Are you ready to be part of the Flash Mob performance during the first 2 Cruise Ship visits of...
Submit and View KHNS Postings
From Our Listeners
Thanks to our Generous Underwriters, Sponsors and Grantors
Southeast Alaska News
Individuals from across the state, including a 92-year-old Juneau woman who recently retired from more than two decades of regular volunteering at Johnson Youth Center, were guests of honor at the Governor’s Mansion Friday, where they were honored by Alaska’s first lady as “Volunteers of the Year.”
Earline Smith and six others, including a volunteer firefighter and an Alaska State Trooper who provides clothing to homeless children, had a luncheon in their honor and were recognized at a small ceremony in the ballroom of the gubernatorial residence in downtown Juneau.
HOMER — Small businesses and small, as in “young,” business owners are the driving force behind Lemonade Day, a national event that occurred Saturday. Joining the million kids in 100 cities across the nation, Homer’s participants are not only smart-minded when it comes to developing their businesses, but are warmhearted when it comes to their earnings.
The Sitka Assembly has taken its last informal look at the 2014 budget, and is ready to move on to a vote.
The assembly met in a third-and-final work session Thursday night (5-9-13) to go over the $25-million General Fund — the account that pays for all city services that don’t charge their own fees, like utilities.
The balanced budget with a $38 surplus is gone, but so is its author, former city administrator Jim Dinley.
Under the guidance of interim city administrator Jay Sweeney — who is also Sitka’s finance director — the assembly gave that balanced budget a reality test, with mixed results.
Before moving to the General Fund, the assembly gave the hospital budget a quick check-up. Admissions are up 18-percent, outpatient procedures up 42-percent, emergency room visits up 13-percent, and 21 babies delivered so far this year, with 23 more on the way.
Hospital CEO Hugh Hallgren worked hard to temper his enthusiasm.
“We don’t want to confuse the illness of the community with the success in the hospitals. Believe me, that’s not the way we think. What we’re thinking is that we’re providing services that mean people don’t have to leave Sitka to get their health care somewhere else.”
This is a significant contrast from the not-too-distant past. Assembly member Mike Reif remembered.
“It wasn’t too many years ago the community was questioning whether it was a viable institution to retain. It was a burden to the city. Under your leadership and the team you’ve put together, there are a lot of compliments coming from me, and from what I hear.”
Halgren called the hospital’s a “Good News Budget.”
Over the next four hours, the news was not quite as good, as the assembly began to dissect a budget that had been balanced to $38 on the day former administrator Jim Dinley left his post last month (April 2013).
First problem: Hiring a new administrator is expensive: $30,000 to recruit and interview candidates, and fly the finalists and spouses to Sitka. Throw in $25,000 for moving expenses, and the budget is in now showing a deficit of $50,000 just to replace the person who wrote it.
Second problem: The school district submitted a budget $67,000 in the red, hoping the assembly might cover it on the better-than-likely chance that Secure Rural Schools funding will be reauthorized in Congress.
There was consensus on the assembly to cover the shortfall in the schools.
But these increases, in a budget of over $25-million, don’t really matter that much. In the words of assembly member Thor Christianson, statistically speaking, “the budget is still balanced.”
Dig a little deeper, and there are bigger concerns. For instance, public works director Michael Harmon has only $200,000 next year to repair and maintain Sitka’s roads. He’s got $313,000 to totally replace two streets. The grand total for roads is half of what Harmon already considers insufficient.
“We’re usually around $1-million. This year combine the two together, we’re at $513,000.”
Harmon said the actual figure to sustain Sitka’ existing street program was more in the neighborhood of $3-million.
The budget was starting to look a lot less balanced to Mike Reif.
“I think we as an assembly have to start asking the serious questions. There are lots of needs. The school is a big need, a very important need. Do we want to go back to gravel? Do we want to tell our citizens? That’s the question we have to ask. We have to be honest with them. We just can’t keep inadequately funding our infrastructure and say we’re balancing our budget. We’re not. We’re fooling ourselves.”
The gap between need and budgeted amount was not limited to roads. Phyllis Hackett was upset that the Community Development fund — the money distributed to local non-profits — was only $120,000. She thought the amount was embarrassing considering the size of the social service network the city relies on.
Jennifer Robinson, executive director of the Sitka Chamber of Commerce, felt the same way about the Sitka Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. She read a resolution asking to boost that organization’s funding to $350,000.
The assembly also identified unmet needs in the Police Department, and some accounting that didn’t seem to add up in Search and Rescue — a $9,700 charge to the internal service fund for information technology services. Basically, a computer network.
Assembly members Phyllis Hackett and Thor Christianson objected.
Hackett – And it doesn’t even seem like they have a place to have that infrastructure physically.
Christianson – They’ve got one laptop, and it isn’t even connected to a network.
Hackett – I think that’s something that’s really misrepresented.
By the time the assembly had reached consensus on adjustments to the budget that they felt were critical, Mike Reif pointed out that they were now in a $500,000 deficit.
Despite four hours of work, members seemed resolved to be more straightforward about the realities of the problems facing Sitka.
“We need to be a lot more creative in either funding, or finding ways to save. Whether that’s combining our maintenance with the schools, combining administration — something. We’re going to have to figure it out, because we’re going to continually get these requests from the schools, the Historical Society, the SCVB, everybody. We’re not getting better. We seem to continually take the dive down. We’re not going to get there this year. We have to be a lot more strategic, and a lot more bold.”
And this is Matt Hunter:
“Our budget is unsustainable. I agree. We can make ends meet next year, but it’s at the expense of future years. I think any leftover money we have beyond these necessities we’re talking about we need to save. Infrastructure sinking funds are a good idea; reserves are a good idea. But this summer and next year I really hope we can have another visioning session. It’s the only time we’ve looked at the future. Because all of us are so busy. Our meetings take four or five hours, and we just don’t have time structured currently to deal with these long-term issues. Maybe we need a long-term planning commission? That’s off the point — I’m just saying we need to change how we operate to face these problems.”
Interim administrator Jay Sweeney called the work session a “first long pass” through the General Fund. He said the Finance Department would try to incorporate some of the assembly’s suggested changes, and present a budget for action at the group’s next regular meeting on Tuesday May 14.
Your strong support of KFSK is greatly appreciated. Due to sequestration KFSK had to increase our local fundraising activities this year to balance our budget.
High school graduation is a big deal. It marks the end of adolescence and the beginning of a newfound independence. On Thursday, May 9, Mt. Edgecumbe seniors graduated from the state-run boarding school while families and friends watched from the auditorium at the Sitka Performing Arts Center. Here’s an audio postcard that highlights some of the memorable moments of the students’ speeches.
Two Ketchikan residents and a local group were honored Wednesday during the annual Delta Kappa Gamma Red Apple Awards.
The recipients are Karen Taylor, Bob McClory and the Ketchikan Younglife organization.
Taylor has been involved as a Girl Scouts volunteer for more than two decades, including as a troop leader, camp counselor and cookie manager.
McClory, a school counselor, was honored in part for the time he has volunteered to organize the state Distinguished Young Women scholarship competition, which takes place in Ketchikan each year.
Ketchikan Younglife participants volunteer their time to work with local teenagers, getting to know them and building positive relationships.
The local Delta Kappa Gamma chapter focuses on distributing books to children and adults, and providing scholarships for local students. Its Red Apple Award program started in 1999 as a way to honor volunteers.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Hames Center director Cindy Edwards and Americorps Volunteer Garrett Bauer discuss Family Fun Day, 2-4 PM Sat May 11. The climbing wall, bouncy castles, and the new Sitka Fire Dept. ladder truck will all be on hand. Learn more about Family Fun Day and other programs at the Hames Center.
Representatives from the Pacific Science Center joined us to talk about Science Olympiad Night, formerly known as Da Vinci Night. The event will be held at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences.
The Petersburg Borough will not fund the Thomas Bay Power Authority this coming year. The Assembly this week voted not to approve the organizations 2014 budget. The majority of the assembly believes those costs should all be covered by the Southeast Alaska Power Agency which owns the hydro-electric plant that TBPA operates. Matt Lichtenstein reports:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
BETHEL — A former Bethel police officer is fighting charges that he was drunk when he showed up armed to assist another police officer at a crime scene.
KYUK-AM reports Samuel Symmes, now employed as a police department dispatcher, is contesting two counts of driving under the influence and one count of weapons misconduct. Symmes and his attorney, Myron Angstman, contend tests performed on blood samples taken from Symmes were not accurate.
ANCHORAGE — Former state probation officer James R. Stanton already has served jail time for targeting vulnerable women in his basement office at the Nesbett Courthouse downtown.
Now he’s facing a rash of civil lawsuits that accuse him of sexually preying on far more women than the three victims in the criminal case. The suits also target the state of Alaska, which employed Stanton. The suits contend the state either knew or should have known of his misconduct and failed to protect the women.
OGDEN, Utah — Nearly two decades passed between the brutal sexual assault of a 92-year-old Utah woman and the arrest this week more than 2,000 miles away of a man police say raped and beat her, leading to her death.
The arrest came in small-town Alaska almost 20 years to the day after Mae Odle’s 1993 killing in Ogden.
Cruise ship wastewater discharge does not harm fish habitats in Alaskan waters, and that will not change under a new law passed earlier this year that relaxes restrictions on the industry, the director of the Alaska Division of Water said at Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Michelle Bonnet Hale made her pitch to a largely receptive audience that included many local businesspeople, saying that Alaska’s standards for cruise ship wastewater treatment are already as high as they can realistically be.
John Kanarr didn’t know how his life would change when he took a job on the ferry Taku.
The able-bodied seaman was working on tugs in Puget Sound, but looking for something better.
“I got a phone call from the union hall one day. And he says, ‘Hey … I’ve got a job for you up in Alaska.’ He says, ‘Come to the union hall and we’ll talk it over.’ ”
“So I hopped into the pickup, and up to Seattle I went from Tacoma. And when I came back that afternoon, I had an airplane ticket for Pan Am the next morning … to go to work at 1 o’clock the next afternoon on the MV Taku. “
“So I went from here to there. And I’m still there.”
Karaar was interviewed by Kelli Burkinshaw of 360 North TV during an anniversary sailing of the ferry Malaspina. (See clips from a 50th anniversary documentary series.)
The marine highway system was part of Kanarr’s life for nearly 35 years. It’s where he met the woman he would wed.
“My wife likes to say this, that the Alaska State Ferry System was the original Love Boat,” he says.
He says lots of other crew members also met their spouses there, even what he calls the “bachelor skippers.”
“The socializing while you were on board the ships was a lot closer than where you work or in your community in a lot of cases. Because you have one common thing together, because you’re on the ferry to start with. And you’re all going in the same direction.”
And it wasn’t just people.
Kanarr tells a story from the ‘60s, before the days of security checks and guarded loading ramps.
He says sometimes, while sailing north, a cocker spaniel would get on board in Wrangell and get off in Petersburg.
“And at first we though it must be with one of the passengers, taking the dog ashore, walking him and bringing him back.”
He watched as the dog came and went, sometimes sailing north from Wrangell, sometimes south from Petersburg.
“I told the terminal agent in Wrangell and he says, ‘Yeh, he’s doing that all the time.” I say, ‘What’s the deal?’ He says, ‘He must have a girlfriend up there.’ ”
Kanaar started with the ferry in 1963. And after three decades, he started making plans to retire.
But then, he got to talking with a young deckhand who was new to the job.
“Finally he says, ‘You know, you worked with my dad. And I says, ‘Really? Who is you dad?’ “
“A few days later we got to talking again and he says, ‘You worked for my grandfather.’ And I says ‘I did what?’ And he says, ‘Yeh, my dad was telling me that you worked for his dad when he went to work for the ferry system back in 1963.’ ”
“And it made me a little unsettled. So I’m thinking, ‘I’ve been here for 34 years. I was going to work 35. But maybe I should just quit now and go out on top of the pile.’ “
And he did.
On a beautiful, sunny, calm, warm day, a tour boat left downtown Ketchikan, headed toward Misty Fiords National Monument. That’s not an unusual occurrence, especially during summer, when Ketchikan is a stopping point for thousands of tourists traveling on huge cruise ships. But this tour boat had no tourists on board. It was full of tour guides.
For the past half-dozen years or so, the U.S. Forest Service’s Ketchikan-Misty Fiords Ranger District has offered an educational program for tour guides. The program used to take place at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, in a closed auditorium. Last year, though, they and tour company Allen Marine got together to offer a more hands-on way to learn about Misty Fiords, one of the area’s most popular destinations for summer visitors.
Lorelei Haukness is a wilderness and recreation specialist with the district. She says about 10,000 visitors see the monument annually by floatplane, alone. That doesn’t include those who visit by boat. Boats like the St. Nona, the large, fast-moving catamaran taking the tour guides out to Misty. She’s one of a fleet of ships operated by Allen Marine, which employs quite a few local residents as interpreters, or naturalists, both terms that basically mean tour guides.
“I’m definitely looking forward to all the information. I’m new to the area and I just want to learn about the nature that surrounds us. That way I can answer any questions any of the passengers have. I don’t know them myself, so it’s better to get them from the experts.”
She has the right idea, taking notes. There was a lot of information. Too much to retain from memory alone. The talks started out with Silviculturalist Sheila Spores, detailing all the different trees on the Tongass.
“The most common tree found on the Tongass is Western hemlock,” she said. “So, 75 percent of the trees are Western hemlock. So if someone asks you what a tree is, three out of four times you’re going to be right if you say Western hemlock.”
Then geologist Jim Baichtal gave an overview of the area’s geologic history. He talked a little about a recently discovered volcano, which blew its top about 8,000 years ago in an area that’s now under water.
“The problem from a geology point of view is: ‘How do you get a geologic feature that erupted in atmosphere in the bottom of a 1,000-foot-deep fjord?’” he said. “Sea level had to be at a much lower level.”
Speaking of volcanic features, Baichtal also described how New Eddystone, a volcanic plug and one of the iconic features of Misty Fiords, remains essentially uneroded.
“The plug, where the lava came up, it was better cemented together, so it could survive wave action, and the flank material couldn’t,” he said.
Once the St. Nona motored into Rudyerd Bay, the boat slowed down and everyone, tour guides, experts, reporters, stopped what they were doing and just looked. Misty Fiords was designated a national monument for a very good reason. It’s beautiful. Sheer rock walls jut nearly straight up from the water; streams of snowmelt cascade down the cliffs, where birds fly back and forth from their nests, built into crevices in the rock face.
Spores was one of the gawkers up on deck, and true to her calling, she exclaimed over some of the trees that somehow found a way to grow on a rock wall.
“They lost the lottery on location,” she said, shaking her head at the trees. “(But) they have a good view.”
Before heading out of the monument, Captain Eric Lunde slowed down so everyone could
take a good look at a faded pictograph, a picture painted onto the rock face by the area’s original inhabitants.
On the way back to town, the presentations resumed, with information about some of the area’s wildlife. Melissa Cady is a bird expert with the Forest Service, and she was taking her first trip out to Misty Fiords. She walked the tour guides through some basic birding.
Ron Medel, a fisheries manager, wrapped up the presentations with details about Tongass salmon.
As the presentations wound down, retired Ketchikan Public Library Director Judith McQuerry exclaimed over the information provided.
“The opportunity to get to be on a tour with people who are the premiere expert in their field, you just can’t beat that,” she said.
McQuerry is one of this summer’s tour guides. She’s going to be a “relief naturalist” for Allen Marine.
Speaking of nature, right on cue, as the ship headed out of monument waters, a humpback whale, perhaps on contract with the tour company, popped its head up a couple of times, then sounded, giving a great view of its tail flukes before disappearing into the deep.
For those science fans out there, KRBD will have more on that recently discovered underwater volcano that Jim Baichtal mentioned.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board met in regular session last night. It was a productive session in terms of policy, but the citizen comment portion of the meeting grew heated.
Family members of a teacher at the Ketchikan Charter School appealed to the board to not fire her.
Deborah Merle has been on administrative leave from the district and was not allowed to attend the meeting herself. But her brother, Doug Andrew, gave the Board a warning during citizen comments.
“If you go to fire my sister tomorrow, you better be ready for a dog fight,” Andrew told the Board.
Merle’s mother also spoke at the meeting, drawing attention to her daughter’s nearly two decades of service in the School District. She notes that the family might take the district to court over the controversy.
The teacher is at the center of a School District investigation into her alleged attempts to help students cheat on state tests.
After the alleged cheating incident, some parents reported that their children were called into the principal’s office for one-on-one interviews about the testing. According to parents, their children were then told to not discuss the nature of the interviews with anyone.
The topic came up at a School Board meeting in April, when Tom Volpi protested interviews his granddaughter had with the principal. He simultaneously defended Deborah Merle and chastised the school district.
“This whole thing stinks, it’s nothing short of a witch hunt in my eyes,” said Volpi at the April meeting.
In an interview with KRBD after the meeting, Superintendent Robert Boyle said he could not comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, but said that Merle was not going to be fired immediately, contrary to what Doug Andrews had said.
Boyle says the District is following procedure with the investigation, but he encourages a fair hearing, including through public comment.
“I understand people being very concerned the actions the district has taken in response to any allegations,” said Boyle, “but we are obligated to follow state regulations when allegations come about, and we try to handle those as well as we can. Wetry to be sure that people can be heard fairly and in completeness.”
Boyle also says the investigation will be completed as soon as possible.
Deborah Merle could not be reached for comment by deadline for this story. At the School Board meeting Wednesday, her brother and mother noted that their attorneys had advised them against saying too much publicly.
The School Board also voted last night to hire five new teachers for next year, and it approved the purchase of 60 laptop Apple computers for the elementary program at a cost of $60,000.
In the first of a four-part series of interviews with board and committee members of the Sitka Community Development Corporation, KCAW’s Robert spoke with board president Paul Rioux (REE-oo) about the housing gap, and the problem it presents for communities like Sitka.
It was not without controversy, but it was the closest Sitka ever came to developing a modern, high-density affordable housing complex.
The Dana Bay homes project would have been built on Halibut Point Road, on the former site of the city shops.
A private developer, Trapline LLC, who specialized in affordable housing projects, had all the pieces in place but one – federal tax credits. Tax credits are what allow a for-profit developer to offer housing at below-market rates.
The credits did not come through.
“It literally left the people that were interested in affordable housing reeling in town,” says Paul Rioux, board president for the Sitka Community Development Corporation. The SCDC emerged shortly after the failure of Dana Bay in 2009.
In some respects, Dana Bay was the result of a professional push to solve the housing gap. Sitka at the time actually had an Office for Affordable Housing staffed by a planning specialist.
The SCDC, on the other hand, is comprised of lay people. They’re not producing any lengthy reports, but they know Sitka’s housing problem is more acute than ever.
“Interestingly enough, I was getting my hair cut a couple of weeks ago and I was talking to my barber about the subject. His comment was, If I could just get the Assembly to sit in here for a week and hear how many people say I’ve been coming here for years, this is my last haircut, we’re moving out of town and trying to go someplace more affordable. To me, that’s the classic, colloquial reflection: the writing’s on the wall.”
Creating affordable housing was a top priority of the Sitka Economic Summit in 2012. Rioux says if someone’s spending more than a third of their wages on housing, it’s not affordable. Without people to earn wages, you don’t just have a housing problem, you’ve got an economic problem.
“The fact of the matter is that if you’re losing good workers, they’re going out of town, especially entry-level workers or mid-range management workers, and you’re having a hard time filling those positions, it’s hard to run an efficient business.”
The SCDC is now putting its chips on Community Land Trusts. CLT’s create affordability because property buyers purchase only their homes – the land is held in trust. He says CLT’s are a solution for places like Sitka, which don’t have room to grow.
“We have a lot of properties that are very expensive. We don’t have a proportional amount of properties that are affordable. Making that mix work is difficult when you don’t have bedroom communities.”
Rioux says that in the lower 48 it’s common for people in service industry jobs and the trades to live in more affordable neighborhoods than the more affluent areas they may work in. That’s not necessarily the case in Sitka. CLT’s, however, help create economic middle ground.
“You’re not lowering a rung or raising a rung. You’re creating a rung in between the two that already exist. It actually strengthens the housing market because it creates more buyers quicker. For a lot of people these would be a starter home. Maybe a young couple. So they can buy a house on a land trust, build some equity in it, build some credit by being involved in the program and owning their own home, and it puts them in a position to buy a house on the open market much quicker than if they were renting.
Rioux says Community Land Trusts by no means are limited to young people. He says there are trust neighborhoods around the country that serve diverse populations – particularly retirees.
In part two of this series next week, we’ll hear about how Community Land Trusts are put together.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Sheila Finkenbinder is a “company adviser” during Alaska Business Week. The summer camp program will be held June 1-8 in Fairbanks. Kids in grades 9-12 are encouraged to attend, and will receive two college credits. Travel and tuition assistance are available. Registration is now open.