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Southeast Alaska News

Bank charges cardholders twice

Thu, 2014-03-20 00:09

Some debit card users paid more than they bargained for Tuesday when a technical glitch overcharged some credit union members.

Alaska USA Federal Credit Union cardholders were charged twice for transactions in a one-hour period between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday. The hiccup was caused by the third-party company that handles the credit union’s debit and credit transactions, said Alaska USA vice president Dan McCue.

McCue said the credit union is being “proactive” and “doing everything we can to work and get this resolved quickly.”

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University president says gun bill unacceptable

Thu, 2014-03-20 00:09

JUNEAU — University of Alaska President Pat Gamble told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday a bill permitting concealed handguns on campus is unacceptable.

Gamble said the Board of Regents is very satisfied with the current firearms policy it has, which only allows firearms on campus if they are locked in vehicles.

The original version of the bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed firearms on university system campuses. After initial concern was raised, sponsor Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, introduced a draft rewrite of SB176.

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Complaints of bedbugs on the rise around Alaska

Thu, 2014-03-20 00:09

ANCHORAGE — Blood-sucking insects are on the rise in Alaska, and it’s not even mosquito season.

The state Department of Health and Social Services issued a bulletin Tuesday announcing a proliferation of bedbugs, the apple seed-size pests that can double in number every 16 days.

The biting bugs are more of a public nuisance than a health hazard, the bulletin said. Bites are at first painless but can turn into itchy welts. Some people do not develop welts.

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House Education considers delaying lesson standards

Thu, 2014-03-20 00:08

JUNEAU — The House Education Committee began hearing testimony on a resolution Wednesday to delay implementing new English language and mathematics standards for Alaska.

House Resolution 9, sponsored by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, called for the delay because it may force districts to overhaul their existing curriculum.

“We visited different schools and their frustration was pretty high,” Wilson said. “They said too much was happening at once.”

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Sitka guidebook charts course for Fish-to-Schools programs

Wed, 2014-03-19 21:53

According to SCS, participation in school lunch at Keet Gooshi Heen increases on days when local fish is served.

Sitka’s Fish-to-Schools program will be easier to reproduce in other communities, thanks to a new handbook from the Sitka Conservation Society.

A Guide to Serving Local Fish in School Cafeterias was published online last week (3-14-14) by the Society. It contains everything someone needs to know to navigate the sometimes-choppy waters to get locally-caught seafood onto public school menus.

Listen to iFriendly audio.

At 6:30 this evening (Thu 3-20-14) in the Blatchley Middle School library, Tracy Gagnon, school board president Lon Garrison, and Sitka Local Foods Network director Lisa Sadleir-Hart will give a presentation on efforts to establish a statewide Fish-to-Schools program.

Tracy Gagnon coordinates the Fish-to-Schools program for the Sitka Conservation Society. She’s had to do some pioneering work to get seafood harvested and processed in Sitka, into schools located just a block or two away.

Fish-to-Schools is about creating a network, and it will be a little different in every town. Among other things, the resource guide is about…

“How to access fish, what DEC standards need to be followed to ensure the products is safe for use in schools, and just some good stories about how to make it go in your community.”

The DEC is the state Department of Environmental Conservation, an agency which looms large over the management of institutional food practices in Alaska. Sections on “Procurement and Processing Strategies” and “Legalities: What’s allowed” take up about a quarter of the 26-page manual.

Fish-to-Schools program emerged out of the Community Health Summit in 2010. It’s not the first such program in the state, but it might be the most comprehensive. Fish-to-Schools has helped put seafood on the plates of most Sitka students twice a month. Only Baranof Elementary, which lacks a kitchen on-site, is not included in the program. Students at Pacific High — Sitka’s alternative school — prepare their own fish lunches once a week.

But the guide is not just a how-to. It’s also a “why.” There are 6 student lesson plans in the guide called “Stream to Plate.”

“I’ve been working on these lessons for the last three years with our Keet Gooshi Heen third graders, actually. So it’s been really fun to work on them, develop them, refine them over the years. So the lessons are geared for elementary school, but they can be adapted up or down for the grade level.”

Both the Sitka School District and Mt. Edgecumbe have participated in a state reimbursement program for locally-sourced food called “Nutritional Alaskan Food for Schools.” Last year, the program kicked in nearly $80,000 for the purchase of local seafood in Sitka.

The Sitka School board earlier this year passed a resolution in support of continued funding for Nutritional Alaskan Food for Schools. The governor has budgeted $3-million for the project — but only for one year.

Locally, Fish-to-Schools has relied heavily on donated seafood. Gagnon believes a funding model will be important to the future of the program, and an economic boon to the seafood industry.

“I think the biggest thing is really trying to figure out a sustainable way to source seafood for the schools. And one way is encouraging the district to purchase it and make it a priority. And hopefully with this increased demand by students, they’ll make this an important thing to budget for.”

And to help with demand, the Fish-to-Schools resource guide has one other component: a mouth-watering recipe for teriyaki salmon.

KCAW’s Melissa Marconi-Wentzel contributed to this story.

Seiners worried by weak herring market

Wed, 2014-03-19 20:31

Fishermen and processors listened to an update on the herring fishery from the ADF&G on Wednesday, March 19. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Sitka’s lucrative herring fishery goes on two-hour notice as of 8 a.m. Thursday (3-20-14). That means fishing could start as soon as Thursday morning, depending on whether test samples taken by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game find a high enough percentage of mature roe, or eggs, in the fish.

But some fishermen are apprehensive.

 Listen to iFriendly audio here.

Seiners say this year’s quota, at over 16,000 tons, is high. The quality of the fish, in test samples, is good. What worries them is the market.

“The clear thing is, is it’s a very, very, very poor, if not the poorest market situation I’ve ever seen,” said Jamie Ross, of Homer, who has been fishing herring in Sitka since 1993. ”It’s an extremely poor market situation.”

By the the time the fishery is about to open, Ross said, the fleet usually has an advance price from processors. In recent years, that’s been about $400 to $500 per ton. That price is then sometimes adjusted up — last year, fishermen ended with a final price around $600 per ton. In 1996, seiners saw their highest price ever, at over $1700 per ton.

But this year, Ross said, fishermen haven’t received any advance price. And that has him worried.

“You know, I’m not willing to come out of this fishery with no price,” he said. “I mean I can’t, I can’t afford that. I think that it’s an incredibly scary situation for all of us. And the processors are a really tough position…So we have to move forward while these fish are ripening up, which could be tomorrow, and you know, oh my gosh, what do we do? So we’re trying to come up with some ideas that maybe we could help reduce the processors’ risk.”

At a meeting among permit-holders on Wednesday afternoon, one of the ideas discussed was to fish as a cooperative – an unusual step for the famously competitive herring fishery. That, however, would require the participation of all of the fishery’s 48 seiners. As of Wednesday night, it wasn’t clear whether that would be possible — or even necessary.

Processors, for instance, said they were not as concerned. KCAW spoke with one processor who said the situation this year is not atypical, though markets in Asia, where the sac roe is sold, are weak, and there is an oversupply of product left over from last year. That’s due in part to the big Togiak herring harvest: in 2013, fishermen in Togiak, Alaska hauled in nearly 29,000 tons of herring.

Meanwhile, the Department of Fish & Game announced that an aerial survey of Sitka Sound conducted Wednesday located a group of 180 sea lions in the vicinity of Bielei Rocks, north of Middle Island.

A Fish & Game news release says that a large biomass of herring is in the same area.

The department’s research vessel Kestrel also identified a number of smaller schools of herring from Starrigavan Bay to Dog Point.

Test samples of herring caught in the area showed a  roe percentage of 9.7 percent. The department looks for 10-percent mature roe before opening the seine fishery.

Starting Thursday (3-20-14) the Department of Fish & Game will issue informational updates over the radio at 11 AM and 4 PM, though they may occur at any time as necessary. Those updates can be heard on VHF radio, on Channel 10. 


Petersburg to bring three to town for school superintendent’s job

Wed, 2014-03-19 17:07

Petersburg’s school district will be bringing three finalists for the job of superintendent to town. Two school administrators from Alaska are on the “short list” along with a deputy superintendent from Georgia.

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18 people applied for the Petersburg superintendent job and a selection team has chosen three applicants to town for in-person interviews.

Lisa Stroh is superintendent in Valdez and is part-way through her first year of a two-year contract with that district. She writes that “the school board and I have very different perceptions of their role as it comes to governing a school district. Therefore I feel it is best for me to move on.” Before taking the job in Valdez, Stroh superintendent in Blaine County, Montana for four years. She’s also been a principal in Kodiak and the Kenai peninsula from 1994-2000. Stroh has owned a real estate appraisal business and a farm in Montana as well.

Another finalist is Jay Thomas. He’s been assistant superintendent at the Bering Strait school district in Unalakleet since last July. Thomas also was a K-12 principal in Unalakleet and Teller and worked as a teacher in Akutan and St Mary’s. He served in the US Air Force and has been a wilderness survival instructor. Thomas is also one of two finalists for the superintendent’s job in Wrangell.

A third candidate for the Petersburg job is Virginia Jewell, a deputy superintendent with the American University School of Kuwait. She lives in Georgia and has her superintendent’s certification in that state. Jewell has also been chief operations officer of an educational consulting firm, has worked in administration at a school in Saudi Arabia and has held several technology director jobs in Georgia.

Current superintendent Rob Thomason will be stepping down at the end of the school year after five years on the job.

The public will be able to meet the three candidates in Petersburg the last week in March.
It’s a busy winter for school administrator vacancies in Southeast. Sitka just hired a new superintendent, Wrangell and Haines are hiring and Juneau’s top administrator is resigning at the end of June as well.

The public can meet the three candidates at Wednesday March 26th at 7 p.m. at the high school library

Residential rezone request lives to get public hearing

Wed, 2014-03-19 17:03

Petersburg’s borough assembly wants to hear more from the public about a request to rezone two lots of residential land near Scow Bay. The land owners want to continue storing construction equipment and fishing gear on the properties and have agreed to fence off the lots from neighboring homes. The assembly was split on the request Monday but approved the request in first reading to allow it to get more public input.

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The two residential lots are in the Olsen subdivision, next door to the Hungerford Hill neighborhood and Scow Bay, more than two miles south of downtown. The property owners Aaron and Katrina Miller and Richard Burrell have sought to change the zoning to an industrial classification.

Petersburg’s Planning and Zoning commission recommended a change to commercial-2 land designation. That allows gear and equipment storage but is more restrictive than an industrial designation. Planning and Zoning commission chair Susan Thomason explained that the property owners agreed to fence off the property from Arness Heights road. “And this was thought to be in place then when we’re all no longer here. Then you have that buffer, the idea was a buffer or transition zone, from the industrial to the residential.”

The Olsen subdivision is zoned residential while the nearby Hungerford Hill area is zoned industrial but also has a number of residential homes.

Katrina Miller said she and her husband wanted to build a netshed on their property and urged the assembly to approve the change. “We feel that that zoning change would not have a detrimental impact on the surrounding properties. The existing uses of zoning in this area are comparable to nearby properties. Our land is abutted up to industrial land. We feel that it physically fits the area. We will take the steps to make this look right with a green belt and a fence. There is a community need in Petersburg for more commercially-zoned land.”

The Millers want to store fishing gear on the land. They secured a conditional use permit for that purpose but have not yet built that shed because of setback requirements.

On the neighboring lot, Richard Burrell said he wanted to use his property to park construction equipment. “Most of the time it’s just in the wintertime, when we’re doing our maintenance and then summertime it’s gone.” Burrell said he had no plans to build anything on his lot.

Besides a fence, the Millers and Burrell have agreed to create a 20-foot green space for trees next to the road. Neighboring property owners submitted comments for and against the rezoning when the issue went before the planning commission. That was a problem for assembly member Cindi Lagoudakis “I really have a problem with buying a residential property, using it as a commercial property and then applying for a conditional use permit, the terms of which you did not meet and then continuing along the road of changing the zoning on the property over the objection of neighbors and there are neighbors who have objected,” Lagoudakis said. “And that for me weighs more than the planning commission voting to change the zoning. The neighbors are not all in favor.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Mark Jensen recognized the need for gear storage space in town but understood concerns about the zoning change request. He wanted to advance the request at least until the next assembly meeting. “Since there’s three readings of this ordinance I’m going to vote for it in first reading and if it passes good then we’ll get it onto the second reading where there’s public comment. And hopefully if people don’t like what we’re doing, if anybody’s listening to this, then they can come and voice their opinions so we have more information to base our decision on.”

At least one other assembly member, Nancy Strand, said she was opposed to the change but would vote for it once to get it to a public hearing. The rezoning changes were both approved in first reading by a 4-3 vote with Lagoudakis, Bob Lynn and John Havrilek voting no. The issue will be up for a public hearing when the assembly meets again early next month.