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Southeast Alaska News
On the edge of the Arctic, on Alaska’s coastal plain and on the banks of the Tanana River two elite Army units assemble daily for a unique mission. On their report day the orders are simple, to heal.
The mission of the Warrior Transition Battalion – Alaska, consisting of Alpha Company at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Bravo Company at Ft. Wainwright, is to ‘improve the life of each Soldier who walks through its doors.’
ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s Cleveland Volcano is undergoing a continuous low-level eruption following an explosion early Saturday morning, scientists from the Alaska Volcano Observatory and the U.S. Geological Survey said.
Satellites and cameras suggest low-level emissions of gas, steam and ash, scientists said, and satellites detected highly elevated surface temperatures at the summit. A faint plume of ash extended eastward below 15,000 feet, but the Federal Aviation Administration said there were no flight restrictions as a result.
KODIAK — A former aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski who served time in prison for falsifying his fishing records is now working as a lobbyist.
Arne Fuglvog represented four commercial fishing companies: Aleutian Spray Fisheries, Blue North Fisheries, Fishermen’s Finest and Glacier Fish, according to lobbying records from the first quarter of this year. The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports that Fuglvog is listed as president of Coastal Resource Strategies LLC, a lobbying firm based in Seattle. He is listed on lobbying on issues like the Coast Guard authorization bill.
CHUGIAK — When your new office is located in one of the world’s most extreme natural environments, it’s nice to have a little help moving in.
The National Park Service recently enlisted the help of the U.S. Army to shuttle supplies to Park Service base camps located far up 20,328-foot Mt. McKinley.
“It’s a huge logistical operation for us with the amount of gear we have to bring up and the places we have to get it to,” said Park Service mountaineering ranger Mark Westman.
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell on Friday announced plans to seek re-election next year, saying he believes he can be more effective in that role than in pursuing a U.S. Senate bid.
Parnell told The Associated Press his administration has helped to build a “solid foundation” of opportunity for the state, “and it’s now time to frame in that opportunity and make it more lasting for Alaskans.”
SITKA — One era is ending, but the family tradition will continue, as new owners take over Russell’s, a clothing and sporting goods store on Lincoln Street.
Ashley Eisenbeisz, a niece of the former owners Ron and Harriet McClain, and her husband Steven are the new owners. The new corporation name is Stash Inc. — for Steven and Ashley — but the store will remain “Russell’s.” Ashley is the president of Stash, and will run the business. Ashley said customed ideas into it,” she said. “We’ll continue on with the wonderful business it has been for 57 years.”
ANCHORAGE — An Alaska Native village corporation that operates a popular cruise ship destination has launched a commercial consulting service for others seeking help developing their own cultural tourism ventures.
Huna Totem Corp. opened Alaska Native Voices on Wednesday. Huna Totem is the village Native corporation for Hoonah — a largely Tlingit community of 775 in southeast Alaska — and one of the front-runners of tribal tourism, a growing trend in Alaska and nationally.
A new version of the GED high school equivalency test will be released next January, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Friday.
The department warned that Alaskans who have started the current five-part GED test have until Dec. 31 to pass all five sections or else start the test over again next year.
Current GED test-takers have three chances during 2013 to take each test in writing, reading, math, social studies and science. The scores of each test are averaged together.
ANCHORAGE — Seasonal employment is heating up in Alaska as the seafood industry takes on thousands of temporary workers.
Employment is thriving in many industries, but seasonal jobs are the top ticket right now, said state economist Neal Fried. Seasonal jobs generally grow from 3,000 in December to more than 20,000 during their peak in July or August each year, he said.
Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Democrat from Sitka, won his seat last fall by 32 votes. Kreiss-Tomkins was 23 years old at the time. His opponent, Republican Bill Thomas of Haines, was a four-term incumbent and co-chair of the House Finance Committee.
Close elections are common in Alaska, but the April 22nd issue of The Nation calls Alaska’s House 34 race a “lesson” for the left.
The Nation magazine contributor Russell Mokhiber says he grew up in a political family, and has been a political activist all his life. The last election cycle generated a huge amount discussion about the relationship between money and politics. Much of it he considers whining.
“Anytime you hear people talking about, The system is out of control, there’s too much money in politics, there’s too much corporate power — my question is, What are you going to do about it?”
He sees the election of Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins as an antidote to inaction. He thinks the 24-year-old Sitkan has — by his headlong plunge into politics — demonstrated that actions speak louder than words.
“You hear a lot of rhetoric about Citizens United and corporate takeover of the country and We need a constitutional amendment, and all these big plans. Could it be that we just haven’t figured out the fundamentals of democracy? How to run for and win office, even at the local level.”
Mokhiber is solidly rooted in the left. He edits a high-end Washington DC-based newsletter called the “Corporate Crime Reporter.” Mokhiber has covered Alaskan politics before, most notably the 2006 Cruise Ship Initiative. One of the co-authors of the initiative, Gershon Cohen of Haines, was instrumental in urging Kreiss-Tomkins to make a bid for the new legislative seat recently created by redistricting. Cohen tipped Mokhiber to the potential story in Kreiss-Tomkins’ unexpected win. Mokhiber then pitched it to The Nation, the country’s most prestigious left-of-center magazine.
His subsequent piece examines several facets of the election: Kreiss-Tomkins’ home-town advantage, the name recognition of his mother, Dr. Connie Kreiss (who is well-known in the district’s smaller villages), some ways that his opponent Bill Thomas was unpopular, and Kreiss-Tomkins’ use of social media.
None of this, says Mokhiber, necessarily added up to a win.
“To me, what struck me as a bigger factor was that he went to almost all of the little towns around. He met a lot of people, and he was receptive, he was a listener — he connected with a lot of people face to face. Clearly without that, he would not have won this thing.”
Gershon Cohen agrees that voters chose Kreiss-Tomkins for reasons other than party affiliation. “This shouldn’t be about parties anymore. It should be about policies, and about the people that are going to be in government,” he says. “So it doesn’t surprise me at all that it would be getting looked at by a lot of people around the country, and frankly I think that’s great.”
Cohen was the Debate coach in Haines when Kreiss-Tomkins was in high school in Sitka. That’s when they first met.
Cohen agrees with Mokiber’s assertion that Kreiss-Tomkins won his election by making personal connections — a strategy that undermines conventional thinking about party politics in Alaska.
“I think that he would have won as an independent, and I think that there’s an opportunity for that to be replicated around the state, frankly. We had a lot of races in the last election where people were running unopposed. And people go, Well, how come someone from the other party isn’t running? It shouldn’t be about party, it should be about the people and what they support, and what they would do in office.”
In fact, there were seven unopposed legislative races last year in Alaska — one in the Senate and six in the House. In Mokhiber’s home turf of West Virginia, in the eastern panhandle, there were at least ten state house delegate seats that went unchallenged, any one of which could have been won with three-thousand votes.
He’s hoping the lesson of Kreiss-Tomkins’ election sinks in.
“We’re starting to do a recruitment drive, where we’re passing around the article, looking for people who it resonates with.”
Mokhiber is not expecting miracles. At the moment, he sees Kreiss-Tomkins as the exception to the rule in a political environment where constituents don’t always come first.
He wants people to look at this election and take heart.
“Now I think he’s a special young man in a special district. And not everybody who’s going to take this on is going to win, or even come close. But the reason it’s such a good model is because he put aside the rhetoric and he went and he listened to people. He said, Here’s my card, give me a call. If I don’t answer, I’ll call you back within 24 hours. I want to be your person in the state capitol.”
Next year’s borough budget, the police station project, another sea otter resolution, and the proposed Kake road and electrical intertie are just some of the items on a lengthy agenda for Monday’s borough assembly meeting in Petersburg. Matt Lichtenstein has an overview.
For the full agenda and assembly packet, click here.
For part two of the assembly packet, click here.
A push by the Wrangell Assembly to move forward sooner rather than later on an analysis of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency hit a roadblock Thursday when the Ketchikan City Council rescinded its support of the idea.
The SEAPA analysis is required by the end of 2014, according to an agreement that the three member communities – Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell – signed when forming the agency in 2009.
Among other issues, the analysis would look into divestiture – a fancy word for breaking up the agency. Basically, each community would take over ownership, operation and maintenance of the dams that serve their needs.
SEAPA owns the two hydroelectric facilities at Swan Lake and Tyee Lake, as well as the intertie that connects the two projects. They serve the power needs of the three communities, with Swan primarily sending its power to Ketchikan, and Tyee providing electricity for Petersburg and Wrangell. The intertie allows surplus power to be sent back and forth as needed.
The Wrangell Assembly made the first move to initiate the study. Here’s Wrangell Assembly Member James Stough, explaining why: “My thought was that we would start early on it, so we would get our due diligence on it, by hiring consulting people to look into it and tell us the pros and cons, and do it in a responsible manner. I figured we should start early because those type of things take a long period of time.”
Stough said he’s concerned that SEAPA’s board members don’t seem responsive to the concerns of the communities they are meant to represent.
Ketchikan City Mayor Lew Williams III had similar concerns, which he expressed during a recent SEAPA board meeting in Ketchikan.
“The managements which I hear from have communication concerns,” he told the board. “I don’t know if it’s different people’s territory, I don’t know if it’s jealousy between management or whatever, but I know we can work it out if we start working together.”
A couple days after that meeting, Williams said his concerns had been addressed, and he didn’t believe the analysis should move forward.
Somedays after that, though, at the Ketchikan City Council meeting, Williams noted that the MOU obligates the member communities to conduct the study sometime before the end of next year.
Some City Council members disagreed. Bob Sivertsen, who also is the current SEAPA board chairman, said the MOU is not binding.
“It was to appease Wrangell at that particular juncture,” he said. “If power rates were going crazy or something was broken, it gave them an opportunity to look at it to see if there was a need to get out of it. At this particular time, I don’t see that. I don’t believe we’re obligated to follow this at this time.”
Ketchikan City Attorney Mitch Seaver said the terms of the agreement may or may not be required.
“You’d probably need to take a closer look at what was understood at the time, what the intent was at the time,” he told the Council. “To get from here to there is going to take some effort, some filling in of the details.”
Whether or not it’s a legal commitment, though, Mayor Williams said he feels obligated.
“I was part of the Council that agreed to part of this. I remember that we added this for just the reason to get Wrangell to sign on. So I’m going to at least stick with supporting looking at this,” he said. “I don’t in any shape or form think SEAPA is ever going to break up, but we did do this on the part of the community of Wrangell.”
John Hoag, A Petersburg City Council member, said Friday that he sees no merit to the idea of divestiture. In fact, he’d like the agency to move more toward expanding SEAPA, developing more inexpensive power for Southeast Alaska. He’s not sure whether an analysis is required, legally, but: “It still comes down to the fact that individual ownership of the hydro projects make no sense. These are big projects, the transmission lines connecting then have got to be managed. The need for increased power in Southeast from hydro is evident, given the cost of diesel. So I would like to see lots of cooperation. I hate to see communities bidding against each other for the ability to develop more hydro projects, when we should be working as a group to do that.”
Hoag does agree, though, that communication between SEAPA and its member communities could be improved.
Trey Acteson is the CEO of SEAPA. In a separate interview prior to the Ketchikan City Council meeting, he agreed that communication always can be better, and said that’s something he’s working on. The SEAPA board meeting in Ketchikan included presentations about various services that SEAPA provides, as well as in-depth looks at the agency’s financial strategy.
In response to the idea of divestiture, Acteson said it would be difficult for individual communities to run the hydroelectric projects with the same efficiency, or to maintain low rates.
“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that’s very complicated, and never really gets talked about in public,” he said. “Most people just look at their 6.8 cents power rate that they’ve had for over 15 years. SEAPA provides very stable power rates, which is good for economic development. It allows businesses to appropriately plan their future, and also we do have almost the lowest power rates in the whole state right here.”
Some of the services Acteston mentioned include repair and replacement for the facilities, insurance for all the equipment, managing the flow, and planning for the future.
Whether that future includes an analysis of the power agency, though, remains unclear.
Tune in to KRBD next week (May 6-10) for additional reports on SEAPA, and more from the interview with Trey Acteson.
In 1963, the Beatles released the iconic single “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream Speech,” and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
And, the M/V Malaspina made her maiden voyage for the brand new Alaska Marine Highway System.
Fifty years later, that ship still sails the Inside Passage. She kicked off a celebration of that anniversary with a 12 hour jaunt around Revillagigado Island, the entryway into Alaska.
It’s no surprise that rain greets passengers as they board the Malaspina early Thursday morning. But in typical Southeast fashion, nobody seems to mind. The boat sways to the music of The Point Band, a local Ketchikan outfit, and soon disappears around the backside of Revilla Island, out of the reach of cell phones, and, well, just about everything else.
The Malaspina is filled with people reflecting on its long history. It’s hard to find someone who didn’t meet their spouse onboard, or grow up with the ferry. But some, like Jim and Rhonda Rogers, used the trip around Revilla just to celebrate each other.
“Tomorrow is our anniversary, so this is our anniversary trip,” says Rhonda Rogers.
Like any couple that’s been together for nearly four decades, it’s easy to forget the details of how they met. But a little bit of forgetfulness seems to be OK onboard the festive ferry.
“It was on Kenai, on a canoe trip,” says Rhonda. “I changed canoes twice before ending up in his. He strategically placed himself in my canoe, and I tell people I chased him until he let me catch him.”
“Just to be clear, I am head of the house, but I have her permission to say so,” says Jim.
The Malaspina spends the day drifting down Behm Canal, past natural wonders like the volcanic plug known as New Eddystone Rock, and finally into the indescribable beauty of Misty Fiords National Monument.
The ferry’s journey around Revilla, which used to be an annual event, hasn’t happened in recent years out of concern over competing with private business. The crew onboard is excited to navigate unfamiliar waters, but Captain Chris Biagi is just happy to be surrounded by his colleagues.
“Probably the best thing about working out here is when I get on and see who the crew list is gonna be,” says Biagi. “When I see some old friends and get the chance to spend some time with them, sometimes I really look forward to that. I only look as good as the crew lets me be.”
For Louie Self, the Malaspina’s pilot, it’s easy to see why he loves the ferry. On the bridge, he gestures toward the seemingly endless expanse of the Tongass National Forest ahead.
“For us, it’s this,” says Self. “They pay us to do this. To be able to drive a boat through this and be able to offer the service, it’s pretty cool.”
The passengers of the Malaspina’s Revilla Island trip all have a ferry story, from current Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer to former Juneau Mayor Bruce Botehlo.
One might think when these veteran ferry riders reflect on the importance of the Alaska Marine Highway, they’d strive for something lofty. Like how the ferry helped develop the economy of coastal Alaska, or how they made lifelong friends over drinks in the Malaspina’s lounge.
But in reality, a simpler theme emerges when talking to the people onboard the ferry.
Jerry Needham moved to Alaska in 1954. He remembers when the ferry first came to Ketchikan in ’63, and he later worked on the ships as a steward. His words encapsulate the sentiment of many onboard the Malaspina.
“The ferry changed it for us, who lived here, because we could get out of here without having to go on the airplane,” says Needham. “I don’t like planes for one thing, but it’s too big of a hassle, it wouldn’t be a vacation for me. I’d way rather go on the ferry.”
The Malaspina’s Golden Voyage celebrating the Alaska ferry’s 50th anniversary will take it all the way up the Inside Passage. From Ketchikan, celebrations are planned in Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines and Skagway.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Mayor reports: State of the City better than many. Softball players get their chance to compete on new synthetic turf; trooper cadets help remove pitcher’s mound. Eighteen years after crashing through a Sitka window, “Windex” the eagle found dead of natural causes. Authorities close Stikine River to subsistence chinook harvest.
The Ketchikan City Council reversed it’s previous decision to join Wrangell in conducting a SEAPA feasibility study. The Council approved a donation of services to help develop a skate park. Mayor Lew Williams III gives details. Council050313
ANCHORAGE — Eagle River native Cruz Boseman was sick of the cold, so he joined the Navy thinking there would be no chance of being stationed in Alaska.
But in a strange twist of fate, the Navy assigned Boseman to the USS Anchorage then sent him and the new warship to its namesake city for its commissioning ceremony.
Now the 21-year-old Boseman finds himself playing tour guide on the amphibious transport ship and showing his shipmates around town.
JUNEAU — Alaska’s governor is refusing to repay or return more than $800,000 to the U.S. Forest Service due to automatic federal budget cuts.
Gov. Sean Parnell, in a letter to the agency’s chief, dated Sunday, said he doesn’t believe the Forest Service is authorized to demand the money back or to reduce funding to offset the cost. He said he won’t ask the Legislature to consider the request.
SEATTLE - Sarah Palin’s last elective position in Alaska ended early when in 2009 she abandoned the governorship midway through her first term.
But tea party activists appear eager for a comeback, urging supporters to contribute money toward recruiting Palin to run for the U.S. Senate in her home state, where, according to an email sent out this week, she has a “clear path” to defeat incumbent Democrat Mark Begich.
ANCHORAGE — The arrest of a Kodiak woman by two Alaska State Troopers is under review after a video of the encounter was posted on YouTube.
The 11-minute video shows a trooper arguing with 20-year-old Skyler Irene Waite in her home Monday. As the trooper moves to leave, Waite moves behind him, and the trooper turns and shoves her backward. His partner sweeps Waite’s leg, and she is taken, yelling and kicking, into a trooper vehicle, demanding to know why she is being arrested.