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Southeast Alaska News
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Ashley Bolwerk, with the Sitka Sound Science Center, discusses training opportunities for docents (and junior docents) at the center. Bolwerk says Sitkans may know more about the natural world than they realize, and can offer a valuable service to visitors. Learn more about the Sitka Sound Science Center docent program online.
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Even in new building, Pacific High takes learning outside walls. Petersburg considers lawsuit to recover expense of challenging interim redistricting map. Committee explores options for changes to Petersburg senior sales tax exemption as population ages.
Former lawmaker Albert Kookesh says he and two other men charged with overfishing intend to again appeal the charges. The Alaska Court of Appeals on Dec. 27 reinstated the charges against Kookesh, Rocky Estrada and Stanley Johnson after the men had succeeded in having the charges dismissed by a Sitka district court judge in 2010. A fourth man cited, Scott Hunter, did not appeal the citation. The citations carry a $500 fine.
ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Army has largely spared Alaska from personnel reductions tied to federal budget cuts.
Army Alaska announced Wednesday that Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage will lose 780 soldiers by September 2015, falling to authorized personnel of 4,598.
Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks will gain 367 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2015, pushing the number of authorized personnel to 6,198 soldiers.
The net loss for Alaska: 373 soldiers.
ANCHORAGE — A pilot who made a safe emergency landing on a major Anchorage street said he lost power, waited for a break in traffic, then descended onto the snowy median.
Armon Tabrizi said he was not immediately sure where to land before deciding to put the Cessna 172RG Cutlass down in the middle of Boniface Parkway Tuesday afternoon, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Tabrizi, 27, avoided cars and stoplights, and no one in the plane or on the ground was injured.
Meredith Hazen was driving on the four-lane street when the plane came down.
ANCHORAGE — A citizens’ group hoping to make Alaska the third state in the nation to legalize recreational use of marijuana took a step closer Wednesday, submitting more than 46,000 signatures to the state election office.
If enough signatures are verified — they need about 30,000 qualified signatures — the question of whether to make pot legal in the nation’s northernmost state will go before voters in the Aug. 19 primary. Signatures must come from at least 7 percent of voters in at least 30 House districts.
The House Sustainable Education Task Force has spent $20,666.59 of its $250,000 appropriation so far, according to a legislative accounting document acquired by the Juneau Empire.
The task force came under scrutiny last week after its first report was released. The two-page report, which was labeled as preliminary, didn’t provide any hard numbers or analysis related to the state’s education system as anticipated. It did, however, note “that current education spending is not sustainable.” That statement provoked ire from task force member Andrew Halcro.
Pacific High co-principal Phil Burdick told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week (Wed 1-8-14) that the remodeled space was actually the product of the school’s core mission to give students ownership of their education — a ten-year long homework assignment that has finally been turned in.
He explained how “experiential learning” works at Pacific High.
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If you go to a traditional school you’ll get a biology class that will start at the cell and go to the macro, and it will be two semesters long, and you’ll get a little bit of everything all the way across. So what we do is flip that script, and we take biology and ask, How Does Meth Impact the Body? And we drill all the way down. And we do that in all our classes. We do it with History. We don’t do a survey history class, we’ll do something like Civil Rights. Or we’ll do the herring fishery for Alaska Studies. It’s a very different model of education.
Burdick was a teacher at Pacific High for twelve years, before becoming co-principal 4 years ago. He incorporated a book on sustainable school design into his own teaching, and involved students in developing the ideas that would create a better space for education.
He told the chamber audience that Pacific High represents a radical departure from typical schools.
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Did you know that the model for traditional schools — the architecture — is the same model that we used for prisons? You probably didn’t. However, I bet your high school looked a lot like a prison. Mine did. It’s the same thing: a central office where the ward… — I mean the principal — sits. And your cell… classroom, and your common areas: the gym, where you all go to workout, and the lunchroom, where you all get to eat. It’s the same model. It turns out that’s not a great model for education. It turns out it’s a great model for prisons. But when you want a student to learn there are lots of different ways and places and types of learning. Students need quiet places. They need soft places, they need cave spaces. They need indoor/outdoor connections. So our classrooms are big, they’re flexible. You can do a lot of things. We have messy areas, so people can work on projects. We have quiet areas, so people can sit down and read. We have conference rooms where students can break out in small groups and work on a project together. The picture that you saw in the paper of the rotunda when you walk in: That becomes a meeting space. We had our first all-school meeting in it today. It was great. There’s nowhere to hide.
Burdick discussed the outdoor connection. While a lot of learning at Pacific High takes place outside, it complements the learning taking place inside.
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We have a door that goes out of every classroom. I have a gardening class. Last year Hillary (Seeland) taught a herring class. She was out on the boats, she was bringing in experts. Everybody now has access to the outside, because that’s where education happens. I was fine in a high school, you were fine in a high school I’m sure. But boy, it’s sure nice for students who high school is not good for to get out and do something that’s active, that still engages them, and still connects to the learning. It’s not that we’re digging rows at St. Peter’s and not learning English. We come back and we reflect on that, and we write on that. We teach you how to write a paragraph about what you’ve done. We’re hitting the Standards, but we’re doing it in a way that engages as many people as possible.
School board member Tonia Rioux was one of two Pacific High alums in Burdick’s audience Wednesday. She attended Pacific High when it was located in an unused building on the Mt. Edgecumbe campus on Japonski Island. She said great teachers had made the difference in her education then. Now, she was happy that Pacific High students had great teachers, and a great building.
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If you come into a place of learning and there’s water coming through the ceiling and a bucket under it, and the window’s broken, and it’s hard to walk up the steps because they’re crumbling, and you’re already having challenges in education, what does that say? You’re just not that important. That’s why I’m really excited about the building, and that’s where the impact truly lies.
Classes resumed in the new Pacific High building on Tuesday. Phil Burdick invited the public to attend an open house on campus on Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, Sunday, February 16.
The Ketchikan City Council will choose a new Council member Thursday, and will decide whether to hire Andy Donato as the new Ketchikan Public Utilities Electric Division manager.
In December, the Council appointed Russell Wodehouse to the vacant position, but he resigned soon after due to a controversy related to his teaching certificate in Washington State.
Three other candidates who had applied for the vacant position resubmitted their applications. They are former Council Member Dick Coose, who lost his bid for re-election in October; Dale “Mickey” Robbins, who operates a bed-and-breakfast and a fishing charter business; and Jacquie Meck, a local business owner who is involved in numerous organizations.
The Council also will vote on whether to hire Donato, who has been filling in as interim KPU Electric Division manager since Tim McConnell left in November. Donato has been KPU’s senior electric systems engineer for about three years.
City Manager Karl Amylon strongly recommends that the Council hire Donato at an annual salary of $133,150.
The Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. Thursday in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly has scheduled a marathon policy meeting, starting at noon on Friday and lasting through Saturday.
The members will recess the meeting at around 4 on Friday, though, and then reconvene Saturday morning at 9 a.m., to finish out the agenda.
The purpose of the meeting is to discuss policy issues, and provide direction for borough management. The items up for discussion include the borough budget, library funding and the school district budget ; sales tax collection; the process for determining the community’s capital project priority list; Parks and Rec fees; and the process for filling vacancies on the Assembly.
During a presentation Wednesday to the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer added that economic development is another topic that could be discussed, and he invited the public to come to the meeting and give advice.
“We are always looking for more ideas,” he said. “If you’ve got specific ideas or things you think we should be looking at, let us know. To be honest, over the last 15-20 years, the borough hasn’t always done the very good version of economic development. We’ve made some good choices. Certainly supporting things like the shipyard have benefited the community. But we don’t always make the right choice. Sometimes we end up with bowl factories.”
While the policy session is expected to recess at 4 on Friday, the Assembly will have some more work to finish that night. Some items from Monday’s regular meeting had to be postponed due to a snafu over the legal notice, which wasn’t published in time. As a result, the Assembly recessed Monday’s meeting and will reconvene at 5 p.m. on Friday to take care of those postponed items.
The policy session and the reconvened meeting both will take place in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building.
Ketchikan’s first baby of 2014 is Lene Oralie Mickel, born just shy of midnight on Jan. 5th at Ketchikan Medical Center.
The healthy 6-pound, 8-ounce girl was born to Loren and Caleb Mickel, and she is the first child for the couple. According to the hospital, Certified Nurse Midwife Marta Poore delivered the baby, with assistance from nurses Susan Walsh and Kathleen Foster.
The family received a gift basket holding items donated by hospital staff and members of the hospital auxiliary.
Petersburg’s expanded curbside recycling program is on track to start early next month and local garbage customers will be getting new recycling bags later this month. Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday got briefed on the plans for recycling.
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February 4th is the scheduled start up for the commingled recycling program. It will mean customers can put most plastics, aluminum, tin, glass, cardboard and paper, unsorted, into a bag left on the curb alongside garbage cans each week. The borough’s existing recycling program requires sorting, and only includes certain plastics, glass bottles and cans.
Public works director Karl Hagerman told the assembly that recycling bags would be given out for the start of the program. “But after that initial roll out as you deplete your supply of bags you can come into public works to get those. I think we’re gonna add the finance department as another source for those bags for people that come in and pay their bill on a monthly basis or in town. It’s a more convenient spot for people to come in and grab bags.”
The borough ran a pilot program with a portion of local customers to test commingled collection this summer. The municipal government is trying to encourage customers to recycle and wants to decrease the amount of garbage that winds up in a landfill in Washington state. People who don’t recycle will see their garbage rate increase about five dollars more a month for a 32 gallon can.
Anyone who already recycles in the existing program, that’s about 350 customers, will be included in the new commingled collection. People who want to sign up can still do so. The voluntary program has already boosted participation numbers to 525 customers and that’s expected to continue rising. That’s still only around half of the 11-hundred residential garbage customers that could be recycling.
Hagerman told the assembly he’s heard from customers who do not put out garbage for collection every week and are concerned about incurring that higher rate. “As long as whenever you do set you garbage out, you also set out recyclables. Then, there won’t be any problem with that, getting the incentive rate, the lowest rate possible on your garbage.”
Assembly members, like Nancy Strand, asked Hagerman questions about how the program will work. “My biggest concern is that my commingled garbage which is going to include some cardboard and office paper, gets wet. Is it OK to get a can with a lid and put it in just to keep it dry or would you rather not deal with extra cans?” Strand asked.
“The can thing is an option for people if they have animals in the neighborhood that are going to cause a problem,” Hagerman replied. He hoped that people would not have to buy garbage cans to keep recycling safe from curious birds and other animals.
Mayor Mark Jensen asked whether collection bags could be given out at the same time recycling is collected. Hagerman thought time could be an issue. “I’m trying to make it efficient as possible for that collection contractor to pick that stuff up. If it turns out we’ve got plenty of time in the day for them to collect all the curbside material and the other materials they have to collect and there’s still spare time then perhaps bag distribution by that staff wouldn’t be a problem.”
Jensen responded that he wanted the program to be convenient for customers too.
Everyone on the road system of Mitkof Island can be a part of the recycling program. Businesses can also participate.
The borough will be contracting with a business or organization to do the collection. Petersburg Indian Association staffers have been contracting to do the work and could continue to do so. However the borough seek proposals from interested companies in February.
There’s more information on what can be recycled on the borough’s website.
A committee looking at possible changes for the collection of sales tax in Petersburg on Friday heard from local senior citizens interested in keeping the senior exemption. Officials are expecting the percentage of the local population that qualifies for the over-65 exemption to grow in the next few decades, which could impact sales tax revenue. However, the committee did not come to any agreement on recommending an end to the senior exemption.
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Residents 65 and over qualify for a sales tax free card with the borough. Some 479 seniors currently have those cards and do not have to pay the borough’s six percent tax on purchases. Local resident Harvey Gilliland called the exemption a great aid for seniors on a fixed income and didn’t want it to end.
Another senior, Jackie Morrison offered a compromise. “And I don’t wanna be a burden on the young kids, that they have to pay six percent and I don’t have to pay anything. Has it occurred to anybody or is it even a thought, that maybe we could all split it. That we could pay three percent and you young kids could pay three percent. That wouldn’t kill us. It wouldn’t do us any good but it wouldn’t kill us. And I appreciate you guys trying to figure out how to keep the city running.”
The committee also heard from Bob Nilsen who thought rising costs to live in Petersburg would force seniors to leave town. “I don’t worry about myself, I worry about a lot of other people that don’t have money. I have enough money I admit that. I know how people think I shouldn’t talk about this but the truth of it is, there’s a lot of poor people in this town. If you take this exemption away, it hurts ‘em.”
Besides removing the exemption altogether, the committee also heard arguments for a smaller change. Glorianne Wollen thought there were too many exemptions from sales tax and too much of a burden on people paying property tax. “I would just like to ask if maybe we’d consider looking at maybe only giving exemptions for things like food and fuel. Things that people that are really having trouble living here those are the things they really need is food and fuel or some of those kinds of things.”
Another idea was granting the exemption only to low income seniors. Committee chair Sue Flint read a letter submitted by assembly member John Hoag. “Speaking as an individual, it appears to me that given the projection that the number of seniors who qualify will double in the next 10 years, that continuing the exemption without any modification will be unfair to the rest of the community will be unfair to the rest of the community as too high a percentage of the population will be exempt from sales tax. Many of us who qualify for the exemption do not need it. I suggest that the exemption be modified to have a qualification of an income-based exemption for seniors.” Hoag suggested an annual tax return document could be used to apply with the borough for an income based exemption.
Committee members also talked about using Medicaid eligibility as a determining factor. John Murgas had trouble with an income based system for the exemption that would be a public issue at the checkout line. “If its something that’s based on Medicaid eligibility…um, we seniors have pride and it would be difficult to be standing in line and then hopefully being real quiet ‘I’m exempt,’ it would be like food stamps or something like that and I think that would be too humiliating to expect our seniors to have to do that.” Murgas thought the community should welcome with open arms any seniors who are willing to move here.
And another committee member, Lee Corrao wanted to keep in mind the impact that sales tax changes have on retail sales locally. “Because there are many people who opt to go to other communities because of the six percent that they can save by going somewhere else. And it does directly impact the bottom line which also directly impacts our ability to employ others, so on. There’s a trickle down effect as a result of that.” Corrao also thought the state projection of a growing senior population in the area was too high because of the inclusion of Kake residents. He did not think the percentage of Petersburg seniors would be doubling.
In fiscal year 2013, the community saw over 107 million dollars worth of sales. Of that, nearly 61 million dollars worth of sales was exempt. Committee member Fran Jones pointed out that total senior exemptions last fiscal year were only four million dollars worth of sales, much smaller than the impact from other exemptions. “Whereas some of these other ones like government, which I know we have to exempt because we’re required to by federal and state law, those were actually 16 million, Resale was almost seven million, out of town, almost 14 million and so on and so forth. Seniors were a small part.”
Meanwhile, finance director Jody Tow told the committee that the borough was above last year’s sales tax revenue amount at this time of year by 240-thousand dollars. “It does fluctuate quite a bit each year. I looked, I tried to pull a report together for businesses that are outside the borough, or outside service area one that have now been taxing, and it was about 55-thousand dollars of that. I think a lot of that was because it was such a great fishing year, but I don’t know.”
The committee has yet to vote on any recommendations for the borough assembly but plans to meet twice next month with that goal in mind. Any tax changes would go on the ballot this October.
Petersburg will seek to recoup the cost of challenging legislative boundaries in court.
Petersburg’s borough assembly voted Monday to direct an attorney for the borough to seek the 67-thousand dollars it cost to challenge new district lines approved by the Alaska Redistricting Board back in 2011. That plan put Petersburg in house and senate districts with Juneau and ended up being the alignment only on an interim basis.
The state’s supreme court called for a new permanent redistricting plan for the 2014 election. Petersburg backed the new alignment which included Petersburg in a house district with Sitka and 22 other small Southeast communities.
Mayor Mark Jensen Monday read from a letter to the assembly from attorney Tom Klinkner. “While the borough did not challenge the redistricting board’s revised districting plan for Southeast, the board only issued that plan after the borough successfully challenged the board’s original plan,” Jensen read. “Thus the borough may be considered a prevailing party in this case for purposes of an award of cost of attorney’s fees.”
The legal cases over the plan are wrapping up after a superior court judge signed off on the new permanent redistricting map. That interim map will still be in place for the upcoming legislative session – meaning Petersburg will continue to be represented by Juneau democrats Beth Kerttula in the house and Dennis Egan in the Senate. That will change for the start of the legislative session in 2015.
KFSK said goodbye to longtime news director Matt Lichtenstein last month, as he leaves to focus on commercial salmon trolling after about 18 years in the local public radio newsroom.
Lichtenstein was 23 years old when he moved to Petersburg and started working as a news reporter at KFSK in June of 1994. He took about a year off from the radio station in the 1997 and then took over as news director in 1998. He’s gone through the reorganization and reduction in news staff that came with the creation of CoastAlaska radio in the 1990s. His career here also saw the switch to digital recording and editing as well as the internet starting to play a much larger role in the local news gathering and dissemination. Joe Viechnicki spoke with him about radio news and the changes he’s seen over the past two decades.
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Lichtenstein leaves KFSK to work as a power troller. His last day on the job was December 31st.
Sitka High School girls basketball team members discuss their performance in the Holland America tournament, what it’s like to have a new coach, upcoming tournaments, and the challenge of balancing classwork and sports.
The Sitka School Board approved spending to begin design on a huge new vocational building. A bar in Wrangell made the decision to go smoke-free. The Sealaska Heritage Institute is offering school scholarships to shareholders and lineal descendants. The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star stood down from a rescue mission in Antarctica. Carolers gathered in Sitka for a “Russian Christmas” tradition.
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Sitka High Lady Wolves team members Sophie Mudry and Isa Ramil discuss the girls’ basketball season. This interview was recorded on December 31, 2013.
If all goes well, a year from now school district officials in Sitka will cut the ribbon on huge new vocational education building.
The Sitka School Board last night (Tue 1-7-14) approved spending $135,000 to begin design of an unusual project at the high school.
What can you do with 8,000 square feet? Ask Randy Hughey, formerly Sitka’s high school wood shop teacher.
“A steel building, tall enough for us to build a small house on a trailer and take it out.”
Hughey has come out of retirement to oversee the construction of Sitka’s “Vocational Education Facility.” The city received $2.9-million in funding from the Department of Commerce for the structure in 2012. It’s hoped that Hughey can pull together all the threads to make the project happen in a year.
To jump-start things, Hughey told the school board that he and Sitka’s public works director, Michael Harmon, elected to seek bids from design-and-build contractors, rather than go through a more conventional process.
Hughey’s review committee selected the team McCool Carlson Green architects and CBC Construction. McCool Carlson Green was the creative force behind Pacific High; CBC was a local subcontractor for Sunland Development.
“The experience of this team is not as deep as some of the other experienced teams, but the structure that they provided was the most appealing for educational purposes. They gave us the best idea.”
Their idea is a large, useful building with four car lifts, a lot of garage doors, and a lot of room.
“There isn’t much fancy equipment in it. It’s just a big space with light, a modest amount of heat, and out of the weather so students can build a variety of things. The community is going to find this a good and useful space for so many things for a very long time. I think of all of the plays that we build sets for — you just need big spaces! There’s going to be a lot of good things happening in this building over the years.”
The structure will occupy space between the existing high school shops and the back gym — an area currently enclosed by chain link fence. Hughey says the building will primarily serve as work space. Although computer-aided-design and computer-controlled milling machines are playing a larger role in high school shop programs, Hughey says students still need to work with their hands.
“As educators, there’s this tension between having a computer run a torch to cut something out, versus the hand skill to do that. Because we cannot let go of that hand skill stuff yet all.”
Earlier in the meeting the school board recognized elementary school teacher Rebecca Himschoot, who had won a national teaching prize for Science. Hughey said Vocational teachers shared Himschoot’s goal of connecting with students.
“In the Career and Tech-Ed areas where kids get to build stuff, get the hands-on, engagement is easier to achieve. And if they can build real things, lasting things, things of value, things of beauty, things of usefulness — that engagement is all the higher.”
The school board voted unanimously to award the initial design to CBC Construction and McCool Carlson Green. Hughey anticipated that much of the construction could take place this summer and fall, and the building will open for classes by the beginning of the second semester next school year.
JUNEAU — The Alaska Energy Authority has requested more time to give federal regulators a progress report on the massive proposed Susitna-Watana dam project, citing funding concerns.
Authority spokeswoman Emily Ford said Tuesday that the $10 million proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell for next year’s budget is not enough to complete the work AEA had hoped to perform this year. AEA had wanted $110 million to complete its initial study report and prepare its license application for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during the upcoming fiscal year.