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Southeast Alaska News

Fri Apr 11, 2014

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:04

Listen to iFriendly audio.

Sitka Tribe hires Lawrence SpottedBird as general manager. Four running for president of Tlingit-Haida Central Council. Sitka Bear Task Force to clean up brown bear garbage caches. Sitka Historical Museum opens newest exhibit. Juneau jury starts deliberations in 17-year-old Yakutat murder case.

POW, Metlakatla schools awarded tech grants

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:57

Hydaburg and Annette Island school districts were among three Alaska Native groups that received advanced telecommunications technology grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development office.

Hydaburg School District was awarded $500,000 to purchase video conference equipment for distance learning and training, in cooperation with the University of Alaska Southeast. According to USDA, the equipment will serve schools in the Hydaburg, Southeast Island and Craig districts.

The equipment also will be used for staff professional development, virtual field trips, education for all community members and to connect Alaska Native students with other Native American students in the U.S.

Annette Island School District was awarded about $400,000 for video conferencing to connect Metlakatla students with other rural Native students.

The third recipient was the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, which received about $260,000 for video conferencing equipment to rural clinics. The equipment will allow face-to-face medical consultation.

Parnell pitches own retirement bill

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:16

Gov. Sean Parnell introduced his public employees’ and teachers’ retirement system fix in bill form Thursday — a move lawmakers say will expedite the process with only 10 days left in the session.

It’s the same plan the governor announced in December and included in his recommended budget — infuse the Retirement System Trust Fund with $3 billion from savings now so the state can cut ongoing annual payments down to $500 million.

read more

New portal provides digital look at Alaska's coast

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:13

Planning for the weather forecast, tidal movements and a look at the resident wildlife on a new kayak route just became possible — before even leaving the driveway.

Anyone can virtually travel the coast of the Kenai Peninsula using the Alaska Ocean Observing System’s new comprehensive portal called the “Ocean Data Explorer.”

read more

House begins to debate abortion funding bill

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:13

JUNEAU — The Alaska House on Thursday began debating legislation that would further define medically necessary abortions for purposes of Medicaid funding.

SB49 is similar to regulations that were approved by the state health commissioner and are currently subject of a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. A spokesman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, Erik Houser, said the case is on hold pending what happens in the Legislature.

read more

Troopers continue to investigate Homer fatality

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:13

Little more than a week after a Homer rally urging respect, not violence, a domestic violence assault ended in the death of 24-year-old Aaron Michael Rael-Catholic of Homer. The incident occurred April 2, on McLay Road, about four miles out East End Road.

The State Medical Examiner’s office has determined Rael-Catholic died from a single gunshot wound to the head, according to an April 5 dispatch from the Alaska State Troopers.

read more

House speaker pushes for minimum wage bill

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:11

JUNEAU — House Speaker Mike Chenault on Thursday said legislative passage of a bill to raise Alaska’s minimum wage would guarantee that wages go up, while the outcome of a similar ballot initiative would be dependent on the whim of votes.

read more

Ballot question carries big ramifications

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:10

Juneau - ConocoPhillips’ Scott Jepsen painted a pretty picture of the current activity and future plans on the North Slope to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday — investment is high and projections indicate production will soon follow.

But everything he told the chamber lunch crowd hinged on a big “if.”

If Alaskans vote not to repeal SB21 this fall, the $1.7 billion capital budget will stay in place and the company will continue to expect up to 50,000 barrels of new production per day within the next four years.

read more

Wasilla man accused of striking troopers with car

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:10

ANCHORAGE — Alaska State Troopers say a 26-year-old Wasilla man has been arrested after he struck two troopers with his vehicle.

Michael Ingersol was arrested on multiple charges, including assault on troopers, eluding and driving with a license suspended.

Troopers say the two officers drove themselves to a hospital. They were released after treatment for non-debilitating injuries.

According to troopers, Ingersol’s mother called Wednesday evening and said she didn’t want her son at her home.

read more

Prosecutors say 3 indicted in Anchorage death

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:10

ANCHORAGE — Three Anchorage residents have been indicted in connection with the April 1 shooting death of a 15-year-old girl.

Prosecutors say 24-year-old Jamal Townsend and 29-year-old Lammar Burney were each indicted Wednesday on seven counts including first- and- second degree murder and second-degree assault, as well as assault and misconduct involving a weapon.

Townsend also was indicted on one count of misconduct involving a weapon for alleged conduct in March at the same Mountain View home where Precious Alex was fatally shot.

read more

Kenai patrol car demolished during traffic stop

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:10

KENAI — Kenai police are seeking funds to replace a patrol car demolished during a traffic stop.

The Peninsula Clarion reported Officer Casey Hershberger on March 8 arrested a 27-year-old Soldotna man suspected of driving under the influence and drug misconduct.

Police say the suspect was in the back seat when a sedan driven by 19-year-old Anna Nisler rear-ended the patrol car.

Hershberger was standing at the open right rear door of the patrol car.

read more

Investigators testify in Kodiak double murder case

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:09

ANCHORAGE — A Coast Guard investigator says murder suspect James Wells had time to leave a Kodiak communications station, switch cars and drive home after shooting two co-workers.

Special Agent Aaron Woods testified Thursday that he recreated the scenario by driving from the communications station to Wells’ home.

Wells is charged with murder in the deaths of Richard Belisle and Petty Officer First Class James Hopkins.

read more

New Barrow hotel to open April 22

Fri, 2014-04-11 00:09

BARROW — Barrow is about to have a new hotel.

A subsidiary of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. says the 70-room Top of the World Hotel will open April 22 in Barrow.

The new facility replaces a hotel which suffered smoke damage when the adjacent restaurant, Pepe’s North of the Border, burned down last Labor Day weekend.

Officials say the old hotel will not reopen.

The new hotel is located next to the post office. Rooms will have Wi-Fi and cable. It also will have three conference rooms and a fitness area.

New members welcome!

Thu, 2014-04-10 17:27

In this photo from 2008 Morning Edition Host Melissa Marconi Wentzel brings her newborn boy Caellum into KCAW for the first time. Every single person that loves and supports Raven Radio was at some point…not yet a member. Is that YOU? Please join your friends and neighbors to keep us flying strong and contribute whatever amount is comfortable right now. Thank you!

Petersburg science students back from Fairbanks symposium

Thu, 2014-04-10 16:41

Eleven students from Petersburg High School displayed research at the Alaska Statewide High School Science Symposium late last month in Fairbanks. The young scientists and their teacher took home awards from the annual gathering on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

Police arrest one following gun shots in Petersburg harbor

Thu, 2014-04-10 16:27

Petersburg police cordoned off middle harbor Wednesday morning and took one person into custody following gun shots in the harbor.

Police chief Kelly Swihart said his department had a report of multiple gun shots fired from a boat in middle harbor around 6:20 a.m. “Officers responded to investigate and heard more gun fire. Weren’t exactly able to tell where it was coming from, from their position and called for assistance. We were able to develop a little bit of information pinpoint where it was coming from and we have taken one person into custody,” Swihart said.

Police arrested 56-year-old Terry Slafter and he’s facing a charge of reckless endangerment. Slafter was living on a boat in the harbor. Police recovered a rifle from the scene and maybe a couple dozen empty shell casings. Swihart says no shots were fired by police officers during the incident and no shots were fired at police during the incident. Slafter did receive some minor injuries during his arrest. Police have not heard of anyone else injured by the shots or any damage.

Swihart says officers closed off middle harbor during the response as a safety measure. “Yeah anytime we’re responding to a dynamic situation like that we wanna make sure that we do what we can to keep the public safe to keep them out of the immediate area. And you know we wanna be able to keep our officers safe too. The fewer people we have to manage the more we can focus our attention on the situation at hand.”

The police investigation into the gun shots is ongoing and they do anticipate forwarding additional charges against Slafter.

Borough assembly advances budget after testimony

Thu, 2014-04-10 16:17

Petersburg’s borough assembly has put aside talks of budget cuts for the time being. The assembly Monday voted to advance a draft budget proposed by borough staff with no reductions for the school district and community service organizations. Local residents urged assembly members not to make across the board cuts. However, the borough budget won’t be finalized until later this spring.

Next year’s spending plan does not come up for official assembly approval until meetings in May and June. However, borough staff presented the assembly with a draft budget this month and asked for early direction about changes they’d like to see. Assembly members last week proposed cuts to appropriations to the school district, Petersburg mental health services and other local organizations along with borough departments. However, they fell short of the four vote majority needed to suggest those changes.

The talk of budget reductions prompted opposition from the public this week. Sue Paulsen said she opposed across the board budget reductions “We all know this is a time of transition when it comes to the city of Petersburg becoming the Petersburg borough. And there’s going to be a big change in the tax base. And there’ll no doubt be discussions about what appropriate reserves in each area ought to be. And of course I bow to you, you’ll be having these discussion it’s not going to be easy. But a general reduction in services right off the bat seems to me absolutely inappropriate at this time, not justified by an in articulated gesture to save money.”

Others who testified also sought no reduction in the borough’s one point eight million dollar contribution to the school district or payments to other community service organizations.

“And I would just like you to think long and hard and I know we have some tough planning to do as far as long term goals with the budget for the financial stability of our wonderful community,” said teacher Ginger Evens. “But just we need to take a long term plan and look. And I think when some of these cuts came out at first, it’s quite shocking when there hasn’t been mention of any kind of cuts and then all of a sudden, we’ve already been making our plans with the district, knowing personally what Ive been involved with the budget discussions that we do do long term planning and I would just ask the same of the assembly.”

Parent and coach Matt Pawuk is a graduate of Petersburg High School and encouraged the assembly to keep school funding at current levels. “You know I am immensely appreciative of the teachers that we have. I work closely with some of the teachers as a coach, things like that. They do a heck of a job. I know my sister’s on school board so I follow things a little more closely than others might. I encourage you to look at the budget and find out where we’re wasting money because I just don’t see it happening. I think everything that we put into our kids is a very good investment.”

Hospital CEO Liz Woodyard thought the borough could bring in more tax revenue. “Just like a hospital, the schools, mental health, the museum, they’re all important to bringing people to Petersburg and keeping people here. So I would support personally with more tax, to pay more tax. Because I think the services are worth it, or tobacco tax or an alcohol tax, personally I would because I feel it’s very important and I feel the taxes are pretty reasonable here.”
The borough already will be seeing more tax revenue in the upcoming year from new property and sales in the expanded municipal boundaries. Money from the state is also expected to increase. Overall the draft budget anticipates putting aside some 437,000 dollars for future purchases of land or other development.

Vice mayor Cindi Lagoudakis also noted that the borough has money saved already. “Currently we have over 20 million dollars in reserves. That money is being invested and its held in reserve for emergencies and in some places its depreciation funds that are allocated to different departments. Though it is allocated to different departments the assembly does have the ability to move that money between projects and functions if the need arose. The fund has increased over the last 3-4 years by 300,000 to 400,000 dollars every year. Now it makes sense to keep that money in reserve I’m not saying we should get rid of it but just but just to let you know that there is money available.”

Lagoudakis noted the general fund reserve is currently just under four million dollars, only a half million dollars from the maximum allowed in policy for that reserve account.

Other assembly members said they were glad to hear from the public on the issue. Here’s Jeigh Stanton Gregor. “Speaking for myself, it’s important to have these discussions now as opposed to the first week in May when we sit down to have the first official reading of this budget. Frankly speaking the last week including the meeting, was good democracy. It’s good to hear where people are at. Good to hear what’s important to members of the community. Important to hear consequences of decisions we make.”

Stanton Gregor liked an idea by Kurt Wohlhueter to hold community forums about how to address future needs. And Bob Lynn thought the borough would have to make some choices in the future and did not think people wanted to pay more taxes. “I’ll say that I had a young woman talk to me this morning, said that she was holding down two jobs in order to make ends meet and she said whatever you do she says don’t raise taxes. And I’m just saying that on the other side of the coin. And I think we do have to, we are going to have to take a look at how we are going to continue to make ends meet.”

Lynn appreciated that the school budget was on a different schedule than the borough’s budget and did not think it was the right time to make cuts to the school contribution. He and the others voted to support the staff’s draft budget which maintains the current level of funding to the school district and community service grants. The spending plan will be up for its first official vote in an ordinance before the assembly at its first meeting in May.

Petersburg assembly nixes rezoning requests

Thu, 2014-04-10 16:06

Owners of two parcels of land in the Olsen subdivision in Petersburg will not be getting a permanent zoning change to store fishing gear and construction equipment on the residential lots. Petersburg’s borough assembly voted down the zoning change on Monday.

The Olsen subdivision is near Hungerford Hill and Scow Bay, over two miles south of downtown Petersburg. Owners of two residential lots there want to continue storing fishing gear and construction equipment on their land and sought a zoning change to allow that land use.

It’s not a popular idea with some of the neighboring land owners. Joe Aliberti owns a lot in the subdivision and told the borough assembly a zoning change would decrease the value of his land. “They filled this lot knowing that it was a residential lot. It’s been a residential lot. It’s been zoned a residential lot. They did it for a reason when they first did it. There’s a good break there. If you start putting industrial or commercial along that side then the lot along this side no one wants to build a house there either.”

The lots are owned by Richard Burrell and Aaron and Katrina Miller. Aaron Miller emphasized the community’s need for fishing gear storage space and noted the town’s support of the commercial fishing industry. “Where we come up short is on the gear storage end. None of us need to venture too far from our homes to identify a property zone violation of one kind or another. Ideally living in a perfectly planned community, like what they’re doing in China, whatever, brand new cities, no one would have to live next to a power skiff across the street, or a gillnet corkline stretched across their neighborhoods, the other neighbor’s driveway or a stack of crab pots obscuring their view as they drink their morning coffee. But Petersburg is not a planned community. This is not Scottsdale. It’s not Palm Springs.”

Miller wants to build a warehouse on his land and pointed out the improvement would bring more tax dollars to the borough. The Millers had a conditional use permit for fishing gear storage approved in 2011 but did not build a netshed or fence that were conditions of that permit. They sought a permanent zoning change last year.

Richard Burrell has stored construction equipment on his lot . He told the assembly that the residential properties had no municipal sewer or water service if people were to build homes. “You know everybody’s looking down on me like Im polluting or some damn thing but Im not. All I want’s a parking place.”

Burrell and the Millers originally sought a change to industrial zoning for the lots.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Chris Fry explained the commission’s recommendation for commercial land was a compromise. “Our goal was to find a solution that was reasonable to all parties involved. And we had multiple meetings on this and asked for what the concerns were and we tried to address them. We had much deliberation on this topic and we tried to find a solution that would work. We decided not to grant the industrial zoning originally requested cause that would’ve made things worse, not better.”

The land owners agreed to commercial zoning and agreed to add a fence and green belt separating the lots from the neighborhood road. Industrial lots in nearby Hungerford Hill are behind the Olsen subdivision.

Assembly member Nancy Strand was against the rezoning. “It was residential when they bought ‘em. It creeps it over so that all the arguments of it becoming a buffer don’t seem reasonable to me because there’ll be residential across the street that will be now next to the spread of this, so I’m afraid I can’t support it.”

Meanwhile, Jeigh Stanton Gregor came down on the other side of the issue. “In the case of this one, I am going to vote for it. Not easily; I’ve wrestled with this one more than the other issues on the topic. I don’t necessarily know if there is a right or wrong. I hear Mr Aliberti’s points, I hear Mr. Burrell etc’s points. In this case Im going to support it because I think, in the big picture I don’t believe it sets a dangerous precedent for the future.”
Stanton Gregor and Kurt Wohlhueter were the only votes in favor of the rezoning and the changes for both lots failed in second reading by a vote of 2-3.

21 artists open Sitka museum gala (but not Warhol!)

Thu, 2014-04-10 13:52

Hal Spackman has over twenty ideas for more exhibits at the Sitka Historical Museum, but prefers ideas from the public. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The Sitka Historical Museum opens its first exhibit at 6 PM this evening (4-10-14), under the leadership of new director, Hal Spackman.

The Past Inspires the Present will run through May 31st. The show features the work of 21 contemporary Sitka artists alongside historic pieces in the museum collection which served as inspiration.

Spackman told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that the idea came from local watercolor artist Norm Campbell, who offered to coordinate the show.

Spackman said he was impressed by the quality of local work that has been contributed to the exhibit, and by the amount of talent in the community.

He took a phone call during his chamber presentation proving that there are some Sitka-artist wannabes out there in the larger world of art.

Andy Warhol, who died in 1987, was a little too late for tonight’s opening. (AP Photo)

Phone rings
Spackman — Hello? Andy who? Warhol? I’m kind of in the middle of something here. Yeah, it’s a pretty cool event. Yessir, Mr. Warhol, there’ll be some really great works there. Well, there’s nothing you can do from up there? Well, I just appreciate you calling me.
(To audience) Sorry. Have to take a few calls there…

The opening Gala at Harrigan Centennial Hall will feature a silent auction and dinner. (Tickets $35.)

Spackman told the Chamber that the exhibit is the first in a series planned for the museum. Coming up next in June will be The Coast Guard: Honoring our Heroes. In October, the museum will install A Sportsman’s Paradise: Walking the Trails of the Past. And next February — Sitka’s Stories: A Community Remembers.

Spackman, who last worked in Sitka as the superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School, put up a list of over twenty more ideas for exhibits. “I came up with these on my own,” he told the audience, “but I’d like to hear from you.”

Spackman said he was especially interested in ideas for temporary exhibits in the outdoor area, known affectionately as “The OK Corral,” alongside Harrigan Centennial Hall, where the new Historical Museum will one day be built. He expected that the new facility would be opened in 2017.

Budget process: Knowns & known unknowns

Thu, 2014-04-10 13:36

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Board of Education met last Wednesday, and moved a few budget line items around before approving a first reading of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

Ketchikan’s school district budget process is full of knowns and known unknowns.

The unknowns that we know about include how many students the district will have next year and how much the Legislature will provide for each of those students.

A proposal in the Senate would increase the base student allocation by $400, but most people consider that unlikely. Another proposal that is making its way through the House has better chances of final approval, and would increase the BSA by $185.

Taking those unknowns into consideration, Superintendent Robert Boyle and other administrators came up with their best projections, and then built a budget around them. The program-based budget is prioritized, with the most important expenses at the top. Here’s Boyle, explaining his “staff versus stuff” budgeting philosophy.

“Staff at the top of the budget, stuff lower down,” he said. “Staff is difficult to arrange for and make changes. So the idea is that we actually use our materials purchases as a reserve account.”

The exception this time, though, is preschool funding. The school district is not required to provide universal preschool, but it has done so for the past few years, in hopes of boosting school performance later.

In the proposed 2015 budget, preschool was placed not only below the red line, but also below the thin black line.

Let me explain: Several lines segment the district’s 2015 budget, indicating which programs are cut at different funding levels. There’s a red line at the $31 million level, which is based on the current BSA. A thin black line a little ways below that is the cutoff level if the Legislature approves its $185 BSA increase.

A thick black line at the bottom of the budget reflects the unlikely $400 BSA increase.

The Legislature isn’t the only consideration, of course. There’s also the local contribution, which is decided by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly. That body has told the School Board to expect $7.8 million, and that’s what the budget was built on. However, the district is going to ask for $8.3 million.

Preschool funding, and where it’s placed in the district budget, became a bit of a political pawn. Here’s Board Member Dave Timmerman.

“I would like to put the preschool items right where the borough has to decide whether they want preschool or not,” he said.

His amendment to move those items right to the thin black line passed, although that placement makes it likely that preschool will be funded without the Assembly increasing what it had planned to provide for local schools.

There were a few more adjustments before the Board approved the budget in first reading. Another hearing will be needed before a final vote. Boyle said he feels positive about next year’s district budget.

“With moving the preschool up to where … we actually expect our projection, administration respects and compliments the board on that decision,” he said. “I like the budget.”

Boyle said there should be fewer unknowns by the School Board’s April 23 meeting, when a final vote will take place. The district must submit its budget to the Borough Assembly for review by May 1.