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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly is trying to find a way to end its monthly maintenance of a ferry that has never been put into service and instead indefinitely store the vessel at Port MacKenzie.
The Anchorage Daily News reports assembly members voted 5-2 Tuesday to direct borough manager John Moosey to continue negotiations with a company that could build a cradle to place the Susitna, an $80 million Navy prototype, in dry dock.
WASHINGTON — Japan and South Korea’s unprecedented joint participation in air force exercises over Alaska shows that America’s two staunchest Asian allies are willing to cooperate on security despite their political differences.
Their aircraft have been flying the annual Red Flag Alaska training drills that end Friday, along with U.S. and Australian forces. The exercise has included simulated combat maneuvers in which Korean fighter jets helped secure airspace for military transport planes from Japan and other nations.
ANCHORAGE — A first-class passenger became so disruptive after drinking five glasses of wine that a flight from New York to Shanghai had to be diverted to Anchorage, according to charging documents.
Stephanie Heizmann Auerbach was charged Tuesday with interference of flight crew and members, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Ketchikan police responded Tuesday night to several emergency calls from passengers on board the stranded Celebrity ship Millennium. Apparently, the callers thought there was going to be a riot.
Here’s police chief Alan Bengaard: “We, the police department, received three 911 calls from passengers on the MV Millennium who stated that people were getting unruly on board the ship, and they believed a riot was about to begin. Officers responded to the ship, met with ship security and advised them of the 911 calls. Ship security and officers contacted approximately 500 guests on the third floor of the vessel, and subsequently peace was restored and officers left.”
Bengaard says those 500 people were upset about Celebrity Cruise’s plans for where they would go when flown out of Ketchikan.
“The officers … were given the information that some of the passengers were unhappy with the miscommunication between them and the cruise line, and ultimately where their final destination was going to be,” he said. “Initially, evidentially, they were told they were going to be flown to Anchorage, and plans had changed and some were upset with that.”
Bengaard says he believes the passengers will instead be flown to Vancouver.
Cynthia Martinez, director of corporate communications for Celebrity, responded via email to a request for comment. She says she talked with ship security officers, who claim that local police came to the pier about midnight Tuesday in response to 911 calls, but that police did not board the ship. Martinez says that ship security considers the mood on board as “calm.”
She did not offer further comment.
The 965-foot Millennium, with a passenger capacity of about 2,000, has been stuck in Ketchikan since Sunday evening, when it was forced to return to port due to a faulty propeller.
Passengers aboard the Millennium are leaving Ketchikan via chartered flights arranged by Celebrity. They also received full refunds and vouchers toward a future cruise.
A representative of a timber industry group visited the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce Wednesday. He expressed support for Governor Sean Parnell’s vision for the Tongass National Forest, but a regional conservation group doesn’t think that plan will go anywhere.
Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association drew a sharp contrast with the federal government’s stance on the future of the Tongass National Forest.
The U.S. government, which he says owns 94 percent of the land in Southeast Alaska, has been working in recent years to reduce the harvest of old-growth trees. Graham, a representative from the pro-timber AFA, insists that the only way to revive the logging industry in the region is to adopt a plan proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell and Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
That plan would transfer 2 million acres — roughly 12 percent of the Tongass – to the state of Alaska, and those acres then would be available for harvest. Graham notes that while moving the plan forward would be difficult, particularly with resistance from wildlife groups, there aren’t many other options.
“Realistically, they aren’t going to be allowed to restore the timber supply as long as you’ve got this political will in Washington DC to pacify these environmental groups,” Graham told the Chamber. “That’s a heavy lift to ask our congressional delegation, but that’s really the only real answer to what’s going on.”
Environmental groups in Alaska oppose Governor Parnell’s proposal to transfer federal forest lands to the state. Bob Claus, Forest Program Director with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, says the plan has no hope in Congress.
“The proposal, for one, is dead on arrival,” Claus says. “There is no interest in Cognress or anywhere to make such a thing happen. It’s posturing by the governor, a plan to return to failed policies.”
Claus notes that a deal between the state, federal government and environmental groups is not out of the question. But, he says, the lack of compromise isn’t the fault of conservation groups.
“There’s always a possibility for a compromise. but the state and the Alaska Forest Association has walked away from any table where we were talking directly,” he says. “So it’s very difficult to see how that would happen today.”
Graham’s pitch to the Chamber of Commerce was met with enthusiasm by Ketchikan’s business community. Borough Assembly Member Glen Thompson stood up during the Q & A portion of the talk and said that, while an admittedly radical idea, he supports the transfer of all of the Tongass from the federal government to Alaska. His remarks were met by applause from many in the crowd.
Graham told the Chamber that logging’s decline in Southeast has had a drastic effect on communities. He says that unless the industry is revived, the slide will continue.
“All over Southeast Alaska the demographics have changed. We lost 3 – 4 thousand jobs out of our timber industry and those people, most of them had nowhere to go, some of them had to leave Alaska,” Graham said. “The less and less development we have, the less mining, the less mining, the fewer of those people we are going to have and the demographics are going to change.”
Graham urged everyone to support his group’s push to have the federal government adopt the governor’s proposal for the Tongass
The Millennium will not be cruising through the Inside Passage any more this season, after Celebrity Cruises canceled the final sailings in order to perform repairs to the ship.
The Millennium was supposed to stop in Ketchikan with a new batch of guests three more times this season. Those stops would have been on Aug. 21st, Sept. 1st and Sept. 11th.
The 965-foot cruise ship, with a passenger capacity of about 2,000, has been stuck in Ketchikan since Sunday evening, when it was forced to return to port due to a faulty propeller.
It is tied up at Berth 3 of the downtown dock, which has forced the port to make some berth assignment changes on busier cruise-ship days. Wednesday, the Radiance of the Seas had to anchor in Tongass Narrows and lighter its passengers to shore, but the Radiance was able to tie up at the dock after the Island Princess left at 2 p.m.
Thursday, the Sapphire Princess will anchor in the channel, but will be able to move to the dock by early afternoon.
Passengers aboard the Millennium are leaving Ketchikan via chartered flights arranged by Celebrity. They also received full refunds and vouchers toward a future cruise.
Eight Petersburg artists have been chosen to create new works for the community’s nearly-completed public library. CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld toured the facility and found out more about what’s planned.
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My public-art tour guides are Borough Librarian Tara Alcock, staffer Barb Steltz and board member Anne Hurt. Steltz and Hurt serve on the committee that selected the artists.
We start at the circulation desk. A curved overhead wall will be home to a work called “Tidal River,” by Susan Christensen.
“It’s a 3-D piece of fabric,” says Hurt. “So, it will have movement.” Steltz adds, “And I think it hangs about 18 inches from the wall.” I ask, “So air flow, wind, people opening the door on a windy day?” “All of that will impact it,” Hurt replies.
Another stop is a small conference room, with a high ceiling and a view to the outside.
It will be home to a painting by Pia Reilly. Steltz says the art committee is figuring out details. “We’re working with Pia as to the location. We’ve got some constraints in this room. She had one idea and the art committee loved that but also had another idea. So we’re still working on that with her as where it will go and its size. And also the composition as well.”
I ask, “If it goes here will it go the full height?”
“I don’t think probably the full height. But we’re still working on that. What we liked about this wall is that it will be able to be seen with these big, beautiful windows opposite. And then it’ll be more of a piece of public art,” Steltz answers.
The eight artworks were chosen from among 20 proposals, including some from Anchorage and Washington state.
Library board member Anne Hurt says the selection panel had a number of criteria. “We were looking for pieces that represented Petersburg and the spaces. And of course, price is always a consideration, because we had a limited budget to work with. The budget was $50,000 for the artwork, for the whole place.
Many public construction projects require a certain amount of money to be set aside for art or architectural highlights. Borough Librarian Tara Alcock says that wasn’t the case here. “It comes from local donors,” she said. Alcock says the project did not include a percent for art requirement. “Our funding sources did not mandate the 1 percent for art,” she says.
I ask, “But you still wanted art?”
“Yes,” she answers. “Ever since we began planning the library, that’s been clearly a priority of the folks who have been at the table every time we talked about it. So it was important to follow through with that.
One of the selected artists is Ross Nannauck III. He’s making a pair of Tlingit war canoe paddles. “One will have a salmon on it,” Nannauck says. “And one will have a wolf. One will be in red cedar and one will be in yellow cedar. They’ll be full-sized paddles that could be used if anyone wanted to.”
They’ll be hand-carved, using traditional Tlingit tools. Copper and abalone are part of the plan. “They’re all my own design,” he says. “Anything I do I do original design work of my own. I try not to copy anybody and just work with whatever I feel comes to be at the time.
The paddles will be hung in a lounge area with comfortable seats, flanking a propane fireplace.
Alcock says a print of a Tlingit war canoe will hang in the same area. “It’s a piece that hung in the old library, in the children’s area forever. So people might remember seeing it. We’re having it cleaned up a little and framed.
A piece with a different tradition will hang nearby – a large, Norwegian, rosemaled plate by Polly Koeneman.
Steltz says the children’s room, on the other side of the library, will have two paintings, one by Doris Olsen. “In the section that’s kind of sectioned off for the older elementary (students), above the shelving there’s about a two-and-a-half foot wall space up high. And Doris is going to paint a large squid with a very big eye, because we loved how the squids have the biggest eye of any creature. And so, we thought, being for the little-bit-older kids, that they would really love something big like that.”
Another work selected for the library is a triptych, or three-panel-painting, by Beth Flor. Yet another is a stained-glass work by Polly Lee and Debi McMahon. And there’s also a large, painted mural by Joe Viechnicki – yes, our Joe Viechnicki.
It’ll take a while for all to be completed and installed. But you can see them in place later this year.
Business owners of Gustavus can breathe a little easier for now.
After several weeks of negotiations, the National Park Service and Aramark have agreed to extend their 10-year contract. The current contract, which was set to expire on Dec. 31, has been extended through 2016.
Joann Lesh is the owner of the Gustavus Inn and the president of the Gustavus Visitors Association. Lesh said the lodge — and especially the contract with Aramark — brings security to small business owners who depend on summer tourism.
A fire earlier this week at an asphalt plant in Sitka is not expected to delay a major repaving project near two area schools.
On Monday morning, Sitka firefighters put out a major blaze at Aggregate Construction Inc. The company was heating asphalt on trailers when one of the heaters fell off its mount and ignited the trailer tires.
The material was to be used on a stretch of Baranof Street between Lincoln Street and Sawmill Creek Road. The street runs alongside Baranof Elementary School and Pacific High School.
Sitka Municipal Engineer Stephen Weatherman says the project is still on schedule. Curbs have been installed and paving could begin as early as Friday. The goal, he says, is to have the project wrapped up before students start school on Aug. 28.
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City wins lastest round in years-long battle for citizen initiative on Sawmill Cove land sales. Five totems raised during Klawock ceremony. Aide to Sen. Begich says Petersburg will keep USCG cutter Anacapa for the time being.
Matt Eisenhower is the Project Manager of the CMS Innovation Grant for the Ketchikan Medical Center. He speaks about how the three-year grant funding will be used to improve care for those with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart failure, and more. KMC082113
Petersburg’s borough assembly this week had some tough questions for state and federal officials and a consultant looking at possible road, ferry and electrical power line connections to the nearby community of Kake. Representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Department of Transportation and a consultant for the Southeast Alaska Power Agency updated the assembly on the status of two separate studies for those projects this week.
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Two separate studies are underway, one looking at road and ferry improvements and another looking at a possible powerline between Petersburg and Kake. Petersburg’s assembly has asked to combine the two studies, since new road construction would help construction of a powerline.
Forest Service district ranger Jason Anderson told the assembly that the two projects needed to be looked at separately. “You’ve got two separate projects in the form of the Kake to Petersburg intertie, that’s the electrical transmission line,” Anderson said. “You’ve also got a separate project in the form of the Kake Access, the Federal Highways proposal. They have different underlying purpose and needs. One is to provide reduced cost power to the community of Kake, the other is to improve transportation opportunities to the community of Kake.”
The two studies are also on different schedules. An Environmental Impact Statement for the powerline could be done a year or more before the same document is finished for road and ferry options.
Mark Schinman with the consulting firm Commonwealth Associates is working on the powerline EIS for the SouthEast Alaska Power Agency. That organization owns the transmission lines connecting Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan and would build and own the connection to Kake. Schinman outlined four alternatives, including a no action alternative, identified for the transmission line connection. The consultant’s proposed action is a route on the northern end of the island that could cost an estimated 66 million dollars
Another route, that runs through the center of Kupreanof Island is expected to cost about 59 million dollars.
Assembly member John Hoag questioned consultant Schinman about the cost estimates for the alternatives. “The alternative 4 south central route is cheaper but you don’t prefer that?” Hoag asked. “We don’t,” answered Schinman. “And maybe we’re betting on the come and thinking that the road will come. If the road doesn’t come along we may end up going that route. And that’s why it’s still part of the EIS and still being considered.”
Schinman also noted the cost estimates are still a moving target. “When we were in Kake last week, it dawned on me, the substation’s five miles out of town. And nobody, it didn’t seem like anybody planned a way to get the power from the substation into town. So, we had a gap there. So, I talked to IPEC (the Inside Passage Electrical Cooperative) the local electric utility and they said they didn’t have any money to do it so we need to include that as a part of our project. So we’re looking right now at moving the substation closer to town. So these numbers will go up, I did some back of the envelop calculations, maybe three million dollars.”
The cost estimates are calculated with the assumption that the road will not happen. If roadway is constructed along the powerline route, Schinmann said it will decrease construction and maintenance costs. For the powerline, a draft EIS could be out as soon as this October with a final document published next May. SEAPA has five million dollars in state grant money to study the powerline but no money to build it.
Meanwhile, the state has appropriated 40 million dollars for the road and ferry connection. The DOT’s Southeast region planning chief Andy Hughes said the overall project would include a ferry and two ferry terminals if the northern route is selected. The Kake Access Project, as its called, does not yet have any cost estimates or alternatives drawn up.
Assembly member John Havrilek asked Hughes about the state’s ability to fund construction and maintenance of the road, terminals and ferry. “But do you think you can get the money to do this?” Havrilek asked. “At this point yes we do,” Hughes said, prompting Havrilek to ask about funding for the ferry connection. “Yes, Hughes answered, adding, “And as far as, I might address, as far as maintenance goes, we wouldn’t be going forward with a proposal if we did not think we could maintain it year-round.”
The year round maintenance funding, and operating dollars for a new ferry service have been other concerns voiced by local elected officials about the road project.
Assembly member Cindy Lagoudakis pressed Hughes on that issue. “The state draft transportation plan actually paints quite a different picture about your deferred maintenance backlog and your ability to attract federal money and I’m curious to know how you think this road would rank on a priority list for funding for state and federal money, given that you’ve already identified that you have a shortfall. And it’s right on the web,” Lagoudakis said.
Hughes replied, “No that’s true.” Hughes continued that he thought the road and ferry connection would be funded. “At this point, the future will tell. We anticipate that funding will become tighter. At this point, at least in Southeast Alaska our priorities are such that we feel that we can fit this project in.”
The Federal Highway Administration is leading the study of possible road and ferry alternatives. A draft EIS for Kake transportation is not due out until the spring of 2015.
KFSK will remember Marian with a memorial program Monday at 9pm
There’s an old story of uncertain origin that Alaska Power and Telephone Company President Bob Grimm thinks applies to his company’s situation. Grimm tells the story like this:
“The Army Corps of Engineers operates a lot of dams on the Columbia River. Early on, there were some concerns about salmon when they put dams on that river. When they put the fish ladders in, they grabbed the first fish that came up one of those ladders,” Grimm said while laughing. “They stuffed that thing and put it on a plaque that said, ‘It never pays to be first.’”
ANCHORAGE — Anchorage voters should be allowed to decide whether the municipality’s new labor law, which in part, limits annual raises for city employees should be repealed, a Superior Court judge has ruled.
Judge Eric Aarseth sided with unions Monday, and ordered the ordinance suspended. He said the city should provide the union with petition ballots by Thursday, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Prosecutors in Alaska said Tuesday no additional homicide charges will be filed against a 24-year-old man accused in the home-invasion deaths of an elderly Anchorage couple.
They say an autopsy performed on the woman’s mother showed that she suffered a stroke and died of natural causes.
Jerry Active faces 10 felony counts, including charges of murder and sexual assault, in connection with the May 25 attack that killed Sorn Sreap, 73, and her husband, Touch Chea May, 71.
The couple was found beaten to death.
ANCHORAGE — The Anchorage School District plans to spend more than $6 million in state legislative grants on security upgrades following a safety review prompted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut.
The upgrades will include panic buttons, front doors that lock electronically, and more surveillance cameras, the Anchorage Daily News reported Monday. There were no plans for bullet-proof glass, metal detectors or arming citizen volunteers.
JUNEAU — Celebrity Cruises announced Tuesday is was cancelling the remainder of a seven-night cruise to Alaska after mechanical issues forced a cruise ship carrying more than 3,100 passengers and crew members to return to port in Ketchikan.
The cruise line said in a statement that passengers would receive refunds of their cruise fares and chartered air travel home. It also said it also was offering future cruise certificates for 100 percent of the fare paid for this cruise.
The City of Sitka won the latest round in a fight over whether voters can approve property sales at Sawmill Cove Industrial Park.
Sitka Superior Court Judge David George ruled on Thursday against supporters of a ballot initiative that would give citizens a vote on large land sales and leases.
It is the latest development in a years-long saga that’s seen the case go all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court and back.
The Sawmill Cove Industrial Park is a huge chunk of land that used to be the site of a pulp mill. Now, the city sells and leases parcels inside the park to companies that want the space. The area is intended to attract business to Sitka, and sales and leases inside the park don’t have to follow the rules that apply to other city land.
Since 2008, Jeff Farvour and Mike Litman have been trying to change that. They wanted to give voters final approval of large pieces of land sold or leased at the site. A vote would be required for sales worth more than $500,000, and leases worth more than $750,000.
But the city refused to give their initiative a green light, and kept it off the ballot. Farvour and Litman sued, and the case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which last year sent it back to Sitka Superior Court for another look.
And that brings us to Thursday.
“It’s a little disappointing to see a judge lurch off and make a decision that I think is inconsistent with the earlier Supreme Court directives in this very case,” said Juneau attorney Joe Geldhof, who represents Farvour and Litman. “It really goes to the heart of whether or not the citizens are going to have any say, or whether they’re going to allow bureaucrats and lawyers for municipal government to say ‘Sit down, be quiet. We’re the experts. We’re going to determine how we rule our communities.’”
Geldhof says he doesn’t understand why the city fought so hard against giving voters a choice.
Michael Gatti, an Anchorage attorney who represented the city in the case, says there’s a reason.
“The community elects representatives to represent it on certain matters,” Gatti said. “And while certainly people have the ability to initiate or refer matters to the ballot, they also are limited in that regard with respect to some of the principles, particularly if something is related to an appropriation or an administrative matter.”
Basically, Judge George ruled that the initiative violates Alaska law in two ways: One, it makes an appropriation by giving voters the power to steer money away from the park. The law holds that only legislative bodies, like a city Assembly, can make appropriations. And two, it steps on the city’s administrative power. Initiatives can make law, but they can’t tell a government how to run day-to-day business.
“We’re pleased with the decision and we think that it’s supported by appropriate legal analysis and authority,” Gatti said.
Geldhof, obviously, disagrees. He says his clients had lots of support for their initiative when they circulated petitions back in 2008, and that city officials should not have fought the initiative his clients wanted on the ballot.
“Six years into this, I have basically had it with small-minded people trying to squelch what’s really a straightforward initiative proposition,” Geldhof said. “You know, at a certain point, people like Jeff and Mike, they just get worn out. That old adage about ‘You can’t fight city hall,’ comes to mind here. City Hall and a lawyer that’s just bent on obstruction, they seem to win all the time, and that’s bad news for democracy on a local level throughout Alaska.”
Sitka has a new city attorney and a new Assembly since the lawsuit was initially filed. Still, the current Assembly voted to continue fighting the case.
Geldhof says his clients are still considering whether to appeal Thursday’s decision.
Update: What about existing law?
The city’s argument was that the power Farvour and Litman wanted to give to the citizens is considered an appropriation, which only the Assembly can make. The court agreed.
But city code already gives citizens that power, everywhere except the industrial park. So, what happens to that law?
The short answer is: nobody knows. Not yet, anyway.
Sitka General Code already says that if the city wants to sell real property for more than $500,000, or lease its property for more than $750,000, it has to ask you first. The ordinance applies to all city property except what’s at Sawmill Cove Industrial Park.
George’s ruling says doing so, at least in the context of the industrial park, constitutes an “impermissible appropriation,” that it allows citizens to do something reserved for the Assembly.
Whether to change the existing law will be up to the seven member Assembly, which has tried to do it once before.
In September 2012, Mike Reif and then-Assembly member Bill Paden introduced a measure that would let voters advise the Assembly, but not have complete power to approve or deny a sale or lease.
The Assembly voted to put the question off indefinitely, pending review by outside counsel. It was never taken up again.
Reif said Wednesday that he was still weighing his options and considering the matter after Thursday’s decision.
In any event, the Farvour/Litman case is far from settled. There’s still the chance of an appeal on both sides. Farvour and Litman could appeal the overall ruling, and the city could even file an appeal against some of the individual points it lost.
Even though Judge George came down in favor of the city overall, he said two of the city’s arguments were too broad and, therefore, invalid.
Celebrity Cruises has canceled the Millennium’s sailings, and will offer full refunds to all 2,000 passengers who have been stuck in Ketchikan after mechanical problems forced the cruise ship back to port Sunday evening.
Two days after the 965-foot ship returned to port with a faulty propulsion unit, the cruise line announced via email that engineers and consultants have “been unable to find a satisfactory solution.”
Cynthia Martinez, Celebrity’s Director of Global Corporate Communications, declined to be interviewed for this story. She wrote that she can’t answer any of a long list of questions KRBD sent via email, including the exact nature of the mechanical problem, how long the ship will remain in Ketchikan, and what the cruise line plans for the ship’s crew.
She expressed regret, though, that the passengers will not have the cruise they had anticipated. To compensate for that disappointment, Celebrity will give full refunds to all the passengers, plus a voucher toward a future cruise, worth 100 percent of the cost of the cancelled trip.
The cruise line also is sending 30 guest service representatives to Ketchikan to help arrange chartered air travel for all the passengers, and provide other support.
It hasn’t been all bad for those on board. Ketchikan’s weather has cooperated for the 3,000 people – that’s passengers plus crew — aboard the Celebrity Millennium, and the city has lots of practice helping out-of-towners enjoy themselves. Here’s Ketchikan Visitors Bureau CEO Patti Mackey: “Our visitor center staff has been trying to accommodate passengers with whatever questions they have, and that Alaska Coach Tours, the company that provides transfers for shore excursions that Celebrity offers, has also been in touch with all of the local vendors in order to provide additional options for tours and activities for the passengers.”
When the ship will leave is not clear. City Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon referred most questions to Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, which referred all questions to Celebrity.
Corporon did say, though, that as long as the Millennium remains at Berth III, other ships that had been scheduled for that dock space will have to anchor in Tongass Narrows and lighter passengers to shore.
Mackey said she hopes all the players will come up with a plan.
“Today, it’s a light day, so that gives them some options, but tomorrow through the rest of the week, we’ve got four, five, six ships a day coming in, all of which need a place to tie up,” she said.
Ketchikan’s downtown cruise ship dock has four berths for large cruise ships, plus space for smaller vessels.
Corporon said he hopes it won’t be more than a couple of days before the Millennium can move.
The Millennium had similar propulsion problems earlier this month, and was stuck in Seward for three days for repairs. The ship had to cancel its next sailing, and passengers on that voyage also received refunds and credit toward a future cruise.
The Millennium’s stranded passengers are expected to start flying out of Ketchikan on Wednesday.