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A state Superior Court judge has sided with Municipality of Anchorage employee’s unions in a dispute over a city labor law. Judge Eric Aarseth heard arguments from union and city attorneys yesterday, and made his decision from the bench only minutes after their conclusion. Aarseth’s decision allows a referendum asking voters to weigh in on the law to go forward, and it essentially suspends the city ordinance for now. Anchorage municipal attorney Dennis Wheeler says the city will contest the suspension order, because under city code, a suspension can only take place if the required number of petition signatures is in.
The City of Sitka won the latest round in a fight over whether voters can approve property sales at Sawmill Cove Industrial Park.
Sitka Superior Court Judge David George ruled on Thursday against supporters of a ballot initiative that would give citizens a vote on large land sales and leases.
It is the latest development in a years-long saga that’s seen the case go all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court and back.
The Sawmill Cove Industrial Park is a huge chunk of land that used to be the site of a pulp mill. Now, the city sells and leases parcels inside the park to companies that want the space. The area is intended to attract business to Sitka, and sales and leases inside the park don’t have to follow the rules that apply to other city land.
Since 2008, Jeff Farvour and Mike Litman have been trying to change that. They wanted to give voters final approval of large pieces of land sold or leased at the site. A vote would be required for sales worth more than $500,000, and leases worth more than $750,000.
But the city refused to give their initiative a green light, and kept it off the ballot. Farvour and Litman sued, and the case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which last year sent it back to Sitka Superior Court for another look.
And that brings us to Thursday.
“It’s a little disappointing to see a judge lurch off and make a decision that I think is inconsistent with the earlier Supreme Court directives in this very case,” said Juneau attorney Joe Geldhof, who represents Farvour and Litman. “It really goes to the heart of whether or not the citizens are going to have any say, or whether they’re going to allow bureaucrats and lawyers for municipal government to say ‘Sit down, be quiet. We’re the experts. We’re going to determine how we rule our communities.’”
Geldhof says he doesn’t understand why the city fought so hard against giving voters a choice.
Michael Gatti, an Anchorage attorney who represented the city in the case, says there’s a reason.
“The community elects representatives to represent it on certain matters,” Gatti said. “And while certainly people have the ability to initiate or refer matters to the ballot, they also are limited in that regard with respect to some of the principles, particularly if something is related to an appropriation or an administrative matter.”
Basically, Judge George ruled that the initiative violates Alaska law in two ways: One, it makes an appropriation by giving voters the power to steer money away from the park. The law holds that only legislative bodies, like a city Assembly, can make appropriations. And two, it steps on the city’s administrative power. Initiatives can make law, but they can’t tell a government how to run day-to-day business.
“We’re pleased with the decision and we think that it’s supported by appropriate legal analysis and authority,” Gatti said.
Geldhof, obviously, disagrees. He says his clients had lots of support for their initiative when they circulated petitions back in 2008, and that city officials should not have fought the initiative his clients wanted on the ballot.
“Six years into this, I have basically had it with small-minded people trying to squelch what’s really a straightforward initiative proposition,” Geldhof said. “You know, at a certain point, people like Jeff and Mike, they just get worn out. That old adage about ‘You can’t fight city hall,’ comes to mind here. City Hall and a lawyer that’s just bent on obstruction, they seem to win all the time, and that’s bad news for democracy on a local level throughout Alaska.”
Sitka has a new city attorney and a new Assembly since the lawsuit was initially filed. Still, the current Assembly voted to continue fighting the case.
Geldhof says his clients are still considering whether to appeal Thursday’s decision.
Update: What about existing law?
The city’s argument was that the power Farvour and Litman wanted to give to the citizens is considered an appropriation, which only the Assembly can make. The court agreed.
But city code already gives citizens that power, everywhere except the industrial park. So, what happens to that law?
The short answer is: nobody knows. Not yet, anyway.
Sitka General Code already says that if the city wants to sell real property for more than $500,000, or lease its property for more than $750,000, it has to ask you first. The ordinance applies to all city property except what’s at Sawmill Cove Industrial Park.
George’s ruling says doing so, at least in the context of the industrial park, constitutes an “impermissible appropriation,” that it allows citizens to do something reserved for the Assembly.
Whether to change the existing law will be up to the seven member Assembly, which has tried to do it once before.
In September 2012, Mike Reif and then-Assembly member Bill Paden introduced a measure that would let voters advise the Assembly, but not have complete power to approve or deny a sale or lease.
The Assembly voted to put the question off indefinitely, pending review by outside counsel. It was never taken up again.
Reif said Wednesday that he was still weighing his options and considering the matter after Thursday’s decision.
In any event, the Farvour/Litman case is far from settled. There’s still the chance of an appeal on both sides. Farvour and Litman could appeal the overall ruling, and the city could even file an appeal against some of the individual points it lost.
Even though Judge George came down in favor of the city overall, he said two of the city’s arguments were too broad and, therefore, invalid.
Artist / Composer
Gone, Gonna Rise Again
Dick Gaughan / Si Kahn
Fred Morrison / Fred Morrison
She Moved Through the Fair
Myriad / Traditional
Song of the Isles
Let it be Me
Dick Gaughan / Becaud, Delanoe, Curtis
Tarbolton Lodge (instrumental)
Abby Newton / Traditional
Crossing to Scotland
Mary in the Morning
Mick Moloney and Eugene O’Donnell / Tommy Sands
Reels: Mother’s Delight / Lad O’Bierne’s / Eileen Curran (instrumentals)
Laurence Nugent / Traditional
Two for Two
Citi na gCumann
Amhran / Traditional
Colm Murphy, An Bodhran
What You Do With What You’ve Got
Dick Gaughan / Si Kahn
Outlaws and Dreamers
Leaving Uist (instrumental)
Fred Morrison / Fred Morrison
Though I Go To Bed, Little Does Sleep Come To Me / Mountain Field
Neuantics / Traditional, Pete Sutherland
Staten Island / Trip to Pakistan (instrumentals)
Hamish Moore, Dick Lee / Traditional, N. Kenny
The Bees Knees
Outlaws and Dreamers
Dick Gaughan / Dick Gaughan
Outlaws and Dreamers
Tribal leaders from around the state will be gathering in Anchorage this week to address the suicide epidemic. It’s sponsored by the Alaska Tribal Leaders and is their 13th annual summit meeting. All 229 tribes in Alaska are invited.
According to the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, Alaska had 1,369 suicides between 2000 and 2009, an average of 136 per year. That gives Alaska the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country.
Mike Williams Sr. of Akiak is one of the organizers. He says suicide is devastating Alaska, particularly the Native villages.
“And my hope is that we are going to be identifying the underlying causes that is affecting the devastation in our communities, especially in these last 20 years,” Williams says.
Alaska Native men between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest rate.
Bill Martin of Juneau is co-chairing the event with Williams. Martin is the former President of the Central Council of the Tlingit Haida Indians of Alaska. In a written statement he said, “tribal governments can no longer ignore this issue. . .it is only we, their elders, their tribes and their families, who can end it.”
Williams says they hope to walk away with two resolutions. One would include an action plan for rural Alaska to deal with suicide. Another would help in “restoring the people.” He says some state and federal policies have come to the villages that have had adverse affects on them, such as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In 1971, ANSCA extinguished aboriginal hunting and fishing rights.
Williams lives in a remote community of about 300 residents.
“Living in a small community like Akiak I feel like I’m being left out and our voices are not heard,” Williams says.
He says the resolutions coming out of the summit meeting will be sent to Alaska’s 229 tribes, and to the state and federal government offices.
Williams says they will likely encompass a variety of solutions to address different needs around the state.
“I think each community has different ways of dealing with this issue and one size does not fit all,” says Williams.
The conference starts Thursday at 8 a.m. at the Hilton Hotel.
Scheduled speakers include Native American fishing rights activist Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Nation and Brian Cladoosby, Chairman of Swimonish Tribe, both from Washington.
Speaking from Alaska will be Doug Modig, a Tshimsian from Metlakatla, and Allen Levy of Anchorage.
Williams says they are all looking for positive solutions in addressing the suicide crisis.
“I have all the faith and confidence that we can do it and if we come out and saving one person out of this conference, that’s a huge message and that is a success,” Williams says.
Tribal leaders from the Lower Yukon village of Alakanuk will be presenting on how they have successfully dealt with suicide. The village hasn’t seen suicide in recent years after elders got together and faced it head on the local level.
Geophysical Institute is forecasting strong auroras at the end of the week. Some of that activity could be in response to changes in the suns magnetic field. Over the next few months, the sun will undergo a magnetic flip. Is an event that happens every eleven years, but scientists have only been able to monitor what happens at the solar poles since the 1970’s.
Much like the Earth, the sun has a magnetic field with a north pole and a south pole. But in just a few months, the sun’s negatively charged north pole will have a positive charge. Its south pole will switch from a positive charge to a negative charge. “It’s part of the normal process,” says Roger Smith. “The sun has cycles of activity,” Smith is the Emeritus Director of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “If you have your cup of coffee in the morning, and you have cream on the top, and you spin it up with a spoon, you see some circulation,” he explains. “What’s happening on the sun, it’s the same as having the spinning on the top of your cup reverse and go the other way.”
Because the sun is so hot, charged particles in its magnetic field move in a constant fury. Those particles interact with others throughout the solar system, causing auroras among other things. Smith says this “flip” stirs up those particles and gases that stream off the sun. “The sun actually in a larger scale behaves like a comet,” says Smith. “All the gases that stream off, stream off into a tail, and it takes a long time for anything that’s got into that tail to propagate down, so there will be a ripple effect which will go on for possibly years,” he explains.
This year, the sun’s magnetic reversal is asymmetric, meaning the north pole is changing faster than it’s south pole. But Smith says that might be normal. Because of limitations in technology, this is only the fourth time scientists have been able to record an event like this. “To be able to detect the polarity of the magnetic field on the sun, you need optical techniques that are relatively advanced compared to 100 years ago,” says Smith.
A magnetic reversal could affect some radio transmissions and satellite communications. Here in Alaska, Smith says it’s more likely we’ll see the effects in the form of medium level auroras.
With climbing season over, mountaineering rangers in Denali National Park have turned some of their attention to conservation. A team just returned from the Muldrow Glacier after spending two days picking up decades-old trash from climbers that has begun melting out of the ice.
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.
Alyeska Resort in Girdwood is best-known for its wintertime activities, but the skiing destination has been beefing up its summertime slopes as well for extreme mountain bikers.August 20, 2013
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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.
According to numbers released Tuesday, Twitter's one-year-old video-sharing app Vine now has about 40 million registered users. The app lets users shoot a maximum of six seconds per Vine, so we wanted to know why the limit's set at six seconds and not a second longer.