06 08:00

Double Rock Band practices their set for the Folk Fest in the Sperl living room, April 3. Photo/Angela Denning.

The Alaska Folk Festival in Juneau brings together hundreds of musicians and fans every year to celebrate live music. The musicians come from all over Southeast Alaska and beyond and are of all ages. One of the very youngest groups is from Petersburg–the Double Rock Band–but as Angela Denning reports, although they’re young, they’re not new to the stage.

The Double Rock Band is made up of three Sperl siblings and a friend. The Sperls live on a little family farm about a 20 minute drive south of Petersburg.

When you walk in the front door, three violins are hanging on the wall at eye level. So, not surprisingly, there’s live music coming from within the home. But if you didn’t know better, you might think adults are jamming out…instead of kids ages 11 to 15.

The song that’s playing is about a bear, “Old Slough Foot”, and it’s the band’s favorite to play.

Kelsa Sperl, 15, sings while Erin Pfundt, 14, accompanies her on the bass. Photo/Angela Denning


“That one’s fun,” says Kelsa Sperl, “all of us have a part in it. It’s upbeat and funny.”

At 15, Kelsa is the oldest in the group and kind of the de facto band leader.

“This will be our third time going to Folk Fest,” Kelsa says. “Both with the Fiddle Heads the last two times, so this will be our first time going by ourselves without lots of other people on stage so it’s going to be kind of exciting.”

The Fiddle Heads was another, much larger youth band in Petersburg, which had up to a dozen members.

These four have been playing as Double Rock Band for less than a year, practicing about twice a week. Besides Kelsa, there are her two brothers, Koren who is 13 and Kole who is 11 and they all play with their friend, Erin Pfundt who is 14.

Koren has focused on the guitar since he was six. The other three started out on the violin. Erin has since moved on to the upright bass and Kole, the mandolin.

Kole Sperl, 11, plays mandolin in the Double Rock Band. Photo/Angela Denning


Kole: “I just taught myself the mandolin two years ago I think it was but I started fiddle when I was six and then I started piano a year ago.”
Angela: “So, between the fiddle, the mandolin, and the piano, do you have a specific passion in there or are they all the same to you?”
Kole: “Um, I like the fiddle and mandolin a lot better than piano.”
Angela: “And do you know why that is?”
Kole: “Because they sound better.”

So, with all the musicians under the same roof, where’s the music coming from? I ask their mother, Tausha Sperl.

“You know, we don’t really exactly know where the music’s coming from because it’s not really coming from Donald and I,” Tausha says, laughing.

But these days, the band and the parents agree, they’re pretty committed to music now. Here’s what the band members have to say about why they like to play:

Koren Sperl, 13, plays guitar in Double Rock Band. Photo/Angela Denning


Erin Fundt: “Once you get good enough to play in a band, it gets really easy. Whereas, when I was younger, you have to learn all the songs. Now, though, when I play with the Sperls, I know a lot of the songs so it’s a lot more easy and you can have fun.”
Kelsa Sperl: “It’s nice to hear your instrument make a good sound, once you know how to play it, you know. And then, especially playing with other people and like, my brothers and Erin, it’s cool because we can make so much, like sound, with just four instruments. It’s really fun.
Koren Sperl: “Well, I like it because you can actually make music and it used to be, you know, you just kind of listened to people playing music whether it’s up on stage or in the car or on a CD or something, you know. I guess I always thought when people are playing this music on a CD or whatever that there has to be this big orchestra but just like, I think that maybe Kelsa mentioned that, it’s fun just because even with a little bit of instruments, you know, if you know how to play them you can make things really sound good so I like that.”
Kole Sperl: “Yeah, well, they all kind of took my ideas but one of the things that I like is when I hear a song on the radio or I just remember a song that I heard then I can look it up on a website or something and print out the music and look it up on youtube and listen some more and then I can actually, if it’s an easier song, then I can actually learn it. So that’s really fun to do that. Even if it’s a hard song, then if it doesn’t sound very good with just like plucking then Koren can play the guitar for me while I play it on the mandolin and it sounds really nice like that.”

The Juneau Festival runs April 7-13.

The Double Rock Band plays Friday night at 10:15 p.m.

They will be followed by Petersburg singer songwriter Scott Hursey at 10:45 p.m.

Nicole and Alec McMurren—Mc2 (M-C-squared), also from Petersburg, will perform Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

KRNN in Juneau is audio streaming the entire Folk Fest, and video streaming each evening at krnn.org

Heroin ranks low among health priorities in Alaska

Sun, 2014-04-06 00:07

ANCHORAGE — Some states, including Alaska, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what’s happening in Alaska:

The problem: Heroin is a relatively small problem in Alaska, falling below issues the state considers public health priorities, including obesity, tobacco use and public water system fluoridation.

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'We're all paying:' Heroin spreads misery in US

Sun, 2014-04-06 00:07

On a beautiful Sunday last October, Detective Dan Douglas stood in a suburban Minnesota home and looked down at a lifeless 20-year-old — a needle mark in his arm, a syringe in his pocket. It didn’t take long for Douglas to realize that the man, fresh out of treatment, was his second heroin overdose that day.

“You just drive away and go, ‘Well, here we go again,’” says the veteran cop.

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Minimum wage may get booted from ballot

Sun, 2014-04-06 00:07

Alaska’s minimum wage workers may get a $2 raise over the next two years without having to take a vote. Just don’t expect backers of the August ballot initiative to be happy about it.

Lawmakers in Juneau proposed a bill Friday, HB384, that mimics the intent and much of the language found in the ballot imitative, and the similarity is no mistake.

Under state law, if the Legislature enacts a “substantially similar” piece of legislation to a ballot initiative poised for a vote of the general public, that initiative is removed from the ballot.

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Elected AG bill overruled by others

Sun, 2014-04-06 00:07

It is unlikely — albeit still possible — that lawmakers in Juneau will send a constitutional amendment before voters that would make Alaska’s Attorney General an elected position.

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, is the primary sponsor of the resolution, HJR18. He told the Empire Friday that other bills such as the gas line legislation (SB138) and omnibus education bill (HB278) have taken precedence over the measure.

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Education supporters rally amid funding talks

Sun, 2014-04-06 00:06

More than 150 students, teachers, parents and other Alaskans chanted “BSA! Raise today!” on the steps of the Capitol Friday as the House of Representatives considered the merits of the omnibus education bill.

Dubbed the “Education Session” by Republican Gov. Sean Parnell earlier this year, the governor’s education reform bill has stayed center stage since the Legislature convened two and a half months ago.

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Rocking Out in Seattle

Sun, 2014-04-06 00:05

Seattle’s musical roots go deep. Vibrant, cutting edge and independent, true revolutions in sound were born in the city—the home of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Bing Crosby and Macklemore. Grunge is one of the city’s claims to musical fame, but the musical history isn’t entirely summed up by guitar feedback and distortion pedals—Ray Charles came up in Seattle, as did Jimi Hendrix and the ladies of Heart. To explore the city’s music heritage—and to find a few of the lesser known spots tied to Seattle’s rich musical history—check out the ideas below!

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Ouzinkie reservoir drained after breach

Sun, 2014-04-06 00:03

OUZINKIE, Alaska (AP) — A small Spruce Island community is relying on large, expensive generators to provide power and drinking water after a breach at the Mahoona Lake dam.

Officials in the community of Ouzinkie are racing to find funding to replace the dam.

The state Department of Natural Resources forced the level of the reservoir lower last year because of rotting wood.

Now, heavy storms late last month forced the city to drain the reservoir.

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Wife of missing Mount Marathon runner sues

Sun, 2014-04-06 00:03

ANCHORAGE — The wife of a 65-year-old Anchorage man who disappeared while participating in the 2012 Mount Marathon extreme mountain race in Seward has sued the organization that hosts the yearly Independence Day event.

Peggy LeMaitre is seeking a $5 million settlement in her lawsuit against the Seward Chamber of Commerce, saying the organization showed outrageous conduct and was negligent in its duty of care toward her husband, Michael LeMaitre, and herself.

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Sign of spring: Geese arrive in Fairbanks

Sun, 2014-04-06 00:03

FAIRBANKS — The first two Canada geese of the season have been spotted at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Fairbanks, a sign of spring for winter-weary residents.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported the geese were seen Friday morning, a couple hours before a swan appeared in the Chena River just downstream of the University Avenue bridge.

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