Are you ready to be part of the Flash Mob performance during the first 2 Cruise Ship visits of...
Submit and View KHNS Postings
From Our Listeners
Thanks to our Generous Underwriters, Sponsors and Grantors
Southeast Alaska News
Responding to an appeal from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Rural Development has agreed to continue exempting Alaska from a regulation that prohibits USDA housing loans for homes with water-catchment systems.
That rule has been on the books for a while, but it’s always been waived for Alaska. Last year, though, the federal agency ended the waivers, a move that would have had serious impacts in Alaska, where many homes are not connected to a city’s water service.
Roof catchment systems that funnel water into cisterns are common in Southeast Alaska, especially, where residents take advantage of the abundant rainfall.
Ketchikan real estate agent Mary Wanzer said most first time homebuyers take advantage of the USDA-RD loan program, because it doesn’t require a down payment.
“If the waiver allows someone to finance a home that’s on a roof catchment system, then it’s huge for Ketchikan and it allows more people to get into affordable housing,” she said.
However, she expressed concern that the waiver might cover cisterns, but not roof catchment systems. Wanzer said she has known homebuyers in the past couple of years who had to disconnect the roof system in order to qualify for a USDA loan.
Murkowski spokesman Matthew Felling said the waiver does apply to roof catchment systems, but USDA officials might initially require proof that a home’s water system can operate with delivered water only.
Wanzer said that roughly half of Ketchikan’s existing homes use cisterns.
“Anything past the airport north would be on a roof-catchment system; and anything south of basically Tatsuda’s would be on a roof-catchment system unless it was in the Mountain Point area, because Mountain Point has (its) own water and sewer,” she said. “So a large percentage.”
In a letter to USDA Rural Development Director Jim Nordlund, Sen. Murkowski noted that refusing loans for homes with cisterns would hurt low to moderate income borrowers who hope to buy a home.
In his response, Nordland writes that his agency’s regulation is similar to a standard adopted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, HUD has waived that standard at least through March 27for parts of Alaska. So, as long as the HUD waiver remains in place, Nordland writes that the USDA exemption also will stand.
As part of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s 50th anniversary celebration, the state ferry system has planned a brief ceremony at the Prince Rupert, British Columbia, terminal at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday.
The MV Taku, which has served Prince Rupert since the spring of 1963, will be at the terminal during the ceremony and will depart for Ketchikan at 7 a.m.
The ferry system’s General Manager Captain John Falvey says that ferry officials are proud to have been part of Prince Rupert for fifty years.
The inaugural ferry voyage to Prince Rupert was January 31, 1963, with the brand-new MV Malaspina – the system’s first vessel, which continues to provide service to Alaska residents and visitors.
Petersburg officials are reviewing the community’s response to a tsunami warning from the January 4th earthquake that rattled Southeast Alaska and sent residents scrambling to higher ground in the middle of the night. The voluntary evacuation went smoothly by many accounts but also highlighted some possible areas of improvement.
For iFriendly audio, click here:
Petersburg’s public safety advisory board discussed the tsunami warning response at a meeting earlier this month. Police chief Jim Agner thought the community’s response went well under tough circumstances. “Because this was some of the worst possible conditions,” Agner said. “It was just above freezing, it was the middle of the night, it was raining, it was about a miserable thing and the entire community did very well.”
A tsunami warning was issued following a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that rocked the region just before midnight on January 4th. It was located off the coast of Southeast about 71 miles from Craig. Here in Petersburg, residents were urged to move inland to higher ground. Many received notice of the warning through the community’s Code Red notification system. Police also announced the evacuation over loudspeakers while driving along the waterfront.
Agner told the board that dispatchers moved out of the downtown police building and worked from a communications trailer and from the new fire hall. “We have done a couple of sort of dry runs but there are some things you just don’t do,” he said adding, “And one of them was throwing the switch and we turned off this police facility. And when I left, I walked out to close the door and for probably the first time in 50 years, no one was in that building for a fairly significant amount of time. We walked away and we seamlessly made the conversion on both phones and radios.”
Agner said other things did not go as hoped, the Code Red warning system for instance. He said the emergency warning phone system notified many people about the tsunami danger, but far fewer people received the “all-clear” warning.
The board agreed that community members should prepare emergency bag with supplies in case people cannot return to their homes immediately.
Board member Jim Engel said another need to consider in planning was a place to gather for people without vehicles. He said police dropped off one couple where he was waiting at the Hammer and Wikan parking lot. “You know obviously when the hospital was evacuated they were brought to Mountain View manor,” Engel said. “But coming up with a pre-designated place for that population of people who don’t have a vehicle to sit in, that don’t have the ability to just say hey can I jump in your car. What do you do with that group? It isn’t necessarily a large population but it’s enough that the hour and a half they were up there they would’ve froze.”
Other people waited out the warning at the Petersburg Indian Association, Alaska Airlines terminal and the baler facility to name a few. And some residents chose not to leave their homes. Many evacuated to the location originally designated as the community’s gathering spot in Petersburg disaster response plan, the ballfields. At a meeting of the borough assembly this month, borough manager Steve Giesbrecht acknowledged problems with sending so many people to there. “Everybody goes to the ballfield and then we had a mess at the ball field,” Giesbrecht said. “You know the lighting is not as good, there’s only one way in and out, bathrooms weren’t open. So it may not be long-term the best place to send the whole town to all at once, so we gotta work through that a little bit.” Petersburg’s local emergency planning committee will revisit the community’s plan and determine other evacuation sites.
Giesbrecht also told the assembly the borough was looking into the cost of completing an inundation study. “It’s seemingly spending money on something we maybe already know but it basically says in the event of a tsunami it starts to outline where we should send people,” he said. “And today, because we’ve never done that we have to tell people the standard response which is one mile inland or 100 feet up. Which kind of limits where we can send people.”
An inundation study is one requirement for designation as a tsunami ready community. That’s a National Weather Service’s program aimed at helping coastal areas plan for potential impacts of an ocean wave. Other requirements are developing a formal tsunami plan, holding emergency exercises and posting signs for evacuation routes and safe zones. 16 Alaska communities, including Juneau Sitka and Yakutat in Southeast, are designated tsunami-ready.
There are a few tsunami zone signs are already posted on Mitkof Island. Drivers might have noticed the signs on Mitkof Highway near the Crystal Lake hatchery south of Petersburg. Those mark safe zones for the event of a failure of the Crystal Lake dam which could drop reservoir water down the mountain onto the roadway and buildings below.
Sandy Dixson, fire and ems director and chair of the Local Emergency Planning Committee said an inundation study and tsunami ready designation for the community may depend on the cost and finding funding. However, short of a full study she says the community could map out safe areas. “It probably wouldn’t hurt to start with the 100 foot elevation because that’s just a general rule of thumb that the state has put out there, the 100 foot elevation mark or one mile inland and it would be good for people out the road especially for them to find out where that is for them, where they should go,” she said. “And obviously that would be the cheaper route.”
Dixson agreed the response January 4th went well but says communication is always an issue. The warning siren failed and officials are looking into that problem. Also a number of people did not receive notification on the Code Red system, including Dixson, one of system’s administrators. Dixson said she’s heard from others who were not notified. “And my recommendation to them was to go into the system to make sure that you are registered and that you did put appropriate phone numbers in and then again trying to trouble shoot where that disconnect was because I should’ve, I have four numbers listed and again I didn’t get the calls,” Dixson said. “There is some type of disconnect there and we’re trying to figure that out.”
Other than a test of the system, the evacuation was the first community-wide call out on the Code Red system. Dixson encouraged people to plan ahead and take personal responsibility for readiness. “Don’t think of just a tsunami but what if their house was damaged what would they have done? What if they had been where the power’s been out. So it’s not just big events where it affects the whole community, what about just their neighborhood or just their home. So being ready, you know what medications do you need to go, do you need money, do you need a change of clothes, if you have babies do you need diapers and wipes, kind of thing. We as the city cannot provide that for each individual family. So we can do general things.”
She also cautioned people about getting information from reliable source, like the radio or code red system and being careful about unsubstantiated information sent around on social media.
The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says January’s quake was the largest recorded in Southeast since a 6.8 temblor in June of 2004. Other strong earthquakes also were recorded on the same fault in August of 1949 and July of 1972.