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Southeast Alaska News

Photo: Flooding in Sitka

Thu, 2014-01-16 01:13

Sean Snider tries out his co-worker's kayak in the flooded parking lot, caused by a clogged culvert at Foreign Automotive Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 in Sitka, Alaska.  Snider, who is leaving Sitka for a job in Texas Friday, was happy to get a chance to take his first ride in a kayak before leaving town. (AP Photo/The Daily Sitka Sentinel, James Poulson)

Gelbrich is not Montana's top choice

Thu, 2014-01-16 01:11

Juneau School District Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich is not the Kalispell Public Schools board’s first choice after interviews for their superintendent position concluded Tuesday, according to their school officials.

While a contract has not been finalized, there is a “95 percent” chance the board will opt for Mark Flatau, a superintendent of a small Washington school district.

“Unless there is a problem with the site visit, then he will be our hire,” Dave Schultz, a board member for the Kalispell Public Schools, said of Flatau.

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State signs deal to advance LNG line

Thu, 2014-01-16 01:10

The State of Alaska entered into a commercial agreement Tuesday with three major oil producers and a pipeline builder to advance a liquefied natural gas line. The agreement comes after an announcement last Friday by Gov. Sean Parnell that the state would be terminating its contract with TransCanada under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act to pursue a more “traditional commercial arrangement.”

Parnell also said the state would pursue an equity state in the gas line, the details of which are included in Tuesday’s agreement.

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High winds damage Gustavus breakwater

Thu, 2014-01-16 01:10

A violent storm in Gustavus Tuesday caused a state-owned breakwater to break away from its pilings and wash up onto the shore. The breakwater, which is also used as a small boat harbor in the summer, was built in 2010 alongside a new ferry dock. The entire project cost $17 million and was funded by the state, the Denali Commission and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

Southeast Director for the Department of Transportation Al Clough said the breakwater has minor damage and can be salvaged, but that there are no immediate plans to rebuild the three-year-old dock.

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Wed, 2014-01-15 23:03

Spelling Bee winner Kyle Vidad and Blatchley Language Arts teachers (and Bee judges) Alexander Allison, Janelle Farvour, and Emily Demmert. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

In what was one of the most tightly-contested spelling bees in recent memory, 27 grade-level finalists at Blatchley Middle School in Sitka spelled their way to word no. 208 on the official Scripps National Spelling Bee list Wednesday night (1-15-14). In the end it boiled down to eighth-grader Kyle Vidad and defending champion Abigail Fitzgibbon. The two went head-to-head for eight rounds, until Fitzgibbon tripped on “matriculation” and Vidad successfully spelled “smithereens” to win the round, and then “aerodynamic” to win the championship. Test a friend on these words Abby and Kyle spelled with nearly one-hundred fans looking on:

Abby: charioteer
Kyle: netiquette

Abby: panache
Kyle: recoup

Abby: abstruse
Kyle: prognosticate

Abby: ostracism
Kyle: monochrome

Abby: aficionado
Kyle: bloviate

Abby: pariah
Kyle: bazooka

Abby: cavalier
Kyle: juxtapose

Abby: matriculation (spelled incorrectly)
Kyle: smithereens

Kyle: aerodynamic (championship word)

Vidad won a copy of the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, and the opportunity to represent Sitka at the state spelling bee in Anchorage on February 28, 2014. As one exhausted fan in Kettleson Library noted after the event, “There was electricity in the room!”

Stedman says hydro funds tight, otter bill will change

Wed, 2014-01-15 17:54

State Sen. Bert Stedman signs his name to a petition to repeal Senate Bill 21 as his family looks on. It goes before voters in August. (KCAW/Ed Ronco)

There won’t be many appropriations for Southeast Alaska projects this legislative session. That’s the word from Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman, who represents most of the region outside Juneau, Petersburg and Skagway.

Hear iFriendly audio.

The Legislature put millions of dollars toward regional hydroprojects in past sessions.

Stedman says funding is usually linked to energy appropriations for Southcentral and the Interior. But the former co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee doesn’t expect that to happen this time around.

“I don’t see a pressing need this year that the Railbelt’s going to push forward with any energy projects, at least that I’m aware of. So I think it’s going to be pretty difficult for rural Alaska just to come up with its own energy plan and get the votes to do anything,” he says.

Blue Lake dam spills into the plunge pool in 2004. (Matt Goff photo/

Gov. Sean Parnell’s capital budget includes $10 million toward the Susitna-Watana dam north of Anchorage. That’s a small fraction of its $5.2 billion overall cost estimate.

But there was nothing for Sitka’s Blue Lake, Ketchikan’s Swan Lake, or any other Panhandle hydroproject. Parnell said lawmakers could convince him to add other projects. And the Legislature reworks that budget.

But Stedman says the Blue Lake Dam, which is being raised, is unlikely to get more money this year.

“It is more challenging to get funding for a project that’s already going to get built or is being built than it is to put together a financial package before the construction contracts are let,” he says.

The Sitka Republican says other district projects needing funding include the Ketchikan Shipyard and Angoon’s sewer system.

He says the state also needs to put more money aside to replace more of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s aging ships.

“If we diddly-daddle around, by the time we get these Alaska Class Ferries built and we get the Tustumena replaced, if we don’t in my opinion have a (long-term) fund set up and we continually put away, say, $50 million into marine replacement, by the time we get these first ships built, the rest of these boats will be another 10 years older and they’re already old as we speak.

A sea otter in Prince William Sound. (Flickr photo/Laura R)

Stedman last year proposed a bounty on sea otters, which eat shellfish Southeast divers and crabbers harvest. His bill brought strong criticism from environmental groups. And the federal agency managing otters said it would violate marine-mammal-protection law.

The legislation is still in play. Stedman says he wants to find a different way to support Native hunters, the only people allowed to harvest otters and process their pelts.

“I need to sit down with the Sealaska Heritage (Institute) and have a few more meetings in Juneau to work out what we’re actually going to change it to — if it’s going to end up trying to be marketing assistance or tanning assistance or something else,” he says. “But the chances of the bill going forward as it’s written, without being rewritten to take out the bounty, is slim.”

Stedman’s Senate district includes Ketchikan, Wrangell, Kake, Craig and other towns where timber used to be a significant part of the economy.

He says he supports the governor’s attempt to get 2 million acres of the Tongass National Forest turned over to Alaska.

“If the state was to take basically all of northern Prince of Wales (Island), outside the Native land selections and homesites and stuff like that, that would give us a timber base that we could run a fairly good-sized economic generation off of,” he says.

Stedman continues to oppose House Bill 77, which would speed permitting for resource development projects.

He says Alaska needs some limits on those who want to block mines and similar ventures. But he says the bill goes too far and was pushed through the Legislature without enough public input.

“We’ll see if we’ll have a more thorough scrubbing or we’re just going to play hardball politics and they’ll do what they can to pick up one vote and pass the bill. But I would expect that bill will get passed in some form by the end of the session,” he says.

The bill made it through the House last year, but came up short in the Senate. Stedman was among those voting no.

The Sitka senator, who’s served for about 11 years, chairs his chamber’s Health and Social Services Committee.

He says the panel will take up items requested by the Parnell administration — but not a lot else.

“I have no intention of just running committee hearings to run committee hearings to entertain people,” he says.

Stedman continues criticizing the governor’s oil and gas production tax, which passed last year. Alaskans will get their say through a referendum later this year.

He says the latest revenue estimates support his view that it’s better to fix it now than later.

“My initial review of these numbers would say the state is basically taking the entire hit. The industry (is) only moving negative $300 million while we’re moving negative $3.3 billion,” he says.

Stedman is one of six legislators representing Southeast Alaska.

Hear what other Southeast lawmakers want to happen during the session:

Sen. Dennis Egan expects tighter state budgets in 2014 

More links will be posted as reports are produced.


Students get valuable job interview experience

Wed, 2014-01-15 17:34

Job interviews are intimidating for most adults, so just imagine a teenager, going to a first interview for a first job. What to wear? How to act? And what about that awful question interviewers love to ask? You know the one I’m talking about: “What’s your biggest weakness?”

I hate that question.

Ketchikan High School Junior Jade Simons nailed it, though, when I interviewed her in the Kayhi library.

“I think it would be when I take too much stuff on my plate, I start to get overwhelmed and my quality isn’t as good as I want it to be, because I want it to be 100 percent,” she said. “But because I take on so much as a time because I’m an overachiever, it’s not as good as I’d like it to be.”

Our interview was one of many taking place that day. It was the annual Job Fair, and the mock interviews are the culmination of the careers class. As one of the interviewers, I was handed a list of questions commonly asked during interviews.

Jade had great answers for most, but there was one that kinda stumped her. Only at first though. I asked, “What are you passionate about?”

“I never really thought about it,” she answered. “Clothes? Shoes? Music. I love music. I love jazz music, especially. I like sitting back and listening to it. There’s some music that makes your heart pound and, and makes you have so many feelings.”

Jade also loves little kids. Her goal is to graduate high school, study early childhood development in college, and then become a preschool teacher. Interview skills could help in all her goals.

She talked a little about the careers class, and said teacher Mary Hagemann taught them the dos and don’ts of interviews. Then Gai Hooker visited from the Ketchikan Job Center with more tips, such as, “appearances, what to say, how to act, how to sit, and just the basic rules of the job interview. And she told us about turning the negatives into positives,” Jade said.

Quite a few other interviews were taking place at the same time. Police officers, Alaska State Troopers, Coast Guard personnel, city and borough officials all showed up to help prepare Ketchikan’s youth for future job interviews.

I stuck to the list of questions that the teachers gave me, but others had their own style. Jessica Matthews, the superintendent at Ketchikan’s jail, clearly is an experienced interviewer. Here she is, finishing up a mock interview with sophomore Charlie Edwardson: “If I can make one suggestion, always when you end an interview, nail something out of the park. Ask something, say something about yourself. I’m gonna interview several people, you need to stand out to help me remember why I want to hire you. Always do one really good sales pitch for yourself.”

I asked Charlie whether the experience was helpful.

“Yeah, I think it helped a lot,” she said. Especially “the closing statements, because I got that from a couple other people, so I need to work on that and improve it.”

Teacher Allegra Machado says the careers class is about more than just interviews.

“All semester, they’ve been working on not just interview skills, but resumes, job applications, we do school research, training opportunities, we do field trips,” she said.

The job fair, though, is the culminating activity, where the students get to show off everything they’ve learned. Machado says the kids often are scared before each fair, but by the end of the day, they have lost their fear.

She adds that the students compare notes later, especially if an interviewer asks unusual questions. For example: “If you had to be a fruit, what fruit would you be and why? And then the kids start sweating and freaking out. They’re like, ‘Did you have the guy that asked the fruit question?’”

I just wish I’d thought to ask the fruit question.

Commercial fishing film festival celebrates third year

Wed, 2014-01-15 16:09

There’s a big mix of commercial fishing footage in Alaska and elsewhere, from the historical to the hysterical online this week for the Third Annual Commercial Fishing Film Festival.

The collection of fishing movies from around the globe is being broadcast online this week through January 18. Viewers can vote for their favorites and upload their own video for next year. It’s the creation of Juneau fisherman and writer David Clark, who has a commercial fishing website. Joe Viechnicki spoke with Clark about the latest installment.

For mobile-friendly audio, click here:

The videos can be viewed here: There’s also a live viewing planned at the Fisherpoets Gathering in Astoria Oregon in late February.

Task force asks: What can individuals do?

Wed, 2014-01-15 16:08

Ketchikan is seen from the water on a sunny day.

Last October, a study on domestic violence and sexual abuse against Ketchikan women was released, and the results were sobering.

Based on responses from the telephone survey of randomly selected local women, survey officials conservatively estimated that fully half of Ketchikan’s adult female population has experienced sexual assault or domestic violence in their lifetime.

A local taskforce that promotes respectful relationships didn’t want those survey results to be filed away and forgotten, so members have organized a special event to help residents find out what they can do as individuals to possibly reduce incidents of violence in Ketchikan.

Here is a portion of a conversation between organizer Diane Gubatayao and KRBD’s Leila Kheiry about the What Can You Do event.

That was Diane Gubatayao talking with KRBD’s Leila Kheiry about the Jan. 21 What Can You Do event, which starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Ketchikan High School Library, and should last about two hours.

POW roads cleared, power restored for most

Wed, 2014-01-15 15:23

Landslides that blocked some major roads on Prince of Wales Island have been cleared, and power has been restored to almost everyone on the island.

Alaska Power and Telephone vice president of power operations Greg Mickelson says that both Coffman Cove and Hollis are on backup diesel generators while crews repair damage to power lines, but he hopes that operations will be back to normal by late Thursday.

Mickelson says that Hollis was without power for more than 10 hours Tuesday. Department of Transportation crews weren’t able to clear the debris from the only road into that community until late that night, which meant AP&T crews couldn’t get in there to crank up the generators until about 10:30 p.m.

Mickelson says that phones remain out in Hollis, and all AP&T Internet on POW remains down for now.

He says one house that he knows of was damaged by a landslide, but nobody was hurt.

While Tuesday’s storm was a big one, Mickelson recalls a much worse storm in 1993, which resulted in 20 landslides on the Hollis Road alone.

Sales taxes, fish hatchery on Council agenda

Wed, 2014-01-15 15:04

A seasonal sales tax approved last week by the Ketchikan City Council is up for reconsideration Thursday.

The seasonal 1-percent sales tax increase is intended to take advantage of Ketchikan’s busy summertime tourism industry. If it remains unchanged, the tax would go into effect this summer, and then would drop back in fall to the current level.

An option that some on the Council prefer is a year-round, half-percent sales-tax increase.

Also Thursday, the Council will consider a motion allowing City Manager Karl Amylon to negotiate an agreement for the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association to operate the Deer Mountain Hatchery, recently vacated by Ketchikan Indian Community.

The hatchery is located at City Park, and the facility is owned by the city. SSRAA officials have asked that the city demolish the eagle sanctuary that KIC also operated at the site. If that space were converted to more rearing ponds, SSRAA estimates it could double fish production to about half a million.

SSRAA also plans to rear only king salmon, rather than king and coho; and provide educational opportunities for the public.

Also on Thursday’s Council agenda are motions to negotiate a hospital renovation pre-construction contract with Layton and Dawson construction companies; and to approve a 1-percent cost-of-living raise for non-union city employees.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.

Rep. Kerttula targets education, gasline, oil tax

Wed, 2014-01-15 13:54

Juneau lawmaker Beth Kerttula, who also represents Petersburg, Kupreanof, Gustavus, Tenakee and Skagway in the state House. (CoastAlaska News)

State education spending and the possibilities for an Alaska gasline are top priorities for the minority leader of the Alaska House of Representative going into the legislative session later this month.

Democrat Beth Kerttula of Juneau represents Petersburg, Kupreanof, Gustavus, Tenakee and Skagway, along with her hometown.

In 2013 she called the first session of the 28th legislature the “worst ever” and thinks the upcoming session is going to be a tough one.

“We’re going in looking at $2 billion in deficit. That doesn’t mean we’re out of money. It means anything but that but it does mean a lot of the discussion this year will be about fiscal plans and about how we’re gonna go about spending and not spending maybe more importantly,” she said. “And of course we’re going to spend a lot of time arguing about the oil taxes although there probably won’t be any movement on them. That’ll all wait for the referendum and that’s when people vote in the primary.”

Kerttula has backed the effort to repeal the oil tax reform bill passed by the Legislature last year. Voters will decide that issue in the August primary.

Meanwhile, the state budget picture and future state funding for education looks to be one of the big issues in the upcoming session.

A Republican-led House sustainable education task force came out with recommendations at the end of last month. It said current state spending levels need to be reduced. The task force recommended that Alaskans should be made aware that current education spending is not sustainable.

Kerttula wants to see more money put towards the classroom.

“It’s not all about money obviously, but we’ve been sliding on education. Especially not even keeping up with inflation and that hurts the classroom,” she said. “We’ve been putting money towards things like transportation and security but you know at this point we really need to face the fact that we need to be looking at the classroom itself. So I think there will be a lot of focus on that.”

The former oil and gas attorney also expects to see progress on a natural gas pipeline project this session.

“And while we don’t always think about that in Southeast, it could be a huge benefit to Alaskans overall. And the real key to it is that there’s a possibility that Alaskans may have a seat at the table and have an ownership involvement in it. So I’ll be very focused on that, it’s a really exciting opportunity, Devil’s going to be in the details in how it all works out,” she said.

Kerttula was the prime sponsor on seven bills last session – all remain in one House committee or another. Those bills range from one that seeks to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation to a measure re-instating a pension option for public employees and teachers.

“I’m really thinking this session is not going to have a lot of personal bills going through. I think it’s really going to be a bigger debate about the overall budget and spending.”

Kerttula will be running for reelection in the fall.

Because of redistricting she won’t be representing Petersburg, Kupreanof or Tenakee after this session. If she’s reelected her new district would include Haines and several other small Southeast communities.

The second session of the 28th legislature starts Jan. 21 and runs through April 20th.

Hear what other Southeast lawmakers want to happen during the session:

Sen. Dennis Egan expects tighter state budgets in 2014 

More links will be posted as reports are produced.

Crime lab detects irregularities in drug samples

Wed, 2014-01-15 13:30

ANCHORAGE — Irregularities found in controlled samples of illegal drugs at the state crime lab have prompted an audit of remaining samples and a criminal investigation.

John Skidmore, director of the Criminal Division at the Department of Law, said Wednesday the irregularities were discovered by new, more sensitive testing instruments employed by the lab.

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Mining could devastate Bristol Bay region

Wed, 2014-01-15 12:26

JUNEAU — A government report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon.

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New Medical Center CAO Ken Tonjes hopes to increase dialogue with community

Wed, 2014-01-15 10:28

Ken Tonjes is the new CAO of PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. (Photo courtesy PeaceHealth)

Ken Tonjes, who was named PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center’s CAO this month, joins KRBD to talk about his goals for the hospital.

Mt. Edgecumbe Invitational to rock Sitka this weekend

Wed, 2014-01-15 09:30

Listen to iFriendly audio.
Andrew Friske, athletic director at Mt. Edgecumbe High School, says 19 teams will be in Sitka this weekend for the Mt. Edgecumbe Invitational Basketball Tournament. Although this is a tournament for adult basketball teams from around the state, all proceeds benefit the activities programs at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Games start Wednesday evening (1-15-14) on two courts at the BJ McGillis Gym on campus. Tournament passes and individual game tickets available at the gate.

Tribal health facilities may get boost from $1.1 trillion federal spending bill

Wed, 2014-01-15 01:04

Alaska’s tribal facilities could get a much-needed financial boost from a $1.1 trillion spending bill being considered in Congress.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Interior Department subcommittee, announced Monday that the department’s proposed budget fully funds operations costs at tribally-managed hospitals and clinics; it also includes $66.2 million to staff Alaska’s six new tribal facilities.

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Anchorage schools plan to add extra class

Wed, 2014-01-15 01:04

ANCHORAGE — The Anchorage School District has told local high school principals to prepare to add an extra period to the day in the next school year, giving students seven classes instead of six.

The school district is bracing for budget cuts, and educators said adding an additional class would allow schools to do more with less. It also would shorten the length of classes and add additional students per day for teachers, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Next year’s budget will be released next week. It includes about $23 million in cuts.

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Old Kodiak police station being demolished

Wed, 2014-01-15 01:04

KODIAK — The building that once housed most city offices in Kodiak is being torn down.

Demolition work is underway on the old Kodiak Police Department building, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported.

The city bought the building on Mill Bay Road in 1956, and it housed the police department, jail, courthouse and city offices before police became the sole occupants.

Most of the items the police department wanted to save have been taken to the new location, which opened in 2010. Among those was the pole with a red light that was on top of the building.

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Troopers: Wasilla man arrested after standoff

Wed, 2014-01-15 01:03

ANCHORAGE — A 42-year-old Wasilla man was arrested early Tuesday after a standoff in which he used a slingshot, Alaska State Troopers said.

Jose A. Pacheco was charged with seven counts of assault on law enforcement officers following his 1:30 a.m. arrest. No one was injured in the incident.

Troopers and Wasilla police responded to a home Monday night after a report of multiple gunshots and possible victims.

After several hours of negotiation and standoff, Pacheco shot several times at officers, according to troopers.

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