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Southeast Alaska News

First baby born just before midnight Sunday

Wed, 2014-01-08 11:25

First Baby Lene Oralie is held by her mother, Loren Mickel. Standing from left are Nurse Manager Lauralynn Williams; Lene’s father, Caleb Mickel; RNs Hilary Vincent and Ariel Randall, and CNA Jennifer Tavares. Photo courtesy PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

Ketchikan’s first baby of 2014 is Lene Oralie Mickel, born just shy of midnight on Jan. 5th at Ketchikan Medical Center.

The healthy 6-pound, 8-ounce girl was born to Loren and Caleb Mickel, and she is the first child for the couple. According to the hospital, Certified Nurse Midwife Marta Poore delivered the baby, with assistance from nurses Susan Walsh and Kathleen Foster.

The family received a gift basket holding items donated by hospital staff and members of the hospital auxiliary.

Petersburg gears up for expanded curbside recycling

Wed, 2014-01-08 10:35

Petersburg’s expanded curbside recycling program is on track to start early next month and local garbage customers will be getting new recycling bags later this month. Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday got briefed on the plans for recycling.

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February 4th is the scheduled start up for the commingled recycling program. It will mean customers can put most plastics, aluminum, tin, glass, cardboard and paper, unsorted, into a bag left on the curb alongside garbage cans each week. The borough’s existing recycling program requires sorting, and only includes certain plastics, glass bottles and cans.

Public works director Karl Hagerman told the assembly that recycling bags would be given out for the start of the program. “But after that initial roll out as you deplete your supply of bags you can come into public works to get those. I think we’re gonna add the finance department as another source for those bags for people that come in and pay their bill on a monthly basis or in town. It’s a more convenient spot for people to come in and grab bags.”

The borough ran a pilot program with a portion of local customers to test commingled collection this summer. The municipal government is trying to encourage customers to recycle and wants to decrease the amount of garbage that winds up in a landfill in Washington state. People who don’t recycle will see their garbage rate increase about five dollars more a month for a 32 gallon can.

Anyone who already recycles in the existing program, that’s about 350 customers, will be included in the new commingled collection. People who want to sign up can still do so. The voluntary program has already boosted participation numbers to 525 customers and that’s expected to continue rising. That’s still only around half of the 11-hundred residential garbage customers that could be recycling.

Hagerman told the assembly he’s heard from customers who do not put out garbage for collection every week and are concerned about incurring that higher rate. “As long as whenever you do set you garbage out, you also set out recyclables. Then, there won’t be any problem with that, getting the incentive rate, the lowest rate possible on your garbage.”

Assembly members, like Nancy Strand, asked Hagerman questions about how the program will work. “My biggest concern is that my commingled garbage which is going to include some cardboard and office paper, gets wet. Is it OK to get a can with a lid and put it in just to keep it dry or would you rather not deal with extra cans?” Strand asked.

“The can thing is an option for people if they have animals in the neighborhood that are going to cause a problem,” Hagerman replied. He hoped that people would not have to buy garbage cans to keep recycling safe from curious birds and other animals.

Mayor Mark Jensen asked whether collection bags could be given out at the same time recycling is collected. Hagerman thought time could be an issue. “I’m trying to make it efficient as possible for that collection contractor to pick that stuff up. If it turns out we’ve got plenty of time in the day for them to collect all the curbside material and the other materials they have to collect and there’s still spare time then perhaps bag distribution by that staff wouldn’t be a problem.”

Jensen responded that he wanted the program to be convenient for customers too.

Everyone on the road system of Mitkof Island can be a part of the recycling program. Businesses can also participate.
The borough will be contracting with a business or organization to do the collection. Petersburg Indian Association staffers have been contracting to do the work and could continue to do so. However the borough seek proposals from interested companies in February.

There’s more information on what can be recycled on the borough’s website.

Seniors lobby to keep sales tax exemption

Wed, 2014-01-08 10:27

A committee looking at possible changes for the collection of sales tax in Petersburg on Friday heard from local senior citizens interested in keeping the senior exemption. Officials are expecting the percentage of the local population that qualifies for the over-65 exemption to grow in the next few decades, which could impact sales tax revenue. However, the committee did not come to any agreement on recommending an end to the senior exemption.

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Residents 65 and over qualify for a sales tax free card with the borough. Some 479 seniors currently have those cards and do not have to pay the borough’s six percent tax on purchases. Local resident Harvey Gilliland called the exemption a great aid for seniors on a fixed income and didn’t want it to end.

Another senior, Jackie Morrison offered a compromise. “And I don’t wanna be a burden on the young kids, that they have to pay six percent and I don’t have to pay anything. Has it occurred to anybody or is it even a thought, that maybe we could all split it. That we could pay three percent and you young kids could pay three percent. That wouldn’t kill us. It wouldn’t do us any good but it wouldn’t kill us. And I appreciate you guys trying to figure out how to keep the city running.”

The committee also heard from Bob Nilsen who thought rising costs to live in Petersburg would force seniors to leave town. “I don’t worry about myself, I worry about a lot of other people that don’t have money. I have enough money I admit that. I know how people think I shouldn’t talk about this but the truth of it is, there’s a lot of poor people in this town. If you take this exemption away, it hurts ‘em.”

Besides removing the exemption altogether, the committee also heard arguments for a smaller change. Glorianne Wollen thought there were too many exemptions from sales tax and too much of a burden on people paying property tax. “I would just like to ask if maybe we’d consider looking at maybe only giving exemptions for things like food and fuel. Things that people that are really having trouble living here those are the things they really need is food and fuel or some of those kinds of things.”

Another idea was granting the exemption only to low income seniors. Committee chair Sue Flint read a letter submitted by assembly member John Hoag. “Speaking as an individual, it appears to me that given the projection that the number of seniors who qualify will double in the next 10 years, that continuing the exemption without any modification will be unfair to the rest of the community will be unfair to the rest of the community as too high a percentage of the population will be exempt from sales tax. Many of us who qualify for the exemption do not need it. I suggest that the exemption be modified to have a qualification of an income-based exemption for seniors.” Hoag suggested an annual tax return document could be used to apply with the borough for an income based exemption.

Committee members also talked about using Medicaid eligibility as a determining factor. John Murgas had trouble with an income based system for the exemption that would be a public issue at the checkout line. “If its something that’s based on Medicaid eligibility…um, we seniors have pride and it would be difficult to be standing in line and then hopefully being real quiet ‘I’m exempt,’ it would be like food stamps or something like that and I think that would be too humiliating to expect our seniors to have to do that.” Murgas thought the community should welcome with open arms any seniors who are willing to move here.

And another committee member, Lee Corrao wanted to keep in mind the impact that sales tax changes have on retail sales locally. “Because there are many people who opt to go to other communities because of the six percent that they can save by going somewhere else. And it does directly impact the bottom line which also directly impacts our ability to employ others, so on. There’s a trickle down effect as a result of that.” Corrao also thought the state projection of a growing senior population in the area was too high because of the inclusion of Kake residents. He did not think the percentage of Petersburg seniors would be doubling.

In fiscal year 2013, the community saw over 107 million dollars worth of sales. Of that, nearly 61 million dollars worth of sales was exempt. Committee member Fran Jones pointed out that total senior exemptions last fiscal year were only four million dollars worth of sales, much smaller than the impact from other exemptions. “Whereas some of these other ones like government, which I know we have to exempt because we’re required to by federal and state law, those were actually 16 million, Resale was almost seven million, out of town, almost 14 million and so on and so forth. Seniors were a small part.”

Meanwhile, finance director Jody Tow told the committee that the borough was above last year’s sales tax revenue amount at this time of year by 240-thousand dollars. “It does fluctuate quite a bit each year. I looked, I tried to pull a report together for businesses that are outside the borough, or outside service area one that have now been taxing, and it was about 55-thousand dollars of that. I think a lot of that was because it was such a great fishing year, but I don’t know.”

The committee has yet to vote on any recommendations for the borough assembly but plans to meet twice next month with that goal in mind. Any tax changes would go on the ballot this October.

Borough will seek to recoup cost of redistricting lawsuit

Wed, 2014-01-08 10:20

Petersburg will seek to recoup the cost of challenging legislative boundaries in court.

Petersburg’s borough assembly voted Monday to direct an attorney for the borough to seek the 67-thousand dollars it cost to challenge new district lines approved by the Alaska Redistricting Board back in 2011. That plan put Petersburg in house and senate districts with Juneau and ended up being the alignment only on an interim basis.

The state’s supreme court called for a new permanent redistricting plan for the 2014 election. Petersburg backed the new alignment which included Petersburg in a house district with Sitka and 22 other small Southeast communities.

Mayor Mark Jensen Monday read from a letter to the assembly from attorney Tom Klinkner. “While the borough did not challenge the redistricting board’s revised districting plan for Southeast, the board only issued that plan after the borough successfully challenged the board’s original plan,” Jensen read. “Thus the borough may be considered a prevailing party in this case for purposes of an award of cost of attorney’s fees.”

The legal cases over the plan are wrapping up after a superior court judge signed off on the new permanent redistricting map. That interim map will still be in place for the upcoming legislative session – meaning Petersburg will continue to be represented by Juneau democrats Beth Kerttula in the house and Dennis Egan in the Senate. That will change for the start of the legislative session in 2015.

News director reflects on 18 years at KFSK

Wed, 2014-01-08 10:17

KFSK said goodbye to longtime news director Matt Lichtenstein last month, as he leaves to focus on commercial salmon trolling after about 18 years in the local public radio newsroom.

Lichtenstein was 23 years old when he moved to Petersburg and started working as a news reporter at KFSK in June of 1994. He took about a year off from the radio station in the 1997 and then took over as news director in 1998. He’s gone through the reorganization and reduction in news staff that came with the creation of CoastAlaska radio in the 1990s. His career here also saw the switch to digital recording and editing as well as the internet starting to play a much larger role in the local news gathering and dissemination. Joe Viechnicki spoke with him about radio news and the changes he’s seen over the past two decades.

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Lichtenstein leaves KFSK to work as a power troller. His last day on the job was December 31st.

Sitka High point guard helps with new coach transition

Wed, 2014-01-08 10:13

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Sitka High School girls basketball team members discuss their performance in the Holland America tournament, what it’s like to have a new coach, upcoming tournaments, and the challenge of balancing classwork and sports.

Wed Jan 8, 2014

Wed, 2014-01-08 10:00

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The Sitka School Board approved spending to begin design on a huge new vocational building. A bar in Wrangell made the decision to go smoke-free. The Sealaska Heritage Institute is offering school scholarships to shareholders and lineal descendants. The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star stood down from a rescue mission in Antarctica. Carolers gathered in Sitka for a “Russian Christmas” tradition.

SHS Lady Wolves ready for conference play

Wed, 2014-01-08 09:30

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Sitka High Lady Wolves team members Sophie Mudry and Isa Ramil discuss the girls’ basketball season. This interview was recorded on December 31, 2013.

School board greenlights new votech building

Wed, 2014-01-08 01:28

If all goes well, a year from now school district officials in Sitka will cut the ribbon on huge new vocational education building.

The Sitka School Board last night (Tue 1-7-14) approved spending $135,000 to begin design of an unusual project at the high school.

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What can you do with 8,000 square feet? Ask Randy Hughey, formerly Sitka’s high school wood shop teacher.

“A steel building, tall enough for us to build a small house on a trailer and take it out.”

Hughey has come out of retirement to oversee the construction of Sitka’s “Vocational Education Facility.” The city received $2.9-million in funding from the Department of Commerce for the structure in 2012. It’s hoped that Hughey can pull together all the threads to make the project happen in a year.

To jump-start things, Hughey told the school board that he and Sitka’s public works director, Michael Harmon, elected to seek bids from design-and-build contractors, rather than go through a more conventional process.

Hughey’s review committee selected the team McCool Carlson Green architects and CBC Construction. McCool Carlson Green was the creative force behind Pacific High; CBC was a local subcontractor for Sunland Development.

“The experience of this team is not as deep as some of the other experienced teams, but the structure that they provided was the most appealing for educational purposes. They gave us the best idea.”

Their idea is a large, useful building with four car lifts, a lot of garage doors, and a lot of room.

“There isn’t much fancy equipment in it. It’s just a big space with light, a modest amount of heat, and out of the weather so students can build a variety of things. The community is going to find this a good and useful space for so many things for a very long time. I think of all of the plays that we build sets for — you just need big spaces! There’s going to be a lot of good things happening in this building over the years.”

The structure will occupy space between the existing high school shops and the back gym — an area currently enclosed by chain link fence. Hughey says the building will primarily serve as work space. Although computer-aided-design and computer-controlled milling machines are playing a larger role in high school shop programs, Hughey says students still need to work with their hands.

“As educators, there’s this tension between having a computer run a torch to cut something out, versus the hand skill to do that. Because we cannot let go of that hand skill stuff yet all.”

Earlier in the meeting the school board recognized elementary school teacher Rebecca Himschoot, who had won a national teaching prize for Science. Hughey said Vocational teachers shared Himschoot’s goal of connecting with students.

“In the Career and Tech-Ed areas where kids get to build stuff, get the hands-on, engagement is easier to achieve. And if they can build real things, lasting things, things of value, things of beauty, things of usefulness — that engagement is all the higher.”

The school board voted unanimously to award the initial design to CBC Construction and McCool Carlson Green. Hughey anticipated that much of the construction could take place this summer and fall, and the building will open for classes by the beginning of the second semester next school year.

Agency wants more time for dam filing

Wed, 2014-01-08 01:08

JUNEAU — The Alaska Energy Authority has requested more time to give federal regulators a progress report on the massive proposed Susitna-Watana dam project, citing funding concerns.

Authority spokeswoman Emily Ford said Tuesday that the $10 million proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell for next year’s budget is not enough to complete the work AEA had hoped to perform this year. AEA had wanted $110 million to complete its initial study report and prepare its license application for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during the upcoming fiscal year.

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Tests show Puget Sound geoduck clams safe to eat

Wed, 2014-01-08 01:07

SEATTLE — Washington state health officials Tuesday said their arsenic testing has confirmed that geoduck clams harvested from a bay in Puget Sound are safe to eat, following toxicity concerns that prompted China to ban imports of West Coast shellfish.

Officials hope the results will help persuade China to lift a ban it imposed last month on the import of clams, oysters, mussels and scallops harvested from Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Northern California.

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American oil companies call for end to export ban

Wed, 2014-01-08 01:04

NEW YORK — American oil companies have not been allowed to export crude for 40 years, but the industry wants to change that, even though the U.S. still consumes far more oil than it produces.

A surprising surge in domestic production of light, sweet crude — a particular type of oil that foreign refiners covet — has triggered growing calls to lift the restrictions, which were put in place after the Arab oil embargo of 1973.

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Starring: A Russian Orthodox Christmas tradition

Tue, 2014-01-07 20:30

Carolers gather around the spinning star at the home of Fr. Michael Boyle on Russian Christmas. This practice is known as “starring”, according to Orthodox tradition. (KCAW photo/Emily Forman)

It’s Christmas today (1-7-14) for Eastern Orthodox Christians overseas and in the United States. “Russian Christmas” is celebrated according to the old Julian calendar on January 7th, and in Sitka that tradition is audible. The week-long Feast of the Nativity celebration features a nativity “starring” – the Orthodox practice of caroling. Traditionally, revelers would stay out singing until dawn, sometimes for several days in a row. Here’s a sample:

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Herring Cove congestion solutions sought

Tue, 2014-01-07 17:17

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly wasn’t able to take action on some of its agenda items on Monday, because a legal notice of the meeting wasn’t published in time.

Under the Open Meetings Act, local governments must provide adequate public notice of meetings and the agenda items, so that the public is aware of what will be decided during a meeting. Because of the snafu, the Assembly postponed a resolution related to the disposal of borough-owned property, an agreement with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for a log transfer area on Gravina Island; and an executive session to discuss the borough’s planned lawsuit against the state over education funding.

Separate notices on three scheduled ordinances had been published in time, so the Assembly was able to vote on those. Assembly members also heard a presentation about proposed solutions for summer congestion at Herring Cove, along with some public comment on that issue.

Lynn Caldwell owns property at Herring Cove. He had been working with the borough’s Planning Department to provide a viewing platform, some bus parking space and other amenities, to help alleviate the congestion out there and make a little money. However, he said after watching for one summer, he’s not sure his plan will succeed without some changes.

“I cannot finish developing this property and go through all the hoops and provide shelters, bathrooms, and whatever for all these people if I’m not going to make any money at it,” he said. “And the tour operators – they’d be happy to park on my property – but if I charge them to park on my property, they aren’t going to park there if they can park in the middle of the road for free.”

Caldwell is in favor of some kind of regulation and enforcement, for safety’s sake if nothing else.

Herring Cove is a popular destination for summertime tourists, and many tour bus companies shuttle visitors out to that South End spot throughout the season. Buses park where they can, and tourists walk back and forth across South Tongass Highway to watch salmon and bears from a narrow bridge spanning the creek below.

Bob Brown, a driver with Northern Tours, agrees with Caldwell on one point: There is a problem, and safety is the biggest concern. Brown suggests a separate bridge dedicated to pedestrians. If that isn’t possible, he thinks the existing bridge should be turned into a single-lane structure during the summer, which would allow more room for tourists and would slow down vehicle traffic.

“We are really handling a large volume of people off these cruise ships,” he said. “And we need to be able to establish ways, for the season, to make it productive, and not interfere that much with the property owners out there.”

Steve McDonald, another tour operator, agrees with Brown’s bridge solution. McDonald estimates that about 50 vehicles take tourists to Herring Cove on a regular basis throughout the summer, adding up to more than 100,000 people visiting the area during the season.

Assembly Member Mike Painter pointed out that the bridge is part of the state highway, so the borough can’t do much more than make a suggestion.

Tory Korn, who manages Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, told the Assembly that he and other officials at that tour business believe they can help.

“We went ahead and undertook a master plan for our own property, and now feel very confident we can work with the borough to present a private enterprise solution to the parking and other infrastructure needs to provide a safe and high-quality tour experience for visitors and locals alike,” he said. “While I don’t think a solution for the 2014 operating season is likely, I do think that cooperation from all stakeholders can be a major part in developing a sustainable long-term solution for Herring Cove.”

Northern Tours driver Marie Zellmer said that something obviously needs to be done out at Herring Cove. She likes the idea of using cruise passenger head tax funds to provide some infrastructure.

Zellmer had one suggested improvement that she said could be done in time for this year’s summer season: “Better access to the beach. If you go out to Herring Cove, you’ve got this little muddy path down to a rock wall, which all our fishermen for all these years have had to walk down. Of course, you only have access to the beach at low tide because it’s all private property along the edges. A proper gravel walkway and an actual staircase would be a quick, not-too-expensive addition that would help our private citizens and our visitors at any time of the year.”

Borough planner Chris French later gave a presentation on options for Herring Cove. The proposed solution would establish a program to issue permits for commercial tour operators taking passengers to the area.

He also suggests fines for drivers that stop on the bridge or on the highway.

Assembly Member Glen Thompson said he would want to use cruise passenger head tax funds for any solution that the borough chooses. He also suggests expanding the borough’s code enforcement department to make sure the rules are followed.

An ordinance on the issue will come back to the Assembly at a later meeting.

The Assembly recessed Monday’s meeting, and is scheduled to reconvene at 5 p.m. Friday in Borough Assembly chambers to take care of the postponed items.

No more state funding for elective abortions

Tue, 2014-01-07 15:24

New abortion regulations adopted by the State of Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services will prevent Medicaid from covering elective abortions.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell certified the regulations Friday, which will take effect Feb. 2.

The department’s document to request Medicaid funds for an abortion lists 23 medical conditions that are covered. Some of those conditions include severe preeclampsia, convulsions, sickle cell anemia, severe kidney infection, epilepsy and congestive heart failure.

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PeaceHealth Ketchikan picks new CAO

Tue, 2014-01-07 15:01

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

Ken Tonjes has been hired as the new chief administrative officer for PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

PeaceHealth announced Tuesday that Tonjes will fill the role in which he has served on an interim basis since August. Before that, he was the hospital’s chief financial officer for about 12 years.

PeaceHealth Northwest Network CEO Nancy Steiger says that Tonjes brings business experience to the hospital, along with a history of success to help ensure a stable transition.

Ketchikan Medical Center’s previous leader, Pat Branco, resigned last summer after about 10 years in the position.

Murkowski votes to move toward benefits debate

Tue, 2014-01-07 13:26

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted with the majority to proceed to debate on a renewal of benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Murkowski was one of six Republicans who voted with Democrats on Tuesday to clear an initial Senate hurdle for the proposed renewal of jobless benefits. Sen. Mark Begich did not vote. A spokeswoman said the Democrat was on his way back to Washington.

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CBJ developing social media policy

Tue, 2014-01-07 13:23

JUNEAU — The City and Borough of Juneau is preparing to be “liked” and beginning work on a social media policy.

City manager Kim Kiefer told KTOO Juneau is behind the curve with social media.

Government needs to try to reach out to everybody in a community, she said, and the city probably is not connecting with a part of Juneau’s population because not everyone visits the city website for information. People want information “yesterday and I don’t know that we’re providing it in a way that they can get it,” Kiefer said.

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Energy authority wants more time for dam filing

Tue, 2014-01-07 13:18

JUNEAU — The Alaska Energy Authority wants more time to file with federal regulators an initial study report for the massive proposed Susitna-Watana dam project.

AEA spokeswoman Emily Ford says the $10 million proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell for next year’s budget isn’t enough to get through a full field season. AEA wanted $110 million.

While the Legislature might provide more funding, Ford says AEA will have to reprioritize its project plans based on currently available funds and Parnell’s budget proposal.

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