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Southeast Alaska News
JUNEAU — Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest sued the state health commissioner Wednesday over regulations that would further define what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion for purposes of receiving Medicaid funding.
Sitkans this week (Tue 1-28-14) dedicated a new bike shelter downtown. The small, timber-framed structure is actually the culmination of a large undertaking to help develop an industry around young-growth trees in the Tongass.
It’s a little building, only 10×12 feet square, but its heavy timbers and mortise-and-tenon joinery make you feel like you’re in the entryway of a lodge or a church.
Hughey admitted to the small crowd gathered at the shelter’s dedication that becoming involved in forest policy was not exactly his top priority for working on the project.
“My primary interest in this whole thing is as a woodworker.” he said. “I have enjoyed this kind of project my whole life, and this was really fun. I really hope that it serves well, and that it calls attention to the potential of the second-growth forest.”
So while it’s not connected to a lodge or a church, the little shelter is part of something larger — an effort to utilize the trees that have re-grown in the clearcuts of past decades.
Andrew Thoms is the director of the Sitka Conservation Society, which spearheaded the shelter project.
“And all along the process the goal was to figure out what can we do with second-growth timber, how do we use it, what are some of the characteristics of second-growth, what are the obstacles we have to get over, and how do we figure out what we can do with this resource.”
Young growth is a large industry in the lower 48, but the economics of timber harvesting are different there. Much of the old growth is gone. Thoms believes the Tongass is stuck in a paradigm.
“In Southeast Alaska we’re still logging old growth. There are still huge old growth timber sales that are happening in very important ecological lands, that are very uneconomical to harvest. But the system is still set up that old growth is being harvested. That’s the momentum that the Forest Service is on.”
Helping change that momentum is an objective of the Sitka Conservation Society, but they can’t claim the idea. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack outlined the transition to second growth in a speech in Seattle shortly after he was appointed by the newly-elected Barack Obama. He reiterated his position last summer.
Marjorie Hennessy, also with the Sitka Conservation Society, says this route was a mixture of necessity and intention.
“It’s important to have all of those stakeholders involved somehow and have their hands on the project, from the millers down on Prince of Wales to a volunteer who was just putting a nail in the siding. We just want to make sure that everyone understands the importance of young growth and what it can do for our communities.”
So what can it do for our communities? Randy Hughey’s students got a look a potential vocation. Maybe someone else will see this shelter tucked between the Sitka Sound Science Center and the Crescent Harbor playground and imagine other potential. At least that’s what Andrew Thoms hopes.
“The bike shelter’s definitely overbuilt, but in doing that we learned what we can do with it, people learned how to do it. And now it’s our hope someone’s going to look at that and say, I want a house built out of it. Or if you’re a contractor or a builder, I can do this with that material. It’s really a showcase piece to sort out the kinks, and then inspire on what we can do next.”
Funding for the second-growth bike shelter came from the National Forest Foundation — their Community Capacity and Land Stewardship Program. Two other previous second-growth projects are not far away — recreational log cabins in Sitka’s Starrigavan Valley and in Wrangell, both managed by the Forest Service.
According to Alaska State Troopers, at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Troopers went to a Ketchikan home to investigate a report of a disturbance between two men.
Troopers allegedly discovered a marijuana grow operation inside the residence. The local Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs task force responded to the scene and took over the investigation.
According to a Troopers report, 48 growing marijuana plants with an aggregate weight of 47 ounces allegedly were found inside the home. Troopers say an additional 96 ounces of processed marijuana was seized.
Multiple felony charges against the two men were forwarded to the Ketchikan District Attorney’s Office for review.
The location of the grow op was not provided in the report, Troopers did not identify the men involved, and the DA’s office declined to provide any information about the case.
A First Nations tribe is concerned about the long-term effects of a proposed mine in British Columbia near the Alaska border.
According to Bell Media, a Gitanyow Fisheries Authority biologist recently outlined those concerns to the Terrace City Council.
Kevin Koch told the council that Seabridge Gold’s proposed KSM Mine — located near Stewart just over the border from Hyder — would see 130-thousand tons of ore mined daily.
Koch said the Gitanyow are mainly concerned about the effects that acidic tailings from the mine could have on the nearby Treaty and Teigan Creeks, along with the Bell-Irving River.
“It’s a super clean pristine valley,” he said. “Very high fish densities (with) extremely high grizzly bear (and) moose habitats.”
The project plan currently calls for a tailings management facility located about 14 miles west of the mine.
Koch said he doesn’t understand why the acidic tailings would be transferred to an unpolluted area, when there are rivers near the mine site that already have naturally high acidic levels and little-to-no fish populations.
“We disagree with the principle of transporting billions of tons of acidic material from a watershed that’s already naturally polluted to one that is naturally pristine,” he said.
Seabridge Gold declined to comment, citing its current participation in the mine’s environmental assessment process.
If built, the KSM project would become one of the largest open-pit mines in the world.
(KRBD and Bell Media have a cooperative agreement to share news stories of mutual interest to Southeast Alaska and British Columbia listeners.)
Work continues on one major harbor project in Petersburg this winter while another one is scheduled to see some work begin as early as next week.
The $7.1 million rebuild of North Harbor is on schedule to be completed this spring with water lines, electrical equipment and more pilings going in this month.
Meanwhile, demolition of an old fuel dock is expected to start in early February to make way for the new $7.8 million vehicle-accessible, drive-down dock in South Harbor. That harbor will also see improvements to the crane dock later this year, as that contract has been advertised this winter. Joe Viechnicki spoke with harbormaster Glo Wollen for an update on the harbor construction, starting off with the work in North Harbor.
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The crane dock widening is planned to start September 15th right after the last cruise ship of the season. In addition, a couple of smaller projects, a replacement launch ramp float and new troller work float will also be installed in the harbors this year.
State health officials continue to record more confirmed cases of flu hitting Alaskans this winter and say it’s not too late to get influenza vaccine.
Here in Petersburg, new public health nurse Erin Michael says she’s been busy with immunizations this fall and winter. Michael notes that the state has waived the administrative fee for people getting a flu shot through the end of March. That includes young children and people who don’t have health insurance. Joe Viechnicki spoke with Michael about the immunizations she has available.
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The public health nurse’s office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and closed for lunch from noon to 1 p.m. It’s on the lower level of the Petersburg Medical Center. They ask to people to call and make an appointment at 772-4611.
School officials in Petersburg are expecting the trend of declining student enrollment will continue next year, which would impact state funding to the school district. While larger districts in Alaska are facing big budget shortfalls and laying off teachers, Petersburg’s school district expects to be able to weather a drop in funding thanks to conservative budgeting and not refilling all staff positions. However officials expect more difficult budget decisions are coming if the declining student numbers continue.
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Petersburg’s school district is starting to develop its spending plan for next year and is facing another year with fewer students. Finance director Karen Quitslund said they’re expecting 424 students in the three schools next year, a drop of six from the current year. “Compared to 2007 we had 561,” Quitslund said. “So, the trend is that we are steady slope declining. And we also can look at by school level and see that that trend is also following. We have a little bit of fluctuation in actually all the schools but the trend is still declining.”
Student enrollment peaked in 1997 when the district had 769 students. With a few exceptions, its been dropping every year since. Student numbers impact funding from the state and the bottom line for state money could be down around 300-thousand dollars next year.
Supertintendent Rob Thomason said budget cutting may eventually have to happen in the future but for the short term the district has been conservative in its spending. “I like to say we’re letting a little bit of air out of the balloon, but we’re not switching balloons or popping the balloon. We, over the last five years, have had great success with leveraging retirements and people who’ve moved, just through attrition, we’re going to continue to try and do that.”
If the enrollment projection holds up and dips down below 425 student, the district will no longer qualify for money for three schools under the state’s complicated school funding formula. Nevertheless, Thomason said the district will continue to operate its elementary, middle and high school. “There will be fewer people to deliver some of the services but we have fewer kids to whom to deliver services,” he said. “The day may come for our community where we have to look at what programs can we actually offer but right now and I would say for at least the next three years we are in pretty good shape in terms of allowing attrition to make the adjustment for our loss in funding.”
Thomason and Quitslund discussed next year’s budget picture with the school board this month and will be submitting their annual request to the borough government for the local funding this winter. Thomason said he’s not anticipating an increase or decrease in that local request, which has been 1.8 million dollars.
Over the long term, Thomason expected that the trend of declining enrollment will continue. He’s still optimistic for a turnaround. “In spite declining enrollment, in spite of declining funding, we still have a very strong picture, very strong school district and Petersburg is a really exciting place to be. I just keep believing that Petersburg is so great that there’s gotta be a renaissance here. There’s going to be people coming in. Jobs are going to be created. I don’t know where the bottom is but we’ve got to be getting close. I just wanna reassure people, it’s still going to be a great school district even if we talk about reducing funding. We are not where many school districts in the state of Alaska are.”
In February, the district will hold budget work sessions with administrators and an advisory committee and the board will start reviewing the draft spending plan in May.
A Petersburg man facing charges of possession and distribution of child pornography will not go to trial until September, if at all.
The former maintenance director at the Petersburg School District Tye Leif Petersen has pleaded not guilty to the charges. The judge and attorneys in the case held a status conference Tuesday in US District Court in Juneau. Petersen is in custody and also attended the conference. His defense attorney Cara McNamara told judge Timothy Burgess there was a good possibility the case will be resolved before it goes to trial.
Another status conference is planned for March 28th. Petersen’s trial is scheduled for September 15th. He resigned his job and was arrested after leaving Petersburg in late October.
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Assembly postpones action on tightening smoking ban; passes rules on local purchasing; and applies for AEA loan to complete Blue Lake project. LeConte breakdown complicates travel plans for fog-bound Haines/Skagway residents. Ketchikan “cash mob” lands on local bookstore.
Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, left, speaks during a House Minority Caucus press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday with Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, Minority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, right.
ANCHORAGE — Authorities in Seward have recovered the body of a woman from Resurrection Bay near Fourth of July Creek.
KTUU-TV reports police have not determined whether it’s the same woman reported missing earlier this month.
Fourth of July Creek is across Resurrection Bay from the Seward Small Boat Harbor.
JUNEAU — A spokeswoman for the largest health insurance company in Alaska says more than 80 percent of individual health care policy holders whose plans do not meet requirements of the federal health care law opted to stick with their plan through 2014.
FAIRBANKS — A 36-year-old Fairbanks man sought in manhunt earlier this month has been arrested and charged with burglary and other counts.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner says Brandon Barron was arrested last week after a traffic stop for moving and equipment violations.
Alaska State Troopers say Barron was the driver of a vehicle that went into a ditch Jan. 8 after a local resident accused him of stealing fuel.
JUNEAU — A sailing of the Alaska state ferry LeConte has been canceled.
KINY says Tuesday’s voyage was canceled because of mechanical issues with the vessel’s port engine.
State transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the problem arose during an attempted sailing of the northern Lynn Canal route from Juneau to Haines and Skagway and back.
KETCHIKAN — There are no significant changes planned to the Navy’s only West Coast facility that measures underwater sounds made by submarines.
However, the U.S. Navy still must file a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility, which is located in Behm Canal near Ketchikan, along with other Navy military training and testing activities in the Northwest, KRBD reported.
Should children be prohibited from entering a business that allows smoking — even during a non-smoking event? That was the question before the Sitka Assembly on Tuesday (1-28-2014). What was just a holiday event for some Sitkans represented, for others, a threat to public health – and a violation of the voters’ intent.
For Margaret Peterson, it was just a Christmas party. Peterson is the Pub Manager at the American Legion in Sitka. In December, the Legion hosted an event for about 75 kids.
“Every one of the kids got to see Santa and Mrs. Claus,” Peterson told the Sitka Assembly. “They all got a present, they all got a bag of candy…Every one of the kids got a new jacket, a winter jacket to take home with them.”
But there was a wrinkle in this plan: the American Legion is a private club that allows smoking. And in 2005, Sitka voters passed a law prohibiting children from entering businesses where smoking is allowed. Just before the Christmas Party, the American Legion received a phone call complaining that they were violating the law.
So they checked with City Attorney Robin Koutchak. And Koutchak checked the ordinance. The law reads, Children under the age of eighteen shall not be permitted in any place of employment where smoking is allowed.
But the American Legion wasn’t going to allow smoking – not at this particular event. So, Koutchak said, not a problem. They could hold the Christmas Party as planned.
In early January, the Sitka Assembly decided to revisit that smoking ordinance. Mayor Mim McConnell and Assembly member Phyllis Hackett sponsored a revision, adding this language: Once the declaration of an establishment, facility or outdoor area as smoking has been made under this section, it shall not be changed for temporary or special functions. In other words, a business is either smoking or non-smoking. You can’t allow smoking sometimes, and then air out the room for events with kids.
Deputy Mayor Matt Hunter laid out some of the health concerns behind the law.
“The CDC says no amount of second-hand smoke, no matter how little, is safe,” Hunter said.”And I did some further research and talked to some people and discovered that the research that’s going on right now says that airing a place out is not enough to make it safe. The amount of carcinogens in the air, the cancer-causing chemicals and toxins actually get embedded within the walls.”
But at Tuesday’s meeting, nearly a dozen people stood up to plead with the Assembly not to pass the revised ordinance.
“This is a place where we have memorials for our vets that had passed away,” Peterson said. “If you guys change this smoking ordinance, the families cannot bring their kids in to have these memorials.”
“My grandchildren were so very happy,” said Sitka resident Robbie Martin, of the December event. “Now there’s Easter parties and memorials and things like that where children would be coming into the club. And I really hope there is some discussion for this.”
“I was able to take my younger children to this party, and it was very obviously a smoke-free and alcohol-free event,” said Sitka resident Stacy Joseph. “And they provided a wonderful hot meal for us, and it was all free to my family, and for a low income family, that’s really important.
But, Assembly member Phyllis Hackett said, it’s all beside the point.
“This isn’t really about the American Legion,” Hackett said. “It’s about the ordinance, and it’s about the fact that the intent of the ordinance, originally when it was passed by the people, was to protect children from second-hand smoke…by not letting them in smoking facilities.”
“Unfortunately, the ordinance was not written well enough to be able to cover the intention,” she said. “And all we’re doing by this is making it follow the intent and the way that people voted.”
City Attorney Robin Koutchak disagreed.
“With all due respect to Ms. Hackett, the intent was open for debate,” Koutchak said. She said it simply isn’t clear what voters originally intended.
In the end, the assembly voted 5-2 to postpone the issue, with McConnell and Hackett voting against postponement. The ordinance will be referred to the Health Needs and Human Services Commission — with the hope that they can come up with a solution that clears the air.
In other business, the Sitka Assembly passed on first reading an ordinance that would encourage city agencies to do more of their purchasing from local businesses. The ordinance would also set up a system by which the city could track how much it buys locally.
And the Assembly authorized city staff to apply for a loan from the Alaska Energy Authority, to finish construction of the Blue Lake hydro project. The city had originally hoped for a state grant to cover the final $18.5 million in construction costs, but now plans to borrow the money instead.
The long tables in the Fawn Mountain elementary school cafeteria were filled with third through sixth graders. But they had some much taller friends sitting with them today: parents.
The Ketchikan School District invited parents to come to their children’s schools this week to taste the lunch menu.
“We thought it would be great to have the school open and let the parents come in and try the lunch and see the environment and try to collect all that feedback,” said School district Wellness Director Barbara McCarthy, one of the organizers of the parent lunch week.
On the menu Tuesday: pepperoni pizza, salad bar and orange.
Just a few parents were at Fawn Mountain Tuesday. Jesse Embree is a paraprofessional at the school. She’s been in this cafeteria many times, but never tried the lunch her sixth grade daughter, Nicole, eats.
“I think I like the lunch I bring from home,” Embree said. “But actually today’s lunch, it’s pretty good.”
One table over, Gary Gaugler sat with his fifth grade daughter, Abigail.
The consensus between the two? Eh…it’s alright.
“They have a rating of one to five,” Gary Gaugler said. “I’d give it a three.”
The parents and teachers noted one thing that might add to the mediocrity of the lunches. They’re cooked somewhere else, and then brought here. If the food were a bit fresher, it could be better, they said.
Derek Meister is a counselor here. He is one of the staff members who tried the kids’ lunch this week. He sampled Monday’s chicken nuggets.
“They were a little soggy,” he said. “The flavor wasn’t bad, but the texture left much to be desired.”
The parents were gentle in their criticism of the school lunch. They were happy to see fruit and vegetables, and grateful to the schools for asking them to come in and give feedback.
The harshest food critics were the kids.
“I think if my parents came, they would probably gag,” one sixth-grader said.
“The school lunches are really gross,” said another. “I had this ham and cheese sandwich that was not edible.”
McCarthy says the schools are trying out some new recipes, like chicken wraps and tuna pita sandwiches.
Fawn Mountain’s principal, Alonso Escalante, knows there is room for improvement.
“Sometimes [the kids] are excited about what they’re eating,” he said. “And sometimes they let me know that they’re not and food ends up in the garbage.”
Each parent who participates this week is given a survey to fill out. They rate, on a scale of one to five, what they think of the nutritional value and taste of the lunch they just ate. In total, about 50 parents signed up to try the school lunches at Ketchikan’s elementary, middle and high schools.
Alaska Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell is seeking the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Mark Begich. Begich is up for reelection in November, and the race is being closely watched nationwide. Unseating Begich is a top priority for Repubicans, who are hoping to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in 2014.
Treadwell came through Sitka on Friday, January 24. He spoke with KCAW about public lands, personal privacy, climate change, and what, exactly he means when he promises to “bring decision-making home.”
“I think most Alaskans agree with me today that we have a federal government that spends too much,” Treadwell said. “It borrows too much. It prints too much money. It meddles too much in human affairs, in our personal affairs. It snoops too much. And I hear that from Republicans and Democrats across the board.”
“I think we have to go back and remind Washington there are limits to power, that Washington doesn’t need to try to solve every problem, that we don’t need a bureaucracy for everything, and that people in a free society can make decisions for themselves.”
Treadwell emphasized his support for increasing oil and gas production, and proposed giving the state more control over public lands.
“If you ask the average American, and you certainly get this from the average Alaskan, we want you to develop our resources to have jobs and we want you to protect the environment,” he said. “Right now the federal government is not doing a very good job of developing jobs on public land. That’s why the House of Representatives passed a measure to do a pilot project to try to turn Forest Service land over to the state of Oregon, for example, and why we ought to be looking at that with our state forests. I think Alaskans are smart enough to make good environmental decisions on our land, and to have a sustainable economy.”
Treadwell also emphasized his background in science and technology – among other roles, he has served as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Council and as Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Asked whether the federal government should be taking more action on climate change, Treadwell said he opposes any action that might increase the cost of fossil fuels.
“I think the first thing is that we need to understand our own limits as people,” Treadwell said. “I don’t know that we’re going to be able to change the weather. I do know that ultimately we can make energy cleaner. But I’m going to be representing a state that’s known for three things: cold, dark and distance. And I’m not going to be pushing to raise your energy prices. I’m sorry.”
But, Treadwell said, government does have a role in promoting renewable energy.
“I’m very much in favor of research and development that’s going to get us cleaner energy over time,” he said. “We’ve got hydroelectric. We’ve got geothermal. We’ve got tidal. We’ve got wind. And I’m very much a proponent, as a conservative — I’m ready to stand up in any conservative caucus and say, listen, this is one job the government can do and should do to help us advance as a society.”
One job the government shouldn’t be doing is spying on Americans, Treadwell said. He expressed concern over the program, run by the National Security Agency, to collect and store Americans’ phone records. That program was made public last summer by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“The 4th amendment of the constitution says the government doesn’t have access to your papers, can’t do unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant,” he said. “Well, you know, Edward Snowden broke the law, but the fact is he told us about people who were breaking the constitution! And I’m very concerned about that. I’m a privacy advocate.”
Treadwell faces two other Republicans in the primary: former Alaska Commissioner of Natural Resources, Dan Sullivan; and Joe Miller, who beat Senator Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 Republican primary, only to lose to her as a write-in candidate in the general election. The primary will be held on August 19, 2014.
The federal Bering Sea pollock A season opened Jan. 20, marking the start of the largest fishery in the U.S.
This year, fishermen in federal waters will have access to 1.267 million metric tons of pollock in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, and 162,351 metric tons in the Gulf of Alaska.
Those total allowable catches, or TACs, are an increase compared to 2013, when fishermen had access to 1.247 million tons in the BSAI and 110,272 metric tons in the Gulf.
FAIRBANKS — Alaska Public Offices Commission staff members are investigating the new mayor of Fairbanks differently than his campaign opponent, according to the mayor’s lawyer.
Attorney Jason Gazewood wrote in a formal response to the commission that its staff has used interviews and subpoenas to investigate contributions received by the campaign of Mayor John Eberhart, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.