Youth Fishing Day will be Saturday April 26 at the 21 Mile pull-out on Haines Highway. There...
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Southeast Alaska News
Landslides that blocked some major roads on Prince of Wales Island have been cleared, and power has been restored to almost everyone on the island.
Alaska Power and Telephone vice president of power operations Greg Mickelson says that both Coffman Cove and Hollis are on backup diesel generators while crews repair damage to power lines, but he hopes that operations will be back to normal by late Thursday.
Mickelson says that Hollis was without power for more than 10 hours Tuesday. Department of Transportation crews weren’t able to clear the debris from the only road into that community until late that night, which meant AP&T crews couldn’t get in there to crank up the generators until about 10:30 p.m.
Mickelson says that phones remain out in Hollis, and all AP&T Internet on POW remains down for now.
He says one house that he knows of was damaged by a landslide, but nobody was hurt.
While Tuesday’s storm was a big one, Mickelson recalls a much worse storm in 1993, which resulted in 20 landslides on the Hollis Road alone.
A seasonal sales tax approved last week by the Ketchikan City Council is up for reconsideration Thursday.
The seasonal 1-percent sales tax increase is intended to take advantage of Ketchikan’s busy summertime tourism industry. If it remains unchanged, the tax would go into effect this summer, and then would drop back in fall to the current level.
An option that some on the Council prefer is a year-round, half-percent sales-tax increase.
Also Thursday, the Council will consider a motion allowing City Manager Karl Amylon to negotiate an agreement for the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association to operate the Deer Mountain Hatchery, recently vacated by Ketchikan Indian Community.
The hatchery is located at City Park, and the facility is owned by the city. SSRAA officials have asked that the city demolish the eagle sanctuary that KIC also operated at the site. If that space were converted to more rearing ponds, SSRAA estimates it could double fish production to about half a million.
SSRAA also plans to rear only king salmon, rather than king and coho; and provide educational opportunities for the public.
Also on Thursday’s Council agenda are motions to negotiate a hospital renovation pre-construction contract with Layton and Dawson construction companies; and to approve a 1-percent cost-of-living raise for non-union city employees.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
State education spending and the possibilities for an Alaska gasline are top priorities for the minority leader of the Alaska House of Representative going into the legislative session later this month.
Democrat Beth Kerttula of Juneau represents Petersburg, Kupreanof, Gustavus, Tenakee and Skagway, along with her hometown.
In 2013 she called the first session of the 28th legislature the “worst ever” and thinks the upcoming session is going to be a tough one.
“We’re going in looking at $2 billion in deficit. That doesn’t mean we’re out of money. It means anything but that but it does mean a lot of the discussion this year will be about fiscal plans and about how we’re gonna go about spending and not spending maybe more importantly,” she said. “And of course we’re going to spend a lot of time arguing about the oil taxes although there probably won’t be any movement on them. That’ll all wait for the referendum and that’s when people vote in the primary.”
Kerttula has backed the effort to repeal the oil tax reform bill passed by the Legislature last year. Voters will decide that issue in the August primary.
Meanwhile, the state budget picture and future state funding for education looks to be one of the big issues in the upcoming session.
A Republican-led House sustainable education task force came out with recommendations at the end of last month. It said current state spending levels need to be reduced. The task force recommended that Alaskans should be made aware that current education spending is not sustainable.
Kerttula wants to see more money put towards the classroom.
“It’s not all about money obviously, but we’ve been sliding on education. Especially not even keeping up with inflation and that hurts the classroom,” she said. “We’ve been putting money towards things like transportation and security but you know at this point we really need to face the fact that we need to be looking at the classroom itself. So I think there will be a lot of focus on that.”
The former oil and gas attorney also expects to see progress on a natural gas pipeline project this session.
“And while we don’t always think about that in Southeast, it could be a huge benefit to Alaskans overall. And the real key to it is that there’s a possibility that Alaskans may have a seat at the table and have an ownership involvement in it. So I’ll be very focused on that, it’s a really exciting opportunity, Devil’s going to be in the details in how it all works out,” she said.
Kerttula was the prime sponsor on seven bills last session – all remain in one House committee or another. Those bills range from one that seeks to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation to a measure re-instating a pension option for public employees and teachers.
“I’m really thinking this session is not going to have a lot of personal bills going through. I think it’s really going to be a bigger debate about the overall budget and spending.”
Kerttula will be running for reelection in the fall.
Because of redistricting she won’t be representing Petersburg, Kupreanof or Tenakee after this session. If she’s reelected her new district would include Haines and several other small Southeast communities.
The second session of the 28th legislature starts Jan. 21 and runs through April 20th.
Hear what other Southeast lawmakers want to happen during the session:
More links will be posted as reports are produced.
ANCHORAGE — Irregularities found in controlled samples of illegal drugs at the state crime lab have prompted an audit of remaining samples and a criminal investigation.
John Skidmore, director of the Criminal Division at the Department of Law, said Wednesday the irregularities were discovered by new, more sensitive testing instruments employed by the lab.
JUNEAU — A government report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon.
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Andrew Friske, athletic director at Mt. Edgecumbe High School, says 19 teams will be in Sitka this weekend for the Mt. Edgecumbe Invitational Basketball Tournament. Although this is a tournament for adult basketball teams from around the state, all proceeds benefit the activities programs at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Games start Wednesday evening (1-15-14) on two courts at the BJ McGillis Gym on campus. Tournament passes and individual game tickets available at the gate.
Alaska’s tribal facilities could get a much-needed financial boost from a $1.1 trillion spending bill being considered in Congress.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Interior Department subcommittee, announced Monday that the department’s proposed budget fully funds operations costs at tribally-managed hospitals and clinics; it also includes $66.2 million to staff Alaska’s six new tribal facilities.
ANCHORAGE — The Anchorage School District has told local high school principals to prepare to add an extra period to the day in the next school year, giving students seven classes instead of six.
The school district is bracing for budget cuts, and educators said adding an additional class would allow schools to do more with less. It also would shorten the length of classes and add additional students per day for teachers, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Next year’s budget will be released next week. It includes about $23 million in cuts.
KODIAK — The building that once housed most city offices in Kodiak is being torn down.
Demolition work is underway on the old Kodiak Police Department building, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported.
The city bought the building on Mill Bay Road in 1956, and it housed the police department, jail, courthouse and city offices before police became the sole occupants.
Most of the items the police department wanted to save have been taken to the new location, which opened in 2010. Among those was the pole with a red light that was on top of the building.
ANCHORAGE — A 42-year-old Wasilla man was arrested early Tuesday after a standoff in which he used a slingshot, Alaska State Troopers said.
Jose A. Pacheco was charged with seven counts of assault on law enforcement officers following his 1:30 a.m. arrest. No one was injured in the incident.
Troopers and Wasilla police responded to a home Monday night after a report of multiple gunshots and possible victims.
After several hours of negotiation and standoff, Pacheco shot several times at officers, according to troopers.
The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
In Alaska’s long struggle with alcohol abuse, we’ve learned that we need to confront the problem on multiple fronts — education, treatment and counseling, tough enforcement and effective alternatives to jail time.
For repeat DUI offenders, being married to a 24/7 Breathalyzer covers several of those fronts.
That’s the message in Kyle Hopkins’ Jan. 5 story “Aid to sobriety,” which examines the effectiveness of alcohol testing machines in keeping offenders on the straight and narrow.
City finance director Jay Sweeney told the Sitka Assembly in a work session last night that unanticipated expenses had derailed a five-year master plan, and the Water Fund was looking weak.
He also had concerns over the Solid Waste Fund.
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A quarterly financial update is about as mundane as it gets in Sitka’s assembly chambers. But finance director Jay Sweeney was pretty grim talking about the Water Fund. Over the course of the past 17 months, the fund has made a quarter-million dollar stride toward improving its negative balance of working capital — that’s the difference between what needs to be spent on major repairs and improvements and the amount of money on hand. But those repairs just keep on coming.
“We have had several large water main leaks, as the result of aging infrastructure that are not covered by insurance. Especially the one which was near the curve of Sawmill Creek Road, across from Jeff Davis. It was a very expensive leak to fix.”
Sweeney said that one job alone consumed about six month’s worth of the latest rate hike.
And there have been rate hikes, one every year since 2011. This is all according to a Water Fund master plan. But that plan didn’t factor in the installation of an ultra-violet light treatment facility at Blue Lake, which most of the fund’s available cash is designated for.
And the plan didn’t factor in this.
“We now no longer have a viable secondary water source.”
Before the Blue Lake dam was built, Sitka was supplied with water from the Indian River. Although rules regarding surface water have changed, it could still be a fallback — albeit an expensive one.
“Indian River, which was once our secondary water source, requires now some sort of filtration. We know there is a viable alternative in underground water in the Starrigavan Valley, but the challenge is that the water line from the Starrigavan Valley into town, plus the pump stations, are of insufficient size and capability to get that water into town.”
Utility-scale filtration is not cheap. The temporary system Sitka bought to filter Blue Lake water, after the dam is raised and the lake slowly fills up, cost over $3-million.
And Sweeney said that creating a secondary water supply could not be put off indefinitely.
“Somehow we’re going to have to devise a plan because we know — once the hydroelectric facility goes online — within ten years the penstock will need to be shut down yet again for cleaning. That’s our decade-long time to plan and act, and to find an alternative water source, get the funding, and move forward.”
Sweeney said there was a chance the city could “hit a home run” and win grant funding to cover this expense, but he thought it more likely that the assembly would be forced to implement another water rate hike in 2015.
And the bad news didn’t end with the Water Fund. The Solid Waste Fund has typically been in the black, or in the language of high finance…
“In the past, the Solid Waste Fund was always one of our happy funds.”
Sweeney said the fund produced a gross margin, generated cash flow from operations, and increased its working capital. But nine months ago it took a turn for the worse, and has been slipping — by about $19,000 a month.
Sweeney attributed the losses to increases in outside transportation costs, in barging Sitka’s trash to Seattle, and then trucking it to Eastern Washington.
Since these costs are contracted, they can’t really be controlled locally — except for one obvious way.
“If you can reduce your shipping costs. Absolutely, those shipping costs are pound for pound. And big things like food waste and glass would make a huge difference, by increasing that voluntary recycling effort. You’re not going to get any topline revenue from it, but you’re going to help moderate the costs.”
Sweeney said an increase in commodity prices — what Sitka receives for the material it does recycle, like cardboard and plastic — might also help. But he still characterized the recycling program overall as money loser, though not as much of a money loser shipping unsorted garbage.
Without some sort of change, Sweeney anticipated that the assembly would have to consider an increase in the Solid Waste Fund, though not until the next fiscal year.
Happily, Sweeney reported that all other enterprise funds — like Harbors, the Central Garage, and Airport — and the Sitka General Fund, were all healthy.
In other business last night (Tue 1-14-14), finance director Jay Sweeney again took center stage as the assembly considered reclassifying his position.
Municipal administrator Mark Gorman has the authority to reorganize city hall any way he likes, without seeking assembly approval. But he considers Sweeney’s position “critical” and asked for the assembly’s support nonetheless.
Gorman asked the assembly to approve designating Sweeney as the city’s Chief Financial and Administrative Officer, and moving the Finance, Information Services, and Human Resources departments under his supervision.
Gorman said he’s already heard from people who have reservations about the move.
“Why add another layer of bureaucracy in the system? I don’t see it that way. In fact, I see it as creating synergies, where we have an opportunity to reduce some inefficiencies and possibly achieve some economies of scale.”
Gorman stressed that there would still be three separate departments under Sweeney, and that Sweeney’s current deputy finance director, Mike Middleton, would remain in that role, but assume more responsibility.
Assembly members expressed support for the plan. Pete Esquiro wanted to know what would happen if things were left the way they are.
“The downside is that we continue business-as-usual. I think business-as-usual has worked well. The structure’s going to change in the next couple of years, and we’ll organize ourselves in a much more efficient way, and allow for the capacities that we see in staff such as Jay to really contribute in different ways to the strategic initiatives of the City and Borough of Sitka.”
Member Phyllis Hackett wondered if the reorganization would only be effective with Gorman and Sweeney in the roles, but Gorman reassured her that a CFAO was becoming more common among Alaskan municipalities.
Member Aaron Swanson had reservations about increasing Sweeney’s workload, but Sweeney appeared ready for broader duties supporting the administrator.
“I view my role here as helping this gentleman succeed, in whatever way that may be. If this role changes somewhat, and if some of the duties he’s assigned make less sense, and something else makes more sense — then if I can help him in this way so that the overall goals he’s stated, better managing the municipality and achieving some of the initiatives he’s stated — that’s what I envision doing here.”
Sweeney added that he wanted no additional compensation for the new title.
Gorman said he wanted to move slowly, and make the transition over a couple of years. He anticipated that some of the other 14 departments in the city government eventually could be streamlined in the same way.
The assembly voted unanimously to endorse Jay Sweeney’s redesignation as Sitka’s Chief Financial and Administrative Officer.
If you’re driving around Sitka today (1-14-14) you might notice that things look a little different. For instance the moose sculpture at Swan Lake is up to its antlers in water. And what was the Indian River trailhead parking lot is now a shallow pond.
Joel Curtis, a meteorologist at the national weather service office in Juneau says flooding like this is unusual in Sitka, but the cumulative rainfall is not. According to Curtis, one report measured 7 inches of rain from midnight last night to 10 AM this morning.
Curtis says this is a lot of rain, but not a record amount. ”It’s certainly above normal for this time of year and ordinarily we’re thinking a little snow mixed in or something like that. So this was quite a warm system that came up here. I’d say you just keep putting water on water and snow melting up in the mountains and pretty soon you’ve got some problems going on.”
Like a landslide. Curtis says that this is common when freeze thaws and loosens up rocks, soil, and tree roots. One house in the Cascade Creek neighborhood got the brunt of it.
Bayne: The house has moved. See the edge of it here? The house has moved about 6 inches this way. So that’s pretty much a total lose right there.
Troy Bayne owns an excavation business in Sitka and was able to offer help. Brian Bickar, the property owner’s brother was extremely thankful, saying that Bayne played a vital role in mitigating further damage.
Me: How was he able to intervene?
Bickar: The creek wasn’t under control and it was flooding the street and flooding down into the other property owners’ property. So as soon as he got here, he rerouted the creek and that prevented any damage to people down the street.
Fire Department Chief, Dave Miller was also at the scene.
Miller: I think we started getting calls that there was water problems 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m., something like that.
Miller spoke with long-time residents who confirmed that this type of flooding is unusual for Sitka.
Miller said, “One of the houses I went to, the lady said this is the highest the creek behind her house has ever been, and she’s been here a long time.”
While we’ll have a bit of a break from heavy precipitation, Curtis say Sitkans should remain cautious. He says the streams are booming right now and there’s still potential for a wash out.
We can also expect more rain midday tomorrow, and another warm weather system Wednesday night into Thursday.
Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island experienced some wild weather on Tuesday, with heavy rain propelled by strong winds.
In Ketchikan, a landslide sent trees crashing into power lines in the Ward Cove area, triggering a system-wide power outage at around 9:45 a.m. Here’s KPU Electric Division Manager Andy Donato.
“Looks like it took out two of the top lines, which is the Swan-Bailey 115 kv line,” he said. “That in itself would probably be enough to cause the outage that we saw. The entire KPU network went down.”
KPU isolated sections of the grid and soon restored power to customers south of the Bailey Power Plant, but those north of that facility remained without power until late afternoon.
Donato says it’s challenging for line crews to work in this kind of weather.
“If you’ve seen these bucket trucks at the top of these poles, waving in the wind, and the wind is strong. It’s nasty conditions,” he said. “There’s no doubt these linemen are earning their pay today.”
No flooding problems were reported in city limits, but crews were keeping an eye on drains, according to the city Public Works Department.
On POW, though, there was flooding that led to landslides and blocked roads.
One of those slides blocked all traffic on the Klawock-Hollis Highway, and another cut off the community of Coffman Cove. State Troopers reported that a portion of Whale Pass Road also was washed out.
Because of the Klawock-Hollis Highway slide, the Inter-Island Ferry Authority had to hold Tuesday’s ferry run from Ketchikan to Prince of Wales Island.
IFA General Manager Dennis Watson says it was unclear how bad the slide was, or whether the road was damaged or just covered with mud and debris.
“Our terminal agent in Hollis drove out on site and called me and she said it’s really bad,” he said. “I don’t know if she could even tell if the road was washed out. She just said there was a tremendous amount of mud across it. And apparently one house below that was severely damaged, from what I understand.”
Watson says the wind was blowing a steady 35 to 40 earlier Tuesday morning on POW, and things picked up even more.
“And then around 11 it just really cranked up,” he said. “It had to have been blowing a steady 50 at least, gusting way higher. It was really bad.”
Watson says power to Hollis also was cut off, and Craig was without electricity for about 45 minutes. A phone call seeking information from Alaska Power and Telephone, the power provider on POW, was not returned by deadline.
The wind started dying down Tuesday afternoon, but flood warnings from the National Weather Service remained in effect until 6 p.m. Tuesday for Ketchikan and Prince of Wales.
Three days of heavy rainfall has generated serious runoff problems, even in areas outside of Sitka. The Herring Cove Trail was first damaged by runoff during an unusual rain/snowmelt situation about five weeks ago, when water carved a new channel in the trail just below the log bridge at the upper falls. Now, water has filled that channel again, as local naturalist Bill Foster discovered this morning (Tue 1-14-14, see photo below).Additionally, the falls midway up the trail have been diverted by a large log, and that section of the trail is in the process of being washed out. Forest Service landscape architect and trail designer Barth Hamberg says extensive maintenance will be needed to return the trail to its former condition. Investment in mitigating nature, however, is a calculation: “You can overbuild,” Hamberg says, “for things that may or may not happen.”
At Beaver Lake, the site of a major landslide two years ago, the trail is weathering the storm quite well. But Bill Foster reports 72 of the stepping stones on the north side of the lake are under water — some up to the top of his XTRATUFF boots!
Rae C. Stedman Elementary school in Petersburg is getting a major overhaul this year and it looks like the work will be starting before the end of the school year. The wall, window and insulation project is expected to cut down on heating bills for the four-decade-old building.
Petersburg’s school board this month voted to award the contract to the Alaska Commercial Contractors for $2.3 million. Alaska Commercial has an office in Juneau and employs some Petersburg residents. It was one of six companies bidding on the work.
Superintendent Rob Thomason summed up the input from the district’s architectural firm. “They were pleased with all the bidders. They were extremely pleased with the winning bidder. They’ve worked with them before. They are in some ways Petersburg based. The numbers were what they call a tight grouping in terms of they were all within a few hundred thousand dollars as opposed to millions of dollars of difference. And so they’re very comfortable that every company was looking at the same thing so they understand what they are getting into. We’re thrilled with the contractor. We’re excited about the project and it’s right on budget for what we had anticipated and set aside out of the timber receipt for our 30 percent at the borough level.”
70 percent of the project cost will come from the state while local 30 percent match will be covered by federal dollars the borough has saved. That money is from the Secure Rural Schools payments, formerly called timber receipts, given to communities near national forest land.
The project will mean new walls and windows for Stedman elementary, built in 1969. Maintenance director Dan Tate described the work. “Well it’s gonna be quite a site to see come the summer. You gonna see large sections of the school with the walls completely down. We’re getting two by six wall construction which is an industry standard. Right now our walls are unbelievably thin and it’s gonna be quite a change. When the final siding goes up and the windows are in place you’re gonna see a different window configuration than you’ve seen in the past. It’ll be a little more aesthetically pleasing probably. Biggest thing I think you’ll notice is our siding that’s on there right now is a little more of a vertical nature to it and we’re gonna go with what looks like from the drawings a two-tone horizontal look to it. And like I said different window arrangement, like I said I think it should be very pleasing for everyone to see.”
Tate said the bids came in low enough to pay for other work at the school. That will include replacing old carpeting, removing asbestos pipe fittings under the building and new digital controls for the heating system.
“In 2005 the mechanical systems of the school were brought up into this century shall we say and now with these improvements plus, the name of the project actually goes a little bit greater,” Tate said. “We’re also getting new radiator and fin tubes, new insulation underneath the school, the envelop’s going to be increased all the way across the board. With the digital controls like I said we’re coming into the 21 century with that building.”
The district was hoping to do the work entirely during the summer, when kids are not in class. However, it looks like the renovations will take longer than the three month summer break. Principal Erica Kludt-Painter saidconstruction will be starting while kids are still in school this year. “Which poses some challenges that we’re working through actually right now and hoping to work directly with the contractors as well as far as what that might look like and how that will impact students and how we can make it the least impact educationally, with the hope that everything will be up and running and ready to go by the beginning of the school year that’s the real goal.”
Kludt-Painter said the start of work could be April or sooner and it may mean closing some parts of the school and juggling classroom space. “Potentially yes. And talking about things like looking at the library, obviously you don’t really wanna close the library during school year but at the same time that’s not a classroom. Everything’s being looked at but we really want it to be the least impact on the kids.”
Superintendent Thomason thinks the disruption from construction will be worth a warmer school building that will be more cost-effective to heat in the long run.
Jeff Budd and Dr. Ana Dittmar discuss an upcoming iconography workshop sponsored by St. Michael’s Cathedral and the Greater Sitka Arts Council.
After 17 years at the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District, Curriculum Director Linda Hardin has announced her resignation, effective June 30.
The School Board will vote Wednesday on a motion to accept Hardin’s resignation. In her letter, Hardin writes that her time in Ketchikan has been “my pleasure to work with so many talented and dedicated school personnel and community members.”
Hardin was traveling and not available for comment by deadline for this report.
Also Wednesday, the School Board will discuss the process for appointing members to vacant seats on the board, and consider a contract with Sarah Devore to teach at Tongass School of Arts and Sciences for the rest of this school year.
The School Board meeting starts at 6 p.m. in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start and end of the meeting.