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Southeast Alaska News
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.
The Ketchikan School Board continued work on the 2015 budget, which will be considered in final reading April 23rd. The nutrition program and policies were also discussed. School Board Member Ralph Beardsworth provides more information. SB041014
Music Fest is at Kayhi, First City Players has auditions for adults and youth productions are underway. The Arts Council is hosting dances, there are gallery exhibits and more. Arts041014
JUNEAU — Following an intensive amendment process that began last week, the House Resources Committee on Wednesday passed out its rewrite of a bill aimed at advancing a major liquefied natural gas project.
The committee considered dozens of proposed amendments and debated many of them at length — even some that were ultimately withdrawn — over the course of several days.
FAIRBANKS — An assistant professor was placed on paid leave while the University of Alaska Fairbanks reviews the injecting of about 30 students with a solution not intended for human use.
Students have told officials that clinical procedures professor Sherry Wolf told them to repeatedly inject each other with the solution that is only intended for use on pads during training exercises, UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
ANCHORAGE — The remains of two pilots have been found in the wreckage of a small commercial plane that crashed during a training flight near a Southwest Alaska town, state troopers said Wednesday.
The pilots who died in the crash Tuesday afternoon near Bethel were identified as Derrick Cedars, 42, of Bethel, and Greggory McGee, 46, of Anchorage. They were the only two on board.
The Alaska House Labor and Commerce Committee has advanced a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage, but backers of a minimum wage ballot initiative say the bill is only a cynical political ploy.
House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, previously told the Empire that the bill will pass the House. Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, said there is “reluctance” in the Senate.
The House Labor and Commerce Committee moved HB384 out of committee on a 6-1 vote Wednesday with Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson of Anchorage voting against the bill.
An effort to modernize the Alaska Landlord and Tenant Act for the first time in nearly two decades cleared a House committee hurdle Wednesday.
Sponsored by Rep. Doug Isaacson, R-North Pole, HB282 moved out of the House Judiciary Committee without objection.
“I really like the bill,” said a smiling Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage.
If approved by the House and Senate, HB282 allows a landlord to garnish a renter’s Permanent Fund Dividend for any repairs that cost more than the renter’s security deposit.
JUNEAU — The Senate Finance Committee advanced a $2.1 billion capital budget Wednesday.
Perhaps the biggest change compared with the draft unveiled earlier this week was a $245 million financing package for a heat and power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The figure includes state funds and $157.5 million in anticipated bond revenue. The committee advanced a separate bill, SB218, that would increase the borrowing limit of the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority as part of that overall package.
FAIRBANKS — A dire Yukon River king salmon forecast that could bottom out below last year’s low returns has some rural Alaska residents calling for a moratorium on subsistence fishing for the species.
“These fish are not going to be here forever, not the way we’re catching them,” Orville Huntington said Tuesday during a pre-season planning meeting with fisheries managers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “It wouldn’t hurt to take a few years off and say, ‘Let them go.’ There are other fish out there.”
Large parts of Sitka will be without power for most of the night tonight (Thu 4-10-14) — or not, depending on what actions residents take to conserve electricity.
The Sitka Electric Department is installing the switches and transformers needed to operate a new backup generator, and will have to completely de-energize the Marine Street substation to allow linemen to perform the work safely.
But, as KCAW’s Robert Woolsey reports, the Department has a trick up its sleeve that will keep the electricity on at most homes, as long as we power off our big appliances.
The power outage is scheduled to begin at midnight, and last six hours. Unlike most outages in Sitka, when a tree falls on one of the main transmission lines, there will actually be plenty of power — just no way to get it around to everyone.
The Marine Street substation will be taken offline during the installation work. Utility director Chris Brewton says technicians will take the circuits normally fed by Marine Street, and tie them into the Jarvis substation — and “backfeed” power to all of Sitka.
It’s a pretty technical maneuver, but might sound familiar to backyard electricians.
“Putting a jumper in place to connect two circuits together. Yeah, exactly.”
The problem is: With one substation offline, Sitka will have about half the available power it usually does. Around 9 or 10 megawatts. A typical load during the middle of the night, though, might be 12 to 14 megawatts — so we’ll come up short.
Brewton says there are some strategies to bring the load down for this one night.
“We’re taking our interruptible loads offline, our high school boilers and that stuff. We’re also asking customers that have emergency generators to go on their generator, and help relieve some of that system load. The objective is that if we can get everyone to conserve that still remains energized, we may have enough power to keep everybody in power and not turn anyone off.”
Customers who don’t have interruptible loads or emergency generators — which is practically everybody — can also help.
“The biggest thing probably is to turn off your hot water heater. I realize that’s going to be a pain because you turn it off at midnight and you get up at six in the morning, it’s going to be cold. Turn off your hot water heater, don’t do your laundry, and don’t decide to cook your Thanksgiving dinner.”
Or don’t cook Thanksgiving dinner between midnight and 6 AM on Friday morning, that is.
The Titan 130 is a jet turbine. It looks like something that should be attached to the bottom of an Apollo rocket.
And Brewton says it feels like it belongs on a rocket.
Brewton — It is really impressive. The exhaust stack on this thing is seven feet in diameter. It’s huge.
KCAW — Is it like standing behind a 737 at takeoff?
Brewton — It absolutely is, if not worse!
The new turbine is part of the overall upgrade to Sitka’s electrical system, and is being funded in the same bond package paying for the Blue Lake hydro expansion. It’s scheduled to go into service later this summer.
The Assembly voted on Tuesday night to continue allowing floathouses at Picnic Cove, south of Sitka.
The Assembly was asked to consider removing Picnic Cove from the list of sites where floathouses are allowed. Floathouses are now allowed in four places near Sitka: Camp Coogan, Jamestown Bay, and Eastern Bay, plus Picnic Cove.
Marlene Campbell, the city’s government relations director, brought the proposal before the Assembly. She said that for two decades, the city has received public complaints that the single floathouse now in Picnic Cove blocks public access to the area. Campbell said that now might be a good time to reconsider the city’s policy; the floathouse’s longtime owner died recently, and there has been interest from several people in new floathouse permits for the cove.
Several members of the public spoke against the proposal. They suggested there was something larger at stake in the decision to limit floathouses – something at the core of Sitka’s identity. Resident John DeLong spoke for many when he said he feared it would limit the already dwindling ability to experience Alaska the way it could be experienced just a few decades ago.
“We would be leaving out some of the young people who would like to enjoy Sitka as we got to enjoy it 20, 30 years ago,” DeLong said. “I would really hate to see that be taken away from them.”
The assembly agreed. Member Mike Reif said that while he understood that floathouses can turn public land into de facto private space, the importance of maintaining opportunities for a distinct Alaskan lifestyle outweighed the harm to the public.
“We live in Alaska, we happen to have a national forest and other public lands all around us. 99-percent of the land is public,” Reif said. “If I was in California or some other coastal area where 90-percent of it was private, I’d say keep this public and keep it public access, do not allow a quote unquote quasi-private use of it by floathouses.”
“I’m going to support the private side here,” he said. “Because the public, the day-boating public, has many, many choices still.”
The assembly also heard an update on a proposed subdivision in the Benchlands. Todd Fleming and Jeremy Twaddle of the local contractor Sound Development, LLC, presented their first ideas for the subdivision during a work session before the assembly’s regular meeting.
Sound Development bought a parcel of land near Kramer Avenue from the city last fall. Fleming and Twaddle don’t plan to build houses themselves on the site; instead they plan to put in the necessary infrastructure to make the land ready for new homes, and then sell the lots to buyers who would build their own.
The city paid $3-million for the full Benchlands property back in 2007. While it wasn’t an explicit condition of the purchase, affordable housing was a priority for many when the land was purchased, and Mayor Mim McConnell asked whether the newest plan would honor that intent.
Twaddle said that Sound Development planned to write in limits on how large houses on the site could be.
“By limiting to this square footage of, say, 1400 square feet, you’re going to automatically limit the value of the home,” he said.
Twaddle said he didn’t see any other way, as a developer, to mandate affordability.
“That’s really going to be the only controlling, limiting factor,” he said. “It would be very difficult for us to try and go in as a regulatory authority, and go, ‘You can only realize this much inflation over this period of time,’ or things like that. It would be difficult to do that. I think just the simplest mechanism is to say, hey, your house can be X amount of square feet and that’s it.”
The current proposal envisions seventeen lots on a new cul-de-sac to be built off Kramer Avenue, near Jacobs Circle. Twaddle said they won’t know how much they expect to charge for the lots until further along in the development process.
Fleming and Twaddle stressed that the plan is in the very early stages, with nothing yet set in stone.
Could you bear life without Raven Radio? There are almost 200 of you that haven’t yet renewed your membership to Raven Radio since last spring, which leaves us about $15,000 short of our goal. There is simply no stopping until we get there. So if you haven’t pitched in yet, please do so now or if you prefer, call the station during business hours at 747-5877. Thanks to you and to everyone who has contributed and thanks for the photo go to Richard Nelson, host of Encounters heard on Sunday mornings at 10:30.
The Swan Lake hydroelectric dam expansion project got a big boost this week from the Senate Finance Committee.
When the committee’s proposed capital budget was unveiled, it included about $3.3 million for the Southeast Alaska Power Agency’s plan to raise the Swan Lake Dam by about six feet.
That might not sound like much, but it will make a big difference to southern Southeast hydropower, according to SEAPA’s CEO, Trey Acteson.
“I like to put that in terms of offsetting diesel,” he said. “What it will do is replace up to 800,000 gallons of diesel generation a year, as our diesel dependency grows.”
Energy demand is growing faster than expected among SEAPA’s three member communities – Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell – and when the inexpensive hydroelectric power runs low, those communities turn to backup diesel generators.
If Swan Lake can hold more water, though, that means the hydropower will last longer.
“What it allows us to do is it allows us to capture water that would have been spilled over the dam,” he said. “As it is now, if we get large inflows and we can’t use the water fast enough. This will allow us to capture that and shift that over into the winter months when we would potentially have to supplement with diesel.”
Ketchikan Public Utilities is building a new hydroelectric project at Whitman Lake, and Acteson said that project works well with the planned Swan Lake expansion.
“As many people know, the Whitman project is essentially run-of-river. It comes out a small reservoir, but it only has about a day or two of reserves,” he said. “So if KPU could run Whitman and while they’re running, we could bank that water in Swan and not lose it. It’s actually a very nice marriage.”
The cost estimate for the Swan Lake project is $13.3 million. Acteson said he’s pleased with the Senate Finance Committee’s funding for the project, and he’s hoping the House might add a little more when the budget goes to that body.
Other potential funding sources include the Alaska Energy Authority’s Renewable Energy Fund program, and bonds.
Acteson said the project makes sense for southern Southeast Alaska.
“The great thing about the project is it utilizes existing infrastructure,” he said. “You don’t need a new powerhouse, you don’t need a new penstock, you don’t need a new dam – we’re just going to raise it – you don’t need new transmission. We’re essentially just maximizing an existing facility. We consider it the low-hanging fruit for the region.”
If all goes well, Acteson said the expansion project should be completed by the end of 2016.
A home on Densley Drive on the north end of city limits caught fire early Tuesday morning, but fire damage was contained to the bedroom.
According to City of Ketchikan Fire Chief Frank Share, a neighbor called in a report of smoke and flames at 6:59 a.m., and crews arrived five minutes later. Share said fire crews were there until nearly 11 a.m., making sure the fire was completely out.
There were no human injuries, but Share says the residents’ dog did not survive.
“Unfortunately, there was one pet lost in the fire,” Share said. “We were able to send crews in to effectuate that rescue, once we had everything in place with rapid intervention crews. We did try to perform CPR on the dog, however, we were unsuccessful, unfortunately.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation, and Share said there isn’t an estimate yet on damage to the home.
According to a search of Ketchikan Gateway Borough assessment records, the property at 5401 Densley Drive belongs to Bukovich, LLC. Share said the current residents had been renting the home.
Four people are running for president of Southeast’s largest tribal organization.
Tlingit-Haida Central Council delegates will make the choice during this week’s tribal assembly in Juneau.
Current President Ed Thomas has been in office for most of the past 30 years. He says the leadership change is a major topic for the meeting.
“I’m no longer going to be president. I’m not running. I’m not a candidate. So getting the next person ready is going to be very important, as well as selecting his support team on the executive council,” Thomas says.
Two of the candidates live in Juneau: William “Ozzie” Sheakley and Harold Houston. Richard Peterson is from Kasaan and Jacob Cabuag is from Seattle.
Eleven people are also running for six vice-president seats. Three of the four presidential candidates also plan to run if they don’t win Thomas’ position.
The Tlingit-Haida Central Council provides education, housing, financial assistance, foster care and other programs to tribal members. It began in 1935.
Delegates from 18 communities are attending the tribal assembly, which runs from April 9th to 12th at Juneau’s Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. Sessions will be broadcast online via the council’s website.
Before he leaves office, Thomas wants to make a delegate-selection policy change.
He says more and more tribal members are moving to urban areas. The number of seats per community is based on population. And that’s upset the delegate balance.
“If the trends continue, whereby we’re having more urban (delegates), I think we’re going to lose voices from our villages. And they’re the ones that are probably more dependent of what we do than some of the people in the urban areas,” he says.
Thomas says only tribal members with confirmed addresses should be counted. More of those with bad addresses lived in urban areas at the last point of contact.
The assembly’s agenda includes former Southeast Sen. Albert Kookesh as keynote speaker. Delegates will also hear from central council agencies, as well as regional and statewide Native organizations.
Alaskans know Valdez as the state’s oil port of choice, but an independent Yukon oil producer is planning to make Skagway No. 2 on the list of Alaska oil ports.
Last week, Skagway Mayor Mark Schaefer announced that officials from Northern Cross Yukon are interested in using the port of Skagway to export crude oil to a refinery in Washington state.
Northern Cross, an independent oil producer with backing from Chinese state oil company CNOOC, has been investigating the Eagle Plains area along the Dempster Highway north of Dawson City for almost a decade.
The Sitka Assembly passed a controversial amendment Tuesday night, tightening the city’s anti-smoking laws. The question before the assembly was whether children should be prohibited from entering any business that allows smoking — even for a non-smoking event. In the end, the decision came down to different interpretations of what voters intended nearly a decade ago.
It was the fourth time the Assembly had discussed the amendment, which pitted anti-smoking advocates against those who felt, in the words of one member of the public, “You’re going a little too far…You’re micromanaging things that a parent should do. So let’s do city things, and let parents do parent things.”
In 2005, Sitka voters passed a law that barred children from entering businesses that allow smoking. This past December, the American Legion, a private club that allows smoking, hosted a Christmas party for kids – but didn’t allow smoking at the event. The Legion asked the city attorney whether the party was legal. She said it was.
In response, Mayor Mim McConnell and Assembly Member Phyllis Hackett sponsored an amendment to clarify the intent of the 2005 law. The new language makes it clear that if a business allows smoking, then kids can’t enter, even for a smoke-free event.
That prompted protests from the Legion, and the Assembly sent the issue to the Health Needs and Human Services Commission. The commission voted unanimously in favor of the amendment. They cited, in particular, the possible health hazards of third-hand smoke, or the chemicals that can remain in walls and furniture after a room has been used for smoking.
But both McConnell and Hackett argued that all of these issues – third-hand smoke, public health, assembly overreach and even Christmas parties – were beside the point. Voters already settled these issues when they passed the law in 2005, Hackett said. The assembly’s job was simply to honor the voters’ original intent.
“The issue here, which I know some people are having a hard time understanding or choosing to believe, but the issue here is about intent, and it’s about the intent of the ordinance that was passed,” Hackett said. “And it was passed overwhelmingly by the voters.”
Assembly Members Mike Reif and Matt Hunter, however, insisted it wasn’t so easy to tell what voters intended nearly a decade ago. Reif pointed out that third-hand smoke, for instance, wasn’t even part of the debate in 2005.
“I personally really don’t know the intent of the voters in Sitka back in 2005,” Reif said. “It’s very cloudy trying to speculate what the intent was of all those voters.”
All the same, Reif said he felt he had a clearer sense of the voters’ will now.
“I do think that if we put this to the vote of Sitkan voters today, that they would pass this, they would want to see this banned,” Reif said. “I’ll support it because that’s what I think the majority of Sitkans want.”
Hunter, meanwhile, spoke at length about how his thinking on the issue had changed.
“I’ve publicly gone back and forth on this issue and I’m still conflicted on it,” Hunter said, adding that he had consulted the original 2005 ballot. “The language as it’s written, the whole reason for doing this amendment to change the language, is because the language is unclear. And to me it means that, what people voted on, it’s very easy for people to interpret it in many ways.”
He said he thought the issue should be put to a vote once again.
“I am going to not support this ordinance because I feel that this is an issue that really needs to go to the people to decide,” he said. “And while I have no intention of exposing myself or those I love to first-, second- or third-hand smoke, I also am very sensitive to the personal responsibility issue.”
In the end, Hunter was the only vote against the amendment. Assembly Member Pete Esquiro had agreed with Hunter during earlier meetings, but he voted yes, without offering any other comment.
A noted exercise physiologist from the lower 48 has been in Alaska this week updating health professionals on the latest research on the subject. He’s also been taking a look at what he calls “occupational athletes,” like commercial fishermen, and trying to find ways his research can apply to their work.
Dr. Brent Ruby will give a presentation tonight (Tue 4-9-14) on some of his research on people — like ultra-distance athletes and wildland firefighters — whose daily calorie expenditures far exceed what used to be considered normal for those activities. He’ll speak at 6 PM in the downstairs classroom at Sitka Community Hospital. The presentation is free and open to the public.
Dr. Brent Ruby is the director of the Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise in Missoula. But that’s not his biggest claim to fame. The guy once actually passed Frank Shorter in a race.
“It was a 5K – 30K – 5K event, and I remember coming up on him in the second 5K and going by him and thinking, This is probably one of the coolest athletic moments I’ve had.”
Frank Shorter was the first American to win the Olympic marathon, in 1972. Ruby also stayed with Kenyan great Henry Rono in a 5K race, but was “left in the dust” during the last mile.
So Ruby knows athletes, and studies athletes, but his work is relevant for the rest of us.
His latest data suggest that we don’t really understand heat exhaustion.
“There’s a misconception for athletes and individuals that, As long as I drink enough, we’ll be safe. And that is the misconception that we want to try to topple over.”
Ruby has consulted for wildland firefighters, the military, and football programs running two-a-day practices in the late summer. His lab at the University of Montana has developed monitoring tools for heat stress, and has explored ways to train for — and overcome — the hazards of working and playing in the heat.
Understanding the nature of heat stress, and disassociating it from dehydration, has been a been breakthrough. He says almost no one ever dies from dehydration. The real risk is heat.
“There has to be a balance between heat production and the ability to lose that heat. And when that gets out of balance — no matter how vigorous our hydration choices — we can’t combat the heat all the time. There are numerous examples of death due to heat stress — exertional heat stress — where the individual is completely, normally hydrated.”
Ruby says humans have an extraordinary ability to adapt and shed excess heat. But, by living in Alaska, do we give up that ability?
“You can’t take the heat, or you just don’t want to. Those are two separate things.”
Ruby says that heat tolerance — in every human — operates on a known schedule. And it’s good or bad news, depending on how enthusiastic you are about visiting relatives in the lower 48 in the summertime.
“It’s a slow process that kind of builds exponentially. The first five days or so you really start to see some rapid changes. And then over the course of a week or two weeks, all sorts of things start to change: Your ability to sweat — your actual sweat rate — can double per hour. What’s also unique is that the composition of the sweat will change, as a function of that acclimatization to the heat. So you lose less of the precious electrolyte, the more accustomed you get to being in that heat.”
A related area of study for Ruby is exertion. He’s worked to quantify the metabolic activity of not only ultra-endurance athletes, but also people he calls “occupational athletes.” Firefighters are in that category. So are Alaska’s commercial fishermen who sometimes work hard 36 to 72 hours at a stretch with little rest.
“Normal, basic human physiology is sort of programmed to really go big. And it’s fun to see individual examples of that in people who don’t make the kind of money that the tour athletes make, the well-known endurance athletes.”
And when your doctor tells you that “research shows” that exercise is good for us? That information is coming out of Ruby’s lab. He says that society has conditioned us to believe that inactivity is a privilege. It’s also a prescription for disease.
“There’s no doubt that the medicinal benefit of physical activity are enormous. And undeniable. That physical inactivity is as significant — if not more significant — than the health impacts we’ve seen from smoking. So getting people to choose to be more active, in a variety of ways — most people think it has to be so structured! — and it doesn’t have to be structured, but it can be a part of your everyday lifestyle.”
And this landlocked Montanan doesn’t just talk the talk. He builds paddle boards at home, and travels with an inflatable. He left our studios with directions to the nearest sandy beach to incorporate a little bit of surf into his lifestyle.
Each Alaska senator has an approximate limit on capital budget spending for projects in his or her district — how they spend it is up to them.
Anchorage schools are getting nearly $4.9 million in additional funding from the capital budget. Fairbanks has just over $150,000 headed its way.
Juneau schools aren’t so lucky. There’s nothing in the capital budget for them.
“We can only do so much,” said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau. “Every project is a need, I don’t argue with that, it’s just trying to prioritize some of this stuff.