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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — Veterans began filtering into the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center this month as part of a recent deal with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ease medical access.
The overrun Alaska VA Healthcare System sends about 25 new patients to the Midtown health clinic each week, a routine that started March 17, officials said. The clinic is prepping for nearly 2,000 veterans during the next year, said Kimberly Cohen, the executive director of the health clinic. “We’re fine because we have the physical capacity to expand,” she said.
ANCHORAGE — An Anchorage prison inmate convicted of felony assault in the beating of a corrections officer has been sentenced to 19 more years in prison.
James Coven, 27, was near the start of a 199-year sentence for a double homicide when he attacked Corrections Officer Sean Winslow.
According to prosecutors, Coven asked to make a phone call on Sept. 5, 2012. Winslow instead ordered Coven back to his cell at Anchorage Correctional Complex East.
There’s still time to donate to KCAW and help us reach our Spring Goal! We still have a way to go and could use your help now. Please consider making a donation online right now to help Raven Radio continue providing you with excellent and varied programming. This is your community radio station. Keep us alive and well and serving this community for years to come! Click here to donate today!
I was telling our little cat Moe that while our One Day Drive and the preceding week were truly an incredible display of community we are still short of our $85,000 Spring Drive goal. He said, let me help, everybody on the silvernet (his words) loves cats. He said that if we missed YOU, please make your contribution to this community wide effort now! He wants to thank everyone that helped so far…contributing, playing music, answering phones, and doing great radio shows (he listens…and contributes). Thank Mew! (Moe is a Sitka shelter cat and was born with one eye and two radio lovin’ ears!) – Raven Radio GM Ken Fate
What a fantastic day of community participation and financial support so far. 350 people have donated over $61,000 to Raven Radio so far with a bit more to raise before we reach our Spring Drive goal. We appreciate all the support, but if you have not donated yet this Spring it’s not too late. Please call 907-747-5877 or click the donate button. Thank you!
At deadline Friday, a petition to place the chloramine water treatment issue in front of City of Ketchikan voters still was undergoing a review by the city clerk and attorney.
Petition sponsors turned in the petition on Wednesday, and say they collected 622 signatures. They needed 356 signatures of registered city voters. As of Friday afternoon, the clerk was still reviewing the signatures to make sure they fell under those regulations.
Even if sponsors have enough valid signatures, the petition still must make it past a legal review, which likely won’t be completed for at least another week.
If it is approved, the city must schedule a vote on the initiative within two months. The ballot question would ask city voters whether to prohibit the city from using chloramine as a water disinfection treatment.
While the initiative process moves forward, the city continues with plans to start the chloramine system on Monday. The city has been moving toward that process for about 10 years.
A group called United Citizens for Better Water formed this winter to oppose the switch, primarily citing concerns over the possible health effects of chloramine. That group is spearheading the ballot initiative process.
The court challenge of Petersburg’s borough boundaries is not over yet.
The city and borough of Juneau has appealed to the state’s Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the Local Boundary Commission on the northern boundary of the Petersburg borough.
Juneau argues the LBC did not consider the Capital City’s competing claim to land in the northern part of Petersburg’s borough formed in 2013. A superior court judge in February affirmed the boundary approved by the LBC in 2012.
Petersburg mayor Mark Jensen said the latest appeal prolongs the process and will end up costing more money. “It’s unfortunate I think that they did,” Jensen said Friday. “I’m hoping the supreme court will go along with the local boundary commission and the superior court’s ruling. The last appeal to the superior court cost the Petersburg borough 30,000 dollars. So we can only recoup a third of that if you’re on the prevailing side, which we were. So in my mind it’s just a waste of money but I guess it’s just business but I can understand why Juneau would do it I suppose.”
Juneau officials submitted a petition to the boundary commission seeking to annex some of the same territory on the mainland between the two Southeast communities. The contested lands are on the mainland from the middle of Holkham Bay to Cape Fanshaw. Both sides made their case before the boundary commission in May and June of 2012, citing use of the land and water in the contested area by fishing fleets, tourism operators and residents.
Juneau’s appeal to Supreme Court argues the commission violated the state constitution by not considering a competing claim and not allowing evidence that Capital City attorneys planned to present in an annexation petition.
Ketchikan Medical Center was the central theme of Thursday’s Ketchikan City Council meeting, along with some public comment about the ongoing chloramine water disinfection controversy.
Phase one of the long-planned hospital remodel project is about to start, and as with every big construction project – especially those that will take place on the primary road in the middle of the busy summer tourism season — there have been concerns about the impact.
Jim Quick, project manager with Dawson Construction, talked to the Ketchikan City Council during public comment about how his company plans to minimize that impact. He said the only closures will be a parking lane and the sidewalk right next to the hospital.
“One thing I want to make sure everyone is aware of is the norm is that we are not going to be impacting traffic along Tongass Avenue at all,” he said. “All three lanes, both directions and turn lane, will not be impacted during normal operations of the project.”
Quick said there will be some moments during the project when vehicle traffic will be affected because of utility work, for example, but they will be of short duration.
“And we’ll be making every effort to time that on off hours, and periods of low traffic flow, and does not affect busy times of traffic,” he said.
Also related to the hospital expansion project is the relocation of the Ketchikan Alcohol Rehabilitation facility, also called KAR House. The facility is run by Akeela, Inc., a nonprofit that also operates the former city-run Gateway Center for Human Services.
The Ketchikan City Council unanimously approved an agreement with Akeela and PeaceHealth, which operates the city-owned hospital building. In that agreement, PeaceHealth will donate a Washington Street building for use as the rehab center, plus $100,000 to help with remodeling. The city will provide $300,000 toward remodeling the property, and – after an amendment suggested by Council Member Matt Olsen – will waive the usual permit processing fees.
Akeela will pay the balance of the estimated $750,000 remodel. The move is needed because the current KAR House is in the way of the planned hospital expansion.
Following an executive session to talk about title issues related to the hospital, the Council approved a motion to apply for a zoning permit to obtain clear title for part of the property that is in question. They also approved several contracts moving the hospital remodel project forward.
While the issue wasn’t on the agenda, three people spoke during public comment about the city’s plans to start chloramine water disinfection. Bill Hardy said he respects the Council’s commitment to the community, but he doesn’t think the city made the right choice.
“I have listened, researched, become informed, assessed the options and have arrived at my own informed decision on this issue,” he said. “This is my opinion, advice and counsel to you, the mayor, management and Council. I do not think that the city has made its case to introduce chloramine to treat our water.”
Sally Balch told the Council that she and her mother are both allergic to ammonia. And MJ Cadle expressed concern for how the switch will affect people, such as herself and her granddaughter, who are sensitive to chemicals.
Chloramine is a mixture of chlorine and a small amount of ammonia. The city uses chlorine as the primary disinfectant now, but because of high levels of regulated byproducts in Ketchikan’s water, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is requiring that the city make some kind of change.
During Council comments at the end of the meeting, Council Member Marty West addressed the issue. She said she’s concerned that people are so fearful about the switch, and she wants them to know that the Council made the best choice available, based on science.
“I want people to know that we have been listening to their concerns about the chloramine situation,” she said. “We did a lot of work when we were preparing to decide what method to do, because we had to do something according to a federal mandate. We looked at a lot of different options, and this one was the best. It’s proven science. We haven’t taken a cavalier approach to this.”
The Council has been working toward the switch to chloramine for about 10 years.
On Monday, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly will again consider a motion to increase this year’s spending authority for the school district by about $2.4 million.
The motion has been postponed twice because of disagreement over a list of questions submitted by the Assembly. According to a memo from Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst, the questions still haven’t been fully answered, but he recommends approving the request rather than disrupting the school district’s ability to operate.
The main unresolved question centers on an apparent $437,652 disparity between what the district plans to spend and what it expects to receive. In a March 27 written response to the list of questions, school district officials say there isn’t a disparity, if the district’s reserves – unspent funds – are taken into account. The letter also notes that other portions of the budget were not fully spent.
While the School Board is in charge of drafting the school district budget, the Assembly must approve that spending plan.
As with every Assembly meeting, there is time on the agenda for a Board of Education report. The issue likely will come up at that time, as well as during Assembly discussion of the ordinance.
If approved, the school district’s budget for this year will total $44.47 million.
Also Monday, the Assembly will consider a resolution supporting Senate Bill 99. That legislation would authorize bonds to help pay for development costs at the Bokan and Niblack mines, both located on Prince of Wales Island. The Ketchikan City Council recently adopted a similar resolution.
The Borough Assembly meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
Today is our One Day Drive! The station is bursting with music and voices, as we welcome volunteers, guests, musicians, and you! We’ve reached $52,856 in contributions so far – help us meet our Spring Goal of $85,000! Don’t wait - donate now! And THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed so far!
A recent study suggests that current herring populations in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia may be just a remnant of what once existed.
Archaeologist Madonna Moss has studied sites in and around Southeast Alaska for decades. She says that evidence gathered by researchers up and down the coast indicates that herring were once far more widespread –and far more abundant – than they are today.
And, she says, fishery managers should look to the past when making decisions about the present.
Moss is part of a team of scientists who pulled together data from 171 archaeological sites stretching from Yakutat to Puget Sound. They identified nearly half a million different fish bones from the sites, some of which are nearly 10,000 years old.
And what they found was a lot of herring. The team found herring bones in all but two of the sites, and, Moss said, “Herring bones were the most numerous bones in most of the sites. And that was a surprise, because on the northwest coast, if you ask what fish is the most important, people will, of course they’ll say salmon.”
The team found herring bones everywhere: in places where you find large populations of herring today and, more tantalizingly, in lots of places where you won’t find herring today, but where oral histories or place-names imply herring were once present.
“And that is a significant finding, in that it helps illustrate how the spatial distribution of herring has contracted into fewer localities, whereas in the past, herring bones were really widespread in archaeological sites,” Moss said. “So there’s been a spatial constriction of where herring are abundant.”
In all, nearly half of the fish bones collected from the sites were from herring. The team concluded that the only way you’d see that number of herring bones, in that many sites, is if herring populations in the past were far larger, and far more widespread, than they are now.
And that, they argue, should influence how the populations are managed today.
That hypothesis isn’t accepted by many fishery managers. But it aligns with what many in the Sitka Tribe have said for a long time.
“I think that the archaeological work in this case really does support the life experience of people who have been fishing herring and watching herring and collecting eggs for a very long time,” Moss said.
The paper was published in February, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The lead author is Iain McKechnie, of the University of British Columbia. It’s a follow-up to a major project by Moss and other researchers, first published in 2010, that pulled together archaeological data, oral histories, and biological and historical records to try to piece together a map of where herring were known to spawn in Southeast Alaska before the advent of industrial fishing. This most recent paper was in part an attempt to extend that map down the coast, focusing in particular on British Columbia.
Moss says that while many factors influence herring populations — including pollution, climate change, and the rebounding populations of predators like whales and sea lions — she personally thinks that industrial fishing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had a much more severe impact than modern managers assume.
“I think that huge numbers of herring were taken out of the system years ago,” Moss said. “And then there was kind of a lull, and the fisheries recovered, and then the 1970s becomes kind of the baseline that many fishery scientists rely on. And so if you compare the herring numbers to the 1970s, they might not look so bad. But if you go back 150 years, they look pretty paltry.”
Madonna Moss will deliver a lecture on the archaeology of herring tonight (Fri 4-4-14), as part of the Sitka Herring Festival Community Potluck. The potluck will run from 6-9 PM, in Harrigan Centennial Hall.
It’s crisp, crunchy, and salty — and you’ll never find it in a bag in the grocery store. Dipped in seal oil or eulachon oil (hooligan), it is a traditional Southeast Alaskan delicacy that signals spring as surely as a warm, sunny day. But, gathering herring eggs-on-hemlock branches is about a lot more than food.
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ANB Harbor. Stall 10. Small boat on the left. That’s Chuck Miller’s response to anyone looking for herring eggs. Miller has the means to harvest this traditional food in the traditional way. So, sharing the resource is a no brainer. “Food tastes better when you share with people and that’s the way our Native people are,” says Miller.
Like many subsistence fisherman, Miller practices the roe-on-hemlock harvesting method. He invited me to join him and his son, Jay, on a recent harvesting trip.
Miller: We are ready to get some fuel.
EF: With the fuel and everything how much does a trip like this cost you?
Miller: Over 200 dollars easy but it’s worth it.
That includes engine repairs and two trips out to Middle Island. Miller says it’s worth it because he’ll end up feeding at least a dozen people. But within minutes, I learn that he has deeper reasons for the practice. Jay explains.
Jay: The first time I went out I was 6 years old.
EF: Do you remember what that was like?
Jay: Yeah, I went with my uncle Eli my Dad’s brother.
Miller: The yellow buoy that’s on there is my brother’s buoy and my brother’s been passed away now for ten years. He was 5 years older than me. We used to do this together. This is the last of the gear that he had that he used.
As we pull into a cove on the backside of Middle Island the water abruptly changes from deep blue to a milky aqua. That’s what happens when you add a whole lot of fish sperm — or milt — into the mix.
Miller: So it is still spawning in here.
Plastic bottles and milk jugs speckle the shallow water – all tied to submerged hemlock branches. A handful of those have “Miller” written on them in bold black sharpie ink.
He says people have stolen his sets in the past – which isn’t unusual when branches are left unsupervised overnight to gather eggs. As a result he’s mildly apprehensive around other fisherman.
Miller: He’s probably just staring me down because he doesn’t know who I am. But I’m gonna let him get a good look at me because I lived here my whole life.
Miller has a way of diffusing the tension.
Miller: Hey are you taking my sets? Haha! You guys look like you got a good set in!
Miller: K it’s coming up on your side. Right there, right there, right there!
Jay grabs the milk jug attached to his Uncle Eli’s yellow buoy. He clutches the trailing thick rope. Using all of his body weight he wrestles the egg-laden branch to the surface.
Miller: Get it to where you got some leverage. is it moving? It’s probably super heavy?
When its ready to harvest, a branch can weigh well over 400 pounds.
Miller: What we do is clip off pieces of it to get it in the boat. Holy smokes! That’s a good one right there!
Miller hoists the dripping branch into the boat. It’s coated with eggs and looks like it was dipped in a vat of rubber cement.
Miller: See this is the thickness you want, some people get them a little thicker, but not much more than that.
It’s a bountiful harvest, which according to Miller is thanks to his brother’s buoy.
Miller: It’s my good luck buoy and usual that’s the one every year that produces quite a bit it’s like my brother is looking out for us.
He tosses the leftover branch overboard.
Miller:Gunalcheesh! Thank you! We used the tree to help us.
Take away the power boat, and plastic milk jug buoys, and it isn’t difficult to picture this practice taking place long before Western and Native cultures met.
Miller: If i don’t start sharing what I know right away… I might not be here tomorrow.
When we return to ANB harbor, and pull into Stall 10. I realize that gathering herring eggs on hemlock branches is an expression of gratitude. Gratitude for the the teachings of his ancestors, gratitude for food, and the chance to pass on this way of life.
A 38-year-old Ketchikan man faces felony drug charges after police and U.S. Postal Inspectors allegedly found 23 grams of methamphetamine in a package mailed to a home on North Tongass Highway.
Christopher J. Kitsmiller was arraigned Thursday on one count of third-degree controlled-substance misconduct. Sgt. Andy Berntson of the Ketchikan Police Department said the package was discovered by Postal Inspectors when it came through Anchorage on its way to Ketchikan.
“A shipment of approximately 23 grams of methamphetamine was intercepted bound for a residence that Mr. Kitsmiller sometimes stays at, which is a primary residence of one of his family members,” Berntson said. “After that was seized, search warrants revealed the methamphetamine was inside.”
Berntson said authorities allowed the package to be delivered, and Kitsmiller allegedly accepted delivery. After that, police served another search warrant at the home and made the arrest.
Berntson said Kitsmiller had been on the police department’s radar, partly because of prior federal drug offenses, and partly due to more recent information that police had gathered.
Berntson added that Kitsmiller took responsibility following his arrest.
“He’s admitting that it was bound for him,” Berntson said. “That it was his shipment. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Berntson said drug-related paraphernalia also was found and seized during the search. Kitsmiller remains in custody on $50,000 bail. His next hearing is set for April 11in Ketchikan District Court.
The Ketchikan City Council meeting Thursday focused mostly on hospital-related projects, including the relocation of the KAR House. City Mayor Lew Williams III joined KRBD for a recap.
Alaska’s archivists and historians are gaining ground in a fight to keep federal records in the state, but the Anchorage office of the National Archives and Records Administration is still set to close by the end of the year.
On Wednesday, Alaska State Library director Linda Thibodeau told the Alaska Historical Commission that negotiations are under way to keep roughly one quarter of the archive’s 12,000 boxes of records.
ANCHORAGE — Two Coast Guard employees killed while on the job were shot multiple times, a pathologist said during testimony Thursday in the trial of a man charged with murder for their deaths.
James Wells, 62, is accused of killing Petty Officer First Class James Hopkins and civilian Richard Belisle at the Kodiak Island Communication Station in 2012.
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell on Thursday said a House Finance Committee proposal to address the teachers’ retirement system is “immoral” and shifts the obligation to future generations.
Parnell said he wants the proposal removed from his education bill, calling them two very separate issues. The committee added the retirement piece to its rewrite of the bill, HB278. A proposed amendment to pull out that issue failed on a 5-5 committee vote Wednesday.
The bill is scheduled for a vote on the House floor Friday. If approved, it would then go to the Senate.
JUNEAU — The chair of the Legislative Council on Thursday withdrew from consideration the potential purchase of a legislative information office in downtown Anchorage.
Rep. Mike Hawker, the council’s chair, provided details on the proposal during a council meeting last month. It was seen as an alternative to a 10-year lease agreement for remodeled and expanded space, the cost of which critics have questioned.
The most powerful member of the state House of Representatives is working to quickly pass a bill that would allow non-Alaskans to serve on the board the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.
Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, announced Thursday that he will be introducing the legislation today. The AGDC is a state corporation created last year to advance a major liquefied natural gas project.
ANCHORAGE — A Coast Guard investigation says equipment failure, improper placement of a crewman and a Bering Sea swell contributed to the crewman’s death on a rescue mission in southwest Alaska.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Obendorf died Dec. 18 from injuries suffered five weeks earlier on the 418-foot Cutter Waesche (WAY’-shee).
The Waesche on Nov. 11 prepared to tow a disabled fishing boat to port and but first planned to ferry fishermen to the cutter using one of the cutter’s smaller boats.