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Southeast Alaska News

<p><strong>Capitol Steps: Politics Takes A&hellip;

Tue, 2014-07-01 15:57

Capitol Steps: Politics Takes A Holiday KFSK is broadcasting the 4th of July Special 12noon Friday

Rotary Beach access project damaged

Tue, 2014-07-01 15:44

Apparent vandalism has hit another local project, this time a new set of stairs under construction at Rotary Beach, meant to help improve access to the popular site. First City Rotary is in charge of the project, and KRBD talked with the group’s outgoing president about what happened.


Every year, Rotary members look for a project: one that’s hands-on, and will clearly benefit the community. First City Rotary President Rosie Roppel, whose term of office just ended, explained how they chose improving the beach access.

“One of our members who has a bunch of little children went down there, trying to get down to that beach and was hanging through the bushes and over the roots and everything, the little girl fell down and really hurt herself,” she recalled.

That member suggested putting in stairs so that children, seniors and others who have a difficult time crawling over logs and bushwhacking through the trees, can get down to Rotary Beach, which many locals also refer to as Bugge’s Beach.

“So everybody jumped on it and said yes,” Roppel said.

The group received a matching grant for the work, and also is using money raised locally

The Rotary Beach stairs, seen from the top, where there was no damage.

to help pay for it. Sweat equity, though, is a major factor.

“First of all we had to clear the path, then we had to bring down D-1, and we had to haul it down in barrels because it’s in a peculiar spot, where you can’t really drive a truck down,” Roppel said.

They spread the gravel, tamped it down, placed rebar in between wooden forms, all in preparation for pouring cement. Roppel estimated that about $25,000 worth of labor and materials have been put into the project.

It was all set to go, but then the weather turned on them. Roppel said that the group, led by Dick Miller, had to abandon the project until the weather got better.

“So I’m sure it was probably disheartening to him, and all the rest of us that worked on it and our club that raised the money, and the district that gave us the money, and all the people in town that are looking forward to the stairs, to have somebody or something come and destroy the whole bottom half of it,” she said.

Roppel said it actually is the bottom third. The wood forms were pulled up and removed – she suspects for firewood. Some of the rebar was bent and probably needs to be fixed if not replaced.

Roppel noted that vandalism has damaged or destroyed former Rotary improvement projects, as well. For example, Rotary members last year replaced some of the small fishing piers at Carlanna Lake that had been damaged when people burned campfires directly on the wood decking.

“So, we totally repair them, packing the wood by hand, high school kids and everyone, packing it up, helping our club,” she said. “And we went up there (recently), because I go up there and hike all the time: (It’s) burned up again already. What is the matter with these people?”

If Roppel sounds frustrated, it’s because she is.

“I really hate to think we have people in our community that do things like this,” she said. “And if people know that there are people ruining things and wrecking the look of our town and things that people are trying to do good, you would think they would report it.”

Despite the setback, First City Rotary still plans to complete the beach access project. It’s going to cost more now, and Roppel said it’ll take a little longer, too.

This apparent act of vandalism was discovered soon after the office building at Ketchikan Youth Initiatives’ planned new paintball site was severely damaged. That vandalism, plus some target shooting that was too close for comfort, prompted a crew of AmeriCorps volunteers to halt work on the paintball site, at least until those issues were resolved.


Tue, 2014-07-01 15:25

Sitka residents and visitors packed the Bayview Pub on Tuesday to watch the U.S. take on Belgium in the World Cup Round of 16 (KCAW photo / Rachel Waldholz)

If there was any question whether football fever has reached the Last Frontier, it was settled Tuesday (7-1-14) afternoon, as Sitka residents and visitors alike packed the Bayview Pub to watch the U.S. try to battle past Belgium for a berth in the World Cup quarterfinals.

The U.S. lost in a heartbreaker: three goals were scored in extra time, and two of them were Belgian. But as they fought it out in Salvador, Brazil, the U.S. team had the undivided attention of fans 7,000 miles away – including visitors Kim and Mark Spragg, who broke out some special accessories for the occasion.

Community Land Trust: Thanks, and now the work begins

Tue, 2014-07-01 15:15

Hi, my name is Joshua Houston, and I am a board member of the Sitka Community Development Corporation.

The board of directors of SCDC would like to thank City and Borough of Sitka Assembly for their support of the donation of the small pocket park lot on Lillian Drive to the Sitka Community Land Trust program.

The CLT was recently formed through a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, with the support of their grant administrator Chris Perez, and the hired consultant Michael Brown of Burlington Associates in Community Development. The diligent, tedious work of preparing legal documents and making difficult decisions was admirably performed by the CLT Committee: Maegan Bosak, Cleo Brylinsky, Randy Hughey, James Poulson, Michael LaGuire, and Mim McConnell.

The SCDC board would also like to thank Stephen Courtright for sharing his story at the Assembly meetings, and the following community members who have generously made donations: Daniel & Mae Dunsing, Bonnie Brenner, Will Swagel and to all those who purchased and or donated items at the Building Reuse Center.

Thank you to the following businesses and agencies for their generous donations: Hames Corporation, First Bank, First National Bank, ALPS Federal Credit Union, Wells Fargo, Ludvig’s Bistro, Silver Bay Seafoods, National Community Land Trust Network, State Division of Economic Development, National Philanthropic Trust, US Coast Guard Spouses & Wives Association, ASRC McGraw Construction, Sitka Vision Clinic, Allen Marine Tours, schmolk Mechanical Contractors, and Venneberg Insurance.

Thanks also to the following agencies for their support of the CLT solution to permanently affordable housing: Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce, USDA Rural Development, Baranof Island Housing Authority, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, and to the University of Alaska Sitka campus for the use of their classrooms for our many teleconferences and web meetings.

The next steps for SCDC are to approve a house design, select a qualified prospective home owner according to the CLT process, coach the home owner through financing, select a builder for the home on Lillian Drive, oversee the building project, and then choose our next project.

The opinions expressed in commentaries on Raven Radio are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by the station’s board, staff, or volunteers.

Expert says Alaska has history of discrimination

Tue, 2014-07-01 14:08

ANCHORAGE — An expert testifying in an Alaska Native voting rights trial says the state has a history of discrimination dating to pre-statehood.

University of Utah political science professor Daniel McCool testified Monday in the trial being heard by a federal judge in Anchorage. He said the state's current failure to provide full language assistance to Native language speakers can be traced to territorial days, when Alaska Natives were not allowed citizenship unless they renounced their own culture.

read more

Land-use agreement signed for gold mine project

Tue, 2014-07-01 14:07

BETHEL — Donlin Gold and the Kuskokwim Corp. have agreed to terms on land-use rights for a proposed gold mine 120 miles upriver of Bethel.

The price tag wasn't disclosed. But the deal gives the Native corporation, which owns the surface estate, rights to some construction contracts and sets financial terms for decades. Corporation president Maver Carey said it also has provisions for shareholder scholarships and hiring.

read more

First Yukon River king salmon reach Canada

Tue, 2014-07-01 14:06

FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the first Yukon River spawning king salmon have reached the border with Canada.

As of Monday, 700 kings, also called chinook salmon, were detected by sonar at Eagle just 16 miles from the border.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported the goal is to see at least 42,500 kings cross the border. That would meet requirements of an international salmon treaty.

King salmon runs on the Yukon have declined dramatically and king salmon fishing is banned for the length of the Yukon.

read more

Flags to be lowered for former state lawmaker

Tue, 2014-07-01 14:05

JUNEAU — Flags will be lowered to half-staff on Tuesday to honor a former state lawmaker.

Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement that flags will be lowered in memory of former state Rep. Fred Brown, who died Friday at the age of 70.

The four-term state lawmaker was first elected in 1974, representing Fairbanks. He was active in the Fairbanks community, and was associated with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra for 50 years.

A memorial will be planned in mid-July.

State flags will return to full-staff on Wednesday.


Iditarod registration opening draws 60 mushers

Tue, 2014-07-01 14:05

ANCHORAGE — Organizers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race said 60 mushers have signed up for the 2015 race so far.

Organizers said 36 mushers signed up at Iditarod Trail Committee headquarters in Wasilla Saturday, the opening day of registration. Another 24 mushers registered by mail for the 1,000-mile race.

read more

Art Shares

Tue, 2014-07-01 11:25

Sitka Fine Arts Camp (SFAC) faculty members WT McRae and Amy Butcher discuss Art Shares, the evening performances presented by SFAC faculty, which are open to the public. Every night for the next week, faculty will perform a free sampling of their work. Most performances are at the Odess Theater starting at 7 p.m. The weekend shows are presented at the Performing Arts Center.
This week, starting Tuesday, July 1, camp counselors will show off their music, dance, theater and writing skills. On Wednesday, July 2, the visual arts faculty will present slides of their work and on Thursday, July 3, the writing and theater faculty will present improv, poetry, fiction and non-fiction.
A full schedule of all the events scheduled through July 10 will soon be posted on the Sitka Fine Arts Camp Facebook page.


Fourth of July events

Tue, 2014-07-01 10:57

The Fourth of July is coming up on Friday, and as usual, Alaska’s First City has plenty of activities to offer.

Food and game booths will open at The Plaza mall starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 3rd, and will remain open that day until 9 p.m.. They’ll open up again at 10 a.m. Friday.

Also on Thursday is a free square dance with live music starting at 6 p.m. at the Great Alaska Lumberjack Show arena.

On Friday, the main parade this year will start at noon at Tatsuda’s IGA, and will head north toward The Plaza. People who are in the parade should start lining up at 10:45 a.m.

Children who are walking in the kids parade should meet at the Federal Building parking lot at 11 a.m. Friday. That short parade starts at 11:30, and ends just north of the downtown tunnel.

Also Friday, First City Rotary will hand out free root beer floats next to the downtown Tongass Historical Museum starting at 3:30 p.m., and the group’s annual Rubber Duck Race starts at 5 p.m.

The Alaska Ironjack competition starts at 6 p.m. Friday at the Great Alaska Lumberjack Show arena, and fireworks are set for 11 p.m., weather permitting.

Tea Party Express might not endorse in Alaska race

Tue, 2014-07-01 00:04

JUNEAU — A national tea party group that heavily backed Republican Joe Miller’s campaign four years ago has not decided whether to endorse anyone in this year’s Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist for the Tea Party Express, told The Associated Press on Monday that the philosophical contrast between the candidates is “not as dramatic” as it was in 2010.

“They’re all pretty much running on a conservative platform,” he said.

read more

Transmitting and receiving

Tue, 2014-07-01 00:03

KENAI — At 9 a.m. on Sunday it was time to pack up.

The Moosehorn Amateur Radio Club successfully completed another “Field Day” — 24 hours and hundreds of connections with other amateur or ham radio operators.

The club also gave license exams to six people interested in becoming operators on Saturday at the Skyview High School parking lot. A written test on the rules and technology is required to become a licensed ham operator. There are three levels of operators — technician, general and extra.

read more

Contractors nearly finished with Alaska's longest bridge

Tue, 2014-07-01 00:03

FAIRBANKS — Alaska’s newest, longest bridge is almost complete but its immediate future is uncertain because the Alaska Railroad lacks funds to connect it to Fort Greely.

Mark Peterburs, project director for the Tanana River Northern Rail Extension, said the 3,300-foot bridge will be completed on time and under its $156 million budget.

“I’m feeling a little sad that it’s coming to an end,” he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Mostly probably because it’s been pretty successful — if it was a disaster, I’d probably be happy to put it behind me.”

read more

Yakutat lodge employees held on assault charges

Tue, 2014-07-01 00:03

ANCHORAGE — Two employees of a southeast Alaska lodge who were upset by a California couple’s interest in mining in the area are accused of threatening the couple with firearms, authorities said Monday.

Michael York, 26, of Colorado, and Devon Fernandez, 35, of Virginia, were awaiting transfer Monday to the Anchorage jail following the weekend incident, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

York’s attorney, Robert Herz, declined immediate comment when reached Monday by The Associated Press. Online court records didn’t list an attorney for Fernandez.

read more

Southeast energy commission puts two employees on paid leave

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:54

The Thomas Bay Power Authority is locking the doors of its Wrangell business office this summer and is placing two office employees on paid administrative leave. The joint Wrangell and Petersburg organization oversees the operations of the Tyee Lake Hydro-electric plant, which generates electricity for the two communities along with Ketchikan. The authority and it’s appointed commission could be mothballed later this year.

Wrangell and Petersburg formed the authority in 1974 to pursue construction of a hydro project that could serve the two communities. That resulted in the Tyee Lake hydro plant. Originally a state-owned project it’s now owned by the Southeast Alaska Power Agency, based in Ketchikan. Control of the day to day operations at Tyee Lake could be transferred to SEAPA this year. If that happens the Thomas Bay would become inactive. That controversial transfer has left the organization in a little disarray.

Following the resignation of two Wrangell members of the Thomas Bay Commission in June, the remaining commissioners voted to directed their absent general manager to prepare a budget and present it to them at another meeting June 27.

Vice president Robert Larson of Petersburg said he passed that request on to GM Michael Nicholls. “Not only was he asked to provide for the financial statements which my understanding was they are prepared and up to date, so the work has been done, it just hasn’t been transmitted to the commission.”

Larson said he also asked Nicholls to attend the June 27th meeting. “Although it’s a teleconferenced meeting, he is to the best of my knowledge in the office but not on the phone.”
Neither Nicholls nor office manager Rhonda Dawson-Christian, secretary to the commission attended commission meetings in June. Commissioners thought both were still collecting a paycheck from Thomas Bay.

Commissioners also heard that staff was not cooperating with the transfer of operations of the Tyee Lake hydro plant to the Southeast Alaska Power Agency. The CEO of SEAPA Trey Acteson said he tried to get some documents from the TBPA office needed for SEAPA to consider the transfer. “I stopped by the office personally earlier this week and was told by the manager that I needed a court order to get those documents.”

“Thank you Trey that’s not going to be an issue and whatever information you need we’re gonna get to you almost instantly,” Larson responded.

That’s commission vice president Larson responding.

The commission has had a few rocky recent years. Commissioners have disagreed on hiring managers and other issues. Representatives from the two communities have also gone in different directions on a variety of issues – from the development of a new hydro source in Thomas Bay, to the construction of a powerline to the Canadian grid.

Just over a year ago, Petersburg’s assembly voted not to fund a portion of the Thomas Bay budget that has been split by the two communities. That money pays for the office staff and administration costs.

The failure to perform the job requested by the commission and lack of participation had the commissioners talking about ending employment, at least in Nicholls case. However, they agreed to wait on that decision until a meeting July 9th.

Larson summed up some advice from clerks from both boroughs. “If the motion that the commission is going to entertain involves termination then it’s probably not appropriate to take it up in open session right now without notice and without providing Mr. Nicholls a opportunity to participate in open session or executive session.”

Commissioner Clay Hammer to suggested a different tack. “I would like to make a motion at this time, this is Clay, that we put the Thomas Bay general manager on administrative leave effective immediately. Second. And I would like to also include the secretary in that as well. With the provision with the secretary basically until we get the general manager situation resolved I think it would be appropriate to have both positions placed on administrative leave.”

That motion passed unanimously. Commission members also wanted Hammer to go to the Wrangell office, get the keys and the credit cards and lock it up, after Nicholls and Dawson Christian were allowed to pack up their belongings.

Wrangell borough assembly member Julie Decker was frustrated with the situation. “When I got on the assembly I took a lot of time sitting down with Thomas Bay Power Authority staff as well as many of the people to try to take care of their concerns and make them conditional in the transfer of operations to SEAPA and it seems like all the way along this process we bent over backwards to take care of their concerns and this is absolutely horrible treatment.”

Decker applauded the staff of SEAPA for their handling of the situation.

Despite the business office being locked up, it sounds like the lights will still stay on – Tyee foreman Steve Beers said the plant will continue to operate. “Just FYI for you guys everything will hold together, no matter what you do. (JOE NELSON) We’re countin on you Steve. (ROBERT LARSON) Steve that was my concern that you are fully aware that you’re gonna be responsible for the operations there at Tyee. I have been for some time so it’s OK. OK”

Union employees at the plant will eventually work for SEAPA once the transfer happens.

Former school maintenance head pleads guilty to porn charges

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:47

The former maintenance director for Petersburg school district pleaded guilty last week to charges of possession, receipt and distribution of child pornography.

46-year-old Tye Leif Petersen changed his plea to guilty for three counts on June 23rd in a Juneau courtroom before Judge Timothy Burgess.

Petersen worked for the school district from 2002 through October of 2013. He resigned his job that month after Federal Bureau of Investigation agents searched his home. He was arrested in Juneau shortly after as he tried to leave for Seattle.

The case stemmed from an FBI investigation of a Yahoo email account in eastern Tennessee. The FBI found Petersen exchanged sexually explicit images and video via email. A search of his home turned up 11 found 11 CDs, five thumb drives, three hard drives and an Apple desktop all holding images of children. In total, the FBI found over 12-hundred images and more than three dozen videos depicting pre-pubescent minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Assistant U.S. attorney Jack Schmidt prosecuted the case. “He accepted responsibility for the conduct that we had against him in relation to the items, the child images we recovered from his computers and other digital media he had and it was part of the agreement that there is no sentencing agreement as to what sentence he’s going to receive and so basically everything’s out there on the table for the judge to make a determination.”

Petersen is scheduled for sentencing November 11th. He’s facing a minimum sentence of five years in jail. He could also be fined up to 250-thousand for each count and could be under supervision after jail time for five years or longer.

Summer king fishing opens with record hopes

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:38

This is a salmon troller fishing near Petersburg in the 1930s. (Flickr photo/born1945)

If you’ve noticed a lot of empty slips in local harbors today, there’s a reason for that: Tuesday (7-1-14) is the first day of the summer troll opening for king salmon — and Southeast fishermen are looking at a record high target harvest.

“This is just an extraordinary year,” says Fish & Game biologist Pattie Skannes.

Trollers will be going after more than 171,300 kings in this first opening. Skannes says it’s the largest target ever for the July opener.

And it’s significantly higher than last year, when the July target was just 62,864 kings.

To put those numbers in perspective, there will be about the same number of fish available to trollers in the next two to three weeks as were available to all gear groups — trollers, seiners, gillnetters and sport fishermen — for the entire year last year.

Skannes says a number of things are contributing to the high target, including big expectations for Chinook returns in the Pacific Northwest.

“The Columbia River is expecting an enormous return this year, a record-breaking return,” she says. “So some of those stocks are what we call driver stocks for the Southeast fishery. That means that they contribute significantly to what we are harvesting up here, so we benefit from their abundance.”

Skannes says it’s always hard to know what causes big returns, but it might be a matter of what’s happening way off shore.

“The leading hypothesis is that productivity is driven mostly by ocean conditions,” she says. “So years in which we have a good abundance, that is in part explained by ideal or favorable ocean conditions.”

Fish & Game hasn’t set the length of the July opening yet. That will depend on how fast the fleet approaches its target. But Skannes estimates it will last between 14 and 21 days. And she expects there will be a second opening in mid-August, following the closure of the Coho troll fishery. Last year, there was no second opening, because the fleet caught the entire summer quota in six days in July.

Skannes says she expects more boats to participate in the fishery this year, attracted by the large quota and long opening. Last year, 714 permit-holders fished. That was lower than in the past, perhaps because of the low quota and short season. This year, Skannes says she’s expecting about 800 boats.

And last year, fishermen got an average price of $4.61 per pound for king salmon, according to number compiled by Fish & Game. Skannes says that so far, during spring trolling, fishermen have seen an average price of $5.52 per pound. She expects that summer prices will probably be somewhat lower than that, because of the higher volume of fish coming in.

Meanwhile, trolling for chum salmon has gotten off to a slow start. In recent years, Fish & Game has seen a fairly significant fishery in June in Icy Strait. This year, Skannes says, it was almost nonexistent — although numbers have picked up in the past week.

Two dead after boating accident

Mon, 2014-06-30 17:02

Two people are dead after a boating accident between Petersburg and Wrangell that happened on Sunday night. The 18 foot skiff overturned near Level Island—just south of the Wrangell narrows.

Coast guard spokesman Grant Devuyst said the victims called the Petersburg Police Department on their cellphone after their vessel tipped over. The police contacted the coast guard around 6pm.

“We immediately launched the coast guard cutter Naushon as well as a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter out of the air station in Sitka to begin searching for these two individuals. An overturned skiff was located. Our coast guard crew located two persons in the water. Alaska state troopers, who were in small boats, were also helping with the search as well as Wrangell Search and Rescue, who had a fixed wing plane. The small boats were able to recover those two bodies,” Devuyst said.

The victims were 45 year-old Jonathan Comfort from Clayton, Delaware and 58 year-old Kenneth Rupprecht from Tammassee, South Carolina. According to Alaska State Troopers, neither was wearing a life jacket at the time. They were also not equipped with immersion suits. Their bodies were transported to the State Medical Examiner in Anchorage for autopsy.

Music on the house

Mon, 2014-06-30 15:05

Sitka Summer Music Festival artistic director Zuill Bailey explains some musical backstories at Sunday’s final concert. (KCAW photo/Greta Mart)

Sunday marked the final public concert of the 43rd annual Sitka Summer Music Festival, titled “Brunch with Schubert.” Barbara Hames hosted the event at her Halibut Point Road home, and a sold-out crowd enjoyed a full concert and post-concert brunch buffet of crab cakes, moose sliders and cream-and-berry-stuffed french toast.

Guests line up for a brunch buffet. (KCAW photo/Greta Mart)

SSMF artistic director and cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Natasha Paremski performed Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne for Cello and Piano, while the Cypress String Quartet (Cecily Ward, Tom Stone, Ethan Filner, and Jennifer Kloetzel) opened the concert with Schubert’s Quartettsatz in C Minor, D. 703, and closed with the rarely-played “2 Sketches Based on Indian (Native American) Themes, A.99″ by Charles Tomlinson Griffes.