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Southeast Alaska News
Two of Petersburg’s longest-serving police officers retired last week (Friday). Police Chief Jim Agner and Investigator Heidi Agner have been with the department since the couple first came to Petersburg in 1994. Jim Agner has served as chief for the last three-and-a-half years. On the their last day of work, Matt Lichtenstein stopped by the police station and asked the Agners for their parting thoughts about a the need for a new facility as well as some of the other challenges facing the department and the community.
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
The Agners are leaving Petersburg for Montana where they hope to make a living with Jim’s firearms engraving and Heidi’s leathercraft.
Newly-hired police chief is Kelly Swihart takes over in July. In the meantime, retired police captain Bruce Westre is serving as Petersburg’s acting chief.
Efforts to development a more extensive boat haul-out and marine services facility in Scow Bay moved forward a bit more late last month. The borough assembly approved a draft land patent for 9-and-a-half acres of state tidelands and uplands at the Scow Bay turnaround, which is the site of the planned facility. The patent helps pave the way for borough ownership and development of the land, which was owned by the state. The Petersburg Economic Development Council is spearheading the project. Matt Lichtenstein recently asked PEDC coordinator Liz Cabrera for an update:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here
In the meantime, the PEDC recently put out an invitation for contractors to bid for some minor maintenance work to keep the existing boat ramp usable. That work is slated to happen this summer.
KENAI — A dead moose salvage program faces closure by this fall after its funding request was denied by the Alaska Legislature.
The Alaska Moose Federation is trying to solicit private donations after lawmakers didn’t fund its request for $2.2 million, the Peninsula Clarion reported.
FAIRBANKS — Alaska Airlines plans to replace most of the jets it flies between Fairbanks and Anchorage with three turboprop planes, freeing up the jets to be used for new routes between Anchorage and the Lower 48.
Three Bombardier Q400 planes will mostly replace the Boeing 737 jets that now fly between Alaska’s two biggest cities, beginning next March, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Q400s also will replace the 737 that flies to Kodiak from Anchorage twice daily from October through April.
ANCHORAGE — A foreign cargo ship has been ordered by the Coast Guard to remain in Valdez until it deals with containers leaking oil onto the vessel.
The Anchorage Daily News reports the Coast Guard also wants to determine the chemical composition of oil leaked onto the BBC Arizona.
Coast Guard Lt. Allie Ferko said Tuesday the containers are carrying transformer oil, a highly refined mineral oil, used for cooling and insulating transformers.
ANCHORAGE — An Army Corps of Engineers permit granting ConocoPhillips permission to build a bridge across the Colville River to reach oil leases within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska was challenged in federal court Wednesday by an environmental group.
The Center for Biological Diversity claims the Corps conducted inadequate environmental review and did not consider the effects on endangered species before granting the permit in December 2011.
The event included lectures, field trips, art classes for kids, a live raptor show, fund-raising meals, Tlingit oratory and a performance from the Mount Saint Elias Dancers.
Here’s an audio post card of the event, which celebrates the return of one variety, the Aleutian tern.
Ketchikan Fight Club is back on the Ketchikan City Council agenda Thursday night, with a proposal to ban the event from using the city-owned Ted Ferry Civic Center.
The motion had been deferred from the last Council meeting because Fight Club officials were out of town, and the Council wanted to give them an opportunity to comment on the proposal.
Council Member Bob Sivertsen is spearheading the move to keep the event out of the Civic Center. He argues that it isn’t the appropriate venue for events that routinely result in bloodshed.
Here’s Sivertsen from the previous Council meeting:
“Blood-borne pathogens, the alcohol, problems in the bathrooms, most recently, I understand they used a moldy tarp, which after everybody walked on it and ground it in, it was also now a moldy carpet that took extensive cleaning,” he said.
Civic Center Manager Rhonda Bolling said that even without the tarp issue, blood, vomit and spilled drinks lead to significant cleanup efforts after each fight. She also spoke during the last Council meeting, and said, “It takes a full day after the event to air it out. It’s pretty messy.”
There also was concern raised that Civic Center employees had not been trained to properly handle cleanup of body fluids, which can transmit disease.
Bolling looked into some questions that the Council asked during that meeting, and since then drafted a memo with additional information. She writes that the Civic Center now has a policy in place for cleaning up body fluids, and staff will receive training for that as well as CPR and first aid.
Bolling adds that Fight Club organizer Jack Duckworth has offered to purchase new tarps for the Civic Center, if the fights are allowed to continue there; and will train his own staff on cleaning up body fluids properly.
Duckworth also submitted a memo for the Council to consider. In it, he writes that the Civic Center is the only facility that can accommodate the events. Duckworth adds that the fights help stimulate the local economy, by bringing people from other communities who spend money on food and housing while they’re here.
Also Thursday, the Council will vote on $43 million in bonds for improvements to Ketchikan Medical Center. The bonds still would need voter approval during the upcoming Oct. 1municipal election.
The Council also will discuss emergency dispatch services for areas outside of city limits. City and borough officials disagree about how much the borough should pay for dispatching, with the city claiming that the borough’s share should be about $150,000, and the borough offering about $15,000.
The Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
A Ketchikan man arrested last August on multiple drug and weapons charges pleaded guilty in Superior Court Wednesday to three charges in exchange for the prosecution dropping the rest.
53-year-old David Bach had faced six drug charges and two weapons charges, all felonies. The agreement in front of Judge Trevor Stephens called for a guilty plea to two felony drug charges and one felony weapons charge.
The composite sentence agreed to in the plea deal is 14 years in jail, five years suspended, and a $20,000 fine with $10,000 of that suspended.
Bach’s attorney, Michael Smith of Anchorage, was in court with his client. They hoped to waive the presentencing investigation, a common practice in Anchorage, but Judge Stephens says that’s not done down here.
Bach had also faced potential federal drug charges, and those likely will be dropped. Whether approximately $180,000 cash and other items seized during the criminal investigation will be forfeited will be determined during the sentencing hearing, set for 11 a.m. Oct. 16.
Outside the courthouse after the change-of-plea hearing, Bach’s attorney said his client is eager to complete his sentence and re-enter society.
The charges against Bach stem from a police investigation last summer that resulted in the seizure of more than 25 pounds of marijuana, as well as methamphetamine, prescription drugs, cash and various weapons. The items were found during searches of condo units at the Mary Frances Building and Bach’s Bawden Street business, Dave and Barb’s Party Supplies.
The US Forest Service believes fish populations in Redoubt Lake near Sitka survived last month’s devasting landslide unharmed.
The massive avalanche piled up debris over twenty-feet thick across the the lake’s inlet stream, completely destroying a nearby recreational cabin whose occupants escaped in the nick of time.
A watershed team recently surveyed the area and concluded that the lake’s sockeye run was likely unaffected — and may even be improved. They’re expecting this year’s subsistence fishery — the most popular in the Sitka area — to take place normally.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
The sockeye start to return to Redoubt Lake around July 4. Subsistence dipnetters get their shot at the silvery torpedoes in the lake’s outlet stream. About a month later, the sockeye are entering Redoubt’s inlet stream — Redoubt Creek — which is now under 20 feet of mud, rock, and timber.
“It’s not really a waterfall. It’s a low enough gradient that they should be able to get up that,” says Perry Edwards, an ecosystem biologist for the Sitka Ranger District.
“It’s really not a lot different than the outlet falls to the lake that go into salt water. So there’s a short area where they’ll really have to motor to get up through there. The fisheries biologist was confident that sockeye should easily be able to get up there, to ascend to that upper lake area, and into the stream. And some of them may be able to spawn in that new lake that’s been created up there.”
During interviews following the episode, Knox reported that the stream was starting to carve a new channel through the debris field. But the stream was also slowly backing up. Perry Edwards says there’s now a fifty-five acre lake formed between the walls of the gorge. In some places it’s 35-feet deep. Over five miles of the creek upstream of the lake remain unaffected.
Edwards has no idea if the new lake is permanent.
“Only time is going to tell. There’s a lot of material that came down in that slide. Old growth trees that were three feet in diameter, the full length crossing in there like pixie sticks. It’s really going to take some energy between that and some boulders the size of Volkswagens that came down in there. It may be there for the long haul. Or large flows may come down and carve through that. We’re really not going to know until time goes by.”
The good news for fishermen is that the slide occurred at about the time sockeye salmon fry leave the stream gravels and move into the lake. The warming temperatures and snowmelt — which likely triggered the slide — also contributed to transporting salmon. The fry don’t swim downstream — they drift — and Edwards and his team think any fry that weren’t already in the lake probably made it safely over the new dam.
The Forest Service spends around $100,000 per year on the lake fertilization program at Redoubt, pouring roughly 10 tons of fertilizer — mostly nitrogen — into the lake to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, which feed the organisms which in turn feed sockeye. The agency then monitors the return at a weir at the falls. Last year around 46,000 sockeye escaped fishermen’s nets and bears’ jaws and made it into the lake.
Edwards says all the debris being held in the dam, and in the new lake, is that much more fertilizer.
“It’s going to be really interesting with that nearly-mile of stream that’s backed up and is filled up with so much water, all those trees are drowning as we speak. If that lake pops and goes down, we’re probably going to have a lot of dead trees back there — is that bad? Not necessarily. There’s going to be a lot of nitrogen from those needles. The large wood as those trees start to fall down — starting in the first few years with smaller ones, and maybe 15-30 years with the larger ones, to help create pool habitat, and spawning habitat for those very salmon.”
Both sockeye and coho rear in lakes. Juvenile sockeye, however, remain in their lakes for a couple of years before heading into the ocean.
Little Redoubt Lake — or whatever it ends up being called — might be a boon to the fish, and to the fishermen.
“This upper lake, if it stays there, it could become very good rearing habitat for sockeye.”
KRBD is unveiling a new feature this week: K-Town Street Beat.
Each week through August, news intern Marco Torres will be walking the streets and talking with people around town. This week on Street Beat, visiting tourists were asked, “What is something you’ve learned about Alaska that you did not know before?”
Over at Berth 1, Gary and Dot from Pennsylvania shared that they enjoyed learning about local totem poles.
“The totem poles. It’s very interesting. Very. There’s a history to them. There’s beliefs. Each thing means something, and I never knew that before,” said Dot.
Outside the Discovery Center, Candy Smith, and her son Nicholas, from San Diego, were surprised by the abundance of Alaska minerals.
“I guess all the minerals. That’s probably our biggest surprise. That there’s a lot more minerals than stones and gems and stuff,” said Candy.
On Creek Street, Jason from Australia spoke of his fun times ziplining and exploring the Yukon.
“We did ziplining in Juneau. The Yukon was absolutely beautiful. We took a bus tour from Skagway up into the Yukon and then came back by the White Pass Railway,” said Jason.
And by the Fish House, visitor Kevin said he was amazed by the sheer size of the state.
“Alaska is a big state. It’s a land of superlatives. You can’t hardly describe it. It’s so awesome being out on the water, seeing the glaciers, mountain after mountain, it’s just unbelievable,” said Kevin.
That concludes this week’s K-Town Street Beat, compiled by our news intern, Marco Torres. Check our website for more as the summer progresses.
JUNEAU — State Sen. Lesil McGuire on Wednesday announced plans to run for lieutenant governor of Alaska next year.
The Republican, who won re-election to her Anchorage Senate seat last year, filed a declaration of candidacy with the Division of Elections on Wednesday. She also filled out a candidate registration for the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
ANCHORAGE — A 66-year-old New Mexico cruise ship passenger was killed when a small sightseeing plane in southeast Alaska crashed on the side of a steep mountain, Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday.
The U.S. Forest Service has announced the dates for this year’s Youth Fishing days.
The Tongass National Forest, partners and volunteers are sponsoring youth fishing events throughout Southeast Alaska. No experience is needed to participate in these events.
Event planners will help beginning anglers get started. At many events, volunteers will be available to teach youth how to clean fish. Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, and all participants should bring proper footwear and clothing.
The Ketchikan-Misty Fiord Ranger District’s annual Kids Fishing Derby will be at City Park (Park Avenue and Fair Street) on June 15, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Check in and registration is at 9 a.m. the day of the event, or people can register ahead of time at the Gateway Recreation Center, Forest Service District office at 3031 Tongass Ave., or the Ketchikan Public Library.
Partners will be Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery, and Ketchikan Parks and Recreation. The hatchery will stock 2,000 juvenile king salmon. Ages 3 to 15 may start fishing at 9:30. Half of a pond will be sectioned off for kids under 6. Activities include fishing, lure making, casting challenge, angler ethics, fish printing (please bring your own washed T-shirt) and prize drawings. Participants should bring a fishing pole with size 8–10 single hook (no lures). For more information, call 907-225-2148.
The Craig and Thorne Bay Ranger Districts’ 21st Kids Fishing Day will be at the Klawock River Hatchery on June 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Partners are the Prince of Wales Hatchery, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Prince of Wales Healthcare Network, University of Alaska Southeast Fisheries Department, Civil Air Patrol, Craig Tribal Association, Prince of Wales Watershed Association, Craig Library, LAPC, Klawock Emergency Medical Service and Search and Rescue, and local businesses.
Kids can fish for coho juveniles in holding tanks outside the hatchery. Anglers can fish for rainbow and cutthroat trout along Klawock Lake and River. Activities include casting contests, fish printing (bring a T-shirt), fly tying, fish ID, hatchery tours, obstacle courses, educational booths, fly fishing demonstrations, and casting instructions for all ages. All youth must register to participate.
Shuttle service from the Klawock AC Store parking lot will be provided every 30 minutes. For more information, contact Brandy Prefontaine, Interpretation and Education Fisheries Coordinator for the Craig and Thorne Bay Ranger Districts at 907-826-3271 ext. 1622 or 907-209-4079; or call Dan Goodness, Hatchery Manager, at 907-775-2231.
The Sitka Police Department is understaffed and overworked. That was the message department staff sent to the Sitka Assembly at a work session on Monday evening. The problems come at a time when police say they’re busier than ever, especially handling drug-related crime.
Since 2009, more than five full-time positions have disappeared from the police department: three police officers, one dispatcher and a lieutenant.
Two officers patrol Sitka around the clock in 12-hour shifts. And there are eight officers dedicated exclusively to regular patrol duty. In other words, the bench isn’t very deep, and if someone gets sick or injured, it often means pulling a detective off a case to handle a patrol shift.
“It puts an end to the serious investigations that we’re doing right now,” said Jason Sexton, a detective at the Sitka Police Department. “If there was a situation where there were more officers — for instance, a sergeant and two officers who are working during those shifts — it gives the department a little bit of flexibility to absorb that cost if someone comes in sick or goes on vacation.”
Sitka’s three detectives have, on average, more than two dozen open felony cases at any given time. Many of those are drug-related, and most of those land on the desk of Kyle Ferguson. He splits his time between the department and a broader narcotics task force called Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs, or SEACAD.
Ferguson has been working drugs cases since 2008 and says he’s never seen the drug problem in Sitka as serious as it is now, especially with meth, heroin and pharmaceuticals.
“I can think of one case off the top of my head out of the dozens we’ve worked in the last year that didn’t have a drug nexus — a direct link,” Ferguson said.
He told the Assembly that the problem is widespread and in places that might surprise most people.
“You have middle schoolers using methamphetamine and heroin,” Ferguson said. “Not all of them can pay. You have middle schoolers trading themselves — their bodies — for drugs. That’s not a Sitka problem. That’s something you hear about down south. It’s here. It’s in your backyard.”
Ferguson used that situation to illustrate the serious felonies the police department is working on.
The department’s argument for more manpower comes during contract negotiations between the city and the union representing most department employees. But management was at the helm of Monday’s presentation, which was arranged by interim municipal administrator Jay Sweeney.
“Having worked here two years, I was absolutely shocked to know the level of some of the issues the police department was facing when, all of a sudden, I was put in the role of administrator,” Sweeney said.
Cuts to the police department, and position freezes, happened when Jim Dinley was municipal administrator, and at a time when sales tax revenues were declining and the Assembly was looking to tighten the city’s belt. Nobody on the current Assembly, or even on the police department staff, pointed to Dinley as the cause of the cuts. But Police and Fire Commission Member Don Jones wasn’t as restrained.
“Something I would ask of the Assembly is to take a very long, hard look at getting the positions restored to the police department that have been deleted, unfunded, frozen, taken away over the last several years,” he said. “I lay that at the feet of the previous city administrator. I know he’s not here to defend himself, but nonetheless, I see him as responsible for having happened. And it should not have happened.”
It’s difficult to pin down a formula for how many officers a police department should have. That depends on the size of a community, its crime rate, its geography and any number of other factors. But there are averages, and Sitka is below them.
Nationwide, the average police department has about two-and-a-half police officers for every 1,000 people. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That would put Sitka at about 22 officers. The department presently has 12 sworn officers able to perform active duty, and 16 funded positions. The state average is also higher than Sitka’s complement. Using that number, a city of Sitka’s size should have about 19 officers.
Assembly members, meanwhile, had some questions. Thor Christianson wanted to know if the department had considered a reserve force of volunteers. Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt said yes, but the workload often discouraged people from signing up. Michelle Putz wanted to know what the department was asking for — what’s the minimum need? What creative ideas does the department have? How will we pay for it?
“We don’t necessarily have answers to give to you to those questions,” Sweeney said. “But one of the things I thought was very critically important was to present a broad and complex issue which has, at least, to my knowledge, has gone under the radar somewhat.”
Exactly what to do about those issues, Sweeney said, will come back to the Assembly after more conversations between him and Chief Schmitt.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Sitka High Lady Wolves Softball just captured their fourth consecutive small schools state championship. Senior Stefania Potzruski played on all four teams. She’s joined by teammates Megan Reid, Hannah McCarty, and by assistant coach Kelly Garvin discussing their amazing season, and the dramatic finale at the state tourney.
A 66-year-old cruise ship passenger from New Mexico was killed in Tuesday afternoon’s float plane crash on a mountainside near Petersburg.
The Alaska State Troopers have identified the man killed in the crash as Thomas L. Rising of Santa Fe. Rescuers Tuesday night were unable to recover his body due to darkness and weather conditions. Five other cruise ship passengers and the pilot from Petersburg survived the crash and were rescued from the site Tuesday evening.
“The plane was a sightseeing tour and the people onboard, the six passengers, were all from the cruise ship Sea Bird,” said Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the troopers. “The wreckage had been found at about the 1000-foot level of Thunder Mountain and when it was located there was six people found alive and unfortunately one person that was found deceased. All the survivors were all transported back to Petersburg so they could be looked over and treated for whatever injuries that they acquired in the wreckage.”
The crashed plane is a deHavilland Beaver, a fixed-wing, single-engine aircraft owned by Pacific Wings of Petersburg with capacity for one pilot and six passengers. It was reported overdue around 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon prompting a search by three commercial helicopters and a Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Sitka. The Coast Guard reported locating the crash site around 6:50 p.m. Tuesday.
“The plane which had seven passengers onboard, we were able to locate them when the Coast Guard MH60 Jayhawk helicopter crew spotted one of the survivors,” said Coast Guard spokesperson Grant DeVuyst. “We were able to hoist all six of the surviving passengers. Unfortunately one of the passengers was deceased. Of course our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the deceased passenger. Thankfully we were able to get the other six back to Petersburg, back to medical attention.”
The Coast Guard reported finding the crash site around 6:50 Tuesday evening and the survivors were returned to Petersburg by 8:20 p.m. DeVuyst credited a working emergency locator transmitter in helping rescuers find the downed aircraft. The plane crashed near Thunder Mountain, in the vicinity of Jap Creek, just north of LeConte Bay and LeConte Glacier, a scenic fjord over 11 miles east of Petersburg.
Troopers say the injuries to the other passengers were serious but not life threatening. The Coast Guard Tuesday reported one passenger had a broken leg and one had a broken back. Two patients were medevaced to Seattle for additional treatment.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent an investigator, Bryce Banning, to Petersburg Wednesday and expected Banning would be able to get to the crash site Wednesday afternoon.
“I understand its in very steep terrain, 30-40 degrees it’s very unstable, so that’s one of the reasons why the Juneau Mountain Rescue group was brought in to be able to stabilize it,” said Clint Johnson is regional director for the Alaska office of the NTSB. “Also assist in the body recovery and help out both the troopers and the NTSB investigator in charge on scene.”
Johnson thought on-scene work could be completed by Wednesday evening. “Bryce’s main objective while he’s in Petersburg there at the site is to be able to document the wreckage at the site and then we’ll work on getting the wreckage out of there and hopefully be able to take a closer look once we get it back to Petersburg or wherever the wreckage ultimately ends up,” he said.
The NTSB hopes to have preliminary information compiled on the accident in five days. The Coast Guard and state troopers also hoped to recover Rising’s body from the plane Wednesday.
Pacific Wings is owned by Sunrise Aviation of Wrangell and offers flightseeing and air-taxi services around central Southeast. The Sea Bird is a 62-passenger cruise ship operated by National Geographic Expeditions and offers tours of the Inside Passage.
(updated 4 p.m. June 5, 2013)
Welcome Robbie Feinberg from New Hamphsire via University of Maryland
A jury has been chosen, and the trial has begun in the case of a Metlakatla man accused of killing his aunt last September.
30-year-old William Buxton faces charges of first-degree murder for the death of Leona Meely.
The alleged killing happened early in the morning Sept. 29th at their home in Metlakatla, when an argument between the two allegedly turned violent.
Buxton’s mother, Margie Buxton, who witnessed the fight, allegedly told Alaska State Troopers that Buxton tried to strike Meely with a kitchen chair several times. He also allegedly kicked Meely in the head, and allegedly stabbed her with a knife from the kitchen.
According to court records, Margie Buxton told troopers that she tried to intervene, but her son pushed her aside. She told troopers that she convinced her son to go to the clinic due to injuries to his hand, and contacted local law enforcement.
Metlakatla police arrested William Buxton at the clinic, and then contacted troopers, asking them to take over the case. When troopers questioned Buxton, he allegedly admitted to stabbing his aunt.
The trial, in front of Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, started Tuesday with jury selection and is scheduled to last through the middle of next week.
Aftan Lynch and Karen Eakes of the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition speak about Challenge Day and the activities of the various committees. wellness060513