Ruth Moody will be giving a free vocal workshop this Sunday at the AB Hall in Skagway. This...
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While Aaron Burmeister collected his gold nugget prize at the halfway point of Cripple, Jeff King and Sonny Lindner were looking ahead to Ruby, where both plan to take their 24-hour rests -- an unconventional move that could pay off or backfire, depending on how things unfold along the trail.March 5, 2014
Aaron Burmeister was the first musher to Cripple Wednesday afternoon, about an hour ahead of Jeff King. Burmeister arrived about 3:26 with 13 dogs. King had 15.
Sonny Lindner also reached Cripple Wednesday afternoon. He was racing with 16 dogs.
Paul Gebhardt was in fourth place and out of Ophir. John Baker trailed Gebhardt.
Martin Buser – who has taken his 24-hour mandatory layover was in sixth place and out of Ophir.
Charley Bejna lead the field of rookies. He left Takotna Wednesday night.
Last month I took the Alaska Railroad’s weekly “Aurora Train” from Anchorage to Fairbanks and then farther north to Wiseman for stunning views of the aurora borealis.March 5, 2014
Sitka’s spring herring fishery will be about 1,000 tons less than originally estimated, the Department of Fish & Game announced today.
The harvest limit for the herring fishery in Sitka Sound will be just over 16,000 tons. That’s about 7 percent lower than the preliminary harvest amount announced in December.
Herring management biologist Dave Gordon said the department revised the harvest level downward because sampling showed that the fish returning this year are smaller than last year. The revision is not unusual, he said.
“It seems like a lot, but the quota’s fairly large,” Gordon said. “So the change in tonnage may appear to some to be quite a bit, but percentage-wise, it’s nothing out of the norm.”
This year’s harvest limit is still much higher than last year’s, which was about 11,500 tons. Even with the lower limit, the fleet last year harvested only about half of its guideline harvest level.
Gordon said the primary reason for the low harvest was that the spawn took place too fast. Sitka Sound is a sac roe fishery. Fishermen focus on the herring eggs, or roe, and have to catch the herring before they spawn, when the eggs are still inside. When the spawn happens too quickly, the fleet simply can’t catch enough fish before they lay their eggs, Gordon said.
“The primary reason that we did not achieve the guideline harvest level was not because it was not enough fish,” Gordon said. “It was just the spawn happened so quickly that we were unable to catch pre-spawning herring, which you have to catch to get the product that this fishery demands. It’s a sac roe fishery, of course, and the eggs need to be in the herring for that to work.”
The Department of Fish & Game will start aerial surveys of Sitka Sound around March 14, Gordon said. The surveys look at the activity of marine mammals, and use their behavior to gauge the progress of the herring.
“We’re looking for the distribution of sea lions and whales to give us a handle on where herring are concentrated,” Gordon said. “At some point in time we will start to see changes in that distribution. The sea lions and whales will move in closer to shore, indicating herring are pulling in in preparation for spawning.”
The Department will use a combination of aerial surveys and test sampling to determine when to announce the start of the fishery, likely in late March.
For nearly 40 years, ferry workers who are Alaska residents have gotten a cost-of-living adjustment, allowing them to be paid more than those who don’t live in the state. Now, a bill getting rid of that salary bonus is moving through the Legislature. And the way it’s advanced has raised hackles.
Because it stretches from the Aleutian Islands to Bellingham, Washington, the Alaska Marine Highway is one of the few arms of the state that employs outsiders. It’s also the only branch of state government that sets its minimum salary on Seattle’s cost of living, instead using Anchorage or Juneau as a base. The idea is that in-state workers should have a cost-of-living differential added on. That difference can end up being $10,000 or more.
A bill moving through the State Senate would strip that provision.
Bill sponsor Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, says the legislation is not about the difference between Alaska workers and Washington workers — it’s about getting ferry workers in line with the rest of state government.
“My view is it brings more fairness and consistency into those contracts,” says Dyson.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, doesn’t agree. He’s got a few problems with it. For one, he sees it as an attack on Alaska hire.
“The effect of the bill is it gives everyone that works for the marine transportation system that lives in Alaska a pay cut and keeps the salary the same for those living in Seattle,” says Wielechowski.
Wielechowski is also unhappy with how the bill’s moving forward.
The bill comes as the marine transportation unions are negotiating their contracts for the next three years. If the bill passes before an agreement is reached, Alaskan workers could lose $8 million in wages, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Because the bill affects so many people’s paychecks, dozens of ferry workers came to testify before the State Affairs Committee last week. There was a nine-page list of names of people who called in to oppose the legislation. Only four got to speak before testimony was closed to the public.
Wielechowski says he’s never been a part of a committee where that’s happened.
“I think it makes the public cynical when we don’t even give them the right to have two minutes to tell us how they feel about a bill that’s in front of us,” says Wielechowski.
Dyson, who chairs the committee, says closing testimony was a matter of pragmatism. The committee has 30 other bills it’s assigned to hear before the session wraps up, and he says people had the opportunity to offer written testimony or call in if they were not heard.
“We got a lot of work to do, and I doubt if any new information has come out,” says Dyson. “So, we got to limit it somewhere.”
For their part, the ferry workers who showed up were disappointed that they didn’t get to speak, because they have an even bigger concern about process.
Ben Goldrich represents the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, and he says cost-of-living adjustments have traditionally been fodder for the bargaining table.
“It’s very strange to be up on the Hill talking about an issue that normally we would be dealing with in negotiations,” says Goldrich.
Goldrich worries that the Parnell administration is using the bill as leverage. The way the bill is written, it would go into effect immediately after being signed into law. That could put pressure on unions to accept a deal before that date to avoid losing the cost-of-living differential during the upcoming contract period.
“If somebody from the Department of Administration were to shop a bill on the Hill, that might constitute what we call an unfair labor practice,” says Goldrich.
The Department of Administration addressed the role compensation played in the Alaska Marine Highway budget during presentations to the Legislature this year. Dyson says that the administration also spoke with him about the cost-of-living differential.
Andy Mills, a special assistant in the Department of Administration, says that does not constitute an unfair labor practice. He says legislators are within their rights to bring labor bills forward, and that the leaders of both chambers have encouraged the Department of Administration to address the cost-of-living differential as a way of tightening the Marine Highway budget in a year where the state is looking at a $2 billion deficit.
“Collectively bargaining agreements is separate and apart from legislative changes to statute,” says Mills.
But Mills says yes, the legislation could affect the bargaining timeline.
“This probably adds pressure to get an agreement before a certain timeline, and we’re having those discussions at the negotiating table and hoping to reach a balanced and neutral agreements with the units,” says Mills.
Mills adds that if the bill passes and an agreement has not been reached, the Department of Administration would be more likely to negotiate for a wage freeze as opposed to an immediate salary cut.
The current union contract expires in June.
The bill was moved out of the State Affairs committee Tuesday, and it got a referral to the Finance Committee on Wednesday.
The company says it will take a number of steps to try to curtail illegal gun trafficking online, including removing posts that advertise guns with "no background check required."
The Department of Fish and Game announced that fresh bear cub tracks were found near the Indian River in Sitka. Residents reported hearing the bear early this morning (3-05-14).
Fish and Game biologist Phil Mooney says its best to avoid the area and let the cub find its way back to the den. They don’t want to risk waking a sleeping sow.
Mooney also says that despite low temperatures its not too cold for a bear. He says longer days and the location of the den site might have caused the cub to roam.
“The hibernation thing is more triggered by light than by anything, and this particular site is not what we would call one of our typical den sites for our alpha bears its definitely down in the valley here,” says Mooney. “So, it’s most likely a younger bear with her first set of cubs and she just picked a spot where she was probably out of the way from some bigger bears.”
Since natural food sources are scarce this early in the season, Mooney says the bears will turn to whatever’s available. He warns residents to secure garbage cans, outdoor grills, bird feeders, pet food – anything that could attract a bear. Also bears could start showing up on the trails. Early morning and evenings are the most active.
If you see a bear call the Sitka Police Department (747-3245) or ADF&G (747-5449).
The boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from both Sitka and Mt. Edgecumbe High Schools are competing in the regional tournament in Juneau this week. Last year, the tournament was here in Sitka. This year all that noise and energy has been transported north. In case you’re missing it, Jo Zaczkowski of the Mt. Edgecumbe High School Radio Club, and fellow student Chance Kammeyer, sent us this audio postcard:
See the complete tournament schedule, or view the tournament live stream from JDHS.
The Mt. Edgecumbe boys posted a big win over 3A rivals Petersburg, in round 1 of the regional tournament in Juneau.
The Braves downed the Vikings 51-29.
Daily Sitka Sentinel sports editor Tom Hesse is covering the games. He spoke with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey about the Braves’ tactics against the bigger Petersburg team.
KCAW – How were they able to close down Petersburg’s big men?
Hesse – They played an interesting defensive set. It was still the 2-3 zone, but a lot more player movement. The zones shifted around the floor a little bit, they followed their players out farther than you normally would in a 2-3 zone, and cut off the three-point shooting, which Petersburg usually stretches the floor a little bit with. But they still had the zone quality that let them collapse down on the big men. Another thing that changed the game was foul trouble. Colby Bell, who is one of Petersburg’s 6’-6” big men — very tall, great room protector — fouled out in this game. He had three fouls by halftime. It kept him on the bench most of the game, which kind of opened things up a bit for Mt. Edgecumbe at the other end of the floor.
The Mt. Edgecumbe Braves will take on the Sitka Wolves at 1:15 PM Thursday. The Wolves received a first-round bye.
Hesse believes Sitka’s early-season wins over the Braves reveal absolutely nothing about this next matchup.
“This is a team that’s built to peak at the regional tournament. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that these kids haven’t played together all through middle school, the way the Sitka kids have. Because it’s the state-run boarding school, Archie Young only gets so much time with them. And it takes time for a basketball team to learn things you don’t necessarily think about: Where to get the ball, and in what position, what shooter likes to be where. And now that they’re hammering those things out, this team is really coming on.”
The regional tournament is double-elimination. The Petersburg boys will play the loser of tomorrow’s Mt. Edgecumbe-Sitka contest. The championship game of this three-team tournament will be held at 5 PM on Friday.
On the girls’ side, the Sitka Lady Wolves lost a close contest to Petersburg, 34 – 38.
The Sitka girls now move into the loser’s bracket. But — like the Petersburg boys — Hesse says they can claw their way back to a championship.
“Which is a tall order, but something that can certainly happen. This is a team that is still trying to find itself, now that it’s got its creator back in Sid Riggs. Because the offense was always designed around Megan Reid as low post scorer, and Sid Riggs as creator, with a bunch of shooters around them. So they’re still trying to work that back in.”
With Sid Riggs out most of the season with a broken wrist, the Lady Wolves’ center, Megan Reid, has anchored the Sitka offense. Hesse says Petersburg double- and sometimes triple-teamed Reid to keep her off the ball.
Beating Mt. Edgecumbe — for either team — will be a challenge. Hesse says the Lady Braves dominated the regular season, beating Petersburg three times. The Lady Braves received a first-round bye. They’ll take on the Lady Vikings in second round action 11:30 AM Thursday.
Daily Sitka Sentinel sports editor Tom Hesse is calling the regional tournament games live over KIFW-AM 1230 in Sitka.
When a person dies under suspicious or unusual circumstances, the state has an obligation to make sure that evidence is processed and that they can protect the victim and their family.
In rural Alaska, that means sending the body to the medical examiners office in Anchorage. If the legislature acts on a bill, part of that examination could take place locally.
The state covers some of the costs, but family members often end up paying large sums to funeral homes to prepare the body and transport it. Bodies are sent to anchorage for autopsies. They often end up paying $500 so-called taxi fees to move the body between the Medical Examiner’s office and funeral homes. That’s added to the freight costs of shipping a casket back to a village. Bethel Representative Bob Herron is sponsoring legislation to make it easier on families when they have to navigate those choices in a time of grief.
“They’re making this decision under duress, because you want to start this grieving process right away. You wan to know why the family member died, and that takes time, but sometimes it’s needless. That’s what this is about, it’s about having a process that is fair,” said Herron.
Herron wants better explanation of the costs and options for taking care of a body so a family doesn’t end up paying for some service they don’t want. Testimony in Juneau from AVCP indicated that funeral homes were “holding bodies hostage” as families scrambled to find money for embalming or caskets.
“Reputable, or whatever you want to do, people in private business are holding a body until they get payment. It’s apparently a fact of life,” said Herron.
Another change would require the state to pay for embalming if required by regulation for transportation on air carriers. A next step would be finding a way to use the region’s telemedicine facilities to do autopsies or pre autopsies remotely.
“Where you can bring the body to Bethel, generally that’s what happens anyway, and they can put it in the morgue, and set up a time to visit with the medical examiner via teleconference. And the doctor or PA can take the camera and walk through it. After the first hearing, I’m real hopeful,” said Herron.
Herron is proposing a pilot project in the region, but there’s nothing in the bill to establish one. Another part of the bill would allow local officials to be able to issue death certificates in some cases instead of having it done in Anchorage. The house bill is currently in the Health and Social Services committee.
Nome Musher Aaron Burmeister has the Iditarod lead. He pulled into the remote checkpoint of Cripple at 3:25 this afternoon. Jeff King followed 40 minutes later. A number of mushers appear to be taking their 24 hour lay overs in Takotna, including Aliy Zirkle, Robert Sorlie and Dallas and Mitch Seavey.
A dozen mushers have scratched, many with bruised bodies and battered sleds from the rough and snowless trail into Nikolai.
Iditarod teams are making their way across the Interior region where the trail is soft, smooth and covered in snow – a far cry from the rough and rocky trail that took many mushers out of the race earlier this week.
Four-time champion Martin Buser is one of only a few mushers to have completed his mandatory 24-hour rest. He blew through McGrath this morning on what he calls an unorthodox race plan.
“More bigger better faster!” Buser said. “No, I’m, just going to go out here and take a camp and just camp my way to Nome!”
Buser’s energetic dogs trotted quickly out of the checkpoint after a quick stop for water. They blew through Takotna where 26-year-old Pete Kaiser of Bethel decided to take his 24-hour rest.
“It was one of the plans I had. I was set up t do it other places also, but I decided to do it here,” Kaiser said. “It was hard to pass up and I didn’t really see it as a benefit to this team to go any farther.”
Kaiser has run the race four times, but eight of Kaiser’s dogs are rookies to the Iditarod trail.
“This is a young team this year that I am driving and they look pretty good now and I just figured let’s stop while the look good and just see how the rest of the race goes,” Kaiser said.
Most of the teams coming into Takotna are still large. Most mushers left the start line with 16 dogs. There’s currently only one team among the top-30 that is running fewer than 13 dogs.
Curt Perano, the Kiwi musher, says he’s surprised considering how rough the first 200 miles of trail were.
“I would have thought we would have had a lot of shoulders and wrists but the funny thing is even though we hate it, the dogs just love that sort of stuff,” Perano said. “They just love that windy fast trail I mean you can see they just dig in harder and you ask them to stop and they just want to keep going and their attitudes!”
With just over 300 miles behind them teams will still have to contend with the Interior, where temperatures are forecast to dip below zero tonight. The Yukon River also lies ahead before teams reach the Bering Sea Coast.
Tonight the University of Alaska Anchorage will feature a panel discussion on the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana. Last night we brought you the perspective of a legalization advocate and this evening we offer the opposing side. Dean Guaneli is a retired assistant attorney general for Alaska. Guaneli says there is confusion over the current law regulating marijuana here. He says because of the privacy clause in the state constitution, a 1976 decision by the Alaska Supreme court made it impossible for the state to enforce the law for small amounts in one’s home. But he says in 2006, the legislature clearly re-criminalized marijuana.
Chemotherapy patients at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center have a brand-new infusion suite for their treatments. The center opened last week with a special ceremony, and the first patients tried it out on last week.
Cancer patients in Ketchikan were receiving chemotherapy treatment before the new suite opened, but the location and the space provided wasn’t ideal. Infusion therapy nurse Deb Davis said it was part of the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, “Which meant anything going on in the Intensive Care Unity, whatever was going on there, you were part of it, whether you liked it or not. It also was down at the far end, hard for some people to find, and to have to walk that far from the elevators.”
In contrast, the new infusion suite is 15 steps from the elevator; it’s a private space dedicated to chemotherapy patients. It has new chairs, plants, a coffee pot, and it’s bigger. Davis said the hospital now can treat four patients at the same time, rather than the previous maximum of three. There’s also a new consulting area.
“If a physician wanted to see a patient, have a conversation with a patient, there was no privacy to do that,” she said. “Now we have a separate space on one side that we can close off, and the physician can actually see that patient, talk to that patient, have whatever conversation they need or the exam they need in privacy, which they couldn’t do before. So that’s nice.”
Davis said the $200,000 needed to renovate the space into a chemotherapy infusion suite was raised through individual donations, some state funding and the annual Solestice shoe auction.
The project is not part of the city-owned hospital’s multi-million-dollar grand renovation, which will be paid for mostly through local voter-approved bonds and state funding.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was in town to attend the opening of the chemotherapy suite, and in a separate interview said she’s pleased with the investment Ketchikan is making in its hospital.
“I think it’s really credit to this community that given what you’re faced with from a budget perspective, that this community has made a commitment to say this is a public health service that we want to make sure is provided,” she said. “Not only the infusion center, but all that you’re doing with the hospital. I think it speaks volumes.”
Pre-construction work is starting on the first phase of the hospital’s larger renovation plan. That phase will cost an estimated $62 million, and will include an upgrade of the 50-year-old surgery suite, plus a larger clinic and additional parking.
(Maria Dudzak contributed to this report.)
Fisca Walden – Witness
Danika Weaver – witness/attorney
Will Pate – Attorney
Salma Zakiyah – Witness
Alora Zellhuber – Witness/Attorney
Melea Roman – Attorney
Daliya Tazeyeva – Witness
Jude Pate – Coach
Way to rock the Mock!
Mushers are racing towards Nome. And so are the tourists. A small business owner is gearing up to capitalize on the influx.
Some say Nome’s population doubles during Iditarod. Though that’s an exaggeration, for small business owner Erin Forton, it’s kind of true.
“I try to have about double the amount of supplies on hand,” Forton said. “I know that we go through about five pounds of espresso every two or three days, and last year during Iditarod, we went through five pounds of espresso beans every day.”
Forton owns Bering Tea Company, Nome’s only coffeehouse. The shop sells organic, fair-trade foods and Alaskan roasted coffee. It has become a favorite place for people who want to step out of the cold and grab a warm drink while waiting for mushers to cross the finish line.
But preparation begins long before the race even starts, all the way back in January. Forton began placing orders after the New Year for what she calls “tourist-type items:” things like t-shirts and mugs and other paraphernalia for people to take home.
When the town swells with Iditarod fans, Forton will fly in extra help, and offer extended hours.
“Last year was our first year that we were open through Iditarod, and we ended up staying here, open an awake until 3am, because we didn’t want to close when there were customers in,” Forton said.
Across Nome, the Iditarod rush brings a short-term revenue boost to small businesses. Forton says, for Bering Tea, she’s turning it into a long-term advantage.
“Most of the added revenue from this Iditarod is going to go towards making the building more efficient and more self-sufficient,” Forton said. “Things like better insulation and lower energy use lights. Things that will make it even cheaper to run.”
But the best part of Iditarod, Forton says, is the new faces and the stories they bring.
“I love meeting all the new people and hearing their stories. And sometimes they come up on a whim and sometimes it’s been their 25-year goal to see the finish of the Iditarod,” Forton said. “It’s really cool to see the differences that people have in stories and how they came here and why they came here.”
And this constant stream of people, Forton says, carries another upside. She can run the shop while the customers keep her up on the race details.