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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — The state Senate Finance Committee has backed a $5 million proposal that includes establishing a list of people who would be banned from buying alcohol in Anchorage.
The “no sell” proposal by the Fairview Business Association also calls for comprehensive treatment and case management for the city’s most problematic drinkers.
Ketchikan Public Utilities Water Division started its new water disinfection system Monday night. Water Division Manager John Kleinegger said ammonia was added to the entry point of the 3-million-gallon Bear Valley Reservoir, and the newly treated water has been making its way through.
Kleinegger said they took samples for testing, and he has tasted it, as well.
“I’m certainly pleased to say that the water, to me at least, tastes just about the same as it always has,” he said.
He said chloramine-treated water will first show up in the Bear Valley area, and then will move down Schoenbar Road toward downtown and Tongass Avenue. Some neighborhoods, such as those above Baranof in the Carlanna area, won’t get chloramine-treated water until later in the week, because of the time it takes for water to move through the system.
KPU crews will be flushing water mains to speed up that process. Kleinegger encourages residents to flush their own pipes, as well.
That would be wise,” he said. “Probably the best valve to flush out a person’s service line would be to open the cold-water line on their bathtub.”
He said there can be a stronger chlorine smell when chloraminated water contacts water that has been treated with only chlorine. But, Kleinegger said he hasn’t noticed that.
“Thus far, at least, the water that I’m drinking right now really has no discernable difference,” he said. “I’m very pleased about that.”
Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and a small amount of ammonia. The city has used chlorine alone as the primary disinfectant, but because of high levels of regulated byproducts in Ketchikan’s water, the federal Environmental Protection Agency required the city to make some kind of change.
The city chose chloramine, and has been working toward the new system for about a decade.
There is a citizen effort under way to place a ballot question in front of voters, asking them to prohibit the city from using chloramine. The completed petition is still under review by city officials.
The Ketchikan School Board meets Wednesday, and the top item on the agenda is a public hearing and a vote on next year’s budget.
There are several lines segmenting the program-based budget. They indicate different funding levels, and which programs are kept or cut, based on those levels. In his report to the Borough Assembly on Monday, Superintendent Robert Boyle described each line.
“The red line is known-knowns: This year’s allocation of funds and the projected allocation of what the borough suggested,” he said. “From there, we’ve got a thin black line that indicates two things: One that the governor said he thought was appropriate, which is an $85 BSA; and then what the House said, which is $185. But the House is a tricky thing – we still don’t know if that included the $100 million one-time funding associated with the governor’s budget.
“The thick dark line at the bottom indicates where the Senate said they could go, with a $400 increase. We can accomplish everything that we’d like to have done within the district and still create a substantial reserve. We’d like to see that of course, but we’re not holding our breath.”
The BSA, or base-student allocation, is the amount of money the state provides for each student in a school district.
At the level of the thick black line, the district would spend about $32 million, not including grants.
If it passes Wednesday, the School Board will have to vote a second time on the fiscal year 2015 budget before it is officially approved.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start and end of the meeting.
Despite misgivings, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly opted Monday to approve the Ketchikan School District’s spending authority by about $2.4 million.
In his regular education report to the Assembly, Superintendent Robert Boyle addressed the budget debate. He said the entire budget is posted on the district’s website for anyone to look at, and it includes all the details anyone might want.
“The budget is sound, and it is balanced,” he said.
The motion to increase the district’s budget has been postponed twice because of disagreement over an apparent $437,652 disparity between what the district plans to spend and what it expects to receive.
School district officials say there isn’t a disparity. Boyle told the Assembly that the district simply plans to spend less than it could.
“We expect to have our reserve carry forward – it’ll be in the $500,000 range,” he said. “And we will have unspent revenue that’ll be in the $400,000-plus range … that will be allocated for FY15.”
Some on the Assembly weren’t satisfied with Boyle’s explanation. Assembly Member Agnes Moran said it appears that the school district is artificially inflating its budget.
She notes that the district wasn’t able to carry over reserves in the past, and back then, padding the budget was a way for the district to make sure it had money for emergencies.
“I just disagree with having an inflated side of a budget that supposedly has items in there that they have no intention of spending,” she said. “That just goes against the initial reason for even doing the 5 percent allowance for the reserve. There’s a choice here – maybe we rethink the 5 percent allowance if we’re not getting the other half, which is true and realistic budgets.”
The School Board is in charge of drafting the school district’s budget, but the Assembly decides how much of the borough’s property tax will go toward schools each year and must approve the district’s spending plan. Assembly Member Todd Phillips said that’s an important responsibility.
“We hear the word micromanaging a lot,” he said. “I just want people to understand that we’re responsible for the expenditures of property taxes, and have to answer to people. These people have a right to know where the money is coming from, where it is being spent.”
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst had recommended that the Assembly approve the spending increase despite disagreement over how the district builds its budget. He noted in a memo that continuing to postpone the increase could disrupt the school district’s operations.
The motion passed 5-2, with Moran and Phillips voting no. That puts this year’s Ketchikan School District budget at $44.47 million.
Juneau’s mayor says his community wants a fair hearing of its claims to land on the mainland between Petersburg and the capital city. The city and borough of Juneau in late March appealed a decision to the state’s Supreme court over the northern boundary of the new Petersburg borough.
Juneau petitioned the state’s Local Boundary Commission seeking to annex some of the same mainland territory in Petersburg’s proposed borough and wants the state’s highest court to weigh in on the dispute.
“We felt that the boundary commission did not look at our petition in the same light that they looked at the Petersburg petition on this whole issue,” Mayor Merrill Sanford explained this week. “So in the end our law department advised us that we didn’t have the same amount of scrutiny on our position that we would like to see happen and be able to justify our thoughts on it.”
The contested lands are between Holkham Bay and Cape Fanshaw. The area includes thirty-thousand acres at Hobart Bay, owned by Goldbelt, Juneau’s Native Corporation.
Juneau filed its annexation petition in 2011, about seven month after Petersburg’s incorporation petition. Capital city lawyers sought to consolidate the two, with one decision process for both, or at least postpone the Petersburg decision. However, the LBC denied that request. It held three days of hearings in Petersburg in May and June of 2012, with input from Juneau representatives and others. The LBC approved the Petersburg borough to go to a vote with some of the contested land closest to Juneau removed from the new borough area. Voters approved formation of the Petersburg borough in December of 2012, dissolving the city government.
In the appeal to the Supreme Court Juneau argues it was not able to present all the evidence of claims to the contested land.
Mayor Sanford said the lands are important enough for the appeal. “I know that in the end it is a decision between Petersburg and Juneau but it’s the boundary commission’s duty to hear these things in a fair and equitable manner and our law department has made the decision that they probably in her mind, and in our mind, didn’t do that yet.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court appeal could delay some decisions in the new Petersburg borough, including the possible transfer of a state-owned dock in Hobart Bay. It’s one of three remote dock facilities the state may eventually transfer to Petersburg. The new municipality has also assessed privately-owned land in the new borough for property tax and could seek to select some state land in the area, as an entitlement of borough formation.
Petersburg Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht told the borough assembly this week he could not say when the issue would be decided by the state’s highest court. “You know the longer this goes on the harder it will be for us to back up. We’re doing a lot of work on ordinances and mapping and everything else related to borough formation, so. We just kindof don’t know when it will happen yet.”
Petersburg’s mayor Mark Jensen said defending the superior court appeal of the LBC decision cost about 30-thousand dollars. A superior court judge upheld the LBC decision in February.
The Last Frontier may soon have an official state bolt-action rifle.
Members of the House State Affairs Committee unanimously approved SB175 Tuesday, which names the pre-64 Winchester Model 70 as Alaska’s rifle.
Commonly dubbed the “Rifleman’s Rifle,” the gun is available in 18 calibers ranging from the small .22 Hornet round to the hefty .458 Winchester Magnum.
Two of those calibers — the .338 Winchester Magnum and .375 H&H Magnum — are designated “Alaskan,” said Eric Hollen, staff to bill sponsor Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla.
Shoppers will have another holiday from Petersburg sales tax next month. Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday approved a sales tax free day for May 3rd.
Local law allows for up to two tax free days a year and typically the borough has held tax holidays in spring and fall. Shop owner Savanne Guthrie represented the Chamber of Commerce’s retail committee which requested the tax free day.“The reason we pick May 3rd is that there are funds flowing again in our community after having crabbing and herring pounding going on,” Guthrie explained. “It is before our tourism hits which is about Mayfest, kicks that off. So it’s a time when we can encourage our community members to get out and shop. They hopefully have a little extra money to do so.”
Other local merchants wrote to the borough assembly about the importance of the tax holidays for their businesses.
Assembly member Nancy Strand wondered if the borough could afford a tax free day. “I see all the letters of support and they say it’s a great way for merchants to offer a deal. They could offer a six percent sale anytime. And I question whether it should always be on the back of the borough that the sale happens,” Strand said.
Most of the year, the borough collects a six percent sales tax on purchases of goods and some services. Finance director Jody Tow noted the borough is ahead of its budgeted amount for sales tax revenue this year by 250-thousand dollars. A tax holiday last October cost the municipal government over 12-thousand dollars in lost revenue.
Guthrie told the assembly that October tax free day was the highest single day of sales for her business in five years. “And I can give you a couple of reasons for that if you’d like,” Guthrie said. “It was the morning of the breast cancer awareness walk. People were already out and about. Number two, (Permanent Fund Dividend checks) were in. In my shop, in addition to the six percent, I offered 20 percent. So there are reasons, as retailers we’re not just trying to ride along on the back of the borough. We’re trying to take this opportunity that we’ve been given and make the most of it.”
The borough assembly voted 5-0 to approve another tax free day. Mayor Mark Jensen and assembly member John Havrilek were not at the meeting. We’ll have more coverage of Monday’s assembly meeting coming up this week on local news.
Graduation time is just around the corner and for most seniors that means walking a stage and accepting a diploma. But a few students a year in Petersburg do not receive a diploma because they didn’t pass a test. A bill making its way through the Alaska Legislature would change that. House Bill 220 would repeal the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.
Angela Denning stopped into the Petersburg High School last week during test taking time.
The high school is especially quiet. Red signs are posted on the outside of the library doors and several classrooms.
High School Principal, Rick Dormer, says large groups of 10th graders are getting tested in the classrooms and smaller groups are in the library. The signs help others know to stay out because a quiet environment is important.
“You can see we have big red signs, ‘Testing, Do not Disturb’,” Dormer says, “We’re in the middle of it here today and kids are in a room and it’s three hours and it’s make it or break it. And we’ve had kids really crying before the test, crying after the test. It’s high stress, it’s high-stakes.”
There’s a lot riding on this test and students feel the pressure. If they don’t pass it, they don’t graduate with a diploma.
“And they must pass in three areas, reading, writing and mathematics. And they must pass it with a certain score that’s set by the state to earn their diploma,” Dormer says. “So despite anything that a student may or may not do, if they complete all graduation requirements, which has happened here in Petersburg, and do not pass this particular exam in the State of Alaska, we cannot give them a diploma in Petersburg High School. Rather, they get what we call a certificate of completion that is not equivalent.”
The certificate does not hold the same weight as a diploma. Students who want to further their education after high school can’t qualify for financial aid.
Sonya Stein is the Director of the Student Financial Assistance Office at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
“The federal department of education requires that a student has a high school diploma or its equivalent in order to be federal financial aid eligible,” says Stein.
An equivalent would be the GED or the General Education Development, which would require students to pass another test.
The exit exam has been required in Alaska for a decade. It was established through state law before the No Child Left Behind Law prompted other standardized tests.
There’s no middle ground with the exit exam. . .either you pass it or you don’t.
Principal Rick Dormer says it can be heart breaking.
“I can tell you we’ve had two students who have not passed the test by one point, one section by one point,” Dormer says.
In both cases, the school paid some extra money to appeal the results to the state’s education department but it didn’t work.
“We don’t believe that’s the best assessment of a kid’s knowledge of what they know,” Dormer says. “Really any testing is there just as a measure to see what they know and then you build on it and so we don’t agree that high stakes testing is the best measure of what a kids knowledge is and whether or not they deserve a diploma. I think it’s a much more complicated than a one shot test.”
House Bill 220 would work retroactively, so past students who received a certificate instead of a diploma because they didn’t pass the test would be able to get a diploma. They’d just have to request it.
So far the bill hasn’t seen much opposition. It passed the House with a vote of 32 to 5. The Parnell administration and the Education Department support getting rid of the test as well.
The bill is sponsored by Representative Pete Higgins, a Republican from Fairbanks.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Sitka Assembly to take final vote tightening anti-smoking ordinance. Senate Finance Committee releases budget; includes $3.3-million for Harrigan remodel. This is not your father’s shop class. Petersburg family takes the stage at Juneau FolkFest.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly accepted the budget presented by the school board. Fines for improper maintenance of sewer systems were also approved. Assembly Member Glen Thompson gives details. Assembly040814
Southeast Alaska could get another $27 million from this year’s capital budget.
The Senate Finance Committee added the money to Gov. Sean Parnell’s spending plan, which was released in December.
Larger new projects include improvements to Juneau’s water system, Petersburg’s municipal building and Sitka’s visitor facilities.
The Petersburg Borough already has $4.1 million in state funding for a new or renovated police building.
The budget would also fund a new fuel tank farm in Kake, construction equipment for Craig, and biomass heating projects in Yakutat, Haines and Ketchikan.
The total value of Southeast projects in the budget is about $163 million. That’s about 9 percent of the statewide capital budget.
Further changes could be made as the Senate Finance Committee fine-tunes the spending plan. More additions, and some cuts, could happen in the House before it’s passed into law. The governor can also veto specific projects not to his liking.
The Senate panel increased funding for the State Library, Archives and Museum building, which is under construction in Juneau. The governor proposed $15 million and the committee increased it to $37.5 million.
Another big project, a road north out of the capital city, continues to be funded at $35 million. That’s a fraction of the total amount needed for construction.
The committee also considered a companion bill that doubled an earlier $500,000 appropriation to the Inter-Island Ferry Authority, which sails between Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan. That proposal came from the governor.
Smaller community projects added by the Senate Finance Committee include:
- Upgrading the Gustavus Volunteer Fire Department’s 911 Radio System, at about $65,000.
- Ketchikan Shipyard improvements, at about $1.2 million.
- Angoon sewer system upgrades, at about $700,000.
- Repairing and upgrading Klawock’s garbage truck, at $154,000.
- An ice machine for Pelican, at $300,000.
This is not your grandfather’s shop class.
Late last month a group of high school and college shop teachers and a few of their students gathered for a three-day workshop in Sitka’s state-of-the-art Design and Fabrication Lab.
The use of 3D printers and other computer-controlled equipment has revolutionized shop, and turned one of the most remote classrooms in the building into the coolest place in school.
KCAW – Tell me your name, where you’re from, and what you’re doing here.
Neibergall – John Neibergall, Sherwood High School. I’m helping some teachers and students get into digital design and fabrication.
Sherwood High is outside of Portland, Oregon.
Neibergall – You got an idea, you want to make a model or an output of something in three dimensions — whether you build it in wood, metal, plastic, 3D print it. You have to visualize it, and then you get to print it. You have an output of a product in your hand. And that’s what get kids excited.
Read a story about a recent project created by shop students in the Sitka Design and Fabrication Lab.
Yes, digital fabrication gets kids excited. But in this workshop the teachers can barely contain their enthusiasm.
My name is Pat Kraft. I’m one of the instructors at Portland Community College, in Portland. I grew up in an era where Star Trek was, you know — Star Trek was young, I was young, and the thought of having a replicator, where you could put something in there and create something just like it.
And now they have the tools to create just about any kind of machine part. Even parts that are not for machines.
Winship — I’m Kent Winship with Bristol Bay/Dillingham campus, UAF
KCAW — What are you working on right now?
Winship — This is a scan. We’ve got a fetal orca whale that swam up the Freshwater River. Two parents, and one of them was pregnant. So we’ve got the fetus. It’s mostly cartilage. And we’re going to try to scan it, and then print it out in plastic before we lose those cartilage parts.
KCAW – Scan it how?
Winship – A laser scanner than can measure a surface at 20,000 points per square inch. It will record it and put it into a CAD — computer aided drafting program — and we can actually print it out in plastic. And were even talking about trying to mill it out of a CNC mill out of bone or something.
CNC stands for computer numerical control. Besides a pair of 3D printers, this lab has a CNC vinyl cutter, and a laser engraver. What’s got these guys most excited is not necessarily the ability to make a whale fetus, it’s about trying to make that fetus, and failing.
Neibergall and Kraft are pioneering the integration of technology into shop class. They say repetition is education.
Neibergall — Kids are afraid to fail, and this forces them to fail — or fail forward, if you will. If it doesn’t work, you can tweak it…
Kraft — Failure’s okay. Because that’s part of the improvement process.
Neibergall — Because that’s what industry wants: People who aren’t afraid to fail forward. Reinvent. Remodify. And make it right. And it might take four or five iterations. But we can do it quickly.
Randy Hughey is the recently-retired wood shop teacher at Sitka High. He wrote the grants for Sitka’s Fab Lab and helped a local grant writer, Lily Herwald, develop the proposal for this workshop.
Hughey has microwaved some chocolate chips, with unfortunate results.
“Well, I was just trying to melt chocolate to put into this mold that John has made.”
Digitally fabricated custom candy bar molds. This technology gives kids the ability to aim for the stars, but a prom date is not a bad start.
Neibergall — What my kids did is made prom invitations for the young ladies, wrapped it up in chocolate, and it said Prom? on it.
KCAW — Wow!
For a moment, it sounds like the shop class I remember. But it’s not. John Neibergall assures me that I’m looking at a different sort of future for technical education.
KCAW — Shop used to be the dark space at the end of the hall.
Neibergall — Dumping grounds? That’s the term we tend to say. But now the creative piece that is driving the economic recovery is manufacturing. And if we can get young people excited about that and see the career potential, that’s what’s going to help us get out of our slump, if you will.
KCAW — It comes back to Star Trek, eventually.
Neibergall and Kraft — Right!
JUNEAU — The Senate Finance Committee unveiled a $1.9 billion capital budget Monday, which co-chair Kevin Meyer said was in keeping with the goal of a smaller state infrastructure budget.
One of Meyer’s other goals was to have the state finish projects it has started and to maintain Alaska’s existing infrastructure. To that end, the bill includes $37.5 million to finish the state library, archives and museum building in downtown Juneau and $45.6 million to complete the engineering building at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.
Juneau’s delegation accomplished one of its top priority for this legislative session by securing the funds needed to ensure the State Library and Museum Project is completed.
The state’s capital improvements budget released Monday includes $37.5 million for the SLAM project, along with millions more for improving Glacier Highway and Egan Drive, and funding for the hotly debated Juneau Access Project.
JUNEAU — The Alaska House voted to remove a plan to address the teachers’ retirement system from a broad-ranging education bill it began debating late Monday afternoon.
The House, on a 27-13 vote, also added $30 million in one-time funding for school districts on top of a proposed increase in the per-pupil funding formula known as the base student allocation.
JUNEAU — The state Revenue Department is forecasting higher oil production than previously expected, though the overall, long-term trend is still one of decline.
North Slope production for this year is now forecast at 521,800 barrels per day, up from the 508,200 barrels per day forecast in December, which Deputy Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman called a “banner headline.”
Ketchikan Public Utilities is moving slowly toward a new style of electric meter. But some people are resisting the change. They believe the new meters provide too much personal information, and are potentially harmful to health.
In response to those concerns, the Ketchikan City Council asked Electric Division Manager Andy Donato to give a presentation about electric meters.
Electro-mechanical meters have been used to measure electric use since the late 1800s. They were state-of-the-art technology at that time, but they’re no longer made.
“The problem we have with meters right now is, we don’t have access to newly built electro-mechanical style meters,” Donato said. “All we have left in our inventory is surplus ones: Ones we pull out of service that still test good, and we hang onto them.”
The new kind of meter available now is electronic, which Donato said provides better accuracy, is more reliable, and has lower maintenance costs. Some customers might notice that their electric bills are higher after switching. Donato said that’s because the old-style meters lose accuracy as they age.
“As they wear, and they have typically a 30-year-life, they get higher and higher frictional losses, to the point where they don’t work, or they don’t inventory correctly,” he said. “As a utility company that needs its revenue, it’s important that we have accurate metered service.”
Donato said about one in four or five customers will notice higher bills with the new meters.
He described some of those new meters, which some people have referred to as smart meters. However, “SmartMeters” is a brand name, and those digital electric meters have certain features. Donato said that KPU doesn’t buy SmartMeters.
One of the new meters KPU uses is no-frills, and reads manually like the old-style meters. A second style is the radio-read meter, which allows KPU to read remotely it, from a distance of up to about 100 yards. Donato said that kind of meter is activated only when it’s read, which means a few seconds each month.
“There are folks in the Lower 48 that are really opposed to the Radio-Read style, but particularly the Smart style,” he said. “These don’t have all those frills that do lots of interrogation. The interest or the fear there is RF energy. These, the communication length is about 8 seconds.”
Donato said the RF, or radio frequency, level for that communication is lower than, for example, the natural radio frequency from the Earth, and much lower than the exposure from talking on a cell phone.
A third meter style communicates directly to the utility company through the wires, so it is not read by a meter reader and the power is contained within the wires.
Sometimes, new meters are installed because it’s become challenging to get close to the meter. Some people make the meters inaccessible when they remodel their homes, or enclose a yard. And then there’s the dogs. Laura Huffine reads electric meters for KPU, and attended the Council meeting.
“I love dogs, have a couple of my own,” she said. “I’ve been lucky and never gotten bit, but there are some dogs that act a little different when mom and dad aren’t around. When they enclose their meter in an area where the dog is, it makes it a little difficult for me to get in there and do anything other than have one of these other style of meters where I don’t put myself in jeopardy going in to get the reading.”
Regarding the information collected, Donato stressed that the utility only looks at how much power is used. True SmartMeters can allow a utility to monitor use hourly, and can allow both the utility and customer to manage power by turning off certain appliances, such as water heaters, during peak demand. Donato said KPU’s meters don’t have that ability.
A group called Ketchikan for Meter Choice has formed, and has an online petition asking the local government to not require KPU customers to have the new meters on their homes.
Donato said he understands that some people have concerns.
“Trust me, I’m not here to upset anybody,” he said. “I just want to put the information out there and do what we all decide is best.”
KPU has about 200 surplus old-style meters in the warehouse. And, as long as one is available, Donato said he is willing to work with customers who prefer them. However, Donato said those meters won’t last forever and eventually will have to be switched out.
The state of Alaska is taking its fight with the federal government over a 10-mile, “life-saving” road to King Cove to the courts.
Gov. Sean Parnell announced his intentions Monday in a press release, calling the December rejection of the road “unconscionable.”
“In just the last several weeks, serious health-related evacuations have shown just how critical a road for medical evacuations is for residents,” Parnell said.
The lawsuit will be based on a historic right-of-way, according to the press release.
An engineer who was going to assist Ketchikan Public Utilities in its switch to chloramine water disinfection wasn’t able to land Monday morning because of weather, and ended up in Wrangell.
Water Division Manager John Kleinegger says the engineer landed in time to catch an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry headed toward Ketchikan, and was due to arrive Monday evening.
Kleinegger says the utility might start adding ammonia to the system Monday evening, or perhaps Tuesday evening.
He says chloramine-treated water will first show up in the Bear Valley area, and then will move down Schoenbar Road toward downtown. Some neighborhoods, such as those above Baranof in the Carlanna area, won’t get chloramine-treated water until later in the week, because of the time it takes for the water to move through the system.
Chloramine is a mixture of chlorine and a small amount of ammonia. The city uses chlorine as the primary disinfectant now, but because of high levels of regulated byproducts in Ketchikan’s water, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is requiring that the city make some kind of change.
The city chose chloramine, and has been working toward the new system for about a decade.
A group called United Citizens for Better Water formed this winter to oppose the switch, primarily citing concerns over possible health effects. That group is spearheading a ballot initiative process that, if approved, would ask voters to prohibit the city from using chloramine.