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Southeast Alaska News

City Council votes on half percent sales tax increase

Fri, 2014-01-17 10:27

City Council member Dick Coose joins KRBD to discuss the Council’s vote on a sales tax increase and other measures approved at the Jan. 16 meeting.


King Cove renews call for road

Fri, 2014-01-17 01:05

ANCHORAGE — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell received bad information before rejecting a road through a national wildlife refuge that could help medical patients in a small Alaska village, leaders of the community said Thursday.

In a letter, community leaders in King Cove asked Jewell to reconsider her decision rejecting a one-lane gravel road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge so that sick or injured residents could have land access to an all-weather airport at nearby Cold Bay.

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Video of teen employee catching baby gets scores of viewers

Fri, 2014-01-17 01:04

ANCHORAGE — A 19-year-old worker at an Anchorage Home Depot caught a baby who was falling out of shopping cart — a rescue captured on store surveillance video that has been viewed online by thousands.

Christopher Strickland was waiting for a customer in the cashier area last week when he noticed the baby was loose in a car seat atop the shopping cart, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The arrangement looked precarious, Strickland said.

“I thought I’d keep an eye on it, in case something happened,” he said Wednesday.

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Nelson: Cruise lines again ‘bullish’ on Alaska

Thu, 2014-01-16 21:00

Cruise industry consultant Andy Nelson says of Disney Cruise Lines, “If they’re coming to Sitka, you’re doing it right.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Years of steady declines in cruise ship traffic to Sitka should be coming to an end — eventually.

Independent cruise industry consultant Andy Nelson told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week (Wed 1-15-14) that because cruise itineraries are planned years in advance, there was nothing to be done about the expected drop in visitor numbers this summer. But after that, things were looking more “bullish.”

Nelson has been hired by Chris McGraw, owner of the Old Sitka Dock, to raise awareness among the cruise lines of the new deepwater facility in Sitka. McGraw’s father, Chuck, was also in the audience.

In his remarks, Nelson told the chamber that there was nothing Sitka could have done to reverse the decline in cruise tourism, which was aggravated by several factors — primarily the US economic recession beginning in 2008.

Sitka had impact of ships leaving, even before the US economy changed. And I just wanted to back up a little bit, because talking with Chuck and Chris, it’s been enlightening for me because I think some people feel that Sitka made a mistake. What did we do wrong that the ships left? And I’m not sure that Sitka did (make a mistake). When 9-11 happened it changed the marketplace in Alaska. Because of the impression that people in the Lower 48 were becoming more resistant to flying — at least right after 9-11 — and they would rather leave from a US port, ships moved from Vancouver to Seattle as far as homeporting. And so for the ships that went to Seattle, not only is the voyage a little bit longer — remember they have to do it twice — it adds a bit of time, and that’s all time that they can’t spend in the ports in Alaska. In addition to that, those ships have to make a Canadian port call, to follow the rules of shipping, which is the Jones Act, where they have to call on a foreign port. So for all of those ships, not only is the voyage longer, but they all had to call in Victoria as well, which took additional time. So the reality is that as that market developed in Seattle, with those itineraries they could only get in at the most three port calls in Alaska, Victoria, and get back to Seattle. So the byproduct of that is that Sitka lost port calls, Haines lost port calls, and some others did as well. And I’m not sure Sitka could have headed that off.

Andy Nelson speaking to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Nelson worked for Royal Caribbean for 25 years before becoming an independent consultant. He offered an insider’s perspective into why things were looking up for Sitka in the not too distant future. Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival cruise lines were all making single port calls in Sitka this summer, to assess passenger reaction to the community.

Nelson himself visited for the first time last October for the Alaska Travel Industry Association meeting. He said Sitka has a way of making a good first impression.

I think Sitka’s in a great position for new itineraries that are departing out of Vancouver. The Vancouver itineraries have time to stop in Sitka, and I think that Vancouver is going to host more ships in the future. In contrast to some other ports — and I’m not just talking about Alaska — Sitka offers a real authentic feel to it. It feels like a functioning village, city, whatever you want to call it. It’s very pleasant. If the experience I had in the fall is anything like the experience guests have in the summer, they couldn’t help but like it. It’s a great place. A lot of natural beauty, really strong history — all things that help the itinerary and help the marketing. You’ve got good shore excursion opportunities. One addition, and certainly I’m biased, is you’ve got a deepwater dock now. And that’s a huge benefit to Sitka. Because as Chris said there are cruise lines that won’t come to Sitka unless there’s a dock. Some will, some won’t. They’re going to make their own decision on that. Our message as we go out to the cruise lines — and yes, we’re hoping that they use the dock — but the message is, Come to Sitka. And my belief is that most of the new lines that come to Sitka are going to use the new dock.

Old Sitka Dock owner Chris McGraw prefaced Nelson’s remarks at the Chamber of Commerce. He said that the dock received 23 ship visits last year, and expected 26 ship visits this year, with the Seven Seas Navigator and Regatta comprising the bulk of those visits.

The first cruise ship call of the 2014 season in Sitka is the Westerdam, on May 7.

New website up for Petersburg public input

Thu, 2014-01-16 16:39

Petersburg’s borough government January 16th announced the start up of a new website to gather input and generate ideas.

The site is hosted by a company called Mind Mixer. It’s described as a virtual town hall and is intended to spark discussion about the future of the community and to add to future borough planning efforts. With the start of the site, the borough is posting a few questions to get the public discourse going. They’re seeking opinions on mail-in elections, steps to make the community more energy efficient and feedback from pedestrians and bicyclists. Joe Viechnicki spoke with borough manager Steve Giesbrecht about the new site.

For mobile-friendly audio, click here:
The website cost is about seven thousand dollars over four years. Giesbrecht views it as a tool to include input and ideas from residents of the new borough, including residents outside the old city limits.

Petersburg hospital discusses relationship with borough

Thu, 2014-01-16 16:22

Elected officials with Petersburg’s borough government and the community’s publically-owned hospital are trying to get a better handle on the relationship, legal and financial, between the two. The medical center’s board met again with the Petersburg borough assembly last week over the issue.

For mobile-friendly audio, click here:

Petersburg’s hospital building is owned by the municipality but it’s operated by the staff and overseen by board of the medical center; the borough government has no oversight or involvement in hospital operations.
However, the borough assembly is taking a closer look at that relationship. The borough’s attorney last year drafted a memo giving his opinion on various questions. One was whether medical center employees are actually borough employees. Attorney Jim Brennan wrote that this is a grey area legally. Hospital board president Tom Abbott, who also is general manager of KFSK, wondered about the direction of the discussion regarding hospital employees. “The W2s, the taxes, the IRS, everybody thinks that PMC employees are…..separate,” said Abbott. “And I hope that continues that way,” responded borough manager Steve Giesbrecht. “So I would hope that we could drop it,” Abbott said.

Assembly members did not argue that hospital staff should be considered borough employees. Kurt Wohlheuter liked the current arrangement. “I personally like the landlord tenant agreement we have. I’d just as soon be the people who own the building and you guys take care of the stuff. Because it seems like there might be a lot of liability there if we were to jump in, deeper pockets.”

Those deeper pockets were a concern for the municipal government. Mayor Mark Jensen explained his concern over the financial liability. “My main concern is that ultimately I think, and nobody wants this to happen, if the hospital, for lack of a better term went bankrupt, the rate payers, the residents of the whole borough would be liable for that right? Correct? I mean we won the building but we don’t own the business.”

“Actually I think we do own the business,” responded assembly member and attorney John Hoag. He raised some of the issues addressed in the borough attorney’s opinion. Before he joined the assembly, Hoag represented a former medical center employee who filed suit against the former city of Petersburg and a former medical center CEO. Hoag told the hospital board members that people could make a legal argument that the two were connected. “Persons who would say that would be persons looking at a deep pocket. If you want full disclosure, the lawsuit, which I assume you know, but maybe you don’t. The lawsuit referenced by the attorney as a footnote is one I filed before I was on the assembly. And I filed that frankly because I couldn’t figure how else to bring the lawsuit. Because my research was that the only entity, legal entity I could sue would be the city of Petersburg at the time.”

Borough attorney Brennan’s opinion on the matter was that the borough should leave reserve the option of making the argument in court that medical center employees are not employees of the borough in case of a medical malpractice suit. However he also noted that the borough is named on the hospital’s liability insurance.

Brennan noted that asserting that medical center employees work for the borough could result in an those employees being enrolled in the collective bargaining unit that includes borough employees. The hospital employees are already part of the public employees retirement system, or PERS, a decision made by a prior city council.

Cindi Lagoudakis did not get the sense from fellow assembly members that they wanted medical center staff to be called borough employees. “However, when we’re listed on the liability policy, it’s really difficult to figure out what the relationship between the hospital and the assembly are,” said Lagoudakis. “It could put the borough at risk. Can we live with that risk I think is really what the question is. Can we live with that ambiguity or do we need to make it clearer, so that the borough is protected and the hospital is autonomous.”

Petersburg’s borough charter approved by voters a year ago says, “The borough assembly, by ordinance, shall provide for the powers and duties of the hospital board, allowing for the greatest possible autonomy to operate and maintain borough medical facilities in the best interests of the public’s health” That language came up a number of times in Thursday’s meeting. Board president Abbott suggested drafting more language clarifying the roles of the two sides. “It says the greatest possible autonomy. And that, in the charter, is, to me, constitution. That directs us. That’s where we need to be going. So let’s tighten it up.”

The borough assembly is also planning to consider a new ordinance detailing the hospital board responsibilities and duties. Representatives of the two sides have drafted a proposed ordinance that will come up for three readings of the assembly.

The attorney Brennan’s memo notes greater borough control over public hospitals in Sitka and Wrangell. It also says that any code language approved by the assembly seeking greater control could run afoul of the charter language on hospital board autonomy.

Hoag thought any eventual review of the borough charter language will need to include discussion of the separate status of the medical center. “Do we wanna maintain this autonomy to the greatest extent possible? I think that is the discussion that needs to be had with you folks present and the citizens weighing in on it. Because we can’t say you’re on your own, have a good life,” Hoag said.

The powers granted to the hospital board in the borough charter include making hospital policy, hiring and firing of the administrator and preparation of a budget. In the past, the hospital has not sought borough funding for its budget, but that could be changing. The board may ask for help in funding capital projects in the future.

Rainfall setting daily records in January

Thu, 2014-01-16 16:09

Petersburg set a new daily record for rainfall Tuesday with 3.75 inches coming down. That’s the rainiest January 14th the National Weather Service has on record for Petersburg. The service’s records are incomplete and date back only to the 1940s.

It’s the second daily rainfall record already for 2014. The first day of the year was also the rainiest January 1st on record with 2.07 inches.

These are not the rainiest January days on record. January 29th of 1993 the community saw 5.14 inches. And it’s still a long way from the rainiest day every recorded in Petersburg. That was December 30th, 1980 with the rainfall total that day at 7.8 inches.

Local creeks are full with the rainfall and snowmelt. Borough public works director Karl Hagerman says there was some flooding on Mill Road and Cornelius Road but no reports of landslides or washouts on borough roads. No slides impacted state-owned roads on the island either, according to the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says two slides have been cleared on Prince of Wales Island roads. Woodrow says both the Hollis to Klawock road and the road to Coffman Cove were open Wednesday and cleared of debris that came down Tuesday.

While its been wet and windy, Petersburg is not setting any temperature records this month. The thermometer hit 50 degrees Tuesday, still well below record January days in the high 50s and low 60s set in January of 1981 and 1958.

School Board reluctantly OKs Hardin’s resignation

Thu, 2014-01-16 15:28

With reluctance, and a few tears, the Ketchikan School Board accepted the resignation of longtime Curriculum Director Linda Hardin.

Superintendent Robert Boyle said during Wednesday’s board meeting that he could have accepted the resignation without board approval, but he wanted to make sure Hardin was publicly recognized for her 17 years with the district.

“She’s had enormous influence in our district over the course of her tenure,” he said. “I have been successful, I believe, and a large part of my success is due to her work.”

Board members also praised Hardin and her contributions. When it was her turn to speak, Hardin recalled that when she first arrived in Ketchikan, there weren’t even standardized report cards; each teacher made up their own. She said that’s the first thing she changed, and since then there have been many more improvements in the local school system.

“We have a strong curriculum with student objectives that are not only aligned with the state of Alaska, but aligned with the national criteria,” she said. “We have exceptional staff… we’ve had wonderful professional development programs that have included many of the community resources that we have, and your community resources are wonderful.”

Hardin also praised maintenance staff, the district’s technology program, and most of all, the kids. She asked the board to remember that students are the reason they serve.

“For more than half my career, I’ve been here,” she said. “Most days – not all of them – it’s been a pleasure. I want to thank you and wish you best wishes, and please remember that every decision you make should be for the kids first. Thank you.”

Hardin’s resignation takes effect June 30.

Also Wednesday, the School Board unanimously approved a motion banning electronic cigarettes on school grounds, and lowered the price threshold on local-preference purchases from $25,000 to $5,000, in hopes of helping more local businesses.

SJ Museum brings silver carving into the spotlight

Thu, 2014-01-16 15:20

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Former and current Sheldon Jackson Museum curators Peter Corey and Jackie Fernandez, and renown NW Coast artist Steve Brown discuss a project to study the museum’s silver collection — and to examine other pieces in private ownership in Sitka. Brown will be available 5:30 PM Fri Jan 17 at the Raindance Gallery on Monastery St. for “An Evening of Silver and Gold,” and will look a private pieces. Call 747-6233 to arrange a consultation. Brown will give a lecture 7 PM Sat Jan 18 at the Sheldon Jackson Museum as part of the annual Friends of SJ Museum board meeting. Light refreshments will be served. Learn more about the Sheldon Jackson Museum online.

Thu Jan 16, 2014

Thu, 2014-01-16 15:08

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Paleontologist to present on Triassic-era rock. Legislative preview: Sen. Bert Stedman says there will not be much money for Southeast Alaska projects this year. Juneau to open a halfway house for female felons.

Marine reptiles used to dominate tropical Southeast Alaska

Thu, 2014-01-16 13:53

Artist Ray Troll’s depiction of ichthyosaurs, marine reptiles in the Triassic age that resemble marine mammals found in Southeast today.

The only vertebrate paleontologist in Alaska will give a seminar tonight (1-16-14) about what we can learn from Triassic era rock found all over Southeast Alaska.

Patrick Druckenmiller is also the Earth Science Curator at the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks. He says that 210 million years ago the rock that lines Southeast Alaska used to be in an entirely different latitude; with entirely different animal life: marine reptiles.

Dr. Patrick Druckenmiller is the only vertebrate paleontologist in Alaska, and curates marine reptile fossils for the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks. (photo courtesy of University of Alaska)

Druckenmiller: So we have these ancient rocks that hold evidence of such a very different world. When Alaska hadn’t even been assembled yet, when this part of Alaska, Southeast Alaska was in tropical latitudes, and was a series of volcanic islands, and these marine reptiles were swimming on the margins of these islands. Sort of a tropical paradise. That was Southeast Alaska 210 million years ago.

Druckenmiller studies the fossils of these marine reptiles, and says that Southeast is the best place in Alaska to find them. He says that in the Triassic age, instead of whale watching, you could have gone ichthyosaur watching around the islands that now make up Southeast.

An ichthyosaur is a type of marine reptile, which Druckenmiller says is particularly interesting because of how much they can range in size. The reptiles could be as small as a harbor porpoise, or as large as a blue whale.

In his seminar, Druckenmiller plans to share findings on a small ichthyosaur specimen that was found in Gravina Island years ago.

Earlier this year, Drukenmiller worked with fossil preparators to clean a Thalattosaur fossil, another type of Triassic marine reptile, which was discovered near Kake two years ago. Scientists believe it is a new species of Thalattosaur, and Drukenmiller says they’ve already chosen a name. Although, it’s a secret until they finish the cleaning process, and follow proper publishing protocol.

Druckenmiller says that he enjoys his work because it’s a really good reminder of how short a period of time we’ve been on this planet compared to all the life in the past of the world. It’s humbling.

The seminar titled Triassic Marine Reptiles from the Tropics of Southeast Alaska starts at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Alaska Southeast.

You can read about the Thalattosaur fossil discovered near Kake here.

School Board votes on local vendor threshold, accepts federal grants

Thu, 2014-01-16 10:21

School Board Member Trevor Shaw discusses the January 15 School Board meeting.


Photo: Flooding in Sitka

Thu, 2014-01-16 01:13

Sean Snider tries out his co-worker's kayak in the flooded parking lot, caused by a clogged culvert at Foreign Automotive Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 in Sitka, Alaska.  Snider, who is leaving Sitka for a job in Texas Friday, was happy to get a chance to take his first ride in a kayak before leaving town. (AP Photo/The Daily Sitka Sentinel, James Poulson)

Gelbrich is not Montana's top choice

Thu, 2014-01-16 01:11

Juneau School District Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich is not the Kalispell Public Schools board’s first choice after interviews for their superintendent position concluded Tuesday, according to their school officials.

While a contract has not been finalized, there is a “95 percent” chance the board will opt for Mark Flatau, a superintendent of a small Washington school district.

“Unless there is a problem with the site visit, then he will be our hire,” Dave Schultz, a board member for the Kalispell Public Schools, said of Flatau.

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State signs deal to advance LNG line

Thu, 2014-01-16 01:10

The State of Alaska entered into a commercial agreement Tuesday with three major oil producers and a pipeline builder to advance a liquefied natural gas line. The agreement comes after an announcement last Friday by Gov. Sean Parnell that the state would be terminating its contract with TransCanada under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act to pursue a more “traditional commercial arrangement.”

Parnell also said the state would pursue an equity state in the gas line, the details of which are included in Tuesday’s agreement.

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High winds damage Gustavus breakwater

Thu, 2014-01-16 01:10

A violent storm in Gustavus Tuesday caused a state-owned breakwater to break away from its pilings and wash up onto the shore. The breakwater, which is also used as a small boat harbor in the summer, was built in 2010 alongside a new ferry dock. The entire project cost $17 million and was funded by the state, the Denali Commission and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

Southeast Director for the Department of Transportation Al Clough said the breakwater has minor damage and can be salvaged, but that there are no immediate plans to rebuild the three-year-old dock.

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Wed, 2014-01-15 23:03

Spelling Bee winner Kyle Vidad and Blatchley Language Arts teachers (and Bee judges) Alexander Allison, Janelle Farvour, and Emily Demmert. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

In what was one of the most tightly-contested spelling bees in recent memory, 27 grade-level finalists at Blatchley Middle School in Sitka spelled their way to word no. 208 on the official Scripps National Spelling Bee list Wednesday night (1-15-14). In the end it boiled down to eighth-grader Kyle Vidad and defending champion Abigail Fitzgibbon. The two went head-to-head for eight rounds, until Fitzgibbon tripped on “matriculation” and Vidad successfully spelled “smithereens” to win the round, and then “aerodynamic” to win the championship. Test a friend on these words Abby and Kyle spelled with nearly one-hundred fans looking on:

Abby: charioteer
Kyle: netiquette

Abby: panache
Kyle: recoup

Abby: abstruse
Kyle: prognosticate

Abby: ostracism
Kyle: monochrome

Abby: aficionado
Kyle: bloviate

Abby: pariah
Kyle: bazooka

Abby: cavalier
Kyle: juxtapose

Abby: matriculation (spelled incorrectly)
Kyle: smithereens

Kyle: aerodynamic (championship word)

Vidad won a copy of the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, and the opportunity to represent Sitka at the state spelling bee in Anchorage on February 28, 2014. As one exhausted fan in Kettleson Library noted after the event, “There was electricity in the room!”

Stedman says hydro funds tight, otter bill will change

Wed, 2014-01-15 17:54

State Sen. Bert Stedman signs his name to a petition to repeal Senate Bill 21 as his family looks on. It goes before voters in August. (KCAW/Ed Ronco)

There won’t be many appropriations for Southeast Alaska projects this legislative session. That’s the word from Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman, who represents most of the region outside Juneau, Petersburg and Skagway.

Hear iFriendly audio.

The Legislature put millions of dollars toward regional hydroprojects in past sessions.

Stedman says funding is usually linked to energy appropriations for Southcentral and the Interior. But the former co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee doesn’t expect that to happen this time around.

“I don’t see a pressing need this year that the Railbelt’s going to push forward with any energy projects, at least that I’m aware of. So I think it’s going to be pretty difficult for rural Alaska just to come up with its own energy plan and get the votes to do anything,” he says.

Blue Lake dam spills into the plunge pool in 2004. (Matt Goff photo/

Gov. Sean Parnell’s capital budget includes $10 million toward the Susitna-Watana dam north of Anchorage. That’s a small fraction of its $5.2 billion overall cost estimate.

But there was nothing for Sitka’s Blue Lake, Ketchikan’s Swan Lake, or any other Panhandle hydroproject. Parnell said lawmakers could convince him to add other projects. And the Legislature reworks that budget.

But Stedman says the Blue Lake Dam, which is being raised, is unlikely to get more money this year.

“It is more challenging to get funding for a project that’s already going to get built or is being built than it is to put together a financial package before the construction contracts are let,” he says.

The Sitka Republican says other district projects needing funding include the Ketchikan Shipyard and Angoon’s sewer system.

He says the state also needs to put more money aside to replace more of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s aging ships.

“If we diddly-daddle around, by the time we get these Alaska Class Ferries built and we get the Tustumena replaced, if we don’t in my opinion have a (long-term) fund set up and we continually put away, say, $50 million into marine replacement, by the time we get these first ships built, the rest of these boats will be another 10 years older and they’re already old as we speak.

A sea otter in Prince William Sound. (Flickr photo/Laura R)

Stedman last year proposed a bounty on sea otters, which eat shellfish Southeast divers and crabbers harvest. His bill brought strong criticism from environmental groups. And the federal agency managing otters said it would violate marine-mammal-protection law.

The legislation is still in play. Stedman says he wants to find a different way to support Native hunters, the only people allowed to harvest otters and process their pelts.

“I need to sit down with the Sealaska Heritage (Institute) and have a few more meetings in Juneau to work out what we’re actually going to change it to — if it’s going to end up trying to be marketing assistance or tanning assistance or something else,” he says. “But the chances of the bill going forward as it’s written, without being rewritten to take out the bounty, is slim.”

Stedman’s Senate district includes Ketchikan, Wrangell, Kake, Craig and other towns where timber used to be a significant part of the economy.

He says he supports the governor’s attempt to get 2 million acres of the Tongass National Forest turned over to Alaska.

“If the state was to take basically all of northern Prince of Wales (Island), outside the Native land selections and homesites and stuff like that, that would give us a timber base that we could run a fairly good-sized economic generation off of,” he says.

Stedman continues to oppose House Bill 77, which would speed permitting for resource development projects.

He says Alaska needs some limits on those who want to block mines and similar ventures. But he says the bill goes too far and was pushed through the Legislature without enough public input.

“We’ll see if we’ll have a more thorough scrubbing or we’re just going to play hardball politics and they’ll do what they can to pick up one vote and pass the bill. But I would expect that bill will get passed in some form by the end of the session,” he says.

The bill made it through the House last year, but came up short in the Senate. Stedman was among those voting no.

The Sitka senator, who’s served for about 11 years, chairs his chamber’s Health and Social Services Committee.

He says the panel will take up items requested by the Parnell administration — but not a lot else.

“I have no intention of just running committee hearings to run committee hearings to entertain people,” he says.

Stedman continues criticizing the governor’s oil and gas production tax, which passed last year. Alaskans will get their say through a referendum later this year.

He says the latest revenue estimates support his view that it’s better to fix it now than later.

“My initial review of these numbers would say the state is basically taking the entire hit. The industry (is) only moving negative $300 million while we’re moving negative $3.3 billion,” he says.

Stedman is one of six legislators representing Southeast Alaska.

Hear what other Southeast lawmakers want to happen during the session:

Sen. Dennis Egan expects tighter state budgets in 2014 

More links will be posted as reports are produced.


Students get valuable job interview experience

Wed, 2014-01-15 17:34

Job interviews are intimidating for most adults, so just imagine a teenager, going to a first interview for a first job. What to wear? How to act? And what about that awful question interviewers love to ask? You know the one I’m talking about: “What’s your biggest weakness?”

I hate that question.

Ketchikan High School Junior Jade Simons nailed it, though, when I interviewed her in the Kayhi library.

“I think it would be when I take too much stuff on my plate, I start to get overwhelmed and my quality isn’t as good as I want it to be, because I want it to be 100 percent,” she said. “But because I take on so much as a time because I’m an overachiever, it’s not as good as I’d like it to be.”

Our interview was one of many taking place that day. It was the annual Job Fair, and the mock interviews are the culmination of the careers class. As one of the interviewers, I was handed a list of questions commonly asked during interviews.

Jade had great answers for most, but there was one that kinda stumped her. Only at first though. I asked, “What are you passionate about?”

“I never really thought about it,” she answered. “Clothes? Shoes? Music. I love music. I love jazz music, especially. I like sitting back and listening to it. There’s some music that makes your heart pound and, and makes you have so many feelings.”

Jade also loves little kids. Her goal is to graduate high school, study early childhood development in college, and then become a preschool teacher. Interview skills could help in all her goals.

She talked a little about the careers class, and said teacher Mary Hagemann taught them the dos and don’ts of interviews. Then Gai Hooker visited from the Ketchikan Job Center with more tips, such as, “appearances, what to say, how to act, how to sit, and just the basic rules of the job interview. And she told us about turning the negatives into positives,” Jade said.

Quite a few other interviews were taking place at the same time. Police officers, Alaska State Troopers, Coast Guard personnel, city and borough officials all showed up to help prepare Ketchikan’s youth for future job interviews.

I stuck to the list of questions that the teachers gave me, but others had their own style. Jessica Matthews, the superintendent at Ketchikan’s jail, clearly is an experienced interviewer. Here she is, finishing up a mock interview with sophomore Charlie Edwardson: “If I can make one suggestion, always when you end an interview, nail something out of the park. Ask something, say something about yourself. I’m gonna interview several people, you need to stand out to help me remember why I want to hire you. Always do one really good sales pitch for yourself.”

I asked Charlie whether the experience was helpful.

“Yeah, I think it helped a lot,” she said. Especially “the closing statements, because I got that from a couple other people, so I need to work on that and improve it.”

Teacher Allegra Machado says the careers class is about more than just interviews.

“All semester, they’ve been working on not just interview skills, but resumes, job applications, we do school research, training opportunities, we do field trips,” she said.

The job fair, though, is the culminating activity, where the students get to show off everything they’ve learned. Machado says the kids often are scared before each fair, but by the end of the day, they have lost their fear.

She adds that the students compare notes later, especially if an interviewer asks unusual questions. For example: “If you had to be a fruit, what fruit would you be and why? And then the kids start sweating and freaking out. They’re like, ‘Did you have the guy that asked the fruit question?’”

I just wish I’d thought to ask the fruit question.

Commercial fishing film festival celebrates third year

Wed, 2014-01-15 16:09

There’s a big mix of commercial fishing footage in Alaska and elsewhere, from the historical to the hysterical online this week for the Third Annual Commercial Fishing Film Festival.

The collection of fishing movies from around the globe is being broadcast online this week through January 18. Viewers can vote for their favorites and upload their own video for next year. It’s the creation of Juneau fisherman and writer David Clark, who has a commercial fishing website. Joe Viechnicki spoke with Clark about the latest installment.

For mobile-friendly audio, click here:

The videos can be viewed here: There’s also a live viewing planned at the Fisherpoets Gathering in Astoria Oregon in late February.

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