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Southeast Alaska News
President Obama said Saturday that he’ll seek Congressional approval before authorizing a strike in Syria, and urged Congressional leaders to support action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. How, when, and even whether the United States would respond to an alleged chemical attack against civilians has been a question in the last several days.
What’s happening over there? View NPR’s Syria coverage.
NPR also maintains a blog called The Two-Way, where it posts breaking news. Whenever we have special coverage from NPR on air, you can count on The Two-Way to be rolling with it as well. Even when we’re not live with NPR, the Two-Way updates regularly throughout each day with the latest news, and links back to relevant NPR (and other) coverage.
BBC News also assembled a special report. The British Parliament last week rejected the notion of UK military intervention in Syria.
And here’s Syria coverage from PRI’s “The World,” which airs on Raven Radio weekdays at noon.
Hoonah’s village Native corporation may build its own cruise-ship dock, bypassing a city effort funded by the Legislature.
Huna Totem Corp. executives say it won’t use a berthing facility planned by the city, because cruise lines don’t like the location.
It prefers a different spot, closer to its Icy Strait Point renovated cannery attraction, which brings the ships to town.
CEO Larry Gaffaney posted a letter to shareholders recently saying the corporation will pursue funding and construction of its own pier, without city involvement.
Gaffaney also wrote that the city’s preferred site, called Shaman Point, should be protected for its cultural values. He could not be immediately reached for further comment.
The Legislature several years ago awarded the city a grant – now $15 million – to build a multipurpose dock. Lawmakers said cruise ships would be its main customers.
The state Division of Community and Regional Affairs recently suspended that grant, meaning none of it can be spent.
Director Scott Ruby says the state will take it away entirely, if the city proceeds with its plans.
“Regardless of what the state thinks about whether it’s a good location or a bad location, if the cruise-ship industry is saying ‘We will not use it,’ then there’s a problem there,” Ruby says.
He met with Hoonah officials Thursday. He says there was a good discussion, but no resolution.
Hoonah Interim City Administrator Bob Prunella says his delegation gave the state new research backing its dock location.
“The city feels like it’s (done) lots of study, geo-tech study and wind and waves on all three sites. And this one comes out looking like, by far, a preferred site for an operation like this,” Prunella says.
He says a site preferred by Huna Totem and the cruise lines would face rough winter weather. That could prevent other uses, such as commercial fishing boats or barges.
Prunella remains optimistic, even though there have been no recent meetings with the corporation or the cruise lines.
“We will move forward and see how this pans out. Give it another try, make some more effort. I’d like to see effort on both sides to come to something that everyone can live with,” he says.
Community and Regional Affairs Director Ruby also hopes the parties can come to an agreement. But that has to be soon.
His boss, Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell, recently gave the city of Hoonah notice that it would lose the dock grant if no compromise was reached. The deadline is in a week or so.
Hoonah is 40 air miles west of Juneau. It has around 800 residents, including many Huna Totem shareholders.
If you’ve ever wanted to spend a night in a genuine Southeast wilderness cabin but were scared of flying or afraid of water, fear no more. After a ribbon cutting ceremony tomorrow Saturday, the first drive-up cabin in the Ketchikan area will officially be open to the public.
The new 16×12 spruce cabin at Settler’s Cove stands on top of the old campsite number 10. The spot offers a view of Clover Passage and Betton Island. But the best part, according to district park ranger Mary Kowalczyk, is the obvious.
“For those that don’t have access to a boat or airplane or the funding to get one, they should be able to rent a cabin and drive right up,” says Kowalczyk.
The cabin was built with funds in the state of Alaska’s capital budget. Kowalczyk says the idea started at the local level, and was eventually brought before the state legislature for approval. The cabin was then built with at least $50,000 and the elbow grease of State Parks workers.
Kowalczyk says that the demand for more driveup cabins in this part of Southeast is definitely there, but the community’s input is crucial in building support for more funding.
“I’m sure more people would like to see that,” she says, “but people need to voice their opinion, and let the advisory board know, because most of this is coming from capital projects.”
The ranger says that demand for the cabin has already been high. In peak season she predicts the price will be set at $45 a night, with $35 in the off season. Reservations can be made on the state parks website.
Representative Peggy Wilson will attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the cabin Saturday. Coffee and cookies will be available for the public, and opportunities to win prizes for those that attend. There will also be face painting and other activities. Those festivities begin at 11am at Settler’s Cove.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly will move ahead with a decision on the Gravina Access Project at its regular meeting Monday.
The Assembly voted earlier this month to in effect endorse improved ferry service over bridges from Revilla Island to Gravina. That vote directed Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst to submit comments to the state Department of Transportation to that end, while also requesting an extended comment period on the project.
Now, with that comment period over and a formal decision pending by the borough, a final motion proposed and postponed on August 5 will be brought forward for debate and a vote.
It’s a bit complicated, if not symbolic.
Officially, the resolution calls for two bridges between the islands while soundly rejecting the No Action Alternative, which as its name implies, would keep the status quo. If the Alaska Department of Transportation is unwilling to support the borough’s desire for bridges, which is all but certain, the borough will move ahead with an amendment attached to the resolution.
The new language says that while the borough has supported the idea of bridges across the Tongass Narrows for 40 years, the political and economic climate at the state and federal levels prevents that option. Given that situation, the new resolution says, the borough formally endorses improved ferry service.
The Assembly also will consider supporting efforts by the Gateway Borough School District to install a new boiler at the North Point Higgins School. The School Board is considering accepting an offer from R&M Engineering of Ketchikan to put a new biomass heater in that school; but before it formally invites proposals for a boiler it hopes to receive the endorsement of the Borough Assembly.
The Assembly meets at 5:30pm in Borough Assembly Chambers in the White Cliff Building. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
Petersburg’s school superintendent Rob Thomason was named superintendent of the year this week by the Alaska Council of School Administrators.
The organization’s executive director Bruce Johnson made the announcement in the Petersburg High School library Thursday afternoon before the teachers, school board and staff of the school district.
“I know as with any superintendent of the year in Alaska or anywhere else, it’s not just about the individual, it’s about the team that’s been assembled to provide that education,” Johnson said. “But, through my experience, 41 years and a lot of that in administration and district-wide positions and statewide positions, it never happens without that foremost leader of a school district, the board and the superintendent working in harmony to do the very best job that they can and I think Rob exemplifies that in every way.”
Thomason was hired in Petersburg in 2009. He’s also worked in Nenana and for school districts in Oregon, Idaho, California, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
He told group assembled Thursday he was honored and humbled by the award. “This is a great school district,” Thomason said. “I’ve worked in several. My bride and I have worked in several. How come we weren’t here 20 years ago, I don’t know. God had a different plan. So, we are able to spend this time together. We’re gonna do great things for kids. We’re gonna cross that line all of us this year and we’re gonna get that kitchen!”
Thomason’s remark brought a round of applause from the staff and teachers gathered. He was referring to the district’s top capital project priority of a new food service area. The superintendent will be feted along with other state winners at a conference in February in Nashville.
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Semi flips on Sawmill Creek Road, police investigating. Greens Creek Mine looking for more room for tailings. Samuelson launches bid for House seat held by Kreiss-Tomkins.
Local kids from the Petersburg Children’s Center Rainbow Room Tuesday got a hands-on look at the reconstruction of a log shelter at Sandy Beach Park. The new shelter, one of two at the borough park, is starting to take shape this month and could be completed in the next few months.
Parks and Recreation employee Dave Nauman demonstrated his log cleaning and cutting techniques for eight youngsters. Joe Viechnicki stopped by and produced this audio postcard.
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Parks and Recreation will hold a grand opening for the new shelter sometime next spring.
Kim Simpson and Andy Donato of Ketchikan Public Utilities give info on KPU’s energy conservation campaign. Homeowners and businesses can save real money just by unplugging unnecessary appliances. Conserve083013
“Ambassador of the Great American Songbook” and five-time Grammy nominated performer Michael Feinstein hosts Song Travels – Mondays at 9pm on KFSK
Mike Satre, the manager of government and community relations for the Hecla Mining Company, told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week that Greens Creek was undertaking an extensive permitting process to increase the area where it can put the spent ore, known in the industry as “tailings.”
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But that leaves the rest on the surface. A large pile of material in a National Monument in the middle of the continent’s largest rainforest – material that can’t get wet. Satre described the pains Greens Creek takes to store tails.
“So what we do is de-water those tails. We truck them down to the Auke Inlet area. We have an engineered facility where we’ve cleared and grubbed everything off. We put down geotextile lining. We’ve isolated water from coming into that area, and we’ve placed those tails in a very engineered fashion, protect them from oxygen infiltration, and ultimately plan for closure.”
Water and oxygen plus mine tailings produces an acid, Satre says. Greens Creek collects runoff from the tailings area and sends it to its own water treatment plant. The trucks that deliver tailings are rinsed in a giant car wash.
“We’ve gone through one EIS (Environmental Impact Statement), one expansion that allowed us to come out this way to the east, and a little bit higher than originally planned and permitted. No we need even more room, so we want to come further to the south. We’ve gone through an EIS process that has multiple alternatives. There is a no action alternative – just like anything in a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process. If we don’t expand our tails facility, probably the mine will be forced to shut down and go into reclamation and closure. We simply won’t have the place to put our tails.”
Satre made the case before the Sitka chamber that closure was not an attractive alternative. Greens Creek is on Admiralty Island, about 18 miles south of Juneau, and is one of the leading silver mines in the world, producing 2,200 tons a day of a fine sand concentrate containing silver, zinc, gold, or lead. The mine employs 390 people directly, and has a payroll of $54-million.
The Greens Creek ore deposit was discovered in 1975, three years before most of Admiralty Island became a National Monument. The federal legislation allowed for the development of a mine, in the event the deposit “proved up.”
The mine was closed for six years in the 1990s, because of low mineral prices. Hecla was part owner with Kennicott in those days. In 2008, Hecla bought out its partner for $750-million.
These numbers had the attention of the Sitka Chamber audience. In June, the assembly postponed consideration of spending $72,000 on a geotechnical survey along Green Lake Road.
Satre is also a professional geologist. He explained that although Greens Creek was on the next island, geologically it was a world apart. He said that the ore deposit was formed hundreds of millions of years ago, as black, sulfide-rich gases billowed from an ancient sea bed.
“Luckily, at the same time those sulfides were being ejected from these vents, some muddy, carbonate-rich sediments were being deposited on top, and they preserved that ore body over the years. And that formed many thousands of miles away from us, and – just like the rest of Southeast Alaska – through plate tectonics, was slammed up against the North American Craton, and that’s where it’s at today.”
Ironically, mining was one of Sitka’s largest industries following the Russian transfer in the 19th Century, with 40-percent of residents involved in the search for gold, according to a research paper by Matt Hunter, who currently holds a seat on Sitka’s assembly. None of the dozens of mines or claims in the area ever repaid the investment.
Nevertheless, Sitka Economic Development Director Garry White, who attended the presentation, asked Satre where he thought mineral prices were headed. Satre responded, as he has likely many times before: “If I knew that, I wouldn’t have to work in a mine.”
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Sitka Fellow Zoe Ballering is writing a novel about a Wisconsin family whose history includes two acts of domestic terrorism, one in the 1930s and another in the 1970s. She’ll be reading from her work at an Open Studio, 5-7 PM Fri Aug 30 at the Yaw Art Center on the Sheldon Jackson Campus.
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Cape Edgecumbe weather buoy returned to service. More students likely to do poorly on new state assessment tests in 2015. Ketchikan area power project could send electricity to Canada.
Sitka police are investigating a Wednesday night accident that left a semi-truck trailer flipped over on its side along Sawmill Creek Road.
The accident happened in the 2400 block of Sawmill Creek Road, just beyond Shotgun Alley.
Sitka police Lt. Barry Allen says authorities responded around 10:15 p.m. to a call from a passing motorist who saw the truck on its side. The driver, who was uninjured, told police his load shifted as he came around a corner. Allen says the driver tested negative for alcohol.
The truck was carrying empty fish totes, and was headed outbound to Silver Bay Seafoods. The state Department of Transportation’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement unit is also consulting on the case.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board met in regular session Wednesday. In a quick but busy session, it discussed potential sticking points with the borough, city and even the state.
“It’s a way for them to keep us under their thumb,” says Board Member Misty Archibald of the Borough Assembly-School Board Liaison Committee, the inter-governmental group that generally meets once a month to discuss issues of mutual concern, including the School District budget.
But Archibald, who serves on the committee, and other School Board members are concerned that the meetings are unproductive at best, and a tool for the Assembly to keep the Board in line at worst.
“I think we have valuable discussions, but it feels very one-sided. I do think that it needs to be more of a collaborative effort, a two-way street,” she says.
An issue raised by the Board was how the strict monthly schedule of the Liaison Committee can actually be detrimental to its intended goal. In times of intense budget negotiation, for example, waiting for a committee meeting to address time-sensitive issues can slow down the process.
Board Member Michelle O’Brien suggested canceling scheduled meetings entirely. If meetings are held on an issue-to-issue basis, she says, it might make the process more productive. The idea was met positively by other board members, who mostly agree they want to build on a generally positive relationship with the Borough Assembly. The board decided, somewhat ironically, to bring up the issue to the Assembly at the next Liaison meeting.
Moving to another inter-government argument, Superintendent Robert Boyle hinted at the next steps in the ongoing debate between the School District, Borough and City of Ketchikan over the library consortium.
He cites increasing costs to the School District of remaining in the consortium, which cooperates mutually to share library services with the university and Ketchikan Public Library, as his reason for exploring a potential exit strategy.
“There are very distinct advantages for us to remain in the consortium,” Boyle says, “so rather than rush into judgement or change the structure of or take apart something that has been a very successful agreement within our community for 15 years, I have asked our librarians and technology to sit down with the consortium to have a discussion to see what we can do. But at this point, my observation is that it’s too expensive for the District to participate in at this level.”
Also at the meeting Boyle hinted at a simmering conflict with the state of Alaska over the status of Revilla Alternative School. The state’s Department of Education and Early Development had rejected an earlier request by the District to merge both the Fast Track program with the existing alternative program; the added student count would have put Revilla over the minimum requirement to count as a separate school under state law. That classification would have qualified the District for more state funds.
Boyle says DEED has rejected an appeal of that decision. The next step is to take the issue to Superior Court, but DEED has given the administration until September 20th to make a decision. Boyle says he hopes to reach a settlement with the state before then.
The board also discussed a program this year to measure the height and weight of students in the school district to determine their body mass index, or BMI. The measurements are required by the federal government to qualify for a grant to support the district’s wellness program.
Parents will receive a letter in the mail informing them of the program. Addressing concerns over privacy, Board Member Michelle O’Brien says that reasons for the measurements should be included in those letters.
“When they receive this letter in the mail, it’s not Big Brother watching over them,” O’Brien says, “it’s ‘wow this is really cool, this is what the school district is doing for me and my family.’”
About 29 percent of the student body in the Ketchikan School District are overweight or obese, according to the administration. The Wellness Program aims to reduce overall rates of obesity by 4 to 5 percent.
The School Board also voted unanimously to approve new language in its policy over how gifts to the District are reported. Moving forward, only cash donations of more than $10,000 must be reported to the School Board, and therefor the public.