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Southeast Alaska News
After advancing out of the Senate Special Committee on Trans-Alaska Pipeline System Throughput last Thursday, Republican Gov. Sean Parnell’s legislation to reform Alaska’s oil production tax regime was heard for the first time Monday in both the Senate Resources Committee and its House counterpart.
Parnell’s bill, numbered in the Senate as Senate Bill 21, would remove progressivity from the tax structure, leaving a base 25 percent rate in place, and rework tax credits offered by the state to oil producers, eliminating some and restructuring others.
JUNEAU — A bill introduced Monday in the Alaska Senate would define “medically necessary” abortions as those needed to avoid serious risk to a woman’s life or physical health.
JUNEAU — Since taking office in 2009, Gov. Sean Parnell has made strengthening public safety in rural Alaska a priority, particularly as he seeks to crack down on domestic violence and sexual assault.
But being a village public safety officer is a tough job, and the turnover rate is high — 29 percent last fiscal year, nearly six times more than Alaska State Troopers, according to one estimate.
ANCHORAGE — A $2.5-million federal research vessel that sank while docked in Kodiak likely will not be repaired because of the high expense, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell’s crime bill is raising legal concerns.
The bill, HB73 in the House and SB22 in the Senate, would allow investigators to intercept private communications in sex trafficking cases and strengthen sentencing laws in child pornography and sex trafficking cases. It also would allow judges to order GPS tracking of people with protective orders against them. It is a continuation of the Parnell administration’s effort to crack down on domestic violence and sexual assault.
The Sitka High School Drama, Debate and Forensics team is off to the state tournament this weekend.
On Monday, they gathered at Raven Radio to hold a public forum debate live on the air, similar to the way they’ll compete in Anchorage. The students debate the merits of a resolution chosen well in advance. February’s resolution reads:
Resolved: On balance, the rise of China is beneficial to the interests of the United States.
They must prepare arguments on both sides, learning only moments before (by virtue of a coin toss) who will argue in favor and who will argue against the resolution.
We’ve included audio below. Part 1 is a brief introduction and the first part of the debate. The arguments continue in Part 2, followed by interviews with the judges and the team members. Each part is about 30 minutes long.
The FDA is considering approving genetically engineered, or GE, salmon to be sold in the U.S. It has sparked renewed protests by opponents of genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s. Sen. Mark Begich on Thursday introduced two bills in the US Senate that would ban these new salmon. Sitka held a demonstration at Crescent Harbor on Saturday.
About 100 people rallied in Sitka to protest what they see as the first step in introducing scientifically modified animals into the American diet. For Southeast Alaska, it’s especially worrisome because the area depends largely on fishing for its livelihood.
Lance Preston owns and operates a boat called, “The Sea Boy” in Sitka. He’s made a living as a fisherman since 1993 and says these new fish could bankrupt Alaska.
Commercial fishing is the number one employee in the entire state,” said Preston, “and the vast majority of those jobs are salmon jobs, so it’s really the economic engine of the state. It’s a big deal. You know, it could put the state out of business. You’ll watch the population decline and suffer.”
Nicknamed “frankenfish” by critics, this new fish is an Atlantic salmon developed with an added growth hormone from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a gene from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout that activates the growth hormone. While a natural Atlantic salmon reaches 28-30 inches long and 8-12 pounds after two years at sea, the new GE salmon will reach that in half the time.
Protesters Saturday said they’re worried the genetically engineered salmon could escape aquatic farms and crossbreed with wild fish.
The company behind developing this new hybrid is called AquaBounty. It’s a biotech company in Massachusetts that formed in 1991 and has spent nearly $70 million since it started. It claims that the fish are not a threat to wild stocks, and that the genetic modifications are no greater than changes that occur naturally in species.
UPDATE: 2/13/2013 — The FDA has decided to extend the comment period through April 26.
During the dark months of the year, there are numerous activities in Ketchikan to help residents ward off the winter blues. Square dancing has become a regular and popular event for locals.
Each month throughout the year, a bunch of square-minded folk get together in Ketchikan.
The Free Radicals plays old-time dance tunes, and a live caller tells everyone how to move.
Well, the caller tries to tell them what to do; they don’t always listen. It’s square dancing, Ketchikan style.
Most of the time, the caller is longtime resident, artist and art teacher Halli Kenoyer, although she’s happy to share the spotlight if anyone wants to fill in.
She walks the dancers through each dance before the music begins.
The monthly dance isn’t just square dancing. There are circle dances and the occasional waltz. And the night just isn’t complete until the Virginia Reel.
Kenoyer tried to explain the appeal of old-time square dancing. She said it’s a community effort, and it brings out the child in everyone who comes out to play.
“I go home and my mouth is sore. What can I say? I guess maybe I’m not smiling enough the rest of the week?” she said.
You can check the Alaska Square Dance page on Facebook for upcoming dances.
An interesting discussion item is on the Ketchikan School Board agenda for Wednesday: new public boarding schools in Alaska.
The state Department of Education and Early Development is taking applications from public school districts that want to operate boarding schools. Those schools can take students from anywhere in Alaska. Through a state program, school districts receive money to help pay for room and board.
For the current application period, a qualifying district must be ready to offer a residential high school program by this coming fall.
There are three approved public boarding schools already operating in Alaska: Sitka’s Mount Edgecumbe High School; Bethel Alternative Boarding School; and the Nenana Student Living Center.
The board also will vote Wednesday on whether to approve tenured-teacher contracts.
Also on the agenda is a motion to approve recommendations from the Indian Policy and Procedures Committee. The recommendations call for the superintendent to meet quarterly with local Native officials. They also call for an increase in the amount of Alaska Native culture taught in the schools; cultural training for school staff; regular discussion of Native education by the School Board; and research into different instruction methods for Native children.
The School Board meeting starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start and end of the meeting.
Alaska State Troopers on Prince of Wales Island are investigating a burglary and theft from a home in Coffman Cove.
Troopers received a report at about 11 p.m. Friday that someone had forced open a door to the home and stolen several items, including food and a car battery.
The estimated value of the stolen items is $100. There was no damage to the residence.
Anyone with information about the crime is encouraged to call Troopers.
The arraignment hearing for a man charged with manslaughter has been delayed until Friday.
On Jan. 31st, a Ketchikan Grand Jury indicted 34-year-old Steven S. Cook of Ketchikan for domestic manslaughter and second-degree assault.
The charges stem from an incident that took place last May in Ketchikan. According to the court file, Cook allegedly killed 32-year-old Thomas Guthrie the Fourth with a chokehold.
His arraignment had been set for Monday in Ketchikan Superior Court. The hearing was rescheduled for 2:30 p.m. Friday in Judge William Carey’s third-floor courtroom.
Alaska State Troopers will not make public any information from the autopsy of a 13-year-old girl killed last week in Kake.
Spokeswoman Megan Peters says the official report is expected to be delivered to troopers today. But she says, quote, “We will not be releasing any details of it.”
The State Medical Examiner’s Office completed the autopsy Friday.
Mackenzie Howard’s body was found Feb. 5th at a Kake church. Troopers say her death is being investigated as a homicide. They will not discuss a murder weapon or most other aspects of the case.
Peters says releasing more information could compromise the integrity of the investigation.
She says at least five investigators traveled to Kake to secure the crime scene, gather evidence and conduct interviews. She says that effort continues.
Two days after interviewing finalists for the job, the Sitka Assembly has voted to offer the position of municipal attorney to Robin Koutchak.
If she accepts the job, she would replace Theresa Hillhouse, who is leaving the position March 1 and moving to Anchorage.
Koutchak is currently in private practice in Wasilla. Her resume in Alaska stretches back to 1992. She has worked in the municipal attorney’s office in Anchorage and has been an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She’s also done contract work, including some for BP.
She was assistant municipal attorney for the North Slope Borough for a year and a half. And from 2007 to 2011, she worked as assistant attorney general and assistant district attorney in Barrow.
The job offer in Sitka comes after an executive session in City Hall on Sunday night. The Assembly emerged after about an hour and voted to make Koutchak the offer.
A special meeting to finalize the hire begins at 5:45 Tuesday inside Harrigan Centennial Hall, with the regular meeting to immediately follow.
Sunday’s special meeting was called Friday night. The public notice — required by law for such meetings — was posted to the city’s website.
If you had walked past City Hall on Sunday it would have been difficult to tell anything was happening. The front of the building was locked, and the lights were off on the first floor. But the back door was unlocked, and the lights were on in a suite of offices on the third floor. Inside, Assembly members debated the merits of two finalists to replace Theresa Hillhouse.
Several Assembly members said they were moving quickly because they hope to put the new attorney in place before Theresa Hillhouse leaves the job on March 1. Also, they wanted to deliberate before Mayor Mim McConnell and Assembly member Phyllis Hackett left for a conference in Juneau on Monday morning.
“Just because it’s gone fast doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done carefully,” McConnell said after Sunday’s meeting. “We are kind of up against a time crunch with Theresa leaving March 1. She will be making herself available as much as she can through March, but she’s gotta go. She’s got to get up to her new job and she’s got to move, and it’s just … it’s going to make a really difficult transition if we can’t get somebody in here soon.”
The Assembly plans to keep Hillhouse on at about half her salary for four months to aid in the transition.
Reporters for KCAW and the Daily Sitka Sentinel spoke during the public testimony portion of Sunday’s special meeting. We said the public could not have been fully aware of the special meeting, which was announced at the end of Friday’s interviews, and posted to the city’s website. KCAW does not broadcast weekend newscasts, and the Daily Sitka Sentinel does not publish over the weekend.
One of the biggest proponents for a slow and deliberative process in hiring the attorney was Assembly member Mike Reif. During initial meetings, he said he wanted as many expert voices as possible to weigh in. And he echoed a sentiment many Assembly members held: That if a suitable candidate could not be found among the pool in front of them, they’d simply keep looking.
Sunday night, Reif said he was comfortable with the choice, despite the speed.
“The candidate we’re making the offer to is someone I think is extremely strong. If I had any doubt this wasn’t an exceptional candidate — in that eight, nine category on a scale of one to 10 — I’d be slowing this way down.”
The Assembly had help during the process from Hillhouse, as well as City Human Resources Director Mark Danielson and former Municipal Attorney Cliff Groh, who agreed to review some of the applications and offer his opinion.
Municipal Administrator Jim Dinley was not part of the process. He and the attorney both work directly for the Assembly, without supervisory authority over each other.
Assembly member Michelle Putz said the Assembly had heard from the public through e-mail comments. Also, those interested still have time to weigh in. The Assembly plans a special meeting before its regular session Tuesday.
Members will discuss, in executive session, any counteroffer Koutchak makes on the job, and then come into the open and vote whether to hire her. Public testimony is usually allowed before a vote.
Alaskans around the state held candelight vigils in memory of Kake teenager MacKenzie Howard Friday night. State Troopers are investigating the 13-year-old’s death as a homicide. Her body was discovered at a Kake church by a community member late last Tuesday night. The State Medical Examiner’s Office completed an autopsy Friday.
At the Petersburg vigil, Salvation Army Lt. Caleb Fankhauser said the tragedy had affected people far beyond Southeast:
“As we’ve been preparing for this evening, we’ve been looking and following along on different peoples post on the internet and elsewhere and this evening there are groups just like this meeting not only across the state of Alaska but even into the lower-48. There are family members and friends and just people who felt touched by this event. Whether they even had any relationship or connection to the family, their hearts were broken over this loss. So as we’ve light candles here tonight, there are candles being lit, essentially, around the world.”
Fankhauser and other participants offered prayers for MacKenzie Howard’s family and the community of Kake. You can listen to the entire Petersburg vigil here.
Southeast leaders and electric utility managers want to increase regional collaboration on the development of new hydro-power facilities and other energy sources. Many of them met last week for an energy summit of sorts in Petersburg. In part one of a two part story, Matt Lichtenstein reports on some of their communities’ needs and the challenges they face.
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
Getting off expensive diesel power or at least reducing the need for diesel, was the most common goal for everyone in the room. While the larger communities are already powered by cheaper and cleaner hydro-electric plants, a number of towns are relying on an increasing amount of diesel to meet a growing demand. Several of the smaller communities are completely dependent on diesel plants.
The group of about 30 local, regional, state and federal officials met for a three-hour roundtable at Petersburg’s firehall, where facilitator was Robert Venables laid out several questions:
“What is occurring in our communities? What loads do we see happening and what continuing analysis of resources is on the forefront to happen.?”
Venables is the energy coordinator for the Southeast Conference, a regional advocacy group for businesses and communities, many of which were represented in the room. Venables reviewed some of the key findings from a recent, state-sponsored planning effort on southeast energy. One universal problem is the region’s inability to store up energy to meet peak demands in the wintertime:
“We kind of characterize Southeast Alaska as a Saudi Arabia of hydro-electric resources. Well in the summer time that’s true. We have seepage and leakage and everything occurring, water left and right but the sustaining storage capacity doesn’t exist in our hydro-electric system and how does that get developed because that’s where the real value is.”
Many at the table emphasized the need for more generation and called for regional cooperation on the development of a large hydro project and accompanying lines that could help power a substantial part of the panhandle.
Federal regulators ended a private bid to build a hydro plant at Thomas Bay near Petersburg last year after ruling that the Bellingham-based company did not pursue development of its license application in good faith and with due diligence.
Petersburg had opposed that company’s plans. Mayor Mark Jensen suggested Southeast municipalities work together for hydro development at Thomas Bay.
“We need to get more generation coming from some direction. If we got it from Thomas Bay, it could be tied right into the grid and potentially there could even be, and this is a pretty big plan, but a line that would go up and tie into Snettisham. If that ever came into fruition we’d be tied in from Greens Creek all the way to Metlakatla.”
Snettisham is the major hydro plant that powers Juneau, which is served by the privately-owned Alaska Electric Light and Power Company. Municipal-owned utilities supply electricity to much of Southeast. That includes Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan which govern the Southeast Alaska Power Agency. SEAPA owns the two large hydro plants and connecting transmission lines that power those towns with some of the lowest rates in the state.
Rather than building another big plant, Wrangell’s recently-retired Mayor Don McConachie suggested lots of smaller ones could be brought online sooner:
“It just kind of makes sense to me. We all know that we have a lot of rain. We all know that if we had a series of smaller hydro-electric projects, we could, through interties and water management, could make a very good grid that would be sustainable and you could just forget about diesel generation.”
Like Wrangell and Petersburg, Ketchikan is projecting a significant increase in the amount of diesel it’s going to have to burn to meet the growing demand over the next decade unless another significant source of hydro-power is brought online. Dry weather has only made that worse in Ketchikan, which is planning for a new, but small hydro project at nearby Whitman lake. SEAPA is also looking at raising the damn at its swan lake plant to generate more power. Even with both improvements online, Ketchikan officials expect they will still have to burn a lot of diesel in the years to come.
So, the idea of collaborating on a bigger, regional project appealed to City of Ketchikan Vice Mayor Bob Sivertson:
“There’s a lot of things that we have to work out as communities. We have to get back on track and start working towards that common goal. We all understand we need another hydro project to get off the diesel.”
Juneau Mayor Merril Sanford said the capital city was in the same boat:
“Seems to me that we all are beginning to bump up the upper end of our hydro capacities and we’re all looking at ways to try to overcome that.”
The situation has long been much more severe for the communities in Southeast that are entirely dependent on diesel; Communities like Angoon, Hoonah and Kake which continue to struggle with the high cost of electricity.
The village Native Corporation for Angoon, Kootznoowoo, has been working to develop a small hydro plant at Thayer lake to offset the towns diesel use. Governor Sean Parnell approved seven million dollars for the project in last year’s budget. Angoon Mayor Richard George pointed out that Thayer Lake has been discussed for decades. He worried whether there would be enough funding to finally get it built:
“We’ve got a group of people back home that are waiting for this to happen and this group of people are very concerned, from the state’s posture, that their funding is being depleted. So, its been an upward struggle.”
Angoon has dropped efforts to pursue a large for-profit hydro-development at Thomas Bay, 70 miles to the South near Petersburg. The community had been at odds over that initiative.
George said he was mainly at the meeting to encourage support for the proposed electrical intertie from Petersburg to Kake.
Kake is one of several smaller towns that gets diesel power from the Inside Passage Electric Cooperative. The non-profit is working on a number of projects offset the need for diesel. IPEC General Manager Jodi Mitchell said the more she heard about the growing load in communities that are already served by hydro, the more worried she was there would not be enough surplus for Kake. She encouraged the group to pursue a large hydro project:
“So that we can have some security about power and that the people of kake aren’t disappointed that when the intertie comes in they will actually be getting power from it.”
A contractor for the US Forest Service is preparing a draft environmental Impact Statement for the Kake-Petersburg intertie. The document is expected to come out sometime this spring.
In part two of this story, we’ll hear about a new Southeast Power Agency effort to bring more power into the grid that now serves Petersburg, Wrangell, and Ketchikan.
Ian and Bob Fultz along with Bobbie McCreary from the Ketchikan Youth Initiative joined us to discuss the latest updates on the Ketchikan Skate Park. Construction should begin on the park in June. KYIskatepark2112013
The U.S. Forest Service is holding a series of meetings around Southeast Alaska this month (February), part of a five-year review of the forest plan for the Tongass.
The most recent version of the Tongass National Forest Land and Resource Management plan was approved in January of 2008. The document outlines allowable uses on different parts of the 17 million acres of federal forest land, including areas designated for timber harvest. It also identifies important wildlife and plant species as well as ways to manage habitat for those plants and animals.
Joe Viechnicki spoke with Sue Jennings is a forest planner with the federal agency about the plan review.
For mobile-friendly audio, click here
The Forest Service’s Tongass webpage has a link to the five-year review. The public comment period is open through the end of March. Petersburg’s meeting will be Monday, February 11th from 6-8 p.m. at the Petersburg Indian Association conference room.
The first meeting was in Wrangell, Thursday February 7th in the Wrangell Borough assembly chambers
Other meetings include:
Sitka, February 13th at Harrigan Centennial Hall
Wednesday February 20th at the Craig Tribal Association Hall
Thursday February 21st at the Ted Ferry Civic Center in Ketchikan
And Thursday February 28th at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center