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Southeast Alaska News
Construction activity in Petersburg picked up a little last year.
The local government issued more permits for building construction and renovations in 2013 than it did the year before.
The Petersburg borough’s building official Leo Luczak compiles the annual numbers. “Well we had over over 2.6 million dollars in new building project evaluations, or values, excuse me, and 86 building permits, that’s up from 64 last year, five new houses, as opposed to two, or maybe it was three the year before and permit revenue was about the same,” Luczak said.
Total value of new buildings constructed in Petersburg last year was over $2.6 million. Some $1.7 million worth of that was in new commercial or industrial buildings, almost nine hundred thousand dollars worth was in new residential home construction.
Luczak expects the construction to continue in 2014. “I think it’s a busy building year once again. I know all the contractors I talk to are booked up. Looks like things are going just fine in the permitting and building aspects.”
Permit numbers in the early part of this century are well below peak construction years during the mid-90s when the city of Petersburg saw several years with over 200 permits issued.
School board member Trevor Shaw gives details. SB013014
You and your family are invited to a garlic-themed potluck for this year’s membership meeting, upstairs in the Sons of Norway Hall.
WASHINGTON — The farm bill moving toward approval in Congress includes a one-year extension of a federal program that compensates rural counties for federal lands they can’t tax. About 1,900 local governments — mostly in the West — received a total of $400 million last year under the program, known as Payment in Lieu of Taxes or PILT.
More than three-quarters of the money went to 12 Western states, with the largest shares going to California, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.
Tlingit-Haida Central Council held its first Native Issues forum at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center Wednesday.
Melissa Kookesh helped organize the lunchtime forums, which are held throughout legislative session. She said the council has held them for at least 10 years and that they’re an opportunity for the community, Native and non-Native, to meet with legislators over lunch.
“We like to break bread with each other and this is a way of breaking the ice, so to speak,” Kookesh said.
ANCHORAGE — Conditions were too unstable Wednesday to clear the only road into the city at the end of the trans-Alaska pipeline, which remains cut off by land from the rest of the state for a fifth day because of avalanches.
Drainage has slowed from a lake formed by one of the slides, and the water is too deep for heavy equipment to pass, the Alaska Department of Transportation said.
JUNEAU — The Senate Education Committee began hearings Wednesday on establishing a reading program for kindergarten through third-grade public school students to meet grade-level expectations.
Sponsor Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, says the bill was not going to be pushed through the system in a hurry in order to give an appropriate time to discuss content and additions.
In many respects, the bill mirrors Colorado’s Read Act passed by that state in 2012.
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.