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Southeast Alaska News

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Fri, 2014-01-24 10:30

January temperatures 'outrageously warm' throughout Southeast

Fri, 2014-01-24 01:08

Juneau residents who are feeling like this winter hasn’t exactly been normal are right. In fact, the capital city is in the midst of an “outrageously warm” January, according to a local weather forecaster.

And the phenomenon is not unique to the capital city, either. Yakutat, for example, had six inches of rain dumped during a 24-hour period Wednesday into Thursday morning, and Sitka reached 56 degrees Thursday.

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App helps rescuers find lost Nevada man

Fri, 2014-01-24 01:07

KETCHIKAN — A 77-year-old Nevada man who became lost on a hike in Southeast Alaska was found after authorities helped him download a locator app on his cellphone, rescuers said.

Ed Leckey had started out on a short hike at Frog Pond Trail in the Ketchikan area Monday afternoon. But Leckey became lost after he turned off the main trail, the Ketchikan Daily News reported.

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No fraud found at Fairbanks Behavior Health Center

Fri, 2014-01-24 01:07

FAIRBANKS — A report launched by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on the now defunct Fairbanks Community Behavior Health Center found mismanagement, but no evidence of fraud.

The 45-page report authored by BDO Consulting for the state found a “lack of transparency in financial planning,” the Fairbanks News Miner reported Thursday.

The $50,000 report also found lack of desk procedures, closing schedules, and document retention.

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Troopers confirm second moose with arrow in nose

Fri, 2014-01-24 01:06

FAIRBANKS — Bow hunters near Fairbanks are having problems with their aim.

For the second time in two months, a moose has been spotted with an arrow protruding from its nose, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

State wildlife biologists in October tranquilized a moose north of the city and removed an arrow from its nose.

Alaska State Wildlife Troopers on Saturday took a report of a moose with an arrow south of Fairbanks near the city of North Pole.

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Anchorage police cite retailers under 'Spice' law

Fri, 2014-01-24 01:04

ANCHORAGE — Anchorage police have started to issue tickets to local gas stations and smoke shops that are caught selling a designer drug known as “Spice.”

Police have issued three $500 warning tickets as of Tuesday under a local ordinance passed by the Anchorage Assembly last week, the Anchorage Daily News

Businesses market the drug as incense or potpourri. Police and others, however, said an increasing number of users are getting high on the synthetic material, which also is known by other names.

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Cantwell to Obama: Limit Bristol Bay mining

Fri, 2014-01-24 01:04

SEATTLE — U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is asking President Barack Obama to take action to restrict or prohibit the development of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.

In a letter sent Thursday, Cantwell asked the Obama administration to invoke a rarely used veto authority under the federal Clean Water Act to protect the region in southwest Alaska that is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

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Sen. French: Gay marriage inevitable

Fri, 2014-01-24 01:04

JUNEAU — Senate Minority Leader Hollis French said Thursday the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country seems inevitable.

“If you can’t see it coming, your eyes are closed,” he said.

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Bill Thomas considers Kerttula’s House seat

Thu, 2014-01-23 23:07

Rep. Bill Thomas answers a question as Rep. Beth Kerttula listens during a 2011 form at Juneau’s Centennial Hall. (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News)

Former Haines Representative Bill Thomas is considering a run for the House seat being vacated by Juneau’s Beth Kerttula. But he’s more likely to take on Juneau Senator Dennis Egan.

Republican Thomas served eight years in the House. He lost a close 2012 race to Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins after new boundaries put that city inside his district.

He hoped for a rematch, but an updated redistricting plan put Haines in with Petersburg, Juneau and a few smaller communities, not Sitka.

Thomas says he’s considering a run for Kerttula’s seat, which has been held by a Democrat for at least two decades. But he probably won’t do it.

“I think it would be an uphill battle, from what I’ve seen through the years, depending on who they put in there,” Thomas says.

District Democrats will nominate up to three replacements, with the governor making the choice. Thomas can’t apply for that, since he’s a Republican — and living outside the current district.

He can run for the seat later this year, when election boundaries change.

He says he’ll decide once he knows whether the new representative is a place-holder, or someone who would run as an incumbent.

“I’d rather right now wait to see what happens this next week or so with the appointment,” Thomas says.

Kerttula has held the seat for 15 years.

She says she hopes Thomas won’t run – because he’d lose.

“Bill Thomas is a friend, so I’m hoping he’ll think twice before he gets himself into this any further. But, the math alone means this will stay a Democratic seat – and a strong one,” Kerttula says.

Thomas says he’s more inclined to run against Juneau Democratic Senator Dennis Egan, who’s up for re-election this year.

“I’ll be the first one to admit, my chances of beating Dennis Egan straight up are nil,” Thomas says.

Egan was appointed to the post in 2009 when Senator Kim Elton resigned for an Obama administration job. The Juneau Democrat was unopposed in his 2010 reelection bid.

Thomas points to Egan’s recent hospitalization and wonders whether the Juneau Democrat will be able to complete another four-year term.

“I just want to have a debate with him saying are you going to spend your four years? And if not, will you step down within a year or six months after the election?” Thomas asked.

“There’s no way in heck I would quit serving in another term,” Egan says.

He says he’s fully recovered from what he calls routine heart surgery about three years ago. He also says leg surgery last year was successful.

He says he’s also getting back to full speed after an infection he caught in the hospital attacked his foot.

“I’ve filed a letter of intent and I have money and I plan on running,” Egan says.

Kerttula, who’s been House Minority leader, is leaving for a one-year fellowship at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions.

She could return and run again for her House seat, or Egan’s. But she’s not making any plans.

“We’ll just see what the future brings. But I can’t really see that far ahead right now. But I know somebody’s going to be in this seat for a long, long time,” Kerttula says.

Kerttula and Egan’s current districts include Petersburg, Skagway, Gustavus and Tenakee.

For the next election, they’ll drop Petersburg and add Haines.

Juneau’s other representative is Republican Cathy Munoz. Her district is – and will be – all within the capital city’s boundaries.

JazzFest! is time for teaching, talent

Thu, 2014-01-23 22:06

Sullivan Fortner will perform at the 2014 Sitka JazzFest with his trio.

The Sitka JazzFest kicks off in February, and organizers believe they’ve once again found the right mix of talent and teaching for the event.

This will be the 18th season of JazzFest. John DePalatis is the music instructor at Sitka High School, and co-director of the festival.

He says many comparable jazz festivals place a lot of emphasis on competition and judging.

Sitka’s JazzFest has an entirely different reputation.

“It’s as if someone has surgically removed all the stuff that is unpleasant and replaced it with artists and students rubbing elbows, talking, and getting to know each other. Learning from each other. The fact is that the life of a professional musician — while it may seem glamorous — often a festival like this means spending your evenings after the gig in your hotel, your Days Inn, whatever. And here, they really start to feel part of the community, with the people and students they interact with, and the things we have for them to do. And I know of no person who’s done the Sitka Jazz Festival who’s not wanted to be asked back.”

The headliners for the 2014 season include vocalist Carmen Bradford, Sullivan Fortner and his trio, saxophone player Eric Marienthal, guitarist Mike Dana, and trombonist Alan Ferber.

Ferber’s appearance — plus an abundance of trombone players in the various high-school and middle-school bands coming for the festival — suggested a special opportunity to festival co-director Mike Kernin.

“Trombone Factory — is that the name today? Trombone Mafia? We’ve got this great trombone player coming from New York, and part of the Sitka Jazz Festival Big Band is several educators and players who have come to town. So it just seemed like a perfect opportunity to have a mass of trombones on one stage.”

The one low note of this years’ JazzFest will be the absence of the Greatlanders, the US Air Force band of the Pacific stationed at Eielson in Anchorage. Federal budget sequestration last year forced the band to curtail its travel. The Jazz Festival Big Band — assembled from all the bands coming to Sitka for the event — will cover for the missing airmen.

This will be the second year of a new format for the three-day festival. The public can buy separate show tickets for the student performances and professional sets. There will be an all-festival pass, plus two free brown-bag lunch concerts at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

KCAW’s Melissa Marconi-Wentzel contributed to this story.

Prop 1 opponents say it’s too soon to roll back oil tax reform

Thu, 2014-01-23 20:20

The Vote No on 1 Coalition argues that Alaska’s old tax structure made it less competitive than other oil producing areas in the US and around the world.

The Vote No on 1 Coalition argues that Alaska’s old tax structure made it less competitive than other oil producing areas in the US and around the world. Supporters of the state’s new oil tax regime have launched a major campaign to defeat a citizen initiative which would restore the old tax.

Ads urging Alaskans to Vote No on 1 have begun to appear on television and in print — and some members of the campaign are appearing in person.

Former Sitkan Rocky Elerding traveled from Ketchikan this week (1-22-14) to speak to Sitka’s Chamber of Commerce on the issue. Elerding is a 1995 graduate of Sitka High School. He now is a mortgage manager for First Bank.

Elerding’s 20-minute Powerpoint echoed much of the tax reform debate that dominated the Alaska legislative session last year. The Republican majority in 2013 passed a measure known as Senate Bill 21, restructuring Alaska’s system of taxing oil profits.

Opponents of SB 21 have referred to it as a “giveaway.” Some notable Republicans, including Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman, made headlines last year by signing the initiative petition that is now known as Proposition 1. If passed by voters this August, Prop 1 would repeal SB 21.

Elerding’s presentation focused on the importance of the oil economy in Alaska: It provides 90-percent of state revenues, and is directly or indirectly responsible for one-third of all jobs in the state.

Elerding said that the Vote No on 1 campaign also wants Alaskans to think about their personal revenues. The Permanent Fund Dividend, especially.

“Think about families if the PFD went away. Some families save their PFD’s to pay for their kids’ college education. I wish my parents had done that. As I said earlier, oil and gas income lets Alaska enjoy no state income or sales tax. No other state can claim that.”

The legislature is starting the session this week with a budget from the governor that is $2-billion in the red. Opponents of SB 21 argue that the new tax structure is mostly to blame for the shortfall. Elerding, however, argued that SB 21 will eventually provide the state with more tax revenues than the old structure, once the state decline in production is reversed.

Chamber audience member Max Rule, asked for his reaction after the presentation, agreed that it was too soon to throw out SB 21.

“SB 21 should have a chance to work before we jump to conclusions that after only being in place for a year, that we think it’s not working. That if it turns out, as we go down the road, that we think it’s not working, that we can make changes to it.”

As a businessman, Rule is also sympathetic to the idea that any business — even the big three oil companies — is looking for ways to hold down the cost of investment.

“For me it’s not a partisan issue. It’s not Democrat or Republican. It’s a situation of economics. That it’s cheaper for the oil companies to develop wells in the Balkans, North Dakota, Montana, and these other areas. From a business perspective, business will go where you have the least cost of production.”

Scott Saline, however, sees things differently. Saline is a refrigeration mechanic, who has plans to open a seafood cafe this summer.

He thinks the new tax structure is giving the oil companies too much, at the expense of the public.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me. The margin wasn’t shown to me of how much money they’re losing. I’m more concerned that the shareholders want a higher percentage — you know, if you have to grow 2 or 3 percent a year. The extra cost of going to Alaska, that oil is still in the bank because it will be harvested at some time. And to forsake any money going to the schools, or whatever the state needs, without showing me that the shareholders and CEO’s aren’t enjoying a growth that none of us are, I just can’t not try to have them pay more.”

Saline is also aware of the position of Sitka’s legislators. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins joined his fellow House Democrats in opposing SB 21 last year. Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman and Kodiak Sen. Gary Stevens were the only two Senate Republicans to break from the majority and vote against the bill, which passed the senate 11-9.

Saline says Stedman has made an effort to become a student of the oil industry, and he trusts his judgment.

“I’ve got faith in Bert looking out for us, and not to be swayed by muscle in the Mat-Su, or wherever this is coming from.”

Ballot Proposition 1 repealing Senate Bill 21 is one of several measures Alaska voters will decide during the statewide primary election on August 19. A proposition raising the minimum wage by $1 to $8.75 an hour has made it to the ballot. So has a proposition legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

A fourth initiative, requiring the legislature to fully consider the health of the Bristol Bay’s salmon fisheries before allowing any mining in the area, is awaiting certification by Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell.

Parnell to introduce omnibus education bill Friday

Thu, 2014-01-23 19:31

Gov. Sean Parnell said he will reveal details of his omnibus education bill Friday, which will include increased funding for Alaska’s schools.

During his State of the State speech Wednesday, the governor said he’d be willing to work with legislators to authorize an increase in per-pupil spending for the next three years — if they work with him to pass “real education reform.”

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Four chosen for annual Sam Pitcher scholarship

Thu, 2014-01-23 17:17

From left are Sam Pitcher scholarship winners Lily Vaughn, Kinani Halvorsen, Amber Junker and Hana Lee Oshima. (Photo courtesy Karen Pitcher)

The annual Sam Pitcher Memorial Scholarship Fund has chosen four Ketchikan students to receive scholarships this year.

The students are 11th grader Hana Lee Oshima, 10th grader Amber Junker, ninth-grader Kinani Halvorsen, and ninth-grader Lily Vaughn.

Oshima will receive $750 to attend Rocky Ridge Music Center in Colorado; and the other recipients will receive $500 each to attend the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

Oshima has studied classical piano and alto saxophone in both Ketchikan and Kanayama, Japan. She plays in Ketchikan High School’s Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band, and has been selected for Southeast Honor Band. She also plays in McPherson Music’s Windjammers band, which primarily consists of adults. Oshima also sings, and hopes to remain involved with music throughout her life.

Junker plays trombone and electric bass guitar. She plays in Kayhi’s Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band, as well as the Windjammers band. She has been selected to play with the All-Alaska Jazz Band, Southeast Honor Band and All-State Honor Band. She hopes to pursue music in college.

Halvorsen plays trombone, piano and didgeridoo. She plays with the Kayhi Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble.

Vaughn plays percussion and piano. She occupies the sole percussion chair in the Kayhi Jazz Band, and plays with McPherson’s Soundwaves band.

The Sam Pitcher Memorial Scholarship Fund started following Sam’s death in 2003 at age 16. Sam’s passion was music, and he participated in all the Kayhi and McPherson bands, as well as The Rubber Band. This is the 11th year of the memorial scholarship program, which has awarded more than $23,000 to 47 young musicians.

Four newcomers win KIC Tribal Council seats

Thu, 2014-01-23 11:45

Ketchikan Indian Community had its annual Tribal Council election on Monday. In an email sent to KRBD on Thursday, the tribe announced the unofficial results of that election.

Four seats were open on the Council, but only two incumbents sought re-election. Neither was successful.

According to the unofficial results, Richard Jackson, John Morris Jr., Joseph Reeves and Carrie James were the top four candidates.

Incumbent Rob Sanderson was on the ballot. Andre Lecornu did not file for re-election, but ran unsuccessfully as a write-in. The other incumbents who did not run for re-election were Donna Frank and Delores Churchill.

Richard Jackson had the most votes of any candidate on the ballot. He led an unsuccessful campaign last summer to recall almost all the members of the Tribal Council. The recall petition, which eventually was rejected, claimed that the Council violated the tribe’s Constitution by temporarily appointing the Tribal Council president as the KIC administrator.

According to KIC, 295 tribal members voted in this year’s election. The election results won’t be official until the Tribal Council certifies the results in a meeting scheduled for Monday evening. The Council also will choose new officers during that meeting.

Below is a list of complete unofficial election results, provided by KIC.

Tribal Council:

On the ballot:

Richard Jackson        180 Votes

John Morris, Jr.        159 Votes

Joseph Reeves         149 Votes

Carrie James            127 Votes

David Jensen           113 Votes

Rob Sanderson, Jr.   95 Votes

Cheryl Haven           84 Votes

Kenneth Truitt          80 Votes

William Bird              64 Votes

Elroy Edenshaw        52 Votes


Andre “Skip” LeCornu        12 Votes

John Sanders                     4 Votes

Verna Hudson                    2 Votes

Advisory Health Board:

On the ballot:

Cecelia Johnson        307 Votes

Martha Johnson        246 Votes

Delma Inman           160 Votes



Andre LeCornu         31 Votes

Ken Truitt                8 Votes

Cynthia Llanos         8 Votes

Holly Churchill Burns  6 Votes

Cheryl Haven           3 Votes

Carrie James            3 Votes

Rob Sanderson         3 Votes

Ruschelle Hull           3 Votes

Bonnie Newman       1 Vote

Steven H. Dilts         1 Vote

Sitka JazzFest connects marquee talent with students

Thu, 2014-01-23 10:36

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Sitka JazzFest directors Mike Kernin and John DePalatis go over the lineup for this years’ festival. February 6, 7, and 9 at the Sitka Performing Arts Center. Tickets $10, $25, and $45 (all-festival pass) at Old Harbor Books. For complete schedule and ticket information visit the Sitka JazzFest online.

Thu Jan 23, 2014

Thu, 2014-01-23 10:22

Listen to iFriendly audio.
SE Dems seek applicants to replace departing minority leader, Beth Kerttula. Harris Air sues SEARHC over cancelled air ambulance contract. Ketchikan assembly appropriates an additional $150,000 to challenge state education policy. Sitka birders post high tally in annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Enrollment at SFAC off to a strong start.

For birders, 114 years and counting

Thu, 2014-01-23 07:00

Earlier this month, Sitkans spread out across land and sea to take part in an annual holiday tradition: the Christmas Bird Count.

The count, organized by the Audubon Society, doesn’t actually take place on Christmas – this year’s count in Sitka was on January 4th – but it once did.

“It started on Christmas over a hundred years ago,” said veterinarian Vicki Vosburg, of the Sitka Raptor Center. “The first count was in 1900, and it was in response to the tradition of everyone going out and hunting or killing birds on Christmas Day.”

The first organizers decided to challenge that tradition and go out counting birds instead of hunting them. Some 27 observers took part, in 25 locations across the U.S. and Canada. This year, between December 14 and January 5, over 63,000 people were expected to join the count at 2,200 locations across North and South America.

The Sitka count started in the winter of 1974-75, and has continued almost every year since. This year, over 40 people took part, and the counters came up with some big numbers.

Vosburg has managed the Sitka count for the past several years, along with Jen Cedarleaf, also of the Sitka Raptor Center.

 ”The biggest one for me, I think was the Black Oystercatchers,” Cedarleaf said.  “We saw 49 Black Oystercatchers and that’s a new high. Our high before that was 17. So that’s a really cool thing to see this time of year.”

“And then of course the Eurasian Collared Dove,” Cedarleaf said. “I don’t think we got a full count of the Eurasian Collared Doves. We only got 19, and I have a suspicion there’s a lot more of them in this community than 19.”

More on the Eurasian Collared Dove in a moment.

Now in its 114th year, the bird count is one of the longest-running wildlife studies in the world, and the data collected by all those citizen-scientists is being put to some decidedly modern uses. Scientists have used the counts to track changes in bird populations and territories – especially as birds shift their ranges in response to climate change.

One prime example? Those Eurasian Collared Doves.

“As our climate changes we’re seeing birds move into areas that they weren’t in before, and a perfect example in Sitka is the Eurasian Collared Dove,” Vosburg said. “Jen and I are actually going to have to rewrite our checklist because the Eurasian Collared Dove isn’t on it. And clearly it is now a resident of Sitka.”

“A breeding resident,” Cedarleaf said.

Birding enthusiasts who missed the Christmas Bird Count will have a chance to take part in another count soon – the Great Backyard Bird Count, which takes place in February.

Legislature news in brief

Thu, 2014-01-23 01:16

JUNEAU — Democrats in southeast Alaska are taking applications for the House seat being vacated by Beth Kerttula.

Kerttula plans to resign effective Friday for a fellowship at Stanford University.

The Tongass Democrats, in a release, say interested individuals have until Monday to submit cover letters and resumes. A committee will review prospective candidates and send Gov. Sean Parnell a list of three finalists no later than Feb. 4.

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House panel approves committee changes

Thu, 2014-01-23 01:16

JUNEAU — Alaska House lawmakers approved some committee changes Wednesday following Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula’s decision to resign from the Legislature.

But in the state Senate, a refusal by majority Republicans to allow for some Democratic reshuffling following a change in minority leadership created partisan friction.

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