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Southeast Alaska News
Testimony on Republican Gov. Sean Parnell’s oil production tax reform bill Thursday, as heard by the Senate Special Committee on Trans-Alaska Pipeline System Throughput, was overwhelmingly against the proposal, with many members of the public saying they believe the envisioned changes to the ACES tax regime will benefit major oil companies at Alaskans’ expense.
Testimony Thursday was open to residents of Southeast Alaska, as well as coastal communities on the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island, Prince William Sound and the Bering Sea. A couple of Anchorage residents also testified.
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Three-time Grammy-winning saxophonist, composer, and arranger Tom Scott grew up in a musical household. His father was a much sought-after composer for television scores, for shows like “Lassie.” He’s carried that legacy forward, writing for shows like “Starsky and Hutch” and the “Streets of San Francisco.” He’s also recorded with George Harrison, Paul McCartney, the Grateful Dead, and many other top acts. He’ll be performing this weekend at the Sitka Jazz Festival. With KCAW’s Chris Todd.
The Petersburg Indian Association has re-hired Bruce Jones as tribal administrator.
The PIA tribal council fired Jones in October a little more than two months after they had first hired him. At the time, Jones said he tried to fire an employee and the council did not support that decision. The membership of the tribal council has changed since then, following elections in January and one appointment to fill a vacant seat.
Jones starts up work again on Monday, February 4th. “It’s a good thing” Jones said. “You know my reasons for taking the job originally hasn’t changed. I see a lot of potential for partnering with the community and getting tribal members to work just doing good things and that hasn’t changed. Excited to work with this new board. Met with them last night for a couple hours and they seemed to be wanting to head down the right path and I’m willing to step in and be the leader and get that done.”
The tribal council has also decided to end the employment of a PIA grant writer Connie Bisson. In a radio commentary in January, Bisson identified herself as the employee Jones had tried to fire and alleged that action was against policy and procedures. Jones maintains that, as tribal administrator, he has responsibility for hiring and firing PIA employees. He said there may be other changes on the horizon for the PIA staff.
“I’m gonna probably rearrange some positions,” he said. “I wanna get a full-time finance person in place. We have an accountant there but I need somebody to take charge of that department along with HR and kind of spearhead those two activities. Currently we have a financial officer that works from out of Anchorage. I want somebody here full time to keep track of things.”
Jones has agreed to a four-year commitment with the PIA. He has a long career in local government. He formerly served as public works director, then city manager for Petersburg, then later as general manager of the Inter-Island Ferry Authority on Prince of Wales Island.
The PIA is the federally recognized tribal government that represents about 400 members in Petersburg. The organization offers numerous services for tribal members and the greater community. It’s been a rocky year and a half for the PIA, with numerous resignations among the tribal council and employees. Some of the disagreement has centered around the use of federal funding, the purchase and renovation of a local restaurant and personnel issues.
Tina Sakamoto was elected chair of the tribal council in January. Jeannette Ness, Skip Hallingstad and Melanie Frentz were also elected to the council. Mary Ann Rainey and Chris Lopez are continuing on the council and Mike Sheldon was appointed to fill a seat vacated by Derek Lopez.
The Sitka Assembly will interview two of the 12 applicants for municipal attorney: Allen Bell, of Sitka, and Wasilla lawyer Robin Koutchak.
Bell has been staff attorney to the Sitka Tribe of Alaska since late 2011, and, although new to the Alaska bar, has more than 30 years of legal experience. Most of that was spent in Illinois, in two rural counties on the state’s east side. He’s a 1980 graduate of the Indianapolis Law School of Indiana University.
Koutchak has less total time as a lawyer, but more experience in Alaska. She’s currently in private practice in Wasilla. She moved to the state in 1992 after earning a law degree at the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University. She’s been assistant attorney for the North Slope Borough, assistant attorney general and assistant district attorney for the state of Alaska out of Barrow, and has extensive private practice work on her resume.
The Assembly asked former municipal attorney Cliff Groh to review their applications, and three others. But one voice will be missing from the table: Sitka’s current administrator.
At a special meeting Wednesday night to begin the hiring process, Assembly members voted down a motion to include Municipal Administrator Jim Dinley in the discussion process. Mike Reif, who made the motion, was the only one to vote yes.
“Actually, it wasn’t just Mr. Dinley,” he said. “It’s actually a group of people.”
Reif said he didn’t feel qualified to hire a municipal attorney on his own. He said it’s important to know how an attorney will work with the administrator, the public, and city staff.
“And I wanted to get those kind of voices on there so I could have those sets of eyes evaluate what we had in front of us for applications, in saying, yes, these are the skills sets you need for this, this and this,” he said.
But Mayor Mim McConnell says Assembly members have a good reason for not inviting Dinley into the talks.
“The administrator and attorney positions are equal positions on the city flow chart,” McConnell said. “They’re both employees of the Assembly, and one does not have authority over the other.”
By charter, only the Assembly hires the attorney. But McConnell says Dinley’s voice, and the voices of other city staff, will still be heard.
“The administrator and department heads and any member of the public will have the opportunity, when this gets voted on, to give their input about these people,” she said.
Thor Christianson added that it could also be awkward if the Assembly hired someone that city staff publicly recommended against, and then they had to work together.
John Stein was Sitka’s municipal administrator when the Assembly hired Theresa Hillhouse in 2005.
“I think I had an opportunity to make input during the interviews, but the Assembly made the decision,” Stein said.
Stein says in a lot of other municipalities, the attorney works as part of the staff, under the administrator’s supervision.
“And it’s interesting here,” he said of Sitka’s system. “It sort of provides a check-and-balance between the Assembly and the administration.”
But the administrator and the attorney aren’t necessarily adversaries, either. Stein says he had a good working relationship with both Theresa Hillhouse and her predecessor, Cliff Groh.
“And I think that’s important to have,” he said. “But it’s really the Assembly’s decision.”
Dinley came to Wednesday night’s meeting and sat in the audience for about an hour. Reached by phone on Thursday, he said the charter is pretty clear about who hires the attorney. Asked if he wanted a stronger voice in the process, he said, “I don’t think that’s my call.”
The Assembly, meanwhile, is moving quickly. In-person interviews are scheduled for February 8th.
McConnell says ideally, the Assembly could make the hire before Hillhouse leaves the job March 1. Hillhouse will stay on for four months at half her salary to aid in a transition.
But McConnell and other Assembly members also seemed to agree Wednesday night that if none of the candidates are what they’re looking for, they’ll keep looking.
Said Assembly member Matt Hunter: “Paying an outside attorney for six months is still better than hiring someone we don’t want.”
Recommendations from the school district’s Indian Policy and Procedures Committee were largely accepted by the Ketchikan School Board on Wednesday.
The recommendations were developed by the committee with input from members of the public. They call for district officials to meet quarterly with local Native representatives to assess education opportunities for Native students. They also call for an increase in the amount of Alaska Native culture taught in the schools, including celebration of National Native Heritage Month each November.
Board President Ginny Clay said she supports more Native culture in the schools.
“One of the points was about greater emphasis on celebrating and observing National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month,” she said. “One of the suggestions was the celebrating part would come from the schools, they would be doing that. And then the observing part would come from the School Board: easy fix. It’s an easy thing. And I appreciate that a lot of these things are easy.”
Additional recommendations include cultural training for school staff, regular discussion of Native education by the School Board, and research into different instruction methods for Native children. The only item the board was reluctant to implement was adding a standing discussion item to the agenda.
During public comment, James Llanos spoke to the board in favor of the recommendations.
“I have 28 grandkids in your school. I have 13 great-grandkids in your school. My slow walk up here wasn’t for dramatics. It’s because I’m slowing down. But I’m still going to fight for my kids,” he said.
He noted that last year, a Native student tried putting up posters in celebration of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, which celebrates Native civil rights in Alaska. The student was told to remove them, and Llanos said the student felt her culture was not appreciated.
Also Wednesday, the board talked at length about the district’s budget process. Superintendent Robert Boyle said that the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly anticipates a tighter budget next year. Part of that stems from the push to cut the national budget, which means Congress is expected to cut federal Secure Rural Schools funds.
So, borough officials told Boyle to expect a local contribution of about $7.7 million, which is about $600,000 less than the current school year. He said that kind of cut would be painful for local schools.
“One would be a cut of our preschool program. That’s outside of our K-6 requirements, so I have to put that on the table,” he said. “It would require us cutting one elementary teacher, one middle school teacher, one Kayhi teacher, Fast Track, one maintenance worker and we’re already down and they’re taxed at this time, and then cut into our supplies which would include our technology budgets.”
A local contribution of $8.3 million would maintain the status quo.
Board Member Stephen Bradford said the School Board has an obligation to build a budget that serves the needs of the district. The Assembly then has 30 days to approve or reject the budget as presented.
“And during that time, we would have the opportunity to discuss with them why we think that’s the appropriate amount,” he said. “It would be a time for the citizens to either reflect that we agree with the School Board, you should be funding at that level, or they can call the Assembly members and say don’t fund anything to that school district.”
The board encouraged public participation in the district budget process. The first special budget meeting is Thursday, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Ketchikan High School library. A second meeting is 1 p.m. Saturday at the school district central office.
The board met in executive session at the end of Wednesday’s meeting to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation. Following the closed-door session, Clay announced that the board gave direction and that Board Member Bradford will meet with Boyle.
The next regular School Board meeting is Feb. 13.
The House Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Committee unanimously moved a resolution out of committee Thursday that would call on Gov. Sean Parnell to create a state food resource development working group.
Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, who introduced the resolution, said he wants to bring together state agencies who dabble in food system-related issues — nutrition programs, research, ecology and beyond — and establish a “point person” in the governor’s office for a coordinated approach to Alaska’s food system.
Josh Wheeler, Masato Lee, and Sean Gill (left to right) play an Irish ballad, “Star of the County Down,” on Lincoln Street in Sitka on Wed., Jan. 30. (Video by Anne Brice/KCAW)
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Early morning aftershock wakens SE residents. Centennial canoe gets a lift during parking lot reconstruction. SE conservation organization launches marketing campaign — for timber. Phone scammers target elderly in Sitka, Petersburg, and other SE communities. Democrats propose pegging school funding to inflation.
2012 was another year of population growth in Southeast Alaska. In fact, the numbers of people living in the region reached an all-time high.
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The Department of Labor estimates the state’s population has grown by a little more than three percent in the past two years, gaining more than 22-thousand people. In the Southeast region, the growth rate was closer to four percent. Southeast gained nearly 28-hundred people over that time.
“Southeast has been gaining population over the past couple of years,” said state demographer Eddie Hunsinger. “This last year, ’11-12, there wasn’t as much gain as there was between ’10-11. But they have been having some population gains and they’ve been gaining in the past year and that’s more than they did at all over the previous decade, the 2000s, many of the Southeast region communities lost population. So any of the gains are a little bit different then we’ve seen in the previous decade.”
The estimate for Southeast is 74,423 people. That’s the highest it’s ever been. The region’s largest population growth has been in the city and borough of Juneau, which gained more than 15-hundred people in the past two years. The increases are attributed to natural growth, more births than deaths, as well as new people moving into Southeast.
Hunsinger notes the gains are not limited to just the largest communities. “Well Hoonah Angoon had a little bit more growth than they did, between 11 and 12 than they did between 10 and 11,” he said. “Most of the boroughs and census areas in Southeast Alaska, sort of the subparts of the region still gained between 11 and 12 but not quite as much as 10 and 11.”
The Haines borough gained 112 people in the past two years. Ketchikan’s borough gained 461 people. The Prince of Wales and Hyder census area increased by 212. The city and borough of Sitka is up 203 people and Wrangell’s borough increased by 79 in that time. The Petersburg census area, which includes Petersburg Kake and Kupreanof increased 122 people in two years. The only areas seeing declines in the past two years were Skagway and Yakutat.
Meilani Schijvens with the Juneau-based consulting firm Sheinberg Associates pointed out the region’s numbers have been rising since 2007. “The story that has been told about Southeast Alaska is that we’ve been, we’re having downward trends, we’re losing population. And when you look at the numbers now you see that’s not true anymore,” Schijvens said. “We ended that in 2007 and 2012 was our top population year ever in the history of the region. If you’re looking at the numbers as a whole, it really tells a different story of what we are now and where we’re headed as a region now.”
The late 90s and early 2000s saw a loss of timber jobs in Southeast, falling salmon prices and other economic factors combined to drop the region’s population. Schijvens said several factors have reversed that trend including record high prices for minerals, the opening of the Kensington mine and other mining exploration has boosted employment opportunities in Southeast.
She also pointed out Alaska is enjoying a relatively low unemployment rate compared to the rest of the country. “When we have difficult times with the economy nationwide people come to Alaska looking for jobs,” Schijvens said. “And really what we see in terms of that in-migration is that half of that in-migration are coming from out of state. And if we kind of dig into who those people are using the American community survey we see that on average those arriving from out of state tend to be young, single and highly educated and really not finding employment opportunities down south and so moving up here. So those lower unemployment rates definitely help us in terms of being able to attract people to the region.”
Schijvens believes the region’s population growth will slow because of housing shortages in some communities for the new arrivals, an improving national economy and uncertain future for mineral prices.
Sheinberg Associates publishes a report on economic and population trends called Southeast by the Numbers, for the Southeast Conference, a group of communities and businesses.
“Well I think the opportunity in Southeast Alaska is coming around again,” said Shelly Wright, the regional organization’s executive director. “We have a lot of opportunity in the fishing industry, the mining industry is certainly on the upswing. I think there’s a desire for people to come home to be part of the community they came from and I think people are finding ways to do that.”
The Department of Labor’s estimates are based on a count of permanent fund dividend applications and other data.
While the Petersburg census area is up as a whole, the population within the former city limits actually decreased in 2012, down 24 people from the year before. The state’s estimate for 2012 is 2,972 for the old city of Petersburg.
Ralph Beardsworth from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Board of Education. educationreport1312013
Planning is underway for the reconstruction of Haugen Drive in Petersburg, along with an extension of the bike path from Petersburg’s airport.
The state Department of Transportation plans to use $3.5 million in federal funding to resurface the roadway and sidewalks.
“We’re going to be doing a pavement and sidewalk rehabilitation on Haugen Drive, basically from Nordic Drive all the way to Eighth Street,” said Keith Karpstein project manager with the DOT. “We’re also going to be doing a pavement rehab from the airport to Sandy Beach road. The project also includes a sidewalk extension from Eighth Street all the way to Twelfth street on the north side of the road and also a sidewalk extension on the south side of the road from Eighth Street to connect to the existing path on the south side of the road.”
Also planned is a multi-use biking and walking path from the airport to Sandy Beach. It’s an extension of the existing walkway that follows the road up to the airport. Karpstein says the new section of the planned path mostly follows the existing roadway. “There is a portion that’s going to be offset from the road quite a bit,” he said. “It’ll be a couple hundred feet north of the road directly across from the airport terminal. The reason for that is we’re trying to follow the alignment of the future Haugen Drive which is the ultimate airport plan is going to push Haugen Drive out aways and then reconstruct the airport parking area, etc., etc. So what we’re trying to do is put that path in a location that’ll work with the future alignment of Haugen Drive.”
The project is currently in its scoping phase as DOT gathers input from other government agencies and the public. Karpstein says the DOT hopes to complete the environmental review for the project by the end of this year and final design work next year. Construction is expected to happen in 2015.
The DOT also plans a separate $3.7 million project on Nordic Drive with pavement rehabilitation and drainage work from Haugen Drive to the ferry terminal. That work is scheduled to happen before the Haugen Drive project and could be advertised later this year.
Many Sitka residents felt an earthquake just before 1 a.m. Thursday.
The quake did not set off any tsunami alerts, and the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer reported shortly afterward that there is NO tsunami danger.
The tsunami warning center put the magnitude at 5.5, but the U.S. Geological Survey reported it at 6.0.
Thursday’s shaking comes about a month after a larger 7.5 magnitude quake that put the entire panhandle under a tsunami warning. In that instance, minimal changes in sea level were reported.
ANCHORAGE — The united command overseeing the salvage of the Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill barge says the vessel’s damage poses no threat to its stability while it’s anchored off an Alaska island.
But spokesman Kevin Hardy said Wednesday he could not answer whether hull damage will make the Kulluk unsuitable for towing, whether it could be moved by heavy lift ship rather than by towing, or whether it will be moved for repairs to an Asia shipyard rather than a Pacific Northwest shipyard.
JUNEAU — Alaska’s prison population could reach capacity by 2016, even as a new prison is just gearing up.
Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the estimate speaks to the effort under way within his department geared at reducing recidivism.
Schmidt said if the state can take steps to stop repeat offenders, it should consider those. He said the state doesn’t want to talk about building another prison any sooner than it has to.
Single-digit temperatures fail to deter Jim Barkeley as he trains for the 350-mile 2013 Iditarod Trail Invitational bike race Monday afternoon Jan. 28, 2013 on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail near Pt. Woronzof in Anchorage, Alaska. Barkeley, who has practiced winter camping and studied arctic survival techniques, is now riding his fully-packed bike on training runs to prepare for the February 24 race start in Knik. Racers will travel by bike, ski or foot, covering either the 350 miles to McGrath or continuing on for 1,000 miles to Nome.
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell has proposed a $24.5 million supplemental budget for unexpected or additional costs this fiscal year.
Parnell said his request includes a net decrease to the budget of about $11 million in state general fund dollars. It also includes a reduction of $25 million for the Medicaid program, which Parnell, in his transmittal letter, attributed largely to cost control measures. Margaret Brodie, with the state Department of Health and Social Services, said expenses for the program weren’t as high as earlier expected.
Alaska’s seafood industry is the state’s largest private employer and its largest export market. Yet it has a narrow opportunity to grow in a world market that is growing in size and competition.
Commissioner of Commerce Community and Economic Development Susan Bell said her department is working to bring down energy costs, develop infrastructure to bring goods to market and diversify Alaska’s economy.
“We are really focused on marketing Alaska’s goods and services,” Bell said.
House Democratic minority lawmakers rolled out a bill Wednesday that would increase the Base Student Allocation for school districts and index future increases to inflation, but Republicans do not sound ready to embrace the proposal.
The BSA, which has not been raised since 2010, is a critical part of the education funding formula in Alaska. House Bill 95 would raise it to keep up with increases in the Consumer Price Index for the Anchorage metropolitan area since 2011. It would rise along with CPI increases in subsequent years as well, starting July 1, 2014.