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From Our Listeners

Southeast Alaska News

Mallott's rural campaigning hits turbulence

Wed, 2014-07-09 00:01

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Byron Mallott has run into an unexpected issue in his quest to unseat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. An opinion by the Alaska Public Offices Commission says a supporter can’t donate his private plane for use by Mallott’s campaign.

Like many Democrats running for office in Alaska — including U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and the Democrats’ pick for the House of Representatives, Forrest Dunbar — Mallott has spent much of his time reaching out to rural Alaska voters in addition to those living in the major population centers.

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Water(borne) issues float short assembly meeting

Tue, 2014-07-08 21:42

A July sunset from the Sea Walk “spur” on Crescent Harbor. The city’s insurer requires a guardrail to be built here. (KCAW photo/Shaleece Haas)

If the dream of bulk water sales in Sitka ever becomes a reality, the city will be ready.

The Sitka assembly last night (Tue 7-8-14) revised the way revenues from water sales will be handled, in order to avoid flooding any single department with money.

The water ordinance, a guard rail along the sea walk, and floathouses were the highlights of an unusually speedy assembly meeting.



Sitka hasn’t sold any bulk water from Blue Lake yet, but the price it charges for the exclusive rights to buy that water is getting pretty steep. Since 2006, when it signed a 20-year agreement with True Alaska Bottling, Sitka has received two payments of $100,000, one payment of $150,000, and most recently, a payment of $1-million.

Until that $1-million rolled in, the allocation of water revenues was straightforward: half for the general fund, and a quarter each for the water and electric funds.

The new language deposits all the money from water sales and contracts into a single account — which would then reimburse expenses of any fund which incurred costs related to producing those sales.

Administrator Mark Gorman said it was a precaution against the day when — and if — the real money ever came in.

“If we hit paydirt on water sales, this ordinance will be reviewed again. It just to set in place a template that we can move forward on. But if we start pumping $90-million of water a year, we’ll probably be looking at these ordinances again.”

But assembly member Phyllis Hackett wasn’t so sure. In past assembly meetings, whenever the discussion turned to the prospect of water sales, a discussion of the challenges in “managing success” usually followed.

“All of the sudden when there’s lots of money coming into departments, it gets really difficult to change.”

The city’s chief administrative officer, Jay Sweeney, assured assembly members that — should substantial amounts of money start to flow from water sales — the new structure created a “protection mechanism” to keep potentially millions of dollars being diverted into the water or electric funds. He suggested that it would be easier to reimburse those departments for their expenses, than it would be to extract money that had already been allocated.

The assembly adopted the new scheme 4-0, with Hackett, deputy mayor Matt Hunter, Aaron Swanson, and Ben Miyasato voting in favor.

Mayor Mim McConnell, and members Pete Esquiro and Mike Reif were absent.

Sitka’s leaner-than-usual assembly addressed other matters involving real — rather than potential — money.

They spent $57,000 to have CBC Construction install a guardrail on the yellow cedar boardwalk along the top of the Crescent Harbor breakwater, with $40,000 of that funding coming from the cruise passenger head tax.

It’s officially known as the Sea Walk “spur,” and Sitka’s insurance company objects to the absence of a guardrail, even though one is not required by law.

Deputy Mayor Matt Hunter was ready to bite the bullet.

“Well I was one of the members who definitely wished we didn’t have to do this. The insurance company makes it clear that it’s a strong recommendation. And I appreciate staff coming up with a design that saves quite a bit of money.”

The guardrail will have a yellow cedar top rail, like other portions of the sea walk that has rails, and a single stainless steel cable at mid-height. Other designs came close to $200,000 in cost.

The only alternative to not having a guardrail would be to add gravel fill along either side of the boardwalk, and top it with soil and plantings of some kind, to soften a potential fall. That option was also ruled out.

In addition to the guardrail, Sitka’s insurer, Alaska National, will require a “Pedestrians Only” sign at the head of the walk.

In addition to the guard rail, the assembly spent $165,000 to replace the floatation under fingers 5 and 6 of Eliason Harbor. These are the two outermost fingers where most transients tie up. The fingers have settled somewhat. The sole-source contract was awarded on an emergency basis to WS Construction, the only local business which provides this kind of work.

Having shipshape harbors will be important when houses move in. The assembly last night adopted two ordinances creating a regulatory structure for floathouses in Sitka’s harbors. But they can’t be any old thing that floats: the new regs actually require that the floathouses’ architecture complement the harbors. That means, among other things, pitched gable roofs, and lap or shingle siding.

Assembly member Phyllis Hackett thought some of this language was too restrictive, and she proposed an amendment:

The architecture of the structure must have the intent of enhancing the aesthetics of the harbor environment, while being in compliance with the building safety code. In keeping with this intent, architectural deviations from this intent from Section must be approved by an ad-hoc committee appointed by the administrator.

The ad-hoc architectural committee will be populated by one member each from the Port and Harbors Commission, the Planning Commission, a public works staff member, one planning department member, and one member at large. Hackett’s amendment does not require that any architects sit on the committee.

The amendment and ordinance both passed unanimously. The administration hopes that the introduction of floathouses will help ease the affordable housing crunch in Sitka.

And while it’s not a house, it floats. Sitka administrator Mark Gorman said the city had just taken delivery of a 32-foot long fish waste scow, paid for by grant funding. He invited everyone to stop by the harbor sometime and take a look at the new boat.

The Alaska Marine Advisory tracks the effectiveness of whale pingers

Tue, 2014-07-08 13:00

Orca whales rely on echolocation to map the ocean terrain. That means they send out a signal and get a signal back. It helps them avoid predators, hunt for food, and avoid nets. Baleen whales, like humpbacks, don’t have that ability. “As they’re feeding, they’re not really paying attention to what’s ahead of them and they run into things. Anchor lines, mooring lines, nets. Things in the water,” said Kate Wynne, the Marine Mammal Specialist at the University of Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.

A purse seiner docked on North Harbor

She brings out a device called a whale pinger. It’s about three inches long, made out of plastic, and shaped like a football. She licks her finger and touches one of the electrodes. “Let’s see if I can get it to ping here.” The device makes a high pitch noise. “So if they’re in contact with the water whether it’s fresh water or salt water or spit, it will activate the pinger,” said Wynne.

The device was originally designed to keep whales out of shark barriers in Australia. But here in Alaska, it’s used to deter whales from running into purse seines and gill nets. If you’re a baleen whale swimming in the Frederick Sound, “50 feet away from the net, you’ll hear this thing go ping and you’ll look up from the fish that you’re chasing and you’ll hear a couple of different pings and you’ll keep moving away from that ping until you don’t hear it and you’ll be back to the beach,” said Wynne.

The device can be expensive. It’s $125, and fisherman may need up to a dozen, depending on the size of the net. It doesn’t always guarantee that a whale will swim the other way. “I have heard several reports where they say, ‘well there was a pinger and I had a big hole that blew through my net right through a pinger,’” said Wynne.

That’s exactly what happened to Joe Cisney. He’s been a fisherman his entire life and works on a purse seiner. “In the previous ten seasons I have never been whaled, but we had three go through our net last year. As it turns out, one or two or three of the pingers quit working and we didn’t know it,” said Cisney. He says it wasn’t a dead battery issue. The pingers just malfunctioned.”So it gave the whales a target to hit because there wasn’t any noise coming from that section of the net.”

Joe Cisney and his son on a purse seiner

As far as giving pingers another chance, Cisney isn’t forgetting his last experience. “No More. Unless they become more reliable and, you know, give you an indication that they’re working or not,” said Cisney.

Commercial fishing fleets in Alaska use pingers on a voluntary basis, but they are required in parts of the U.S. In California, a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that by catch of beaked whales went down to zero percent after pingers were mandated.

Right now, the Marine Advisory Program is collecting its own data to determine the effectiveness of pingers and troubleshoot problems. Wynne said, “by gathering data from different situations different gear types, we’re getting a better understanding of how the pingers work and how to modify them.”

The program is asking fishermen with and without pingers to fill out log books around Petersburg, Kodiak, and the Aleutian islands. Wynne said whales infrequently become entangled in nets, but when they do, there’s still a lot we don’t know.

“I’m not sure a statistician will ever be happy with the results we get. But when I hear reports from fisherman that say a whale went around and got back on course. To me, even if it’s not statistically significant, it’s biologically significant. It means that it’s working for me.”

If you would like to participate in the research, the Alaska Marine Advisory is giving out the logbooks to document whale sightings near fishing vessels. Contact (907) 772-3381 for more information.


Tue, 2014-07-08 10:55

The morning interview host welcomes Sitka Summer Music Festival Zuill Bailey and Melissa Kraut to talk about the inaugural cello seminar current happening in Sitka. 10 young cellists from around the country are training with Bailey, Kraut and other faculty, culminating in a “Cellobration” concert at Harrigan Hall on Saturday, July 12.


Library Report

Tue, 2014-07-08 08:49

Lisa Pearson speaks about ephemera at the library (such as nautical charts, SPOT locator beacons, magnifying reading aids and more).  Library070814

Yarn-bombed Sitka signs vandalized

Tue, 2014-07-08 00:05

SITKA — Vandals have destroyed knitted decorations that were put on Sitka public signposts by a local woman in a personal beautification project.

Fran Hartman discovered that at least six of the 16 signpost decorations she put up on Lincoln Street in recent weeks were in tatters, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported.

“It breaks my heart,” Hartman said. “I spent hundreds of hours, and my own money, and I was just starting to get businesses to back me, and now they’re just gone.”

read more

Begich talks corporate rights, gun violence, VA

Tue, 2014-07-08 00:03

Editor’s Note: U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, sat down with the Empire on Thursday July 3. The interview has been edited for length.

During a campaign tour around the state, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, sat down with the Juneau Empire last week to discuss national issues the next Congress will be facing.

read more

Ketchikan Assembly OKs OceansAlaska funding

Mon, 2014-07-07 23:06

Oyster spat grows at OceansAlaska.

Following about two hours of discussion Monday night, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly approved a $144,000 grant to OceansAlaska, and directed the borough manager to investigate a loan of up to $600,000 for that nonprofit shellfish seed producer.


It was an uphill battle for OceansAlaska officials to convince Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly to not only provide more grant funding, but also to seriously consider a loan, to be paid back over 20 years.

OceansAlaska is in a financial mess right now. It has debt that it can’t pay, and officials publicly admit that a previous borough loan was misappropriated. The board of directors is new, though, as is the staff. They’ve come up with a new business plan, hired a bookkeeper and say they’re dedicated to making the organization viable.

But they need money to make that happen. And they say if the borough invests in OceansAlaska, those public funds will come back. Not just through repayment of the loan, but through the growth of a fledgling industry.

Peter Metcalf is on the OceansAlaska board, and works for Juneau-based Goldbelt, Inc. He said Goldbelt is developing a geoduck farm at the site of an old logging camp at Hobart Bay. The biggest issue is finding a source of seed.

“The bottleneck that we’ve experiences in trying to bring this project to life is seed. And that’s where I entered the world of OceansAlaska,” he said.

Metcalf said they received some seed from Alutiiq Pride hatchery in Seward, but they weren’t ready to plant. His geoducks now are at OceansAlaska’s barge, eating algae grown on site, and slowly developing until they’re ready to go into the bay. Metcalf said Goldbelt is prepared to become OceansAlaska’s biggest customer.

Greg Fisk developed the new business plan for OceansAlaska. He said the new board of directors wants a commercial-style approach to production, and they believe a focus on geoducks is the way to maximize revenue for the organization.

Fisk said the business plan is conservative on production and revenue estimates, but liberal when it comes to costs.

“The result basically showed that the organization could start turning an operational profit in about four years out from the start of production in 2015, with really good results after that,” he said.

The plan is based on successful business models from shellfish hatcheries Down South. But a big part of that plan is a long-term development loan from the borough, for up to $600,000.

The plus side of that proposal is that the money presumably would be paid back. But, considering OceansAlaska’s recent financial problems, Assembly members were hesitant.

Mike Painter wondered why private enterprise – such as Goldbelt – didn’t invest in OceansAlaska instead of the borough. Metcalf responded that Goldbelt’s role is that of customer, not investor.

“It’s possible that Goldbelt would feel the need to recover the situation if, doomsday scenario, you don’t fund this and suddenly there’s a barge. Maybe Goldbelt would take that, and move it. Which we would almost certainly do, to Sitka,” he said. “Because as well as Ketchikan’s placed overall, we don’t believe it’s the best place for geoduck. There’s things to be said about Sitka.”

Assembly Member Alan Bailey said his concern is over risking the public’s money.

“The language that I continue to hear is potential, I hear risk, I hear skin in the game. I can’t ignore the history of OceansAlaska. That simply can’t be ignored,” he said.

Fisk said there’s plenty of skin. He is working for free on the project, and paid his own way from Juneau to attend the meeting. Board members have personally paid some of OceansAlaska’s debts, to keep the organization running over the short term. And, Fisk said, the requested loan, rather than another grant, helps keep the organization focused on making money.

Moving forward with a grant, that would be rolled into a loan if negotiations are successful, was proposed by Assembly Member Agnes Moran. She said the grant will keep OceansAlaska afloat while details of the loan are worked out.

“I fully appreciate that there’s been trust issues here, and we do need to proceed cautiously. But I think if we are going to resolve all of the questions we have about risk versus outcome, we need time,” she said. “The only way we’re going to get time for them is if we do the combination up front of the grant and then investigate the loan package. And if if looks like it’s not going to come to fruition, then you have the opportunity to close them down gracefully without leaving a mess in the community.”

Assembly Member Glen Thompson disagreed. He spoke strongly against investing more public funds in OceansAlaska.

“It’s like a house of cards and we keep stacking cards on top of each other and hoping it’s going to be really big and take off on its own. But so far we’ve shown that we’re not very good at picking winners and losers, and we need to leave that to the market,” he said. “I think it’s time for us to let this thing die out on the vine right now, and step back and let the industry come together and come up with a better plan and a better mousetrap moving forward.”

Thompson didn’t convince the majority, though. Moran’s motion to approve the grant and move forward with a loan to OceansAlaska passed 5-2. Thompson and Painter voted no.

Also on Monday, the Assembly introduced an ordinance restoring funding to the city-run Ketchikan Public Library. A public hearing on the ordinance is set for July 21.

French: Trading up to the 3rd floor of the capitol

Mon, 2014-07-07 20:37

Sen. Hollis French says Gov. Parnell’s refusal to accept 3 years of federal Medicaid expansion “would have Ted Stevens rolling over in his grave.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sen. Hollis French is making another bid for the executive branch, this time as Lt. Governor.

The 12-year veteran of the Alaska state senate ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010.

French was in Sitka Monday (7-7-14) as part of a 10-day campaign swing through Southeast Alaska.

Even before declaring his candidacy, French has been instrumental in organizing the citizen initiative to repeal the governor’s oil tax reform bill, known as SB 21. Voters will decide that issue during the statewide primary election in August, four months before they elect office holders in the November general election.

French is one of only seven Democrats in the Alaskan senate, and an active player in his party’s five-member caucus. He spoke with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey about why he’s leaving the senate to seek statewide office.



French currently represents Anchorage in the Alaskan senate. Although he’s passionate about repealing SB 21, French is not a single-issue candidate. Hear his thoughts about forming a team with Democratic candidate for governor, Byron Mallot:



And his ideas on Medicaid expansion under Obamacare:


Petersburg assembly considers increases to sales tax

Mon, 2014-07-07 17:12

Photo/Elizabeth Jenkins

The Petersburg Borough Assembly is looking to get more revenue through sales tax. The group is considering several ordinances which would limit the seniors’ exemptions, raise the exemption cap for everyone, and add an extra tobacco tax.

The proposals could eventually go to a public vote in the October 7th municipal election with continued assembly support. During today’s meeting Monday’s meeting the assembly passed the ordinances’ first readings.

Most assembly members voted to keep all proposals moving forward, including Jay Stanton Gregor, who was joining the meeting by telephone.

“Regardless of our own opinions, I firmly believe this is a decision that should be made by the voters and I’ll be willing to approve this measure so it can appear on the October ballot,” Stanton Gregor said.

Four of the proposals seek to tighten the exemptions that seniors are allowed. They range from ending the seniors tax exemption altogether to redefining who is a qualifying senior.

One proposal would limit the senior tax exemption to residents of the borough only. Another would require a one year residency in the borough to obtain a senior exemption card. And yet another would limit the seniors’ tax exemption to groceries and heating fuel only.

Probably the most extreme proposal before the assembly would end the senior tax exemption altogether for seniors who are not already in the system by the end of 2019. If the ordinance was approved by voters, no senior exemption cards would be issued after December 31, 2019.

While the first readings of the other ordinances passed unanimously, this one saw a couple no votes from Vice Mayor Cindi Lagoudakis and assembly member Bob Lynn. However, the proposal still moves forward with a 4 to 2 vote.

The assembly also looked at raising a tax that would affect all tax payers across the board. It would raise the tax exemption cap which is currently set at $1,200. Anything over that amount is not taxed. The proposed ordinance would raise that cap to $2,000 essentially giving the borough more tax revenue from more purchases.
Another tax the assembly is considering is a new tax on tobacco products. The assembly passed the first reading of an ordinance which would add an excise tax. For cigarettes, that would equal about two dollars a pack and for other tobacco products it would raise the wholesale price by 45 percent.

Before any of the proposals appear on the October ballot, there is more work to be done. The ordinances still need two more readings, including a public hearing.
Borough Manager, Steve Giesbrecht, says they will also have to fine tune the language.

“The language on these as far as what appears on the ballot is going to be really important,” Giesbrecht said. “We’ve gone back and forth with the attorney on some of this and it may come down to a meeting where we get the attorney on the phone and talk about specifically how the ballot language needs to look.”

The next assembly meeting is scheduled for July 21 at 7 p.m.

New ferry schedule has few changes

Mon, 2014-07-07 14:08

State ferries run from Bellingham, Wash., to Haines and Skagway. Ships also sail across the Gulf of Alaska and to Southeast ports. (Map courtesy AMHS)

The ferry schedule for this fall, winter and spring is now available online.

Marine Highway System spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says it covers sailings from Oct. 1 through April 30.

“For the most part people will see a kind of similar schedule to last year. There’s always a few variations depending on community events that occur throughout the wintertime,” he says.

He says some changes were made in response to requests from port cities.

For example, Juneau-Hoonah roundtrip sailings will be on Thursdays and Saturdays. They were originally scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays.

Also, Skagway was added to Thursday sailings that start in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Those ships had been scheduled to turn around in Haines.

Woodrow says budget cuts that affect summer sailings will not extend into the off-season schedule.

“The marine highway’s view is that the winter schedule is already bare bones and it really has been brought down to a level where you couldn’t reduce it much further,” he says.

Schedule details are posted on the system’s website, FerryAlaska.com. The reservations line, 1-800-642-0066, also has the information. The system no longer offers a printed schedule.

The state-operated marine highway sails 11 ferries to 35 communities from Bellingham, Wash., to Unalaska-Dutch Harbor.

Summer events at Island Institute

Mon, 2014-07-07 11:34

Island Institute associate director Peter Bradley visits the KCAW studio to talk about the Institute’s many upcoming events. The annual Sitka Symposium starts on July 20 and features a week of events, including a Sunday night TEDxSitka talk in the Odess Theater and morning and evening presentations by attendees. Click here for more information.


Raven Radio Raffle

Mon, 2014-07-07 10:29

Tickets for the annual Raven Radio Raffle are available weekdays at the station, $10 each.  The winning ticket holder will win 2 tickets on Alaska Airlines with no blackout dates and to any Alaska Airlines destination.  Please contact Amy at 747-5877 with questions.

Airing on KFSK Saturdays, 5pm

Mon, 2014-07-07 08:47

A 5 week radio series on Love, Sharing, Music, Death and Storytelling running through July 26th

Federal highway fund not worrying AKDOT

Mon, 2014-07-07 00:03

A July 1 letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation about the federal highway trust fund’s fiscal condition has some states sweating if new road projects will be funded as planned, or if the brakes will have to be thrown on in the middle of construction.

That’s because without Congressional action, the trust fund is predicted to run dry sometime next month. For many states, quick reimbursements from the trust fund is the only way to fund new road projects, but that’s not how it works here.

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Sitka roof project raises echo of 1804 battle

Mon, 2014-07-07 00:01

SITKA — Roofing volunteers or amateur archaeologists?

The workers on the Hames Center reroofing project thought of themselves as both last week after finding about 20 rusty iron balls, about one inch in diameter, mixed in with the river-run gravel weighting down the old roofing system.

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Alaska's military sites vulnerable to climate change

Mon, 2014-07-07 00:01

ANCHORAGE — A yearlong study on the effects of climate change on U.S. military installations included four Alaska military sites or complexes studied for vulnerabilities, according to a report out this week from the Government Accountability Office.

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After the crash: Searching for accountability in the Coast Guard

Sun, 2014-07-06 20:29

Although Lt. Lance Leone wasn’t found responsible for the crash of CG6017, he was held accountable. The unmarked wires his helicopter struck were later removed by the Coast Guard. (CIR photo)

Four years ago, on July 7, 2010, a Coast Guard Air Station Sitka helicopter crashed off the coast of La Push, Washington, taking the lives of the aircraft’s commander and two crewmen.

The helicopter’s co-pilot, Lt. Lance Leone, was injured, but survived. Although he was not at the controls when the aircraft went down, Leone was charged and tried in a military court. Following his acquittal, however, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — on the advice of the commandant of the Coast Guard — refused to recommend Leone for promotion, effectively ending the young pilot’s career.

The deaths of the Sitka airmen were three of 14 fatalities in the Coast Guard in a two-year period. Late last month, the Center for Investigative Reporting released an in-depth story examining the culture of safety — and accountability — in the Coast Guard.

The following excerpt is from the Center for Investigative Reporting’s radio news magazine Reveal.



Read the full story from the CIR’s G.W. Shulz.

You can listen to the full hour of Reveal here, or tune in KCAW for a special broadcast of this program at 4 PM on Sunday, July 13.

You can learn more about Lt. Lance Leone and the crash of CG6017 in previous reporting by KCAW, including a 3-part interview.

At the 2011 dedication of the Sean Krueger softball field in Sitka. Krueger was in command of CG6017. (KCAW photo/Emily Bender)



Snapshots of Ketchikan’s Independence Day

Sun, 2014-07-06 18:44

The 2014 parade theme was “Snapshots From the Past.”

Ketchikan celebrated Independence Day with parades, hot dogs, rubber ducks, and lumberjacks.


Parade Grand Marshal Hall Anderson

A flash mob surprised Anderson as he walked the parade.

Misty Thistle Pipes & Drums walked the parade and played their bagpipes around town throughout the day.

The Great Alaskan Lumberjack show held its Ironjack competition. Tom Lancaster (not pictured) was the champion.

Riley and Ruby McCue of the Ketchikan Cohos Log Rolling team competed during the Ironjack show.

Fireworks lit up the sky at the end of the day.

FCC rule change reveals political ad sales

Sun, 2014-07-06 00:12

Alaskans hoping for an end to the deluge of political ads flashing on their TV screens won’t be finding a reprieve any time soon.

A little-publicized Federal Communications Commission rule that requires TV broadcasters to publish their political advertising numbers online went into effect last week, and the number of ads reserved so far is staggering, one TV executive told the Empire.

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