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Southeast Alaska News

Herring Cove congestion solutions sought

Tue, 2014-01-07 17:17

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly wasn’t able to take action on some of its agenda items on Monday, because a legal notice of the meeting wasn’t published in time.

Under the Open Meetings Act, local governments must provide adequate public notice of meetings and the agenda items, so that the public is aware of what will be decided during a meeting. Because of the snafu, the Assembly postponed a resolution related to the disposal of borough-owned property, an agreement with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for a log transfer area on Gravina Island; and an executive session to discuss the borough’s planned lawsuit against the state over education funding.

Separate notices on three scheduled ordinances had been published in time, so the Assembly was able to vote on those. Assembly members also heard a presentation about proposed solutions for summer congestion at Herring Cove, along with some public comment on that issue.

Lynn Caldwell owns property at Herring Cove. He had been working with the borough’s Planning Department to provide a viewing platform, some bus parking space and other amenities, to help alleviate the congestion out there and make a little money. However, he said after watching for one summer, he’s not sure his plan will succeed without some changes.

“I cannot finish developing this property and go through all the hoops and provide shelters, bathrooms, and whatever for all these people if I’m not going to make any money at it,” he said. “And the tour operators – they’d be happy to park on my property – but if I charge them to park on my property, they aren’t going to park there if they can park in the middle of the road for free.”

Caldwell is in favor of some kind of regulation and enforcement, for safety’s sake if nothing else.

Herring Cove is a popular destination for summertime tourists, and many tour bus companies shuttle visitors out to that South End spot throughout the season. Buses park where they can, and tourists walk back and forth across South Tongass Highway to watch salmon and bears from a narrow bridge spanning the creek below.

Bob Brown, a driver with Northern Tours, agrees with Caldwell on one point: There is a problem, and safety is the biggest concern. Brown suggests a separate bridge dedicated to pedestrians. If that isn’t possible, he thinks the existing bridge should be turned into a single-lane structure during the summer, which would allow more room for tourists and would slow down vehicle traffic.

“We are really handling a large volume of people off these cruise ships,” he said. “And we need to be able to establish ways, for the season, to make it productive, and not interfere that much with the property owners out there.”

Steve McDonald, another tour operator, agrees with Brown’s bridge solution. McDonald estimates that about 50 vehicles take tourists to Herring Cove on a regular basis throughout the summer, adding up to more than 100,000 people visiting the area during the season.

Assembly Member Mike Painter pointed out that the bridge is part of the state highway, so the borough can’t do much more than make a suggestion.

Tory Korn, who manages Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, told the Assembly that he and other officials at that tour business believe they can help.

“We went ahead and undertook a master plan for our own property, and now feel very confident we can work with the borough to present a private enterprise solution to the parking and other infrastructure needs to provide a safe and high-quality tour experience for visitors and locals alike,” he said. “While I don’t think a solution for the 2014 operating season is likely, I do think that cooperation from all stakeholders can be a major part in developing a sustainable long-term solution for Herring Cove.”

Northern Tours driver Marie Zellmer said that something obviously needs to be done out at Herring Cove. She likes the idea of using cruise passenger head tax funds to provide some infrastructure.

Zellmer had one suggested improvement that she said could be done in time for this year’s summer season: “Better access to the beach. If you go out to Herring Cove, you’ve got this little muddy path down to a rock wall, which all our fishermen for all these years have had to walk down. Of course, you only have access to the beach at low tide because it’s all private property along the edges. A proper gravel walkway and an actual staircase would be a quick, not-too-expensive addition that would help our private citizens and our visitors at any time of the year.”

Borough planner Chris French later gave a presentation on options for Herring Cove. The proposed solution would establish a program to issue permits for commercial tour operators taking passengers to the area.

He also suggests fines for drivers that stop on the bridge or on the highway.

Assembly Member Glen Thompson said he would want to use cruise passenger head tax funds for any solution that the borough chooses. He also suggests expanding the borough’s code enforcement department to make sure the rules are followed.

An ordinance on the issue will come back to the Assembly at a later meeting.

The Assembly recessed Monday’s meeting, and is scheduled to reconvene at 5 p.m. Friday in Borough Assembly chambers to take care of the postponed items.

No more state funding for elective abortions

Tue, 2014-01-07 15:24

New abortion regulations adopted by the State of Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services will prevent Medicaid from covering elective abortions.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell certified the regulations Friday, which will take effect Feb. 2.

The department’s document to request Medicaid funds for an abortion lists 23 medical conditions that are covered. Some of those conditions include severe preeclampsia, convulsions, sickle cell anemia, severe kidney infection, epilepsy and congestive heart failure.

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PeaceHealth Ketchikan picks new CAO

Tue, 2014-01-07 15:01

Ken Tonjes is the new CAO of PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. (Photo courtesy PeaceHealth)

Ken Tonjes has been hired as the new chief administrative officer for PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

PeaceHealth announced Tuesday that Tonjes will fill the role in which he has served on an interim basis since August. Before that, he was the hospital’s chief financial officer for about 12 years.

PeaceHealth Northwest Network CEO Nancy Steiger says that Tonjes brings business experience to the hospital, along with a history of success to help ensure a stable transition.

Ketchikan Medical Center’s previous leader, Pat Branco, resigned last summer after about 10 years in the position.

Murkowski votes to move toward benefits debate

Tue, 2014-01-07 13:26

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted with the majority to proceed to debate on a renewal of benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Murkowski was one of six Republicans who voted with Democrats on Tuesday to clear an initial Senate hurdle for the proposed renewal of jobless benefits. Sen. Mark Begich did not vote. A spokeswoman said the Democrat was on his way back to Washington.

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CBJ developing social media policy

Tue, 2014-01-07 13:23

JUNEAU — The City and Borough of Juneau is preparing to be “liked” and beginning work on a social media policy.

City manager Kim Kiefer told KTOO Juneau is behind the curve with social media.

Government needs to try to reach out to everybody in a community, she said, and the city probably is not connecting with a part of Juneau’s population because not everyone visits the city website for information. People want information “yesterday and I don’t know that we’re providing it in a way that they can get it,” Kiefer said.

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Energy authority wants more time for dam filing

Tue, 2014-01-07 13:18

JUNEAU — The Alaska Energy Authority wants more time to file with federal regulators an initial study report for the massive proposed Susitna-Watana dam project.

AEA spokeswoman Emily Ford says the $10 million proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell for next year’s budget isn’t enough to get through a full field season. AEA wanted $110 million.

While the Legislature might provide more funding, Ford says AEA will have to reprioritize its project plans based on currently available funds and Parnell’s budget proposal.

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KRBD welcomes reporter Emily Files

Tue, 2014-01-07 12:18

KRBD’s newest employee, Emily Files speaks about her work at NPR and on The World.  EmilyFiles

Pacific High: A (new) century of education in downtown Sitka

Tue, 2014-01-07 10:38

“The greatest iteration yet,” is how Pacific High co-principal Phil Burdick describes the remodeled school, which has been an educational center for over a century. (KCAW photo/Emily Forman)

Sitka’s Pacific High School students returned from winter break today (1-7-14), to find one last holiday gift: a new school. For the past two years, Pacific High has been housed in the Southeast Alaska Career Center, while the Lincoln Street building was remodeled from the ground up. KCAW’s Emily Forman visited the all-new Pacific High the day before students arrived and learned how this state-of-the-art facility has been over a century in the making.

Listen to iFriendly audio.

It’s the first week of the New Year. Resolutions are fresh, and we’re still optimistic that they’ll stick. It’s a time focused on new beginnings, and Sitka’s Pacific High School is honoring that sentiment in a big way – with a brand new building.

The central area of the school is filled with natural light. (KCAW photo/Emily Forman)

KCAW: So here I am this is the new building.
Burdick: Looks great doesn’t it? It’s hard to see on the radio but…
KCAW: Describe it
Burdick: Looking from office you get this great rotunda. Which has this light from the sky coming down in this scoop. So, we have this great space where everyone can meet and gather. That’s my favorite spot.

If it sounds quiet for 11:30am on a Monday, that’s because the students are still on break. When I ask Phil Burdick co-principal of Pacific High about how the renovation came to fruition, he starts from the beginning. The very beginning. All the way back to the late 1800s.

Education was segregated for a long time in Sitka and this place where we sit now was a part of that history. This site has gone through many many incarnations.

Tracking the history is a little murky, but the point is that for well over 100 years the Lincoln Street site has been dedicated to education. And today’s version is worlds away from the original: a one room, segregated, Native training school. Burdick is confident that the current iteration is the best.

KCAW: So are there way in which the curriculum will be able to be expanded because of this space?
Burdick: Yeah, if you look around every classroom has door to the outside, which ties into our model that learning happens out in the community. It doesn’t have to happen in the school. So, everyone has an opportunity to get out, everyone has an opportunity to get messy, everyone has an opportunity to find a quiet space, everyone has an opportunity to learn in the way that suits them best.

This building is all about options. For instance, Burdick loves the “flex” room – a room flanked on either side by large glass door that lead to two additional classrooms. The doors slide open – transforming what was three separate rooms into a large open space.

My name is Mandy Summer and I teach English and health.

Summer says the space is a huge luxury. It’s roomy compared to the career center where teachers had to share classrooms. Once Summer started listing the new perks, it was hard to stop.

Summer: It’s nice to have sinks in our rooms. The little things that you don’t realize. And it’s just new, I have only worked here with the ceiling dripping on me, and moldy tiles above my head. That’s the only Pacific High I’ve ever known. So, this is really nice.

Hillary Seeland teaches English, History and Government and really appreciates her large windows overlooking crescent harbor.

Seeland: And the windows are really lovely, I love all the light in here. I love the color pallet in here. I love the storage.
KCAW: Look at your view.
Seeland: I know right!
KCAW: How many teachers have this kind of view?
Seeland: No one.

Rest assured that the Pacific High crew is feeling pretty grateful, and optimistic about 2014.

Burdick: There’s a lot of history on this site and we’re just the latest and hopefully greatest iteration of what has gone on here.

Breaking the new American class system

Tue, 2014-01-07 10:07

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Shannon Haugland, with the Sitka Film Society, discusses this Friday’s screening of Inequality for All, a documentary featuring former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. (5:30 PM Fri Jan 10, Coliseum Theater downtown, tickets $8 in advance at Old Harbor Books)

Tue Jan 7, 2014

Tue, 2014-01-07 10:01

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Remodeled Pacific High building a century in the making. Ocean acidification changing behavior of some fish. USGC’s Polar Star steaming to Antarctica to free Russian, Chinese ships.

SEARHC names new practice director

Tue, 2014-01-07 01:05

Eric Gettis is the new director of practice management at the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. He begins the new position on Jan. 13.

Gettis will work alongside Dr. Janice Sheufelt, SEARHC’s new primary care clinics medical director. Together they will manage SEARHC’s 16 medical practices.

Gettis has over 20 years of healthcare leadership, according to a statement from SEARHC. He comes to Juneau from the Tri-City area in Washington state.

read more

Dept. of Revenue names deputy commissioner

Tue, 2014-01-07 01:05

Mike Pawlowski has been named deputy commissioner of the Department of Revenue.

Pawlowski currently works as a petroleum fiscal systems advisor to the commissioner and has been responsible for promoting Senate Bill 21, an overhaul of the state’s oil tax regime.

read more

Proposed set net ban initiative rejected

Tue, 2014-01-07 01:04

JUNEAU — Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell on Monday rejected a proposed initiative that sought to ban commercial shore gill nets and set nets in non-subsistence areas.

Supporters of the proposal billed it as a conservation effort and were seeking to move to the signature-gathering process to qualify the proposal for the ballot. Critics, like the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, called the proposal a fish grab by opposing interests.

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University of Wash. gets Future of Ice program

Tue, 2014-01-07 01:03

SEATTLE — With the planet’s polar regions changing faster than ever before in human history, the University of Washington is launching a new initiative to boost research in the Arctic and prepare students for a world where melting ice is opening new opportunities — and posing new threats.

Under the Future of Ice program, the university will hire eight scientists and faculty members and offer the country’s first Arctic studies minor outside of Alaska.

The inaugural course, which starts this month, filled up in less than two weeks.

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Avalanche forecasters issue backcountry warning

Tue, 2014-01-07 01:03

ANCHORAGE — Avalanche monitors in Alaska have issued an avalanche warning for backcountry areas of the Kenai and Western Chugach Mountains.

The warning was issued Saturday and was in effect until 5 p.m. Sunday, the Anchorage Daily News reported. An avalanche advisory issued Monday said the hazard is considerable above the tree line in the Turnagain area.

A storm was predicted in the backcountry area that could worsen already tenuous conditions.

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EPA tightens requirements for new wood stoves

Tue, 2014-01-07 01:03

FAIRBANKS — The federal Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new standards for wood stoves that would reduce the maximum amount of fine particulate emissions allowed for new stoves sold in 2015 and 2019.

Maximum emissions would be reduced by one-third next year and by 80 percent in five years, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

read more

Scholarships offered to Sealaska shareholders

Mon, 2014-01-06 21:45

Rosita Worl is president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, which offers scholarships to shareholder descendants.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute is once again offering scholarships to students attending college, graduate school or vocational-technical programs.

Only Sealaska shareholders and their lineal descendents are eligible.

Institute President Rosita Worl says up to 400 scholarships are awarded each year.

“A major consideration is the hopes that our educated young people will come back home and help us in developing strong, healthy communities,” Worl says.

The application deadline is March 1st. Students submitting paperwork by February 1st get an extra $50 tacked onto their scholarships, if they qualify.

Applications are available via the institute’s website.

Worl says the program has broadened its focus since it began.

“At first we thought we’d just concentrate just on education required to work in Sealaska. But then we found out that we need everything from an anthropologist to accountants to foresters. So we dropped that, just because we found we needed educated people in all areas,” she says.

Scholarships have totaled around $400,000 a year. Most of the funding comes from the Sealaska regional Native corporation.

Sealaska has more than 21,000 Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian shareholders. About half live outside Alaska.

$10K plus a coin collection stolen in Hydaburg

Mon, 2014-01-06 17:35

Over the new year, someone broke into a home in Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island, forced open a safe and stole about $10,000 plus a coin collection.

According to Alaska State Troopers, the report came in on Jan. 2nd, and the burglary likely occurred between New Year’s Eve and noon on New Year’s Day.

Troopers report that the unknown burglar apparently entered through a rear-facing window of the house. The investigation continues, and anyone with information is encouraged to contact Troopers in Klawock. Informants can remain anonymous.

And Ketchikan’s total rainfall for the year is….

Mon, 2014-01-06 16:55

So far in 2014, Ketchikan has gotten about two inches of rain. It’s been less than a week, though, and as we know, there’s plenty more to come.

A meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau predicts that the rest of this winter will be colder and wetter than normal for Southeast Alaska. He also gave a brief weather recap for 2013, including Ketchikan’s official rainfall total for the year.

As the saying goes: It rains in a rainforest. How much? Well, Ketchikan averages a little more than 150 inches every year, with some years approaching 200.

This past year was an interesting one, from a meteorologist’s perspective.

“For Ketchikan, the entire year was one of extremes in terms of precipitation,” said Rick Fritsch with the National Weather Service office in Juneau.

He said that only two months – August and November –had normal levels of precipitation. Several summer months were particularly dry; and then there was December, “Where Ketchikan received 13.45 inches above normal. To put that in perspective, that’s almost 100 percent more.”

Fritsch explained where all that rain came from.

“Believe it or not, weather that begins as a convective complex in the Indian Ocean makes it across the Indian Ocean to the Southwest Pacific Islands area and then eventually has an impact on our weather in Southeast Alaska,” he said.

In the case of December, there was a solid connection between Southeast to the tropical Pacific Ocean. Fritsch said that moisture just kept coming our way, carried by a series of low pressure systems that form in the Northwest or West Central Pacific and then head to the Gulf of Alaska, “where all good lows go to die.”

While it’s considered poor form to look a gift horse in the mouth, I just had to ask why the summer of 2013 was so gloriously dry and warm.

“The short answer is we got lucky,” he said. “The longer answer had to do with the fact that the jet stream was keeping things far enough away from us, either to the north or to the south.”

That jet stream defines where those soggy lows end up. And speaking of soggy, Fritsch had a prediction. While the first few days of January have been above-average in terms of temperature, he said, “I still am expecting the winter as a total, December January and February, to come out below normal in terms of temperature, and right now it looks like we have a pretty good chance of above normal in terms of precipitation.”

He added that it’s a little too early in the year to predict spring and summer.

Oh, and despite that dry summer, Ketchikan’s total rainfall for 2013 was pretty average. Fritsch reported that Alaska’s First City hit 151 inches even.

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