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Southeast Alaska News
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Tonia Rioux, executive director of the Sitka Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, says this October’s meeting of the Alaska Travel Industry Association could be Sitka’s largest-ever conference. Floor sessions exceed the capacity of Harrigan Centennial Hall, and will be held in the Hames Center. Local volunteers are needed. Call the SCVB at 747-5940 to help. Register for the ATIA annual convention online.
Some rainfall over the weekend may have eased a looming crisis for pink salmon stocks in Southeast Alaska. The summer’s fine weather and record salmon runs have both made headlines – but they’re a recipe for trouble without enough water in rivers and streams for fish to spawn.
KCAW’s Robert Woolsey visited Sitka’s Indian River to learn how the salmon were doing.
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The Indian River is a mid-sized system. It drains a large valley to the east of Sitka, but there are no glaciers or permanent snowpack feeding it.
I’m standing in the river bed – wearing running shoes. It didn’t even occur to me to wear boots. The Indian River is low, and there are more fish in it than I’ve ever seen.
We spook two or three hundred pink salmon, and they surge away across the shallow gravels, leaving us standing among carcasses.
I’m with Dave Gordon, the area management biologist for Fish & Game, and his tech, Jess Coltharp. A stream plugged with salmon is a good thing, but there is a problem. Gordon picks up a pink salmon and cuts it open.
“It’s been dead a long time… There’s another one: still in the skein. Obviously didn’t die from spawning. It died from stress of some kind. So based on that sample, I’d say a high percentage of the mortality you’re seeing here are unspawned fish.”
Gordon cuts open five dead females and all still have eggs. But he is not necessarily alarmed. For these salmon to have survived two years in the ocean, and then come this far upstream only to die on the banks is not that unusual.
“I think you always have a certain amount of stress mortality associated with the spawning event. So you’re going to see pre-spawned fish die even when the water is in better shape than it is here. The water quality in this case is definitely adding to the stress a lot, and it’s probably causing a higher number to die before they spawn.”
Decaying fish rob the stream of oxygen. In a normal year, carcasses are flushed out to sea. Obviously, low rainfall is at the heart of the problem here – but are there also just too many fish?
“This is an all-time record for Alaska. Right now something above 250 million fish have returned,” says Steve Reifenstuhl, the general manager of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. In this job, and in his previous position with a local processor, he’s worked closely with the seine fleet, who’s bread-and-butter is pink salmon. In Southeast, fishermen have taken nearly 90-million pinks.
“We probably left 10-million – maybe 20-million pink salmon in the ocean – that weren’t needed for escapement that could have been harvested, if there would have been sufficient process capacity.”
But catching those fish, Reifenstuhl says, would have been unrealistic. The industry in Southeast can best handle about 70-million fish.
“You know, you can’t build infrastructure for a once-in-a-120 year event.”
“Less fish would have been a good thing at this stage,” says Dave Gordon, “But there’s a lot of systems that are much smaller than this, much smaller watersheds, much more dependent on the rainfall to have any water at all. Those are getting desperately low.”
Gordon thinks there are probably about three times as many fish in Sitka’s Indian River than it can accommodate, and more are holding off the mouth in saltwater, waiting for the stream to rise. But they can’t hold forever. Enough will make it, though, to maintain the stocks. Gordon thinks the system would be at risk of a crash only if dry weather persisted well into September.
That’s not a big worry at the moment. Gordon, like any fisheries manager, is worried about taking my call next year.
“I think what happens when people see this – and next year we’re going to get something more normal – they’re going to go, Where’s all the fish?”
Last week, the Sitka Assembly made its choice for municipal administrator. His name is Mark Gorman, and he’s called Sitka home for 35 years. At the moment, though, he’s thousands of miles away, in the last days of his current job, which is based in Asia.
When he gets back to Baranof Island, he’ll be responsible for the management of more than 150 city employees, and the day-to-day operations of the City and Borough of Sitka.
KCAW spoke with Mark Gorman late last week about his background and his hopes for the job.
We’re going to begin on the other side of the globe, in Laos. The country faced heavy bombardment during the war in Vietnam. Today, it’s one of the five remaining countries on the planet to describe itself as communist, and is home to about 6.5 million people.
It’s also where you’ll find Sitka’s new municipal administrator at the moment, wrapping up work on his old job at the nongovernmental organization World Education.
Mark Gorman is standing in front of a cafe called “Craters.” The place is decorated with old bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force. We’re talking on a scratchy Skype connection, and I can hear traffic in the background. Gorman turns on his camera and lets me have a look around.
“This is a 2,000-pounder, this one right here,” he says. “This is the real deal. This is the work that the organization I work for does here. There’s an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs still in Laos.”
In Laos, World Education teaches children how to avoid unexploded bombs, among its other projects.
“It’s been a remarkably rewarding, stimulating job,” Gorman said. “The Lao people, and the culture is really wonderful. It’ll be hard to leave, but Nancy and I are ready to return home.”
Gorman says it wasn’t difficult was deciding to apply for the Sitka municipal administrator job.
“It’s really the honor of my professional career,” he said. “It’s a position I’ve looked at for well over a decade, and to have the opportunity now to perform in that position is really very exciting to me.”
Municipal administrators have seven bosses — the various members of the Sitka Assembly. Those bosses change on a regular basis, and with that change can come major shifts in course for the city. It’s a high profile position that can include a lot of blame when things go wrong, and not a whole lot of credit when things go right. It involves long, irregular hours. So, what makes a guy look at that job for more than a decade and want it?
“I guess that’s one of the things I’m very attracted to about the job,” he said. “I’ve watched it for many many years, and I’ve watched the Assembly change in terms of its orientation and its strategies. I think to function highly in that environment is something that really attracts me. I’ve always enjoyed professional challenges, and I’d like to believe that I’m up to the challenge.”
Gorman’s has done relief work in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Bosnia. And he spent more than 20 years at the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, including about five months as interim CEO in 2007.
But it was the U.S. Forest Service that brought him to Sitka, in 1978.
“It was kind of a mistake,” he said. “I’d been in the Peace Corps, and I really wanted to come to Alaska after my Peace Corps service. As a Peace Corps volunteer, you had noncompetitive eligibility for federal jobs. So, I sent my standard 171 form to all federal agencies in Alaska. I got a call from the U.S. Forest Service in Sitka saying ‘We liked your application, would you be willing to come up and work for us, and we’ll pay for you to come up?’ And I said ‘That sounds great.’
“I didn’t know where Sitka was, but I was eager to come to Alaska,” he said. “The first day on my job at the Forest Service, I was brought in to the HR department, and sat down and the HR director said ‘I’ve got some bad news for you.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ And he said, ‘Well, in the Xerox copy we got of your application from the regional office, where it said ‘major in college,’ all we could read was ‘-ology,’ and we assumed it was biology. But now that we have the hard copy of your application, we can see it was anthropology. We can’t start you at the GS-7 that we offered.”
GS-7 is the name of a pay grade. His starting salary in today’s dollars would have been around $64,000. Instead, they offered to let him work at a much, much lower rate. Gorman said he wasn’t fazed.
“The moment I stepped off the plane in Sitka, in July 1978, I was infatuated,” he said. “There was no way Sitka was not going to become my home.”
Gorman says he’s hoping to be back in Sitka by the third week of October, to start work as municipal administrator.
“Job No. 1 for me is getting to know all the departments within city hall, and developing the relationships with the department heads and the employees… and developing that trusting relationship which, from everything I’ve gathered, was nonexistent five months ago.”
Sitka’s budget will be a big concern for Gorman. The current budget is balanced, but city staff and members of the Assembly have been warning for years that the trajectory is alarming. They talk about infrastructure needs that vastly outweigh the money available to fund them. They say the money coming in might drop off soon, and the city will always have rising costs to cover.
Pete Esquiro asked each administrator candidate if they understood the difference between a balanced budget and a sustainable budget. Think Band-Aids for balanced, surgery for sustainable. Gorman says he understands.
“From my knowledge, and my conversations with Jay Sweeney, the current budget is not sustainable, but it is balanced,” he said. “Somehow revenues have to come in line with expenses in the next few years. How that is achieved is something I’ll be learning more about the first few months I’m on the job.”
Sitka, he says, has a lot going for it.
“It’s got a remarkable talent pool,” Gorman said. “I was in Sitka for six weeks before I returned to Laos, and I spent a lot of time talking to people. The energy, the innovation, the ideas, the vision that are in all parts of the community, whether it’s private sector, nonprofit, small business, community organizations, there’s a vitality there that I’ve not seen anywhere else in my professional career. That’s asset No. 1, just a tremendous collective energy to move the community forward.”
And what is Sitka missing?
“I’m not sure I would say ‘What are we missing?’” Gorman said. “Some of the challenges we’re looking at are the high cost of doing business in Sitka, the high cost of housing, the lack of affordable housing. I think the workforce is becoming an issue in terms of attracting a young workforce that work in our service industries.”
If you’re listening to this in Sitka, chances are you’re affected by some of those issues. And chances are you’ll have some interaction, directly or indirectly, with the new city administrator. We asked him about his management style.
Gorman: I was just talking to my current supervisor in Boston about my transition and the timing of it. She was saying how the staff in Vientiane, Laos, are feeling very anxious about me leaving. She said ‘Mark, they really like you. They feel very safe with you.’ That word safe would be one that I’d start off with. I’d like to believe that people are comfortable with me, and they feel safe, which means I can listen to anything, including views and ideas which I might not initially think are the best. But I’m open to that.
KCAW: When you look at this job, what are your concerns?
Gorman: A question that was repeated in both my interviews is the longevity of Sitka city administrators. I forget what the average is, but it’s not multiple years. One of the things I want to look at is what contributes to the short tenure of city administrators. I’ve certainly already had some conversations with Jay Sweeney about this. It’s a huge job, and whether it’s entirely doable by one person, I think that’s a legitimate question that needs to be asked and answered. In a proactive way, I want to look at how that job is organized, what are the supports that are going into it, and are there different approaches to making it a more achievable assignment.”
Longevity brings up another question.
KCAW: How long before you start thinking about the retired life?
Gorman: (laughing) One of the [things] I heard when I first moved to Sitka was from an old guy who was teaching me how to take care of my boat. He said ‘When you stop building your house, it’s time to die.’ I can’t really answer that question. I see myself being active till I drop.
FAIRBANKS — People from across the country are expected in Fairbanks next month for the opportunity to ride rare rails as part of the 2013 National Railway Historical Society Convention, which Alaska is hosting in September.
The convention runs Sept. 14-22.
MAC Federal Credit Union
“It’s never been done,” said Dan Osborne former president of Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad and now a member of the NRHS. Osborne is the primary contact in Fairbanks, organizing events. “And it’ll get members on trips they’ve never been on before.”
FAIRBANKS — The bins loaned to visitors of Denali National Park were made to withstand a grizzly bear.
Some of the bins have encountered curious and determined bears and have traveled as far and wide as the park’s visitors. Some have undergone years abandoned on riverbanks and have taken the occasional trips to Germany, Singapore and the Lower 48 with forgetful tourists.
ANCHORAGE — Federal officials and Alaska nonprofits are scrambling to establish a health insurance marketplace by the Oct. 1 deadline required under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Alaska is among 27 states that have refused to set up marketplaces, also known as exchanges, where the uninsured can shop for coverage. In states opting out of setting up the exchanges, the federal government is stepping in.
A former Alaska governor has stepped in to smooth over a potential diplomatic faux pas that might have impaired a Japanese initiative to invest in a North Slope liquefied natural gas export project.
Former Gov. Frank Murkowski offered to host the visit by Gov. Toshitami Kaihara, the former governor of Hyogo Prefecture in Japan and a key figure in the formation of a Japanese group interested in Alaska LNG, after Gov. Sean Parnell declined a meeting.
Ready or not, certain changes to the health care market are on the way, and small businesses will be impacted.
As some parts of the Affordable Care Act take effect Oct. 1, Alaskans will see changes in the healthcare market, Josh Weinstein said at an Aug. 19 Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Make it Monday presentation.
Weinstein works for Northrim Benefits Group, which recently launched an “Enroll Alaska” program to help residents navigate the new insurance market.
KODIAK — A woman who grew up fishing in Alaska’s Uganik Bay is more than halfway through her horseback journey along the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
Alina Dudding began her journey on the trail April 22 from Campo, Calif., near the Mexico and U.S. border, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported.
“Somewhere I read that no woman had through-ridden the trail in a season on one horse,” Dudding, 27, said. “I decided that would be really awesome.”
ANCHORAGE — Tom Kizzia knew the saga of Papa Pilgrim inside and out.
As the former statewide reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Kizzia covered the story of Robert Hale, aka Papa Pilgrim. He knew about Hale’s long battle with federal officials over access to his home in a national park and Hale’s frontier, “Little House on the Prairie” lifestyle with his wife and 15 children, living off the land and teaching the Bible.
KODIAK — The Discovery Channel’s three-episode “Alaskan Steel Men” premiered Friday and highlights the welding work of Kodiak-based Quality Marine of Alaska. The show was produced by Lizard Trading Company, a non-fiction TV production company based in California.
FAIRBANKS — A Fairbanks woman has received her brother’s Purple Heart 70 years after his disappearance.
Gladys Terry recalls clearly the day she stood at the train depot in Tacoma, Wash., and said goodbye to her brother, Pfc. James Chester Mohn, the Fairbanks News-Miner reported Sunday.
He was shipping off to Southeast Asia to serve as an Air Force radioman in World War II.
She couldn’t help but feel she would never see him again, and she was right.
KENAI — Nearly five years ago, Margaret Stroup’s brain changed.
The change mirrored the physical damage to her body as she lay under her desk at Central Peninsula Hospital, wounded by two bullets a former hospital employee fired into her at point blank range.
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON — A war broke out in the sky above Alaska last week.
Fortunately, everyone was on the same side.
On Friday, Aug. 23, forces from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base concluded a two-week international training exercise with Japan, Australia and the Republic of Korea with a mock battle.
About 20 aircraft participated in the final day of Red Flag Alaska, which is conducted each year so crewmembers can gain combat experience.
An initiative to increase Alaska’s minimum wage yearly to keep up with inflation has at least 12,000 signatures, petition sponsor Ed Flanagan said. Flanagan, a former state labor commissioner, is sponsoring the initiative along with Tom Cashen and Jim Sampson. Cashen and Sampson both are also former state labor commissioners.
“In that position you get a lot of windows into workers’ lives,” Flanagan said. “You get a real feel for how folks are doing down at the lower end of the wage spectrum.”
Last updated: 10:50 a.m., 9/3/13
There were no injuries after a fight inside Sitka’s Pioneer Bar over the weekend ended with a gunshot.
The incident happened shortly after 4 p.m. on Sunday. Sitka police Lt. Barry Allen confirms a gun was fired inside the bar.
Witnesses say two men were arguing. They reported hearing what sounded like a gunshot, and then seeing a third man run out the door.
Donald Combs was with friends at the P-Bar when it happened.
“We went and walked outside the back door,” Combs said. “And as soon as we were outside the back door, we were standing there, and we heard a ‘crack!’ The door swung open, pretty close to us, and a red-headed guy ran straight down to the dock, down that ramp there. He had the gun, trying to stuff it in his pants or something, but the gun was in plain sight.”
KCAW News saw police take two men into custody. Their names were not immediately available over the holiday weekend.
Keith Widmyer, age 35, identified himself as the victim in the incident. He told KCAW he had been arguing with one of the men arrested. He said he was using the restroom when one of the other men walked in.
“I didn’t look over my shoulder. I’m going to now, forever,” Widmyer said. “He came through the door and tried to punch me. I just happened to catch it out of the corner of my eye. Caught his arm, threw him on the floor.”
Widmyer says he was cornered in the bathroom and the man pulled out a gun.
“When he pulled out the gun, I didn’t waste too much time,” Widmyer said. “I jumped over his head like a rabbit and was scrambling out the door. I made it right out here to the parking lot, and then I heard the gun go off.”
Widmyer says the man handed off the gun to someone else who removed it from the bar. Widmyer appeared uninjured, except for some cuts and scrapes on his face.
Crime is down in Ketchikan. Or, at least, criminal cases are down, according to Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, who was the main speaker at this week’s Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch.
Judge Stephens started off with a description of the Alaska court system, and then a rundown on Southeast Alaska’s courts. For the region, there are judges only in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. Smaller communities have magistrates for day-to-day operations, and then judges from the “Big Three” travel to those towns to take care of big issues.
Of those smaller communities, “Craig is by far the busiest court outside of the big three,” he said. “I think it handles more cases than Wrangell and Petersburg put together, or a comparable number. It’s an extremely busy court and it’s one of the locations that has a full-time magistrate judge.”
Stephens also noted some interesting statistics. He said that criminal cases in Ketchikan spiked in 2002, with 2,019 cases filed. As of last year, that number dropped about 50 percent.
For this year, “at this point, looking at what number we’re at now, and it’s almost the end of the eighth month, I don’t think we’re going to make 1,000 cases this year,” he said. “That’s good news for the community that there’s been a substation reduction – I can’t say in crime… but it’s indicative of a reduction in crime.”
Civil cases, though, are up about 30 percent, Stephens guessed that increase is related primarily to more domestic relations cases.
He also noted that mental health commitment cases are increasing. Stephens says it’s fortunate that the Ketchikan Medical Center offers mental health evaluations, and Gateway Center for Human Services under Akeela has on-call clinicians who respond when needed.
“I’m hopeful that the next step that we’ll take in this community is to develop, build a treatment facility so that when somebody is subject to a 30-day order, they’re not sent on a plane to Juneau, to Bartlett, which is the nearest such facility, or to API (in Anchorage) if Bartlett’s not available,” he said.
Another trend Stephens noted is a change in the type of drug cases seen in the courts. A few years ago, it was marijuana, Oxycontin and cocaine. Now, he said, it’s marijuana and heroin.
Looking toward the future, Stephens said that very soon, the court system will use electronic filing for all cases.
“Southeast Alaska, has taken a first step in this direction,” he said. “In 2011, the Alaska Supreme Court gave the option to … presiding judges issuing an order that allows for e-filing. We’re the only district that’s done it. We’ve been doing it since November of last year.”
Stephens also spent some time talking about jury duty.
“The first thing I want to say is, the local folks have no control over who gets called in for jury service,” he said, as the audience laughed.
Jury duty is a topic of interest to most Alaskans, because with the state’s small population, citizens are called often to serve. On top of that, the smaller a community’s population, the longer the term of service. In Ketchikan, trial jurors serve for one month. But on Prince of Wales Island, they serve a three-month stint.
Stephens said he’s part of a statewide committee to look at improving jury service. One topic will be the best way to notify jurors if there is a trial. Now, jurors must call a telephone number and listen to a message. He said that could change to notification by email or through a website.
Stephens is the presiding judge for the First Judicial District. Before he was appointed to the bench, he worked as a private lawyer and was Ketchikan’s district attorney.
Nicholas Galanin is a musician, carver, film maker, sculpter, impressario, record label founder, cordwainer and much more. He chose ten songs he would like to have on a deserted island if stranded, perhaps forever. We talked with Nicholas, aka Silver Jackson, about his art, his life and the music he selected. Here is the program, his list of songs and the recipe for his favorite dessert. We’ve also included images of a couple of his works.
Nicholas’s Ten Songs (click to listen on Spotify if you have an account.)
Link to Nicholos’s Favorite Dessert:
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell has declared an economic disaster for residents living on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea.
Parnell said he made the declaration because of a historically low walrus harvest, which is causing a significant economic challenge to the residents of Gambell and Savoonga.
Parnell said only 340 walrus were taken during the spring harvest, or 36 percent of the average for the last 10 years.