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Southeast Alaska News
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Sitka Fellow Zoe Ballering is writing a novel about a Wisconsin family whose history includes two acts of domestic terrorism, one in the 1930s and another in the 1970s. She’ll be reading from her work at an Open Studio, 5-7 PM Fri Aug 30 at the Yaw Art Center on the Sheldon Jackson Campus.
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Cape Edgecumbe weather buoy returned to service. More students likely to do poorly on new state assessment tests in 2015. Ketchikan area power project could send electricity to Canada.
Sitka police are investigating a Wednesday night accident that left a semi-truck trailer flipped over on its side along Sawmill Creek Road.
The accident happened in the 2400 block of Sawmill Creek Road, just beyond Shotgun Alley.
Sitka police Lt. Barry Allen says authorities responded around 10:15 p.m. to a call from a passing motorist who saw the truck on its side. The driver, who was uninjured, told police his load shifted as he came around a corner. Allen says the driver tested negative for alcohol.
The truck was carrying empty fish totes, and was headed outbound to Silver Bay Seafoods. The state Department of Transportation’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement unit is also consulting on the case.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board met in regular session Wednesday. In a quick but busy session, it discussed potential sticking points with the borough, city and even the state.
“It’s a way for them to keep us under their thumb,” says Board Member Misty Archibald of the Borough Assembly-School Board Liaison Committee, the inter-governmental group that generally meets once a month to discuss issues of mutual concern, including the School District budget.
But Archibald, who serves on the committee, and other School Board members are concerned that the meetings are unproductive at best, and a tool for the Assembly to keep the Board in line at worst.
“I think we have valuable discussions, but it feels very one-sided. I do think that it needs to be more of a collaborative effort, a two-way street,” she says.
An issue raised by the Board was how the strict monthly schedule of the Liaison Committee can actually be detrimental to its intended goal. In times of intense budget negotiation, for example, waiting for a committee meeting to address time-sensitive issues can slow down the process.
Board Member Michelle O’Brien suggested canceling scheduled meetings entirely. If meetings are held on an issue-to-issue basis, she says, it might make the process more productive. The idea was met positively by other board members, who mostly agree they want to build on a generally positive relationship with the Borough Assembly. The board decided, somewhat ironically, to bring up the issue to the Assembly at the next Liaison meeting.
Moving to another inter-government argument, Superintendent Robert Boyle hinted at the next steps in the ongoing debate between the School District, Borough and City of Ketchikan over the library consortium.
He cites increasing costs to the School District of remaining in the consortium, which cooperates mutually to share library services with the university and Ketchikan Public Library, as his reason for exploring a potential exit strategy.
“There are very distinct advantages for us to remain in the consortium,” Boyle says, “so rather than rush into judgement or change the structure of or take apart something that has been a very successful agreement within our community for 15 years, I have asked our librarians and technology to sit down with the consortium to have a discussion to see what we can do. But at this point, my observation is that it’s too expensive for the District to participate in at this level.”
Also at the meeting Boyle hinted at a simmering conflict with the state of Alaska over the status of Revilla Alternative School. The state’s Department of Education and Early Development had rejected an earlier request by the District to merge both the Fast Track program with the existing alternative program; the added student count would have put Revilla over the minimum requirement to count as a separate school under state law. That classification would have qualified the District for more state funds.
Boyle says DEED has rejected an appeal of that decision. The next step is to take the issue to Superior Court, but DEED has given the administration until September 20th to make a decision. Boyle says he hopes to reach a settlement with the state before then.
The board also discussed a program this year to measure the height and weight of students in the school district to determine their body mass index, or BMI. The measurements are required by the federal government to qualify for a grant to support the district’s wellness program.
Parents will receive a letter in the mail informing them of the program. Addressing concerns over privacy, Board Member Michelle O’Brien says that reasons for the measurements should be included in those letters.
“When they receive this letter in the mail, it’s not Big Brother watching over them,” O’Brien says, “it’s ‘wow this is really cool, this is what the school district is doing for me and my family.’”
About 29 percent of the student body in the Ketchikan School District are overweight or obese, according to the administration. The Wellness Program aims to reduce overall rates of obesity by 4 to 5 percent.
The School Board also voted unanimously to approve new language in its policy over how gifts to the District are reported. Moving forward, only cash donations of more than $10,000 must be reported to the School Board, and therefor the public.
The state Transportation Department wants feedback on its plan for next summer’s ferry sailings.
The draft schedule continues the ferry Matanuska on a route from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to northern Southeast.
The Malaspina will cover the Juneau-Haines-Skagway route most days.
The fast ferry Fairweather will sail four days a week to Sitka in the early summer, then increase to six days a week. It will also serve Petersburg once a week.
The Columbia and the Kennicott will each sail to Bellingham once a week. The Kennicott’s run will continue across the Gulf of Alaska.
Other details are available online.
A public-comment teleconference will be held Sept. 11th at the system’s Ketchikan headquarters. Comments will be taken in person and via teleconference.
Meanwhile, the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board is meeting this week on the Fairweather and at Sitka’s Harrigan Centennial Hall.
Board members will get updates on the design for the Alaska Class Ferry dayboat shuttle. Two ships will be built for the Juneau-Haines-Skagway route.
They will also address the process for replacing the ferry Tustumena, which serves Homer, Kodiak and other parts of Southwest Alaska. It’s been laid up for repairs this summer.
As school board member Michelle O’Brien reports, discussion at Wednesday night’s board meeting focused on rethinking how the Assembly / School Board liaison committee should function. The board also wrapped up a few items before the start of school. SB082913
JUNEAU — A small group of residents gathered in Alaska’s capital city Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech by ringing bells and singing.
“Let Freedom Ring” bell-ringing ceremonies were planned across the country at 11 a.m. Alaska time Wednesday to commemorate the hour of King’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington. King ended his speech by telling the crowd to “let freedom ring.”
FAIRBANKS — The board of a nonprofit regional community health center that provides mental health services in Fairbanks has decided to file for bankruptcy.
The board of Fairbanks Community Behavioral Health Center voted unanimously Tuesday to protect the organization with the bankruptcy filing as it tries to find a way out of debt. The center will continue working with clients.
An audit concluded that the center, which employs about 60 people, has money to operate for only about three weeks, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported.
Members of the public have until Sep. 10 to comment on the proposed Alaska Marine Highway System schedule for the summer of 2014.
The Department of Transportation says in a statement that the public comment period is an opportunity for communities to review and give input on the schedule in consideration of local events.
ANCHORAGE — The 29-year-old son of a longtime Alaska Native leader has died after his sport utility vehicle rolled over in Dillingham.
Trefon T. Angasan was ejected from the SUV when it crashed just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, Alaska State Troopers said.
The combined value of Alaska seafood exports and retails sales was $6.4 billion in 2011, according to a report released Wednesday by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. ASMI is a marketing organization supported by the State of Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry to promote Alaska seafood. The 104-page report is based on numbers collected in 2011.
Hydaburg is losing its Head Start program.
It’s one response to sequestration, which cut the federal preschool education and screening program.
Hydaburg is on Prince of Wales Island, about 45 air miles from Ketchikan.
It’s been one of about 30 Alaska communities with Head Start programs run by the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, known as Rural Cap.
Child Development Director Debbie Baldwin says Hydaburg did not have a full classroom operation.
“We had a program there for three- to five-year-olds. It was a home-based program, a home visitor who would come provide activities and information and support for parents in their home environment to encourage their work with children,” she says.
Baldwin says another Rural Cap program, called Parents as Teachers, will expand to cover some of the 12 Hydaburg families. But it’s not a full replacement.
Rural Cap runs Head Start classrooms in three other Southeast cities. Ketchikan has about 60 students, Haines has 17 and Kake has 15.
Baldwin says budget cuts mean those programs will operate seven fewer days this school year. Staffers will also lose seven to 10 days of work, including a week-long training program.
She says the cuts come on top of earlier budget shortfalls.
“When I started here at Rural Cap, we were serving over 900 children in our Head Start program. We are now down to 756 children and families. This is a result of this instability in federal and state funding,” Baldwin says.
The Tlingit-Haida Central Council operates Southeast’s largest Head Start program, serving about 260 students in nine cities: Angoon, Craig, Klawock, Saxman, Hoonah, Petersburg, Wrangell, Juneau and Sitka.
The council is beginning classes 12 days late this fall to make ends meet. (Read about the THCC Head Start cuts.)
The Metlakatla Indian Community, 15 miles south of Ketchikan, operates its own Head Start program.
Director Jamie Chinuhuk says it’s reduced capacity from 40 to 37 preschoolers to balance its budget.
He says the program will also end a month early next spring.
Overall, Head Start budgets were reduced about 5.3 percent.
Alaska has the lowest combined state and average local sales tax rate in the nation, according to an annual report published by the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington D.C.
Alaska, which has a combined tax rate of 1.69 percent, is followed by Hawaii at 4.35 percent, Maine at 5 percent, Wisconsin at 5.43 percent and Wyoming 5.5 percent. The five highest include Tennessee at 9.44 percent, Arkansas at 9.18 percent, Louisiana at 8.89 percent, Washington at 8.87 percent and Oklahoma at 8.72 percent
The Cape Edgecumbe weather buoy, which records observations and reports them on a website from a station off-shore from Sitka, is back in service.
The buoy has a tendency to break free from its anchor. The Coast Guard Cutter Maple, which is home-ported in Sitka, picked up the buoy in September 2012, after it spent six days adrift.
The buoy is operated by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and provides weather observations to the National Weather Service, as well as mariners. Lt. Ray Reichl is the executive officer aboard the Maple. He says there are several weather buoys throughout the Gulf of Alaska, but the one off Sitka is especially important.
“It’s not just the commercial fishery that utilizes this one,” he said. “It’s utilized heavily by the recreational fleet as well as normal commercial traffic – non-fishery related.”
The Maple returned the buoy to service on Aug. 20. It takes about 30 minutes to physically put the buoy back on station. But the job doesn’t end there.
“Once it’s in the water floating free, it’s about a four-hour test and evaluation process to make sure the sensors that it’s sending back to the satellite and to the viewers on the website is the same as the actual on-scene weather that we’re observing,” Reichl said.
KCAW spoke to Reichl while he was in Kodiak, where the Maple had traveled to tend to some buoys in the western Gulf of Alaska.
Voters in central Southeast will have a choice for state house in 2014. A Petersburg Republican plans to run for house district 35 in hopes of unseating a freshman Democratic representative from Sitka. Legislative districts for next year have not yet cleared a legal challenge but at least two people intend to run for the new district that includes Sitka, Petersburg Craig and other communities on the northern half of Prince of Wales Island.
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36-year-old Steven Samuelson works at the grocery store Hammer and Wikan. He’s also part of management of the Petersburg company that also has hardware and convenience stores. Samuelson twice ran in the state primary against Wrangell Republican Peggy Wilson for her house seat. He narrowly lost to Wilson in his second attempt in 2010.
“I ran two I believe very successful campaigns,” Samuelson said this month. “Though I didn’t get the seat, I believe this time I will. I think that we need quite a bit of support for senator (Bert) Stedman, from the representative side. I believe the state is becoming more republican all the time but I also think we need somebody in the house that isn’t voting party lines that is seeking and really learning and understanding the district throughout what all the needs are here in our communities.”
Samuelson said his top issues going into the 2014 election are some of the same ones from his last campaign. He says he’s passionate about hydro electric power for Southeast communities and service on the state ferry system, and he touts his experience for the new district.
“Especially as a commercial fishermen for all of my life,” he said, adding, “Working for Sitka based Allen Marine, being in the tourism industry. I have a background in aviation so I understand that part of it. A lot of different things that these communities survive on and can grow with are what I’m here to support.”
If the redistricting board’s latest plan survives a legal challenge, the new House district 35 will include 24 communities in central Southeast, including Angoon, Hoonah, Craig, Klawock and Kupreanof, Kake, Pelican, Coffman Cove, Port Protection and Point Baker and other communities on northern Prince of Wales Island.
Samuelson said he’s been encouraged to run by Republicans in Southeast and is not daunted by the task of campaigning through so many towns. Like past campaigns he plans to go door to door, traveling around the new district and working the phones. He’s also non-committal on his stance for the change in oil taxes pushed by the governor and passed by the legislature this year.
“I haven’t heard anything on what are we gonna do next,” Samuelson said. “It’s, I don’t like it, it’s not a good plan but nobody’s really come across and said, OK this isn’t a good plan but this is another great plan on how to get more production out of the state and how to get more oil into that pipeline. And to just say no, we don’t like it, we want more money. How do we get the growth? How do we get more production? Is it tax break? Is it…the governor agrees that it is. You know until I’m sitting in that seat and able to provide as much information as possible to the people and get as much information as I can, we’ll just have to see where that goes.”
That’s a big contrast with Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, who Samuelson will be running against next fall, assuming both survive the August primary.
“The oil tax cut is huge and making sure that Alaska gets a fair share of Alaska’s oil wealth and isn’t giving it away to BP and Exxonn and Conoco which are already making literally billions in pure profit,” Kreiss-Tomkins said, adding, “Nothing wrong with that but I don’t think they need any more money that could otherwise go into infrastructure and harbors and schools. So that’s a huge issue. It’s the reason I ran in the first place and it’s still obviously in the forefront with this referendum coming up in this upcoming legislative session.”
Kreiss-Tomkins distributed signature booklets for the referendum to repeal the tax change and said he’ll be campaigning for the repeal on the primary ballot next August. He turned 24 in February. The Sitka Democrat, won his seat in the house in 2012 by beating incumbent Bill Thomas by 34 votes. He’s halfway through a two-year term representing a district including Sitka, Haines and many of the communities that could be in the new house district. Kreiss-Tomkins said he’s passionate about the job and hopes to get re-elected.
“It’s a great platform to affect positive change. I’ve been working on rural issues, commercial fishing issues, education and doing my very, very best to stop this oil tax cut. And whether that was in the legislature, also this referendum effort. And it’s a great platform to work on issues that affect people’s lives. And I can’t think of a more gratifying line of work.”
Kreiss Tomkins does some contract work and lists public policy analyst and writer as his occupation but says he spends much of his time representing his district, even with the legislature out of session. He said he’s excited about the election race. “I’m looking forward to meeting Steven and hearing the ideas he’s got and I’m passionate about the job and the ideas you can advance through the position. So it’ll be a lot of fun to go through the process and talk with voters and it’s good for the district and good for the public process that there’ll be a robust campaign so I’m excited about it.”
Kreiss-Tomkins heads back to Juneau for the second session of the 28th legislature this winter and says he’ll focus on campaigning after that.
Citing a lack of new investment funds, a Niblack Mine representative announced Wednesday that the project is on hold at least until next year.
Graham Neale, project manager for the Canadian firm Heatherdale Resources, which owns Niblack, says about $39 million has been spent on exploring the potential for the mine, and the company remains committed to developing the project. He explained the holdup during a quick update for the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce: “For the last 18-24 months or so, a large part of the investment community is just kind of sitting on their cash, so to speak.”
Neale says the company still needs to conduct some more surface drilling to establish where the different minerals are located. He hopes they can complete that drilling next year, and remains optimistic that actual mining could start within five or six years.
“We’re very committed to the project,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere, we haven’t abandoned it. We’ve just significantly scaled down our operations and crew. Unfortunately, we had to let quite a few staff members go. We’re just doing everything we can to control our operating costs at this point.”
Niblack is a copper, zinc, gold and silver prospect on Prince of Wales Island.
State officials say they’ll withdraw funding for a $15 million Hoonah dock unless the Southeast city changes the facility’s location.
The money was appropriated by the Legislature, in part to support the town’s Icy Strait Point tourist attraction, 40 air miles west of Juneau.
Community and Regional Affairs Director Scott Ruby sent a letter earlier this month threatening to take away the grant. He also put a hold on any project spending.
He says it’s because the cruise industry doesn’t like the dock’s location.
“The primary use was going to be a cruise ship dock. But also, when it’s not being used for a cruise ship dock, it would be constructed such that it could be used for other purposes (such as) freight and ferries and whatever. It’s a multiuse dock,” he says.
Two other proposed locations are acceptable to the industry, as well as Native village corporation Huna Totem, which developed Icy Strait Point.
The state made a similar threat more than a year ago, but the conflict was not resolved.
Hoonah City Administrator Bob Prunella says officials won’t comment until they meet with the state. That’s scheduled to happen Thursday, Aug. 29.
Sitka’s Bert Stedman represents Hoonah in the Senate. He says local leaders need to decide whether to move ahead.
“I think it’s a good idea for Hoonah to have a dock. But you need to build facilities that will help the industry prosper and move forward with the community,” he says.
Hoonah has about two weeks to respond to the state. Officials will then decide whether to block funding.
The original legislative grant was for $17 million. Lawmakers last spring diverted $2 million to a clinic project approved by Hoonah leaders.
Stedman diverted another $5 million to a swimming pool at the state’s Mount Edgecumbe boarding high school in Sitka. Governor Sean Parnell vetoed that provision, saying the money should stay in Hoonah.
Hear an earlier report on the the dock issue: Hoonah dock project sparks controversy.
Michelle O’Brien and Joel Kotrc give details on the upcoming Top Chef competition. This is an opportunity for amateur cooks to win money for their favorite charity. TopChef