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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — Authorities in Seward have recovered the body of a woman from Resurrection Bay near Fourth of July Creek.
KTUU-TV reports police have not determined whether it’s the same woman reported missing earlier this month.
Fourth of July Creek is across Resurrection Bay from the Seward Small Boat Harbor.
JUNEAU — A spokeswoman for the largest health insurance company in Alaska says more than 80 percent of individual health care policy holders whose plans do not meet requirements of the federal health care law opted to stick with their plan through 2014.
FAIRBANKS — A 36-year-old Fairbanks man sought in manhunt earlier this month has been arrested and charged with burglary and other counts.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner says Brandon Barron was arrested last week after a traffic stop for moving and equipment violations.
Alaska State Troopers say Barron was the driver of a vehicle that went into a ditch Jan. 8 after a local resident accused him of stealing fuel.
JUNEAU — A sailing of the Alaska state ferry LeConte has been canceled.
KINY says Tuesday’s voyage was canceled because of mechanical issues with the vessel’s port engine.
State transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the problem arose during an attempted sailing of the northern Lynn Canal route from Juneau to Haines and Skagway and back.
KETCHIKAN — There are no significant changes planned to the Navy’s only West Coast facility that measures underwater sounds made by submarines.
However, the U.S. Navy still must file a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility, which is located in Behm Canal near Ketchikan, along with other Navy military training and testing activities in the Northwest, KRBD reported.
Should children be prohibited from entering a business that allows smoking — even during a non-smoking event? That was the question before the Sitka Assembly on Tuesday (1-28-2014). What was just a holiday event for some Sitkans represented, for others, a threat to public health – and a violation of the voters’ intent.
For Margaret Peterson, it was just a Christmas party. Peterson is the Pub Manager at the American Legion in Sitka. In December, the Legion hosted an event for about 75 kids.
“Every one of the kids got to see Santa and Mrs. Claus,” Peterson told the Sitka Assembly. “They all got a present, they all got a bag of candy…Every one of the kids got a new jacket, a winter jacket to take home with them.”
But there was a wrinkle in this plan: the American Legion is a private club that allows smoking. And in 2005, Sitka voters passed a law prohibiting children from entering businesses where smoking is allowed. Just before the Christmas Party, the American Legion received a phone call complaining that they were violating the law.
So they checked with City Attorney Robin Koutchak. And Koutchak checked the ordinance. The law reads, Children under the age of eighteen shall not be permitted in any place of employment where smoking is allowed.
But the American Legion wasn’t going to allow smoking – not at this particular event. So, Koutchak said, not a problem. They could hold the Christmas Party as planned.
In early January, the Sitka Assembly decided to revisit that smoking ordinance. Mayor Mim McConnell and Assembly member Phyllis Hackett sponsored a revision, adding this language: Once the declaration of an establishment, facility or outdoor area as smoking has been made under this section, it shall not be changed for temporary or special functions. In other words, a business is either smoking or non-smoking. You can’t allow smoking sometimes, and then air out the room for events with kids.
Deputy Mayor Matt Hunter laid out some of the health concerns behind the law.
“The CDC says no amount of second-hand smoke, no matter how little, is safe,” Hunter said.”And I did some further research and talked to some people and discovered that the research that’s going on right now says that airing a place out is not enough to make it safe. The amount of carcinogens in the air, the cancer-causing chemicals and toxins actually get embedded within the walls.”
But at Tuesday’s meeting, nearly a dozen people stood up to plead with the Assembly not to pass the revised ordinance.
“This is a place where we have memorials for our vets that had passed away,” Peterson said. “If you guys change this smoking ordinance, the families cannot bring their kids in to have these memorials.”
“My grandchildren were so very happy,” said Sitka resident Robbie Martin, of the December event. “Now there’s Easter parties and memorials and things like that where children would be coming into the club. And I really hope there is some discussion for this.”
“I was able to take my younger children to this party, and it was very obviously a smoke-free and alcohol-free event,” said Sitka resident Stacy Joseph. “And they provided a wonderful hot meal for us, and it was all free to my family, and for a low income family, that’s really important.
But, Assembly member Phyllis Hackett said, it’s all beside the point.
“This isn’t really about the American Legion,” Hackett said. “It’s about the ordinance, and it’s about the fact that the intent of the ordinance, originally when it was passed by the people, was to protect children from second-hand smoke…by not letting them in smoking facilities.”
“Unfortunately, the ordinance was not written well enough to be able to cover the intention,” she said. “And all we’re doing by this is making it follow the intent and the way that people voted.”
City Attorney Robin Koutchak disagreed.
“With all due respect to Ms. Hackett, the intent was open for debate,” Koutchak said. She said it simply isn’t clear what voters originally intended.
In the end, the assembly voted 5-2 to postpone the issue, with McConnell and Hackett voting against postponement. The ordinance will be referred to the Health Needs and Human Services Commission — with the hope that they can come up with a solution that clears the air.
In other business, the Sitka Assembly passed on first reading an ordinance that would encourage city agencies to do more of their purchasing from local businesses. The ordinance would also set up a system by which the city could track how much it buys locally.
And the Assembly authorized city staff to apply for a loan from the Alaska Energy Authority, to finish construction of the Blue Lake hydro project. The city had originally hoped for a state grant to cover the final $18.5 million in construction costs, but now plans to borrow the money instead.
The long tables in the Fawn Mountain elementary school cafeteria were filled with third through sixth graders. But they had some much taller friends sitting with them today: parents.
The Ketchikan School District invited parents to come to their children’s schools this week to taste the lunch menu.
“We thought it would be great to have the school open and let the parents come in and try the lunch and see the environment and try to collect all that feedback,” said School district Wellness Director Barbara McCarthy, one of the organizers of the parent lunch week.
On the menu Tuesday: pepperoni pizza, salad bar and orange.
Just a few parents were at Fawn Mountain Tuesday. Jesse Embree is a paraprofessional at the school. She’s been in this cafeteria many times, but never tried the lunch her sixth grade daughter, Nicole, eats.
“I think I like the lunch I bring from home,” Embree said. “But actually today’s lunch, it’s pretty good.”
One table over, Gary Gaugler sat with his fifth grade daughter, Abigail.
The consensus between the two? Eh…it’s alright.
“They have a rating of one to five,” Gary Gaugler said. “I’d give it a three.”
The parents and teachers noted one thing that might add to the mediocrity of the lunches. They’re cooked somewhere else, and then brought here. If the food were a bit fresher, it could be better, they said.
Derek Meister is a counselor here. He is one of the staff members who tried the kids’ lunch this week. He sampled Monday’s chicken nuggets.
“They were a little soggy,” he said. “The flavor wasn’t bad, but the texture left much to be desired.”
The parents were gentle in their criticism of the school lunch. They were happy to see fruit and vegetables, and grateful to the schools for asking them to come in and give feedback.
The harshest food critics were the kids.
“I think if my parents came, they would probably gag,” one sixth-grader said.
“The school lunches are really gross,” said another. “I had this ham and cheese sandwich that was not edible.”
McCarthy says the schools are trying out some new recipes, like chicken wraps and tuna pita sandwiches.
Fawn Mountain’s principal, Alonso Escalante, knows there is room for improvement.
“Sometimes [the kids] are excited about what they’re eating,” he said. “And sometimes they let me know that they’re not and food ends up in the garbage.”
Each parent who participates this week is given a survey to fill out. They rate, on a scale of one to five, what they think of the nutritional value and taste of the lunch they just ate. In total, about 50 parents signed up to try the school lunches at Ketchikan’s elementary, middle and high schools.
Alaska Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell is seeking the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Mark Begich. Begich is up for reelection in November, and the race is being closely watched nationwide. Unseating Begich is a top priority for Repubicans, who are hoping to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in 2014.
Treadwell came through Sitka on Friday, January 24. He spoke with KCAW about public lands, personal privacy, climate change, and what, exactly he means when he promises to “bring decision-making home.”
“I think most Alaskans agree with me today that we have a federal government that spends too much,” Treadwell said. “It borrows too much. It prints too much money. It meddles too much in human affairs, in our personal affairs. It snoops too much. And I hear that from Republicans and Democrats across the board.”
“I think we have to go back and remind Washington there are limits to power, that Washington doesn’t need to try to solve every problem, that we don’t need a bureaucracy for everything, and that people in a free society can make decisions for themselves.”
Treadwell emphasized his support for increasing oil and gas production, and proposed giving the state more control over public lands.
“If you ask the average American, and you certainly get this from the average Alaskan, we want you to develop our resources to have jobs and we want you to protect the environment,” he said. “Right now the federal government is not doing a very good job of developing jobs on public land. That’s why the House of Representatives passed a measure to do a pilot project to try to turn Forest Service land over to the state of Oregon, for example, and why we ought to be looking at that with our state forests. I think Alaskans are smart enough to make good environmental decisions on our land, and to have a sustainable economy.”
Treadwell also emphasized his background in science and technology – among other roles, he has served as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Council and as Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Asked whether the federal government should be taking more action on climate change, Treadwell said he opposes any action that might increase the cost of fossil fuels.
“I think the first thing is that we need to understand our own limits as people,” Treadwell said. “I don’t know that we’re going to be able to change the weather. I do know that ultimately we can make energy cleaner. But I’m going to be representing a state that’s known for three things: cold, dark and distance. And I’m not going to be pushing to raise your energy prices. I’m sorry.”
But, Treadwell said, government does have a role in promoting renewable energy.
“I’m very much in favor of research and development that’s going to get us cleaner energy over time,” he said. “We’ve got hydroelectric. We’ve got geothermal. We’ve got tidal. We’ve got wind. And I’m very much a proponent, as a conservative — I’m ready to stand up in any conservative caucus and say, listen, this is one job the government can do and should do to help us advance as a society.”
One job the government shouldn’t be doing is spying on Americans, Treadwell said. He expressed concern over the program, run by the National Security Agency, to collect and store Americans’ phone records. That program was made public last summer by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“The 4th amendment of the constitution says the government doesn’t have access to your papers, can’t do unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant,” he said. “Well, you know, Edward Snowden broke the law, but the fact is he told us about people who were breaking the constitution! And I’m very concerned about that. I’m a privacy advocate.”
Treadwell faces two other Republicans in the primary: former Alaska Commissioner of Natural Resources, Dan Sullivan; and Joe Miller, who beat Senator Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 Republican primary, only to lose to her as a write-in candidate in the general election. The primary will be held on August 19, 2014.
The federal Bering Sea pollock A season opened Jan. 20, marking the start of the largest fishery in the U.S.
This year, fishermen in federal waters will have access to 1.267 million metric tons of pollock in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, and 162,351 metric tons in the Gulf of Alaska.
Those total allowable catches, or TACs, are an increase compared to 2013, when fishermen had access to 1.247 million tons in the BSAI and 110,272 metric tons in the Gulf.
FAIRBANKS — Alaska Public Offices Commission staff members are investigating the new mayor of Fairbanks differently than his campaign opponent, according to the mayor’s lawyer.
Attorney Jason Gazewood wrote in a formal response to the commission that its staff has used interviews and subpoenas to investigate contributions received by the campaign of Mayor John Eberhart, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
ANCHORAGE — Two Republicans running for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich criticized the Democratic incumbent at a candidates forum, saying he was wrong to oppose the proposed Pebble mine.
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan attended the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce forum Monday.
Begich recently came out against the proposed Pebble mine, based on an Environmental Protection Agency study. Begich said the mine would pose a threat to Bristol Bay salmon.
ANCHORAGE — Avalanche conditions remain too unstable to clear a highway into the Alaska city of Valdez, state transportation officials said Tuesday.
Two major avalanches and 10 or so smaller ones dumped snow Friday along 27 miles of the Richardson Highway, the only road access to the city at the end of the trans-Alaska pipeline.
One avalanche blocked a river and created a half-mile lake that covers the highway.
SEATTLE — Halibut fishermen will see another year of cuts under catch limits adopted Jan. 17 at the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s annual meeting.
Alaska’s portion of the 2014 catch is about 19.7 million pounds, out of a coastwide catch of 27.5 million pounds.
The coastwide catch is about 10 percent less than 2013, marking 10 consecutive years of cuts. The 2013 limit was about 31.02 million pounds coastwide, and 23 million pounds in Alaska.
Nine applicants will be considered for the House seat vacated by former Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, who resigned from her position Friday to accept a fellowship at Stanford.
Nancy Courtney, chair of the local Democratic Party, said Tongass Democrats held an emergency meeting after Kerttula’s announcement.
“The Selection Committee has worked quickly and thoroughly on its process and is very pleased to have received applications from very capable Alaskans,” Courtney said in a prepared statement.
The Juneau School District is starting to get a clearer picture of next year’s financial standing now that the two biggest fiscal unknowns — the cost of its teachers and state funding availability — have dollar figures attached.
But for a district facing nearly $4.8 million in budget cuts, clearer does not mean easier, JSD Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said after a budget committee meeting Tuesday evening.
“There’s still such a large gap between what we want to provide for students and what we can afford to provide,” Gelbrich told the Empire.
The Sitka Assembly will hear a presentation on potential cuts to the community Ride bus program. Other agenda items include, an ordinance that prohibits children from being present in places where smoking is permitted, and a loan to finish construction of the Blue Lake hydro project. A 19 year old man had a run-in with a sea lion at Seafood Producers Cooperation on Saturday. The Sitka Assembly discusses transferring a state-of-the-art Emergency Response Vessel from the Fire Department to the Harbor Department. Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell spoke with KCAW on Friday about public lands, personal privacy, and what, exactly he means by his campaign motto, “bringing decision-making home.”
The Ketchikan School Board will discuss the first draft of the district’s FY ’15 budget at its regular meeting on Wednesday.
The budget proposes reducing the district’s preschool staff by three teachers through attrition. In a memo to the Board of Education, Superintendent Robert Boyles compared this reduction with cuts the Juneau and Anchorage districts plan to make. Juneau plans to cut more than 20 teachers and Anchorage plans to reduce by 219 staff members.
In the memo, Boyle pointed out other budget-tightening proposals. They include refraining from updating the hardware for the Schoenbar 1-to-1 digital learning program for one year and reducing funds for activities.
There will be public forums to discuss the budget on Feb. 4th, from 5 to 6 p.m.; and Feb. 8th from 1 to 2 p.m. There will additional meetings in March.
The School Board will also vote on whether to accept the resignation of Ketchikan High School automotive technology teacher David Sweetman. He has been teaching for the Ketchikan school district for 14 years.
In his letter of resignation, Sweetman writes that he feels it is time to let a younger person take over the auto shop at Kayhi.
The board will also vote on whether to approve an upgrade for one of Kayhi’s computer labs, at an estimated cost of about $39,000. The upgrade would include 30 new iMacs to replace the six-year-old computers currently in the lab.
Wednesday’s School Board Meeting is at 6 p.m. in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start and end of the meeting.
ANCHORAGE — Highway access to the city at the end of the trans-Alaska pipeline has been cut off indefinitely by avalanches, including one that dammed a river and created a lake up to a half-mile long across the roadway in a 300-foot wide mountain canyon.
FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District will appeal to Education Commissioner Mike Hanley for a waiver from the state law requiring schools to be open for at least 180 days.
Fairbanks schools Friday closed for a fourth day this school year. To meet the 180-day requirement, students would have to return for one day of school after the three-day Memorial Day weekend, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
BETHEL — The number of moose allowed to be harvested along the Kuskokwim River may be increased as state game managers prepare for fly-overs for a more accurate count of the population.