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Southeast Alaska News

Candidates weigh in on minimum wage hike

Sun, 2014-01-19 01:07

JUNEAU — In the lead-up to this year’s elections, The Associated Press plans to publish an occasional list featuring the positions of the highest-profile Alaska U.S. Senate candidates on different issues.

All the campaigns contacted — Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and Republicans Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell — agreed to participate. The first subject is on increasing the minimum wage.

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New wildlife refuge visitor center taking shape

Sun, 2014-01-19 01:06

KENAI — Despite an interruption from nature, construction for the new $6 million Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Soldotna is on schedule with the completion date set for the end of September.

A bald eagle nesting in the project area halted construction on the building for 45 days late last spring. Jason Hayes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project manager, said when the nest was abandoned in early June, refuge biologist Todd Eskelin gave the OK for work to continue.

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Sitka Assembly goes paperless with new iPads

Sun, 2014-01-19 01:06

SITKA — In an effort to cut down on providing printed materials, the Sitka assembly has gone paperless.

Each assembly member and top staffers have all been provided new iPads as part of the effort.

Previously each member received a packet of paper that was between 60 to 100 pages. Packets that included the agenda, minutes of the last meeting, ordinances and resolutions on the agenda, supporting information and staff recommendations were also made available to the media, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported.

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Poetry in motion, five days a week

Fri, 2014-01-17 23:25

Post by Daily Sitka Sentinel.

Our colleague Dan Olbrych made this short film about the press run at The Daily Sitka Sentinel, a family-owned newspaper celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. While the film has a nostalgic vibe, we’re pretty sure that — like fresh-baked bread or well-crafted construction — this kind of dedicated, thoughtful newspapering will never go out of style.

Land selection for Petersburg borough could be part of planning effort

Fri, 2014-01-17 15:57

Selection of state land by the new Petersburg borough could be part of the process for revising the community’s comprehensive plan. The city of Petersburg’s last plan revision was completed over a decade ago. Borough officials hope to hire a consulting firm to do an update starting later this year. Meanwhile, a committee considering the state parcels available for selection are hoping to provide some early input for that process.

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Petersburg’s new borough will be able to select at least 10 percent of the state land in the new borough boundaries, from the land not already chosen to be part of a Southeast state forest, or part of land grants to the Alaska mental health trust and the university system. Petersburg officials may seek legislative help to boost the amount the borough could ultimately choose.

In the meantime, a committee of borough residents and officials this winter is looking through the available land parcels identified by the state.

At a January 10th meeting, committee member Dave Kensinger wanted to make it clear the group was thinking in the long term for any benefits from new land selections. “People get excited when you change things that this isn’t something that is even going to happen in their lifetime,” Kensinger said. “But we wanna make for sure that maybe your grandkid might be a beneficiary of this because, you know… I mean we only got the land we got and they won’t be making any more land. So we have to think that this is a long-term deal and hopefully somebody 80 years from now can say that what we did now was, they’re really glad we did it.”

The land selection process itself could be a long one – and it could go hand in hand with long term planning for the future of the borough.

Petersburg’s community development director Leo Luczak told the committee that Wrangell included their land selection as part of that community’s comprehensive plan revision. “And as part of the community process with the surveys and the public meetings it would demonstrate this was approved by the majority of the community. I think it helped their case a lot,” Luczak said. “I think it’d be nice if this group could kind of identify some parcels so that whoever gets the comp plan isn’t going to know our area well but if these are places we feel that would be important,” he added.

Some of the available parcels have already piqued the interest of the committee, including some of the waterfront land, or areas that could be used for rock and gravel pits. Possible quarry sites on the list were identified by public works director Karl Hagerman on the committee’s request. And member Ron Buschmann wanted to get other input from borough staff. “I think another thing we should do and I brought up the rock pits of course last time, but go to all the department heads and say what lands to you anticipate, for example the electrical department, we may need in the future for substations for the electrical or transportation facilities, something like that, just the utility necessities.”

The committee also wants to identify potential harbor facility parcels. Committee members hope to visit some of the parcels this year and document their condition and possibilities for use.

As for the comprehensive plan, the borough plans to seek consulting firms interested in doing the work later this year. Such a plan looks at current land use and zoning along with future needs for the community for both property and infrastructure. Public hearings on the plan would be in the winter and spring of 2015.

Petersburg’s last comprehensive plan was completed in 2000 after more than two years of hearings and revisions of the document. A large part of that process focused on plans for publically owned land at Sandy Beach.
This week borough manager Steve Giesbrecht said he’s still working on the language to seek companies to do the consulting work. “I want something different than just a standard comprehensive plan,” Giesbrecht said. “I want something that’s actually really usable. And I’m not sure that I don’t want it in some ways combined with the harbor development plan, because the harbor’s so important to this community. And I’m not sure I wanna have one firm doing one thing, one firm doing another and then having them go at cross purposes. So trying to get the language right on this proposal to send out to consultants, I’m having a difficult time with it. I want it to be just right.”

Giesbrecht said he hoped to have that request for proposals completed for the assembly to consider in another month or so.

Southeast commercial halibut catch increased for 2014

Fri, 2014-01-17 15:49

Southeast Alaska’s commercial halibut catch limit is going up.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission concluded its annual meeting Friday in Seattle and approved catch limits for Alaska, British Columbia, and the west coast of the U.S.

The combined commercial and charter catch for Southeast’s Area 2C will be 4.16 million pounds. That includes a commercial catch limit of 3,318,720 pounds, that’s an increase of about 11 percent from last year. Southeast is the only area that will see an increased catch from 2013.

The commission also approved a catch sharing plan recommended by the North Pacific fishery Management Council and implemented by federal fishery managers for Southeast and the central Gulf. That’s a first. The catch sharing plan allocates pounds to the charter fleet and replaces the old system of a guideline harvest level for charter anglers. It’ll also allow annual purchases of commercial quota by the charter fleet.

That plan will mean a limit of over 761-thousand pounds to the Southeast charter fleet for 2014. As a result, charter clients will have a one-fish daily bag limit in Southeast with what’s called a “reverse slot limit.” Charter anglers in the Panhandle can keep a fish up to 44 inches, or 76 inches and longer, but not anything between those lengths.

Coast-wide the commissioners did not go with the roughly 30 percent catch reduction as presented by staff in December. The so-called “blue line” numbers, presented to the commission by staff, applies long-standing harvest percentages to the estimated legal-sized halibut for each regulatory area. Instead the commission approved a larger coastwide catch limit of over 27 and a half million pounds.

US commissioner Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, called it the toughest halibut commission meeting he’s attended. “We’re in a trying position with the resource, the halibut resource not rebuilding as rapidly as we’d like it to,” Balsiger said.” We have some issues with that. I think it is important to note, and we went over this earlier but, the decision table which contains the blue line, the entire table contains recommendations from the staff on how to set the catch limits. Where we operate in that decision table is really a reflection of the conservative nature of the various halibut commissioners, because they’re all valid positions it just depends on how much risk is deemed appropriate, how much conservatism has to be cranked into those tables.”

The commercial catch in area 3A, the central gulf, will see a big cut this year, about 33 percent, down to 7.3 million pounds. And the charter fleet’s limit in the gulf was set at 1.7 million pounds. Charter clients there will have a two fish daily bag limit with a 29 inch limit on a second fish.

The commercial and sport catch in British Columbia will see a small reduction, but not the 29 percent cut initially considered in the “blue line” number presented by IPHC staff.

The commission approved a season start date of March 8th and fishing will be open through November 7th.

Seasonal tax repealed; SSRAA eyes hatchery

Fri, 2014-01-17 15:19

The entrance to the Deer Mountain Fish Hatchery is seen last summer. The raptor center’s eagle flight cage is in the background.

A seasonal sales tax increase approved by the Ketchikan City Council last week was reconsidered and repealed Thursday, in favor of a year-round sales tax.

Speaking to KRBD on Friday, Council Member Dick Coose said the measure will have to come back to the Council.

“According to the clerk and the attorney, because we substantially changed the ordinance that was written, we’ve got to rewrite the ordinance and vote on it again,” he said.

City Clerk Katy Suiter said Friday that the ordinance will require two separate votes. The first reading will be Feb. 6th, and the second on Feb. 20th.

Part of the concern over a seasonal sales tax was the added burden to business owners, who would have had to change their systems twice a year. Coose said he also was concerned about taking advantage of tourists.

A year-round, half-percent sales tax increase likely will mean less revenue for the city.

Also Thursday, the Council agreed to move forward with a plan that would allow the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association to operate a fish hatchery formerly run by Ketchikan Indian Community.

To that end, the Council directed the city manager to negotiate an agreement with SSRAA, and to look into removing the raptor center to provide more space for fish-rearing ponds at the facility, located at City Park.

Coose said there wasn’t any debate over that issue.

“Everybody thought that was a good deal,” he said. “Everybody wants that hatchery to run. KIC was having trouble making money running it, so they wanted out but we said we’re gonna have fish one way or another. SSRAA said, ‘We think we can keep it going.’”

The Council also approved contracts to design electric upgrades and a new roof for the Centennial Building, a motion to negotiate a hospital renovation pre-construction contract with Layton and Dawson construction companies; and a 1-percent cost-of-living raise to non-union city employees.

KFSK News of the Week

Fri, 2014-01-17 15:02





Assembly files lawsuit, gets Fairbanks support

Fri, 2014-01-17 14:46

On Monday, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly will consider appropriating another $150,000 toward a lawsuit, filed this week against the State of Alaska.

An ordinance authorizing the appropriation will be considered in first reading Monday, which means it will have to come back to the Assembly a second time. The $150,000 would come from the borough’s economic development fund, and is expected to pay for lawsuit-related costs through the end of June.

The lawsuit challenges the state over what some local officials say is an unfair mandate requiring boroughs and first-class cities to fund a minimum level for local schools, but not anyone else. The borough argues that because not everyone in Alaska is required to contribute to local education, the mandate isn’t fair.

The borough has tried encouraging the Legislature to find a solution, but until recently had no luck. On Jan. 10th, however, Fairbanks Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson pre-filed a bill in the state House that would repeal the required local contribution. And in another show of support from the Interior, the Fairbanks newspaper this week published an editorial encouraging that community’s lawmakers to add their support to the Ketchikan borough’s efforts.

Also Monday, the Assembly will consider a resolution authorizing acceptance of up to $1 million in Federal Transit Administration grant funds; an agreement with the state Department of Natural Resources to allow a log transfer facility at the old Seley Mill site on Gravina Island through 2017; and a lease agreement with Ketchikan Dog Park allowing development of a dog park off Revilla Road.

Monday’s meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.

Panel will target Tongass plan rewrite, timber transition

Fri, 2014-01-17 13:10

A dog explores part of the Tongass National Forest’s Treadwell Ditch Trail on Douglas Island, part of Juneau. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The Forest Service is setting up an advisory board to help rewrite the Tongass National Forest’s management plan. It’s somewhat similar to another panel that shut down last year without completing its work.

Hear iFriendly audio

Tongass managers have a couple big jobs ahead of them.

They’re reviewing and updating the land-management plan for the 17-million-acre forest. They’re also working on a roadmap for a transition from old-growth to young-growth timber harvests.

So, the agency has decided to recruit 15 people for an advisory committee.

Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole says they’ll take about a year developing proposals for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the chief of the Forest Service.

“What we’re really trying to do is find folks who have experience working in collaborative groups, knowledge regarding Southeast Alaska issues and willingness to work closely together (and) come up with a solution,” Cole says.

They’ll include representatives of the industry, state and federal agencies, environmental groups and tribal organizations.

That sounds a lot like the Tongass Futures Roundtable, a larger group with a somewhat similar mission. It began around seven years ago and shut down last spring after some timber and environmental groups quit.

Cole says it broke ground that should ease the way for the advisory panel.

“We had never had all of the interests in Southeast Alaska sit down in the same year together. So it was a fairly lengthy process, probably three of the six years it was around, it took to get people to physically be able to sit in a room, have a conversation and listen to diverse opinions,” Cole says.

“Collaboration is the watchword,” says former Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who moderated the group and tried to keep it moving forward.

“Even though the roundtable did not perhaps achieve a lot of what it had initially set out to do, it created I think a climate of discussion between parties who needed to be talking to each other but historically did not,” he says.

Roundtable organizers hoped to develop a comprise to ongoing Tongass timber battles. But Cole says it did more than meet.

“There was a bridge timber proposal that was put together by Tongass Futures that got us out of a number of heavily-litigated projects and provided timber along the way to keep the current industry alive,” he says.

The Southeast Conference, a regional development organization, was part of the roundtable. But it joined the exodus of timber and state government representatives that led to its dissolution.

The conference last year proposed its own Tongass management plan. Leaders hope to advance that as part of the advisory group’s discussions.

“I’m excited about it. I guess I should say I’m ready for another round, because you just can’t stop trying,” says Shelly Wright, conference executive director.

She says the new panel has a better chance of succeeding.

“The roundtable really was not (an) official advisory group, so I think it may be a little bit different. The undersecretary has actually said this is for his information, so I think that’s going to give it a little more weight, so to speak,” she says.

Those interested in joining the Tongass Advisory Committee need to apply by February 27th. Details are here.

Cole says the Forest Service will chose members using its own standards.

“They’ll work among themselves to see if they can come up with a consensus-based recommendation that the Forest Service will take under advisement to further along the transition or the forest-plan modification,” he says.

But he doesn’t expect to make absolutely everybody involved in these issues happy.

“In fact there’s a number of federal advisory committees that have been established that never came to fruition. So there’s still a possibility that we can’t get a recommendation out of this group. And if not, we’ll proceed on.

He says the panel’s work will not delay the review of the land-management plan. That’s expected to be completed in 2016.

Panel will target Tongass plan, timber transition

Fri, 2014-01-17 12:59

A dog explores part of the Tongass National Forest’s Treadwell Ditch Trail on Douglas Island, part of Juneau. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The Forest Service is setting up an advisory board to help rewrite the Tongass National Forest’s management plan. It’s somewhat similar to another panel that shut down last year without completing its work.

Hear iFriendly audio

Tongass managers have a couple big jobs ahead of them.

They’re reviewing and updating the land-management plan for the 17-million-acre forest. They’re also working on a roadmap for a transition from old-growth to young-growth timber harvests.

So, the agency has decided to recruit 15 people for an advisory committee.

Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole says they’ll take about a year developing proposals for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the chief of the Forest Service.

“What we’re really trying to do is find folks who have experience working in collaborative groups, knowledge regarding Southeast Alaska issues and willingness to work closely together (and) come up with a solution,” Cole says.

They’ll include representatives of the industry, state and federal agencies, environmental groups and tribal organizations.

That sounds a lot like the Tongass Futures Roundtable, a larger group with a somewhat similar mission. It began around seven years ago and shut down last spring after some timber and environmental groups quit.

Cole says it broke ground that should ease the way for the advisory panel.

“We had never had all of the interests in Southeast Alaska sit down in the same year together. So it was a fairly lengthy process, probably three of the six years it was around, it took to get people to physically be able to sit in a room, have a conversation and listen to diverse opinions,” Cole says.

“Collaboration is the watchword,” says former Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who moderated the group and tried to keep it moving forward.

“Even though the roundtable did not perhaps achieve a lot of what it had initially set out to do, it created I think a climate of discussion between parties who needed to be talking to each other but historically did not,” he says.

Roundtable organizers hoped to develop a comprise to ongoing Tongass timber battles. But Cole says it did more than meet.

“There was a bridge timber proposal that was put together by Tongass Futures that got us out of a number of heavily-litigated projects and provided timber along the way to keep the current industry alive,” he says.

The Southeast Conference, a regional development organization, was part of the roundtable. But it joined the exodus of timber and state government representatives that led to its dissolution.

The conference last year proposed its own Tongass management plan. Leaders hope to advance that as part of the advisory group’s discussions.

“I’m excited about it. I guess I should say I’m ready for another round, because you just can’t stop trying,” says Shelly Wright, conference executive director.

She says the new panel has a better chance of succeeding.

“The roundtable really was not (an) official advisory group, so I think it may be a little bit different. The undersecretary has actually said this is for his information, so I think that’s going to give it a little more weight, so to speak,” she says.

Those interested in joining the Tongass Advisory Committee need to apply by February 27th. Details are here.

Cole says the Forest Service will chose members using its own standards.

“They’ll work among themselves to see if they can come up with a consensus-based recommendation that the Forest Service will take under advisement to further along the transition or the forest-plan modification,” he says.

But he doesn’t expect to make absolutely everybody involved in these issues happy.

“In fact there’s a number of federal advisory committees that have been established that never came to fruition. So there’s still a possibility that we can’t get a recommendation out of this group. And if not, we’ll proceed on.

He says the panel’s work will not delay the review of the land-management plan. That’s expected to be completed in 2016.

Enrollment booming at Sitka Fine Arts Camp

Fri, 2014-01-17 11:20


Listen to iFriendly audio.
Rhiannon Guevin, Roger Schmidt, and Kenley Jackson report that registration is in full swing for the summer session of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Spaces are open in the Elementary/Circus/Chorale/Brass/String camps, the Middle School Camp, the High School Camp, the Musical Theater Camp, and Native Jazz and Vocal Jazz workshops. For complete information visit the Sitka Fine Arts Camp online.

Fri Jan 17, 2014

Fri, 2014-01-17 11:13


Listen to iFriendly audio.
Consultant: Cruise industry again “bullish” on Alaska. DEC investigates sinking of tug Silver Bay II in Wrangell. Blatchley Spelling Bee has new champion. Petersburg to remodel Stedman Elementary School this year.

City Council votes on half percent sales tax increase

Fri, 2014-01-17 10:27

City Council member Dick Coose joins KRBD to discuss the Council’s vote on a sales tax increase and other measures approved at the Jan. 16 meeting.

 

King Cove renews call for road

Fri, 2014-01-17 01:05

ANCHORAGE — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell received bad information before rejecting a road through a national wildlife refuge that could help medical patients in a small Alaska village, leaders of the community said Thursday.

In a letter, community leaders in King Cove asked Jewell to reconsider her decision rejecting a one-lane gravel road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge so that sick or injured residents could have land access to an all-weather airport at nearby Cold Bay.

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Video of teen employee catching baby gets scores of viewers

Fri, 2014-01-17 01:04

ANCHORAGE — A 19-year-old worker at an Anchorage Home Depot caught a baby who was falling out of shopping cart — a rescue captured on store surveillance video that has been viewed online by thousands.

Christopher Strickland was waiting for a customer in the cashier area last week when he noticed the baby was loose in a car seat atop the shopping cart, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The arrangement looked precarious, Strickland said.

“I thought I’d keep an eye on it, in case something happened,” he said Wednesday.

read more

Nelson: Cruise lines again ‘bullish’ on Alaska

Thu, 2014-01-16 21:00

Cruise industry consultant Andy Nelson says of Disney Cruise Lines, “If they’re coming to Sitka, you’re doing it right.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)


Years of steady declines in cruise ship traffic to Sitka should be coming to an end — eventually.

Independent cruise industry consultant Andy Nelson told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week (Wed 1-15-14) that because cruise itineraries are planned years in advance, there was nothing to be done about the expected drop in visitor numbers this summer. But after that, things were looking more “bullish.”

Nelson has been hired by Chris McGraw, owner of the Old Sitka Dock, to raise awareness among the cruise lines of the new deepwater facility in Sitka. McGraw’s father, Chuck, was also in the audience.

In his remarks, Nelson told the chamber that there was nothing Sitka could have done to reverse the decline in cruise tourism, which was aggravated by several factors — primarily the US economic recession beginning in 2008.

Sitka had impact of ships leaving, even before the US economy changed. And I just wanted to back up a little bit, because talking with Chuck and Chris, it’s been enlightening for me because I think some people feel that Sitka made a mistake. What did we do wrong that the ships left? And I’m not sure that Sitka did (make a mistake). When 9-11 happened it changed the marketplace in Alaska. Because of the impression that people in the Lower 48 were becoming more resistant to flying — at least right after 9-11 — and they would rather leave from a US port, ships moved from Vancouver to Seattle as far as homeporting. And so for the ships that went to Seattle, not only is the voyage a little bit longer — remember they have to do it twice — it adds a bit of time, and that’s all time that they can’t spend in the ports in Alaska. In addition to that, those ships have to make a Canadian port call, to follow the rules of shipping, which is the Jones Act, where they have to call on a foreign port. So for all of those ships, not only is the voyage longer, but they all had to call in Victoria as well, which took additional time. So the reality is that as that market developed in Seattle, with those itineraries they could only get in at the most three port calls in Alaska, Victoria, and get back to Seattle. So the byproduct of that is that Sitka lost port calls, Haines lost port calls, and some others did as well. And I’m not sure Sitka could have headed that off.

Andy Nelson speaking to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Nelson worked for Royal Caribbean for 25 years before becoming an independent consultant. He offered an insider’s perspective into why things were looking up for Sitka in the not too distant future. Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival cruise lines were all making single port calls in Sitka this summer, to assess passenger reaction to the community.

Nelson himself visited for the first time last October for the Alaska Travel Industry Association meeting. He said Sitka has a way of making a good first impression.

I think Sitka’s in a great position for new itineraries that are departing out of Vancouver. The Vancouver itineraries have time to stop in Sitka, and I think that Vancouver is going to host more ships in the future. In contrast to some other ports — and I’m not just talking about Alaska — Sitka offers a real authentic feel to it. It feels like a functioning village, city, whatever you want to call it. It’s very pleasant. If the experience I had in the fall is anything like the experience guests have in the summer, they couldn’t help but like it. It’s a great place. A lot of natural beauty, really strong history — all things that help the itinerary and help the marketing. You’ve got good shore excursion opportunities. One addition, and certainly I’m biased, is you’ve got a deepwater dock now. And that’s a huge benefit to Sitka. Because as Chris said there are cruise lines that won’t come to Sitka unless there’s a dock. Some will, some won’t. They’re going to make their own decision on that. Our message as we go out to the cruise lines — and yes, we’re hoping that they use the dock — but the message is, Come to Sitka. And my belief is that most of the new lines that come to Sitka are going to use the new dock.

Old Sitka Dock owner Chris McGraw prefaced Nelson’s remarks at the Chamber of Commerce. He said that the dock received 23 ship visits last year, and expected 26 ship visits this year, with the Seven Seas Navigator and Regatta comprising the bulk of those visits.

The first cruise ship call of the 2014 season in Sitka is the Westerdam, on May 7.

New website up for Petersburg public input

Thu, 2014-01-16 16:39

Petersburg’s borough government January 16th announced the start up of a new website to gather input and generate ideas.

The site is hosted by a company called Mind Mixer. It’s described as a virtual town hall and is intended to spark discussion about the future of the community and to add to future borough planning efforts. With the start of the site, the borough is posting a few questions to get the public discourse going. They’re seeking opinions on mail-in elections, steps to make the community more energy efficient and feedback from pedestrians and bicyclists. Joe Viechnicki spoke with borough manager Steve Giesbrecht about the new site.


For mobile-friendly audio, click here:
The website cost is about seven thousand dollars over four years. Giesbrecht views it as a tool to include input and ideas from residents of the new borough, including residents outside the old city limits.

Petersburg hospital discusses relationship with borough

Thu, 2014-01-16 16:22

Elected officials with Petersburg’s borough government and the community’s publically-owned hospital are trying to get a better handle on the relationship, legal and financial, between the two. The medical center’s board met again with the Petersburg borough assembly last week over the issue.

For mobile-friendly audio, click here:

Petersburg’s hospital building is owned by the municipality but it’s operated by the staff and overseen by board of the medical center; the borough government has no oversight or involvement in hospital operations.
However, the borough assembly is taking a closer look at that relationship. The borough’s attorney last year drafted a memo giving his opinion on various questions. One was whether medical center employees are actually borough employees. Attorney Jim Brennan wrote that this is a grey area legally. Hospital board president Tom Abbott, who also is general manager of KFSK, wondered about the direction of the discussion regarding hospital employees. “The W2s, the taxes, the IRS, everybody thinks that PMC employees are…..separate,” said Abbott. “And I hope that continues that way,” responded borough manager Steve Giesbrecht. “So I would hope that we could drop it,” Abbott said.

Assembly members did not argue that hospital staff should be considered borough employees. Kurt Wohlheuter liked the current arrangement. “I personally like the landlord tenant agreement we have. I’d just as soon be the people who own the building and you guys take care of the stuff. Because it seems like there might be a lot of liability there if we were to jump in, deeper pockets.”

Those deeper pockets were a concern for the municipal government. Mayor Mark Jensen explained his concern over the financial liability. “My main concern is that ultimately I think, and nobody wants this to happen, if the hospital, for lack of a better term went bankrupt, the rate payers, the residents of the whole borough would be liable for that right? Correct? I mean we won the building but we don’t own the business.”

“Actually I think we do own the business,” responded assembly member and attorney John Hoag. He raised some of the issues addressed in the borough attorney’s opinion. Before he joined the assembly, Hoag represented a former medical center employee who filed suit against the former city of Petersburg and a former medical center CEO. Hoag told the hospital board members that people could make a legal argument that the two were connected. “Persons who would say that would be persons looking at a deep pocket. If you want full disclosure, the lawsuit, which I assume you know, but maybe you don’t. The lawsuit referenced by the attorney as a footnote is one I filed before I was on the assembly. And I filed that frankly because I couldn’t figure how else to bring the lawsuit. Because my research was that the only entity, legal entity I could sue would be the city of Petersburg at the time.”

Borough attorney Brennan’s opinion on the matter was that the borough should leave reserve the option of making the argument in court that medical center employees are not employees of the borough in case of a medical malpractice suit. However he also noted that the borough is named on the hospital’s liability insurance.

Brennan noted that asserting that medical center employees work for the borough could result in an those employees being enrolled in the collective bargaining unit that includes borough employees. The hospital employees are already part of the public employees retirement system, or PERS, a decision made by a prior city council.

Cindi Lagoudakis did not get the sense from fellow assembly members that they wanted medical center staff to be called borough employees. “However, when we’re listed on the liability policy, it’s really difficult to figure out what the relationship between the hospital and the assembly are,” said Lagoudakis. “It could put the borough at risk. Can we live with that risk I think is really what the question is. Can we live with that ambiguity or do we need to make it clearer, so that the borough is protected and the hospital is autonomous.”

Petersburg’s borough charter approved by voters a year ago says, “The borough assembly, by ordinance, shall provide for the powers and duties of the hospital board, allowing for the greatest possible autonomy to operate and maintain borough medical facilities in the best interests of the public’s health” That language came up a number of times in Thursday’s meeting. Board president Abbott suggested drafting more language clarifying the roles of the two sides. “It says the greatest possible autonomy. And that, in the charter, is, to me, constitution. That directs us. That’s where we need to be going. So let’s tighten it up.”

The borough assembly is also planning to consider a new ordinance detailing the hospital board responsibilities and duties. Representatives of the two sides have drafted a proposed ordinance that will come up for three readings of the assembly.

The attorney Brennan’s memo notes greater borough control over public hospitals in Sitka and Wrangell. It also says that any code language approved by the assembly seeking greater control could run afoul of the charter language on hospital board autonomy.

Hoag thought any eventual review of the borough charter language will need to include discussion of the separate status of the medical center. “Do we wanna maintain this autonomy to the greatest extent possible? I think that is the discussion that needs to be had with you folks present and the citizens weighing in on it. Because we can’t say you’re on your own, have a good life,” Hoag said.

The powers granted to the hospital board in the borough charter include making hospital policy, hiring and firing of the administrator and preparation of a budget. In the past, the hospital has not sought borough funding for its budget, but that could be changing. The board may ask for help in funding capital projects in the future.

Rainfall setting daily records in January

Thu, 2014-01-16 16:09

Petersburg set a new daily record for rainfall Tuesday with 3.75 inches coming down. That’s the rainiest January 14th the National Weather Service has on record for Petersburg. The service’s records are incomplete and date back only to the 1940s.

It’s the second daily rainfall record already for 2014. The first day of the year was also the rainiest January 1st on record with 2.07 inches.

These are not the rainiest January days on record. January 29th of 1993 the community saw 5.14 inches. And it’s still a long way from the rainiest day every recorded in Petersburg. That was December 30th, 1980 with the rainfall total that day at 7.8 inches.

Local creeks are full with the rainfall and snowmelt. Borough public works director Karl Hagerman says there was some flooding on Mill Road and Cornelius Road but no reports of landslides or washouts on borough roads. No slides impacted state-owned roads on the island either, according to the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says two slides have been cleared on Prince of Wales Island roads. Woodrow says both the Hollis to Klawock road and the road to Coffman Cove were open Wednesday and cleared of debris that came down Tuesday.

While its been wet and windy, Petersburg is not setting any temperature records this month. The thermometer hit 50 degrees Tuesday, still well below record January days in the high 50s and low 60s set in January of 1981 and 1958.