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Southeast Alaska News
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.
A planned Ward Cove layup facility, which would serve the Alaska Marine Highway System and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was ranked last night as the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s top funding priority.
The Borough Assembly talked about various projects during its regular meeting Monday. Following that discussion, members put the Southeast Alaska Power Agency’s plan to raise the Swan Lake hydroelectric dam in second place. Once completed, that project will increase capacity, and reduce the community’s need to use expensive backup diesel generators.
Also on the list are upgrades at the Ketchikan Shipyard, improvements at Ketchikan International Airport, funding to develop the downtown Performing Arts Center; and construction of the OceansAlaska shellfish hatchery.
The Ketchikan City Council also has approved a list of projects, which has the Swan Lake capacity increase on top. The Cooperative Relations Council meets Aug. 30, and will prioritize projects submitted by the borough, and the cities of Ketchikan and Saxman. That list will come back to each government body for final approval before heading to Juneau for the governor and Legislature’s consideration.
Also Monday, the Assembly agreed with Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst’s decision to not collect the library user fee from rural users until the city provides tracking information that shows who is using the library, and how often.
The Ketchikan City Council recently approved an agreement calling for the borough to pay about $420,000 for library operations, but Bockhorst sent the agreement back with a letter asking for data.
“We would expect a measure, reasonable measures, of non-areawide library use compared to others in the community in order to determine if that figure is appropriate,” Bockhorst told the Assembly Monday.
The Assembly also agreed to exclude a portion of borough-owned property uphill from D1 Loop Road from a land sale until officials can determine whether there are stability issues that would be made worse by potential logging.
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SEARHC’s Front Street Clinic in Juneau may close. Firefighters battle asphalt plant blaze. Wrangell culture camp helps preserve Tlingit language.
A fishing tender that sank in Duncan Canal near Petersburg last Wednesday does not appear to be leaking more fuel.
The Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and an emergency response company have suspended their search for the 71-foot Pacific Queen. The tender hit a rock and sank in about 40 fathoms near Lung Island, about two miles east of Kah Sheets Bay.
A pollution response vessel arrived at the scene last Thursday and spent two days looking for the sunken ship, according to a DEC report released Monday. The search yielded no sign of an additional fuel spill or the ship itself.
The Pacific Queen had an estimated two thousand gallons of diesel fuel onboard, according to the latest DEC report, but the crew reported securing the fuel vents before the ship went down. A light oil sheen was observed on the site on August 14th. The DEC report notes the search could resume if any additional diesel sheens are reported in that area.
The vessel was owned by Joseph Lykken of Wrangell and it was tendering for SeaLevel Seafoods, based in Wrangell.
Petersburg’s borough assembly will be voting this fall on whether several advisory boards and committees will continue or disband. The borough charter approved by voters last winter dissolves the advisory groups within a year’s time unless the assembly votes otherwise. The assembly last night voted down a blanket continuance for the committees.
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The borough charter gives the assembly until next January to decide on continuing elected groups like the public safety, parks and recreation, library, harbor and utility advisory boards along with some appointed bodies like the transient room tax and motor pool committees. Some have gone months without meetings, or long spells without filling vacant seats. Others have had contested seats in recent elections, are active monthly and make frequent recommendations to the assembly.
Assembly member John Hoag said he asked to table the issue when it came up last spring. “Cause I though if we were going to look at this we should look at it one board at a time, let the department heads come in, give us a chance to look at, I would suggest six months of minutes from some of these committees and make a decision committee by committee as opposed to doing it up and down en masse.”
Hoag noted the difficulty in getting people to serve on the elected boards, which may be more difficult with financial disclosure requirements now in place for elected board members in the new borough. Before it became a borough, the city council for Petersburg looked at changing the groups to appointed several times in the past two decades but backed down over objections from the public.
This year borough staff surveyed members of the advisory boards about continuing; all said they wanted to keep going. Assembly member John Havrilek argued for the advisory groups to continue. “The more public input we have the better off we are. And I, except for the finance committee that we’ve already talked about I would be very comfortable with just keeping all these boards. They’ve all said they wanna stay and I would welcome more participation than less.”
Havrilek moved to keep all the advisory boards on, but Hoag argued against a blanket continuance and singled out several of the groups. “I mean having a motor pool board is doing a function that should be done by the department heads and the city manager. I mean the utility board, how much does it really do today? how much does it function?” Hoag wondered.
Ultimately Havrilek joined Hoag, Cindy Lagoudakis, Sue Flint and Mayor Mark Jensen in voting down that continuance. Nancy Strand and Kurt Wohlheuter were the only yes votes.
Instead, the assembly will look at the advisory boards one or two at a time, However, some of the groups won’t have to go through the review process – assembly members discussed continuing the planning commission, harbor advisory board, transient room tax committee and library board. The advisory boards for public safety, utilities and parks and recreation will be up for review, along with the motor pool committee, at future assembly meetings starting up next month.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly decided to remove the hospital renovation project and add the Performing Arts Center to its capital project priority list. Mike Painter gives an update on the August 19th meeting. Assembly082013
An aide to U.S. Senator Mark Begich tells Petersburg officials the U.S. Coast Guard has no immediate plans to relocate or decommission a Petersburg-based cutter and says plans to bring in new larger cutters to Southeast may be delayed.
Bob King, a legislative assistant to Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich, sent an email response to Petersburg mayor Mark Jensen this month. King wrote that he contacted Coast Guard headquarters about the fate of the 110-foot cutter Anacapa, which does search and rescue missions, homeland security and law enforcement out of Petersburg. King writes that officials at Coast Guard headquarters say they have no current plans to take the Anacapa out of service or change its homeport.
Local officials wrote to the senator this summer asking about plans for replacing the fleet of aging 110-footers and asking to keep both the Anacapa and the buoy tender Elderberry or their replacement ships in town. Mayor Mark Jensen Monday said it’s nice to have the Coast Guard here and hopes the ships are in Petersburg for many years. “53 people I believe are associated with that ship being in town,” Jensen said. “There’s kids in school and people in the workforce and be a shame for that to go away for the community I would think.”
The Coast Guard plans to replace the 110-foot vessels with new 154-foot fast response cutters and wants to commission 58 new ships around the country. Two of the larger vessels are planned for Ketchikan, possibly as early as 2015. However, in his email, King writes that only 18 of the 58 larger ships have been funded and postponed delivery of the two ships to Ketchikan seems likely due to budget cuts.
Local merchants and shoppers can look forward to another day without sales tax this fall.
Petersburg’s borough assembly last night voted to have a day without borough sales tax on October 5th. That was a request of the Chamber of Commerce’s retail committee.
Assembly member Sue Flint supported the tax free day. “We are ahead of our budget with sales tax revenues and October is a month where it’s pretty much residents living in Petersburg, or shopping in Petersburg and I think it’d be a better time to have it than it was in May when we’re full of visitors,” Flint said.
October 5th is also two days after Permanent Fund Dividend checks are sent out by the state, giving local residents some money to spend.
The assembly can choose whether or not to designate up to two sales tax-free days a year under an ordinance ratified by Petersburg voters in 2011. Assembly members did not vote on offering a similar tax free day last spring over concerns with impacts to the borough’s budget. The issue did make it to a vote last night and it passed, 6-1 with assembly member John Hoag voting against it.
Sitka fire officials stopped short of evacuating residents along Halibut Point Road early Monday morning, after a nearby fire sent smoke billowing toward neighborhoods.
Assistant Fire Chief Al Stevens says the fire began at the end of Granite Creek Road, where three containers of asphalt were being heated on trailers, for use on Baranof Street.
One of the heaters fell off its bracket and landed near the tires of a trailer, which then caught fire. Stevens says officials were concerned about a big tank of diesel nearby. They contacted the airport, which sent its foam truck to help extinguish the blaze.
Smoke billowed toward homes on Halibut Point Road, but the fire was put out before evacuations became necessary.
Stevens says about 15 firefighters responded to the incident, which began just before 1:30 a.m. Monday. Firefighters were back at the station by 3 a.m., and on their way home about an hour later.
The equipment that caught fire is owned by Aggregate Construction Inc. Representatives of ACI’s Sitka office could not immediately be reached for comment.
It’s unclear whether the fire will impact the repaving of Baranof Street. Stevens, with the fire department, said the company was hopeful some of the asphalt could be salvaged. But officials in the city’s public works department also could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The street runs alongside two Sitka schools — Baranof Elementary and Pacific High School. Classes in both buildings are scheduled to begin next week.
JUNEAU — Proposed new state regulations would further define what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion for purposes of receiving Medicaid funding.
The proposed change comes months after new regulations took effect for abortion payment conditions. Alaska’s health department last year backed off language that critics said would have restricted the definition of a “medically necessary” abortion for purpose of payment under the Medicaid program.
FAIRBANKS — Japan and South Korea air forces are participating with U.S. counterparts in military combat training at Eielson Air Force Base outside Fairbanks.
The two-week exercises in the Delta Junction area run through Friday.
It’s the first time Japanese and South Korea air forces have jointly trained in Alaska or anywhere, according to Lt. Col. Tom Pagano, commander of the 353rd Combat Training Squadron that plans the Red Flag Alaska training exercise.