Puppy lost in the Chilkat Lake area. His name is Ollie (OH- LEE) he has a black face, looks...
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Southeast Alaska News
JUNEAU — One of the last major bills to come together in the Senate this session could be the education package.
Senate Finance Committee co-chair Kevin Meyer says members are trying to figure out what they want in their version of HB278. Meyer has charts in his office breaking down elements that have been proposed as part of the bill and issues that could be incorporated, such as a study on the per-pupil funding formula.
It’s almost time for the rush of family and friends from the Lower 48, and Alaska’s tourism industry leaders are expecting a good, but not great, 2014 visitor season.
John Binkley, president of Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, formerly the Alaska Cruise Association, said he is expecting 972,000 cruise visitors to the state this year, a slight decrease from the 999,600 cruisers in 2013. About 95 percent of those passengers stopped in Juneau.
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell said repealing the state’s oil tax system would “kill” oil production.
During an online town hall Wednesday evening, he also said he personally opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. But he said if a ballot initiative on that issue passes this year, the state would implement the regulations needed for the measure.
Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich said he remembers driving through the Kenai Peninsula five years ago, shortly after his election to the U.S. Senate, and noticing the economy here was not in the best of shape.
In a return to the area, he shared some insight into his congressional activities, then fielded questions on his tax reform proposal, health care and the future of Alaska’s economy at a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Three incumbent members of Alaska’s Board of Fisheries were unanimously confirmed after a Chugiak representative withdraw his objection to the two commercial fishers on the board.
Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said he objected to the confirmation of Sue Jeffrey, board member from Kodiak, and John Jensen, of Petersburg, because he had heard that someone was going to object to the third appointee — sportfishing guide Reed Morisky of Fairbanks.
Lawmakers have had to stay on their toes this week. They’ve been working in the 24 hour rule meaning that bills only need a 24 hour notice to be heard in a committee. Normally, it has to be scheduled the week earlier. When I talked with Senator Dennis Egan of Juneau, he said they had been dealing with another sort of challenge.
Egan: “Our Internet just went down. I mean for the whole Legislature.”
Angela: “How can you function?”
Egan: “Yeah. Seriously, Angela. Everything we have is on computer.”
Well, that problem came and went. But there are a lot of issues that still need to be worked out before the Legislature adjourns.
Egan: “Days are pretty long right now just because of the complexity of this session here. We have the gas line legislation and education is a big issue this year and neither of those bills are complete. And of course, we haven’t completed finalized the operating or capitol budgets yet.”
Angela: “Now, you’re mandated to come up with a budget. The budgets are something that you have to do but the bills you don’t have….
Egan: “We don’t have to do. But if we don’t do anything for education, um, school districts from just unorganized school districts too, municipalities are really going to suffer. We have to get an education bill passed this year.”
Angela: “So, what’s the hang up right now?”
Egan: “Well, the hang up right now is BSA.”
Angela: “Base Student Allocation.”
Egan: “Yes. And how we fund that. You know, the governor has a modest increase in the base student allocation. I think it’s the will of most members of the Legislature to increase the base student allocation. Problem is now there are certain members and House members that don’t want to put it in the formula, they want to keep it out and just give communities more education money…but it would be one time money. It wouldn’t set the level of the base student allocation any higher. I have trouble with that because we haven’t increased the BSA now going on five years and it’s about time that we add some more money in there just to keep up with inflation.”
Angela: “Okay, now in terms of the budget, how do you feel about it at this point?”
Egan: “I think it’s looking pretty good for District P. You have almost a million-8 ($1.8 million)…I can’t look it up. (laughs) You have almost a million-8 ($1.8 million) for waste water treatment. And then of course, the three million fed and state match for the airport apron and taxiway. And then we got a million dollars for the public safety building. And there are words in there that Crystal Lake Hatchery will be rebuilt right now out of Fish and Game funds and SRF funds and things like that, but the state has guaranteed that they will rebuild the Crystal Lake Hatchery.”
Angela: “So that could happen this building season then.”
Egan: “Yes it will. Or, we hope it will, yes.”
Angela: “Do you feel like there are any other last minute changes that might happen with the budget or is it pretty sealed?”
Egan: “Well, this is the horrible part: it changes on a daily basis. And, I think we’re in good shape right now. And it’s not a done deal.”
Angela: “Just in general, how would you say this session is turning out to be compared to others in the past?”
Egan: “Well, it’s been difficult, I think there are too many issues and a lot of other issues that don’t really pertain, at least, as far as I’m concerned, in running a good state system. You know, we have minimum wage on the ballot this year. The House, as you know, passed Legislation to usurp the initiative and do it legislatively. Well, that happened in 2002 and the next year the Legislature came back and gutted it. And I don’t think there’s a lot of interest in the Senate to do minimum wage this year. I think we’re of the ilk that we just let the voters vote.”
Angela: “So that’s still a possibility anyway.”
Egan: “Yeah, and then we have the other cool issues like marijuana and (laughs) and so that will be interesting.”
Angela: “It will be an interesting election this year.”
Egan: “And then repeal of the gas line legislation from last year, Senate Bill 21. That’s an initiative and that will be on the ballot. If we continue the legislature beyond the normal end date, beyond normal adjournment, then that would force the “No on 21 Initiative” to go on the general election ballot instead of the primary ballot.”
Angela: “How do you feel that might affect the outcome?”
Egan: “I don’t like the idea. I think that we can get out of here by Sunday. I mean there’s a lot of legislation that can wait a year. We should get the big stuff done.”
I also spoke with Representative Sam Kito III, a Democrat from Juneau. He said a big issue the last few days has been education, particularly putting $3 Billion dollars into the PERS-TERS trust. That’s the public employees and teachers retirement trust.
Kito: “It goes into the trust fund so it’s not really spent yet but it pays down our future liability to a certain degree which means we’re saving money on interest that we would be paying on in the future. And we are also decreasing our annual payment that the state will have to put in to try and try to match our actuarial…the amount that we’re under funded. So, that’s going to be a really big spend for the state and that’s going to be coming out of the constitutional budget reserve, I believe, which is basically one of the state’s savings accounts. So, we’re already spending a little bit out of savings. There are some possibilities that maybe we spent a little bit out of savings for capitol projects as well but we won’t really know until we see a CS come out of the finance committee.
Angela: “And that reserves savings account, if I remember correctly, is well over ten Billion dollars?”
Kito: “There are two accounts. The two accounts total up to somewhere around 17 Billion dollars. There’s the constitutional budget reserve account and then the earnings reserve account. There are tax credits in there for private non-profit schools that give me some concern about public money going into schools where the state doesn’t have adequate oversight. We don’t actually get to identify curriculum for private schools or measure results from private schools. So, I have a concern about that. And that was in the House bill when it left the House and I don’t know what the Senate’s going to do with that but we’re watching closely.”
Last year, the Legislature approves new regulations for cruise ships to release wastewater into Alaska’s oceans. Since then, the state has developed a permit process based on those regulations, and that permit process is now open for public comment. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Water Director Michelle Hale stopped in Ketchikan on Wednesday to talk to the Chamber of Commerce about the permit process, and what the state is doing to protect Alaska’s environment.
With the new regulations in place, cruise ships that travel through Alaska’s Inside Passage will have better wastewater treatment systems than some coastal communities.
Hale said no untreated sewage is allowed to be dumped, and the legislation closed so-called “donut holes,” parts of the ocean that were just outside of state jurisdiction. The main activity that the new regulations now allow is the use of mixing zones.
“And that’s very similar to all other industries and municipalities in the state of Alaska,” she said. “It’s a little bit controversial relative to cruise ships; it’s a very standard practice when we are actually permitting wastewater discharges.”
Ketchikan has numerous mixing zones for the various wastewater permits, allowing discharge into the Tongass Narrows. They include the City of Ketchikan’s Charcoal Point Wastewater Treatment Facility, Point Higgins School, seafood processors, the shipyard, the Coast Guard, Vallenar View Mobile Home Park and the airport, among many others.
Mixing zones allow discharge to exceed the standards for certain contaminants, as long as
the standards are met within a certain distance of that initial discharge. In other words, it becomes diluted fairly quickly after its hit the water.
Hale said mixing zones for cruise ships are a little different, because ships move.
“The cruise ship defines two different regulatory mixing zones, one for discharge underway and one for discharge at 6 knots or less or stationary,” she said. “Primarily, that 6 knots or less is for stationary vessels, but we kind of had to make a break point. So, if you’re going faster than 6 knots, you get covered under one mixing zone, if you’re going slower, you’re covered under another.”
Hale said some members of the public were concerned that the permits for cruise ships wouldn’t protect the ocean enough. But, she said, her division wrote the permits in a way that treats cruise ships like other wastewater discharge systems.
“When we do our modeling and establish limits, we do that so that the water is protected, so that water quality is protected for the uses that that water is used for,” she said.
Hale said the water must be safe enough for a fish to pass through the area within 15 minutes, and not be affected.
She notes that it’s possible for cruise ships to treat wastewater so that it meets all standards before the water is released into the ocean; but it’s not practicable.
“This is our regulatory definition for practicable: ‘Available and capable of being done, taking into consideration cost, technology that actually exists and logistics, in light of overall project purposes,’” she said. “So, what practicable means, is it has to make sense.”
More details about the draft cruise ship wastewater permit program is available on the Division of Water’s website. That’s also the place to go to find out how to submit comments. The comment period closes May 23rd.
A link to review the Division of Water’s draft permit for cruise ship wastewater is below: http://dec.alaska.gov/water/cruise_ships/gp/2014dgp.html
Citing mechanical issues that affect the Carnival Miracle’s maximum cruising speed, Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled 15 of that ship’s port calls in Ketchikan this summer.
According to the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, the cancellations affect scheduled Sunday port calls beginning May 25th, and include all sailings during the months of June, July and August.
The first three calls, on May 4th, May 11th and May 18th, will remain as scheduled, KVB reports. In addition, the last two calls in September have not been cancelled, but will experience a slight change in arrival and departure times.
The ship carries 2,124 passengers and the cancellations will reduce the number of passengers arriving in Alaska’s First City by about 30,000, based on pre-season estimates.
That brings the total expected cruise passengers coming through Ketchikan down to about 850,000.
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One of Petersburg’s former superintendent finalists will no longer be working in Wrangell. Jay Thomas of Unalakleet had been one of three finalists for Petersburg’s superintendent but he withdrew his name when Wrangell offered him a job. This week, the Wrangell school board changed its mind.
The board held a special meeting Wednesday night (April 16) to offer a Superintendent contract to someone else: Patrick Mayer for the 2014 – 2015 school year.
The school board unanimously approved offering the contract to Patrick Mayer of Delta, Alaska.
Before the vote, board chair Susan Eagle said Mayer has already been offered the position.
“I would like to say that we have come to a contract agreement with Patrick and we will be getting that finalized and signed within the next couple of days,” Eagle says.
The process of hiring a superintendent to replace Rich Rhodes at the end of this school year has been fraught with challenges.
The board announced two final candidates at their March 17th meeting. They were Jay Thomas of Unalakleet and Patrick Mayer of the Delta Greely School District.
One week later, the board offered the position to Thomas. Thomas had also applied for the same position in Petersburg. He withdrew that application and accepted the job in Wrangell.
That agreement didn’t last very long and the board rescinded Thomas’s contract.
Eagle says she can’t provide much information on why the hire fell through.
“No, I’m sorry, I can’t. It was just a personal issue,” Eagle says.
So, the board decided to make an offer to the other finalist, Patrick Mayer.
Eagle says the board has been in close contact with Mayer and he has accepted the position.
“He has accepted. We will need to finalize the contract as far as adding just in the numbers and then have his signature on it. But yes, he has accepted the terms we have agreed upon,” Eagle says.
The next step for the board is ironing out the details. It will formalize the contract at its next meeting.
“We will finalize the contract tonight and we will approve it at the board meeting on Monday night. And then, from that point on, Mr. Mayer will be here starting July 1,” Eagle says.
Mayer is currently the principal of Delta High School, in the Delta Greely school district.
He’s also worked as the principal of Delta Cyber School and Fort Greely Elementary School.
Additionally, he’s been a principal in California and has served as an administrator in the Mat-Su school district in Southcentral Alaska.
He attended the University of Alaska, Anchorage as an undergraduate and has a Masters of Education from Eastern Washington University.
Petersburg’s School Board has hired Lisa Stroh from Valdez as the new Superintendent here. She will start the job in July.
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School board gets first look at teacher evaluation software. House unanimously approves Native Languages bill. Ketchikan’s MusicFest fills high school with music.
“Treasure Island” is this weekend. Many, many music, arts and dance events are coming up next weekend. Check out our calendar and the Arts Council and First City Players web sites for all the details…and listen here! Arts041714
Republican Gov. Sean Parnell is ready to run for re-election.
On Wednesday, Parnell’s re-election campaign announced 10 campaign debates starting later this month and culminating in late October.
The debates are the first for Parnell, whose campaign says he has focused on legislative business while his presumed election opponents stump for votes.
For the capital city, Parnell’s schedule has a catch — Juneau didn’t make the cut.
JUNEAU — A bill that would allow people to carry concealed handguns on University of Alaska campuses has been pulled.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, asked the Senate Finance Committee during a Tuesday hearing to not take up the bill this year, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. This year’s legislative session is scheduled to end Sunday.
ANCHORAGE — The Coast Guard civilian charged with killing two co-workers at a Kodiak communications station told an FBI agent he was late getting to work the day of the deaths because he returned home to change a soft tire, but he had no explanation for why the trip of a few miles should have taken more than 34 minutes.
James Wells, 62, is charged in federal court with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Richard Belisle, 51, and Petty Officer First Class James Hopkins, 41, shortly after they arrived for work around 7 a.m. April 12, 2012.
ANCHORAGE — An expert on hate groups said it was unlikely protesters from a nationally known Kansas church will show up in Alaska to picket two institutions, despite their announcements to do so.
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka has announced plans to picket the Alaska Native Heritage Center and ChangePoint, a nondenominational church, both in Anchorage on June 1.
Southern Poverty Law Center senior fellow Mark Potok told the Anchorage Daily News that Westboro has a long history of scheduling pickets, but actually attends less than half of them.
FAIRBANKS — The U.S. Department of Agriculture accused the University of Alaska Fairbanks of possible Animal Welfare Act violations in the starvation deaths of 12 musk oxen at the school’s large-animal research station.
USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said Wednesday that an administrative judge will decide whether the university could face fines that an animal-rights group hopes total $10,000 per animal.
ANCHORAGE — The group behind a ballot measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Alaska said Wednesday it would gladly contribute funds to their opponents — if they prove pot is more dangerous than alcohol.
The challenge was made by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and involves both a new local opposition group and a national campaign that seeks to keep pot illegal.