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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — A New York attorney is running against U.S. Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska in next year’s Democratic primary without leaving home.
William “Bill” Bryk wants Begich to have some competition, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The Alaska Democratic party has already offered a rare, pre-primary endorsement of Begich, whose seat is coveted by Republicans looking to reclaim control of the Senate.
The Coast Guard is asking local boat owners to check their vessels after a spate of sinkings this fall. The F/V Skeeter was hauled out of the water this morning (FRI 11-22-13), after it sank at its mooring in Eliason Harbor in early November. It is one of five boats that have gone down in area harbors since August, according to Chief Warrant Officer Michael Wortman of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment.
Wortman is worried that he’s seeing a trend.
“It seems to be higher than normal,” Wortman said. “The fleet is getting older, and people leave for long periods of time and don’t take care of the boats. And the people they’re hiring to watch the boat aren’t very well trained. So there’s things that we do need to address.”
The Coast Guard doesn’t yet know what caused the Skeeter to sink, but Wortman suspects that local boat owners are not maintaining their bilge systems, which pump water out of vessels.
“I definitely highly encourage all the owners in the area to check their bilge systems,” Wortman said. “Make sure the pumps are working properly, batteries are in good condition…because, with all the rain around here, your boat can go down pretty quickly.”
After it sank, the Skeeter was turned over to the harbormaster, who worked with the Coast Guard to tow the boat across Sitka Channel and haul it out of the water at Japonski Island for disposal.
Morning host extraordinaire Melissa Marconi-Wentzel returned to the KCAW fold this October, bringing her unique blend of poise and warmth to our early AM weekday sound. Melissa has served both as program director (2007-2008) at Raven Radio, and as reporter (2004-2007), before taking some time to raise her family. Melissa’s also wrapping up her degree in Communications at UAS, and plans to make broadcasting her career. “I knew I wanted to come back to Raven Radio,” she says. “But when I sat down in that chair (in the air room) I knew that this is who I am.” We never had any doubt!
Melissa will be our primary local voice on Morning Edition, with backup from the capable (and early-rising) Peter Apathy. Welcome baaaaack, Melissa!
Alaska fishermen want to broaden the experimental use of cameras and other monitoring devices in the federal government’s fishery observer program. Under the recently-revamped program, many more vessels, including smaller boats, can now be required to carry an observer at times. A new industry proposal is aimed at making electronic monitoring available as an alternative to carrying that extra person on the boat. Matt Lichtenstein reports:
For mobile-friendly, downloadable audio, click here.
The federal government expanded its fishery observer program this past year. For the first time, that meant halibut boats and smaller vessels, 40 to 60 feet long, could be selected to carry an observer. But according to Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association Director Linda Behnken, that’s not feasible for many, “There’s a lot of the small boat fleet that simply cannot accommodate another person. They don’t have a bunk. They don’t have the safety equipment. They just don’t have space for that. So, we saw a number of people apply for a release to observer coverage on those grounds. Actually 65 percent of the boats selected in the first three quarters of the year, which is the data I’ve seen so far, those 65 percent of the boats that were selected applied for a release and were granted a release.”
Behnken credits Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner and North Pacific Fishery Management Council member Cora Campbell for helping to make sure that relief was available. Behnken thinks the releases were needed to lessen the burden of the expanded program.
However, she says it also meant that the National Marine Fisheries Service fell short of its goals for observer coverage, “So, to our mind, you’re not getting representative data if you’re not hitting those target coverage levels which can mean some problems with extrapolating that data to the remainder of the fleet.”
Behnken says the situation shifted more of the observer burden to boats that were able to accommodate them. Also, she says some fishermen chose not to use their own small boats and instead opted to fish with other skippers who had bigger vessels. She says a few others chose to sell their fishing quotas because of the new regulations.
So, Behnken says ALFA is working with other fishing groups to pursue electronic monitoring or EM as an alternative to carrying observers on small boats. In October, they applied for a federal permit to broaden the experimental use of cameras and other electronic monitoring equipment.
“We all recognize there will continue to be a need for some….for observers on the water but that there are places, there are times, there is a significant portion of the fleet that is better served by having electronic monitoring to insure you get representative data and you get it in a cost effective way. So, we’re looking to integrate EM, to use it where you can get the data that managers need, and to use it in a way that’s less intrusive and less costly than deploying human observers,” Behnken says.
Federal fishery managers are taking a slower approach to the issue than the industry would like. NMFS has a small-scale EM pilot program that involved just a handful of participants this past year. ALFA wants to incorporate that into the broader, industry-backed project to test technology on more boats. 60 vessels would be the goal for the first year of a five-year effort.
NMFS has been considering the proposal according to Martin Loefflad who is director of the agency’s Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division. While he won’t comment on the industry application while it’s still under review, Loefflad says NMFS is also trying to advance EM, “What we’re trying to do is improve the quality of imagery we are getting from vessels. There’s a lot of hype on this EM stuff going on worldwide right now and what we’ve seen is that a lot of work has been done all over the world that has been duplicating the same sorts of things. We want to get out of duplication and actually move this stuff forward. I personally think EM has massive potential and could revolutionize the way we sample, if we do it right.”
Observers record catch data and other information for use in fishery management and research. Loefflad says electronic monitoring will never do exactly what a person does, “People can do a variety of things. EM can do some things very, very well and we want to figure out what things it does well and then so we can use that potentially as a tool to supplement those areas where putting a person on a boat is not a feasible process.”
Loefflad says together, NMFS and the industry may be able to make some progress on moving electronic monitoring forward.
The agency has told the North Pacific Council that it will have the capacity to deploy EM equipment on 14 vessels in its pilot project next year. As an incentive for participation, NMFS proposed that volunteers would avoid the possibility of being selected to carry an observer. That would also be the case for the industry proposal.
National Marine Fisheries Service Staff will be in Petersburg to hold an informational meeting about the fishery observer program in general on Tuesday, December 3rd from 4 to 6 pm in the new Library’s large conference room.
Petersburg’s mayor is pleased with this weeks court decision in favor of the state’s latest redistricting plan. The legislative boundary map will put Petersburg in a district with Sitka and 22 other small Southeast communities, including Kupreanof, Kake, Angoon, Craig, Coffman Cove, Port Protection and Point Baker. Petersburg is in a district with Juneau under the interim plan that’s currently in place.
Mayor Mark Jensen said this week the new map makes more sense. “I just think we’re more alike than we are with downtown Juneau,” Jensen said. “I think we’re more of a working town, fishing town and they’re more of a government type run city. So I think there’s differences. Not that I have any bad things to say about the representation we had after redistricting happened from Dennis Egan and Beth Kerttula. I just think we’re more on the even grounds having the smaller communities in with us.”
The Alaska Redistricting Board’s latest plan got approval from Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy this week. The Associated Press reports that two of the plaintiffs who challenged that map do not plan to appeal the decision.
The Petersburg borough assembly this summer voted to back the new configuration which was the result of a Supreme Court ruling. That’s after the municipality joined the lawsuit against the interim plan which put Petersburg with Juneau.
That interim map will still be in place for the upcoming legislative session – meaning Petersburg will continue to be represented by Juneau democrats Beth Kerttula in the house and Dennis Egan in the Senate.
Ultimately, Jensen thinks the new district gives Petersburg a better chance of securing state funding for projects. “Instead of trying to get funding competing with the bigger municipalities. But as all of us know that the funding is going to be harder to come by anyway just the state of the, well the conditions of the state’s finances.”
Assuming no other parties to the redistricting lawsuit appeal the judge’s decision, Petersburg and Kupreanof voters will be deciding on representation for the new district for the state primary next August. Sitka democratic state representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins plans to run for the new Sitka-Petersburg house district. Petersburg resident and republican Stephen Samuelson plans to challenge him for that seat.
Petersburg’s new house district is 35. Its paired with the Ketchikan-Wrangell house district to make up Senate district “R.” Sitka Republican Bert Stedman does not have to run for re-election in 2014 and will represent the new Southeast Senate district including Petersburg in 2015.
People impacted by suicide gather around the globe tomorrow (Saturday) November 23rd to share their loss and seek healing. Here in Petersburg, a video viewing and discussion will be at the fire hall conference room Saturday, November 23rd, from 2-4 p.m. for International Survivors of Suicide Day. Joe Viechnicki spoke with two organizers of the event.
For mobile-friendly audio, click here:
The Ketchikan City Council voted in favor of negotiating a sale with SEAPA for the Whitman Lake hydro power project. Mayor Lew Williams III reports on the most recent meeting. Council112213
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) participating in the Alaska Resource Development Council's 34th Annual Conference via video conference. Murkowski and Wyden are the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Family of man shot by Anchorage police sues
ANCHORAGE — The family of man fatally shot by Anchorage police is suing the police department, officers and the city, claiming reckless, excessive force was used.
Anchorage attorney Philip Weidner is representing the family of Shane Tasi, who was fatally shot June 2012.
WASHINGTON — By limiting the ability of Republicans to block President Barack Obama’s nominees, Senate Democrats sought to placate the party’s core liberal activists dispirited by the troubled rollout of the health care overhaul and government snooping ahead of midterm elections in which a president’s party typically loses seats in Congress.
JUNEAU — State Senate and House lawmakers voted Thursday to end the practice of administering their own office spending accounts, which had allowed them to keep whatever cash was leftover at the end of the year.
The Legislative Council, which handles administrative issues for lawmakers, voted to move all 60 lawmakers to a plan in which the Legislative Affairs Agency administers the accounts.
ANCHORAGE — Sarah Palin’s Alaska hometown is auctioning an SUV she drove when she was mayor, years before she skyrocketed to fame.
The small town of Wasilla listed the 1999 Ford Expedition with 74,188 miles on eBay Monday with a minimum bid of $10,000. The listing’s photo shows the tan SUV with a cardboard cutout of Palin in the driver’s seat.
ANCHORAGE — Bret Kolb, the director of the Alaska Division of Insurance, has announced he is resigning next month.
Kolb is leaving to take a position as the director of business development for Palmer-based Victory Ministries of Alaska, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
Kolb’s resignation letter says his last day with the state position will be Dec. 19. He said he is leaving the government and insurance industry altogether.
Victory executive director Brian Headdings said Kolb will start his new job in January.
The Department of Natural Resources announced that Bob Swenson, the leader of the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys for nearly a decade, will serve as its deputy commissioner.
He is replacing the vacancy left when Joe Balash was appointed commissioner on Nov. 13.
“Bob’s significant leadership experience and his breadth of knowledge of Alaska energy and geology-related issues make him an excellent fit for this important post at DNR,” Balash said in a statement.
JUNEAU — The president and CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. said Thursday that he’s confident the Canada-based company will find a new partner for the proposed Pebble Mine project within the next year.
PETERSBURG — Federal wildlife officials have approved new guidelines for using sea otter hides in clothes and handicrafts by Alaska Natives.
The guidelines aim to clarify how Alaska Native artisans can use pelts and avoid running afoul of federal law regulating the take of the protected marine mammals.
The change clarifies how hides under federal law must be “significantly altered” to be considered authentic Native handicrafts or clothing that can be sold to non-natives, KFSK-radio reported.
A former Apple executive thinks providing every student in Alaska with a tablet computer is possible in the near future — with enough funding.
Bob Whicker used to work as in education development for Apple Computer. Now, he’s the director of the Alaska Association of School Board’s Consortium for Digital Learning, or CDL.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Whicker outlined a strategy for the so-called 1:1 (one-to-one) Digital Initiative for the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week (11-20-13).
Whicker’s roots in Silicon Valley were evident throughout his presentation, which was peppered with terms like “beta”, and through the live demos of eReaders.
So what we’ve done with this book we got Shelly, she’s a whale biologist, and then we’ve added narration to it.
[SOUND OF DEMO: TO CHEW OR NOT TO CHEW]
So that helps kids as they’re reading this book. We’ve also made it so that it can change into different levels of reading. So this would be for an earlier reader, but it’s the same content. So teachers can be using this with a broad range of kids within their classrooms.
Whicker says it’s not just about supplying the devices. Results depend on the content and creative ways teachers can craft lesson plans using the devices. He says interactive digital content allows teachers to cater their lessons to a broad range of students.
It’s about the cheapest way to change education there is. If I wanted to really make things happen and if I want to get to a teacher ratio that would really change things I would have to dramatically change the structure of my school to get there.
A $5 million state legislative grant started the initiative in 2004. Whicker says that in order for the 1:1 initiative to realize its full potential it needs a total of $15.6 million from the state and a $9.6 match from local districts, allocated over four years.
Nevertheless, Whicker says over 140 school sites across the state practice a preliminary version of 1:1 at a cost of $200 per student – with the state contributing $120 and local district $80. He says teachers report positive changes.
We’ve had these 1:1 projects out and about for a while and CDL districts across the state we get teachers reporting to us that student engagement is up, attendance is up, behavior is down, We also see that student achievement can really be affected. This was an iPad project across 9 districts in 2011 and it was aimed at literacy and we saw a doubling of expected gains in literacy by all student and for those student 2.5 years behind in reading we actually saw those scores triple. So I’m not saying that’s going to happen, we’re not guaranteed this, but it’s looking like there is something going on.
Sitka School District Superintendent Steve Bradshaw thinks the initiative is appealing because of the cost of replacing outdated textbooks. He believes a digital curriculum could dramatically reduce costs.
You hear more conversation about the fact that we are going to have to change almost 100% of our curriculum materials over the next 24 to 36 months because of the new common core standards. That expensive. I’ve thrown out numbers anywhere between two hundred and fifty to five hundred thousand dollars per curriculum subject material. So I have hopes this is some way we can get material in a less expensive fashion.
Sitka School Board President Lon Garrison emphasized that $28 million statewide is already being spent on technology into the classroom. While the 1:1 initiative would require additional funding, Garrison feels that if it satisfies schools’ technology needs and increases student engagement and performance, districts should be free to reallocate the existing budget.
But, in order for many schools to fully participate they need bandwidth. Sitka’s school board is considering a capital request to the legislature this year to increase bandwidth, primarily to meet the state’s new requirements for online testing. That additional capacity — if the legislature funds it — might make the 1:1 initiative a reality in Sitka.
The Sitka School Board is revising its capital funding request for the coming year, in the hope of finding some money in an unfriendly legislative environment.
The board held a work session earlier this week (11-19-13). Because of bad weather and scheduling conflicts, only president Lon Garrison and member Jen Robinson were present for the board. However, Superintendent Steve Bradshaw and most of his administrative team appeared — all expressing a strong preference for additional money to support the transition to Alaska’s version of the “Common Core” standards.
Bradshaw described the problem in very clear terms.
“I don’t see any way, without cutting positions, of purchasing material.”
Curriculum materials will consist both of new textbooks, and increased digital bandwidth for teaching and testing. Bradshaw said the district would also require more days to train teachers in the new curriculum, and more days to work with teachers on the new evaluation process they’ll be subject to.
The new state standards go into effect for school districts next year, and school boards — like Sitka’s — are working to find a way to pay to implement them. At the district’s last regular meeting, Bradshaw estimated the costs to adopt the new standards, develop online testing tools, and evaluate teachers to be several hundred thousand dollars.
This is a different funding tack for Sitka Schools, which has typically asked the state for large capital projects — like building renovations, and new ballfields. At the top of last year’s priority list, for example, was a complete overhaul of the lower Moller Field track & field complex — at a cost of over $6-million. That request has been set aside, for now. The Republican-led Education committees in both chambers of the the Alaska Legislature have been openly critical of excessive spending for public education.
Board president Lon Garrison has been active on the district’s lobbying team over the last several years. He thought it was important to scale back.
“I really tried to take a different slant on this from the major capital projects which we’ve focused on in the past, to try and focus on — given the political reality of where we’re at, given the reality of what’s in front of us to do — the items I think would make sense to ask the legislature to help us with.”
Garrison ran through a list of small scale projects — like high-efficiency lighting, and Fish-to-Schools — that he thought might win approval of legislators, but the school administrators present wanted to focus on curriculum and staff development to meet the state’s new standards.
Jen Robinson, the only other board member present, agreed that academic achievement should be the top priority. She and Garrison included some smaller construction projects — such as new playground equipment at Keet Gooshi Heen — on their list. They also decided to renew their standing request to the legislature to increase the amount of money it contributes per pupil to districts statewide.
The district’s list of capital priorities for 2014 will not be official until it is voted on by the full board at its next regular meeting.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Mt. Edgecumbe Intro to Business class members Daniel Active, Kaylyn Riley, and Ayisha Oscar discuss their latest marketing project: selling blankets to benefit Homeless Connect in Sitka. The blankets are $25, available at Alaska Pacific Bank or the Fisherman’s Eye Gallery. With instructor Bill Winslow.
In the back of most Sitkans’ mind is this question: When the big wave comes, will my house be under water? Researchers at the Alaska Earthquake Information Center and the Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) have an answer, of sorts. This month, they released a new map outlining which parts of Sitka would be affected by a major tsunami.
On January 4, 2013, just before midnight, Sitkans woke up to feel the ground shaking beneath them. Then came the tsunami siren, warning everyone to get to high ground.
Fire Chief Dave Miller is responsible for setting off the tsunami siren.
“The thing that got people excited about it was that we actually felt the quake, and we heard the siren,” Miller said. “And we hadn’t heard the siren in probably 20 years.”
In the end, there was no wave. But for many people, it was a wake-up call – what would happen if a big wave did come?
This month, researchers released a new map that tries to answer that question. It shows the state’s best estimate for how far inland the water would reach, and how deep it would be, in a worst-case-scenario tsunami.
Miller studied a copy in his office.
“Lincoln Street seems to be the dividing line through town,” he said. “Everything on the water side would have, eh, 3-6 feet of water.”
So Centennial Hall, in downtown Sitka, is under water. Crescent Harbor is swamped.
But the good news is that most of Sitka is above the high water line.
“[At] the Fire Department – we’d be fine,” Miller said. “We’d be sitting high and dry and wouldn’t have our fishing poles out yet.”
And it’s not just the Fire Hall. Some places that seem very low – like the airport, and SeaMart supermarket– are above the inundation line. Most of Sitka’s main roadways – like Sawmill Creek Road and Halibut Point Road – are also above the high water mark, protected by steep bedrock along the coast.
Elena Suleimani is a tsunami modeler at the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, and it’s her model that the new map is based on.
“I’ve been studying tsunamis all my life,” she said.
According to Suleimani, the worst-case-scenario for Sitka – the scenario on which the map is based – would be a big earthquake on the subduction fault that stretches from Kodiak to Prince William Sound. That fault produced the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, the second largest quake ever recorded anywhere.
Closer to home, the Queen Charlotte Fault – which got Sitkans out of bed in January – is a strike-slip fault: the plates are sliding past each other, instead of colliding head-on, and during earthquakes, they don’t produce the kind of vertical motion that makes for big waves.
They can, however, cause landslides, both on land and on the continental shelf, under water. These landslides can cause their own waves – and it’s almost impossible to model them. That’s, in part, because they occur along smaller faults that haven’t been studied.
Rich Koehler works with the state Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.
“We haven’t looked at these,” he said. “Nobody has. Partially because they’re covered in – it’s rugged terrain, covered in forest, it’s hard to get to. Anyway. There’s nothing known about these faults, how often earthquakes happen, how big they could be, nothing.”
Still, Suleimani and Koehler said that the largest wave caused by a landslide would still be smaller than the worst-case-scenario plotted on the map.
So, at the end of the day, what’s the takeaway? According to Suleimani, no matter what the map says, if you feel the ground shake, go uphill:
“If you are in a coastal area and you feel the ground shaking, just get uphill immediately,” she said.”Don’t wait for any official announcement, don’t wait for sirens. Just go uphill. And stay there for 24 hours.”
Sitka Fire Chief Miller says the key point is to know ahead of time where you’re going, and be ready to head there on a moment’s notice – something many Sitkan’s weren’t prepared for in January.
“You get 9,000 people trying to move all at one time, it’s a zoo at best.” Miller said. “There’s a lot of cars, there were cars going hither and yon at any given time on the street in front of the fire hall.”
Miller thinks people should take a close look at the map. He also thinks they should take it with a grain of salt.
“The thing that you’ve got to remember is, this is a computer generated map,” Miller said “In Japan they had the same thing, they did the same studies, had the same results…and then they had the earthquake and Mother Nature said, get ready. I’m coming!”
You can download the Sitka tsunami inundation map from the DGGS here.