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Southeast Alaska News
One of the most hotly contested bills of the 2014 Legislature — the effort to raise the minimum wage — got even hotter after it passed the House on Sunday.
The measure approved by the House was changed on the floor to raise the wage to $9 an hour in 2015 and to $10 an hour in 2016 — those numbers had been $8.75 and $9.75, respectively. It would be adjusted annually for inflation each year after that.
WASHINGTON — After months of watching Democrats get hammered over President Barack Obama’s health care law, friends of an embattled senator are fighting back by proudly linking him to “Obamacare.”
An independent group in Alaska is airing a TV ad that praises Democratic Sen. Mark Begich for helping people obtain insurance even if they have “pre-existing conditions,” such as cancer.
SAXMAN — City of Saxman water operator Richard Shields beams as he walks through the new, nine-years-in-the-making surface water treatment facility, describing its state-of-the-art capabilities amidst the whirr of machinery.
SITKA — Rotating artifacts and themed exhibits are part of the Sitka Historical Society’s plan to make their museum a more dynamic place to learn about Sitka’s past.
Sitka Historical Society Executive Director Hal Spackman spoke at Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce lunch and explained that the society is revamping its approach to telling Sitka’s story.
“I hope for other people it’s a rebirth of the Sitka Historical Society,” Spackman said.
ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Department of Energy is soliciting for another round of research into methane hydrates, the potentially huge energy source of “frozen gas” that could step in for shortages of other fossil fuels.
The department is looking for research projects on the North Slope of Alaska that could explore how to economically extract the gas locked in ice far below the Earth’s surface.
DOE is also seeking researchers to document methane hydrate deposits in outer continental shelf waters of coastal states.
KENAI — With the Kenai Chamber of Commerce celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Fred Braun, a director for the chamber, said he could not think of a better gift from the City of Kenai than a new sign.
At the April 2 Kenai City Council meeting, Braun and chamber treasurer Brendyn Shiflea presented a proposal for a new electronic reader board sign for the Chamber and Visitor and Cultural Center. The purpose of the sign would be to promote events for both the chamber and visitor’s center.
JUNEAU — Municipal leaders on Saturday expressed support for Gov. Sean Parnell’s approach to addressing the state’s pension obligation.
They also supported keeping the municipal contribution to the public employees’ retirement system at its current level. Municipal leaders have been worried that lawmakers would propose raising the local contribution as part of a plan to address the unfunded pension liability, though no such proposal has been made.
FAIRBANKS — Alaskana Raven “Books and Things” may not have been open for very long, but it has a lot of history. The small book store is located at the end of a hallway in the Co-op Market on Second Avenue in Fairbanks.
James Rogan opened the store with his wife, Molly Leahy, in June to expand their love of the 49th state to anyone in Fairbanks. The store is no bigger than a living room but contains myriad texts on the farthest-north state in the union.
ANCHORAGE — Alaskans have been lining up for a two-day clinic offering free dental care in Anchorage that was scheduled to begin Friday.
ZhanCai Hanna Lee of Anchorage was the first in line Thursday morning outside the downtown Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center for the effort called the Alaska Mission of Mercy, the Anchorage Daily News reported. People who lined up behind her included residents of Anchorage, Ketchikan, Fairbanks and Tok.
“This right here has been a blessing to us,” said Lee, 59, pointing to the sidewalk sign advertising the clinic.
The Alaska State Senate passed Senate Bill 216 on Friday, better known as “Erin’s Law.”
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, introduced the legislation to combat Alaska’s high rates of child abuse.
SB216 requires school districts, with the assistance of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, to implement age-appropriate training and curricula on sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention for students, kindergarten through high school.
The state is facing projections for revenue shortfalls throughout the next decade, but Republican Gov. Sean Parnell is looking beyond the shortfalls and the next four years should he win another term.
Two issues poised to share some of the strongest scrutiny and most passionate debate during the final seven days of the 2014 Legislature are Parnell-backed priorities that focus on issues decades away.
JUNEAU — The state Senate passed a $2.2 billion state capital budget Friday, along with a bill to raise the borrowing limit of the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority as part of an overall package to help build a new heat and power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Reconsideration was served on the budget, meaning it could be voted on again before going to the House. Friday’s vote was 19-1, with Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, voting against.
Not many shipping companies pay more than $1,100 for every passenger they service, but that’s the average cost to the state of Alaska for each Marine Highway System user.
Less than 1 percent of everyone who travels across Alaska without flying does so via the Marine Highway System, yet that budget dwarfs the cost of maintaining the roads used by the remaining 99 percent.
The Sitka Bear Task Force has organized work parties to tackle several bear caches — the places around town where brown bears have been dragging garbage bags over the years, to sort through their loot undisturbed.
Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologist Phil Mooney says cleaning up these so-called “trash caches” is no small job.
“Over the years you’ll get some places where you’ll have 2 and 3 pickup loads of material that’s piled back in there.”
The caches don’t have anything edible left in them, but they’ve become large enough to be an ongoing concern.
“It’s not of much value to the bears at that point but it’s an attraction — a curiosity thing. And it’s also a nuisance for other animals, ravens and eagles, that distribute that trash over the landscape.”
ADF&G has identified ten caches around town that need cleanup. Work this weekend will begin at 10AM Saturday on the old Harbor Mountain Road. Cadets from the Alaska Public Safety Academy will provide much of the labor. Mooney says the Sitka Bear Task Force has been in touch with other organizations — like the Boy Scouts and 4H — which might like to help with some of the other caches.
He says it’s important to go in now, before vegetation has leafed out. He’s noticed that people are anxious about cleaning up someone else’s trash — when that “someone” might not appreciate the help.
“And quite frankly, I don’t blame them. In some cases it’s a little spooky to be going in and picking up stuff like that if you think that the bear is nearby.”
Mooney says the caches are actually quite close to housing areas — maybe 40 to 50 meters — but totally out of sight. Bears that use the caches have become skilled raiders, toppling cans, grabbing what they can and heading to their caches.
Cleaning the caches may not stop this behaviour on the part of bears, but it may change OUR behaviour.
“Do I think the bears are going to go back to those after we clean them? Yup. I do. I think those places exist because the bears know they can get in and use them. On the other hand, when we get a call saying, Hey, a bear’s been in the neighborhood, he’s dragged some bags of garbage off, we’ll be able to go in there and pick those bags up and try to find out who they came from. Then we can go to them and say, Look, obviously he’s been getting into your trash. Let’s see what we can do to fix that.”
Mooney says anyone is welcome to participate in the Sitka Bear Task Force’s “Clean the Scene” effort. You don’t have to be a trooper to come out this Saturday morning at 10 AM to the old Harbor Mountain Road. Anyone who would like to join the work can call the department for more information at 747-5449.
Juneau artist MK MacNaughton asks people about secrets.
She doesn’t ask them to tell her their secrets – instead, she asks what it feels like to keep secrets. And then she uses their stories to guide her in drawing giant charcoal portraits – three feet tall by three feet wide – that express those feelings.
Seventeen of those portraits were shown recently in the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and now about ten of them are hanging at Rio’s Wine Bar in Sitka.
MacNaughton asked her subjects to give her an image that represents the experience of holding onto secrets. The first person she asked was a friend, Shona Strauser.
“Shona’s image was butterflies. She said the weight of one butterfly on my heart is nothing, but the weight of a thousand is too many to bear,” MacNaughton said. “People tell her secrets. Which I realized is why I was drawn to her as a subject, because she was somebody that I feel like I could confide in. And apparently everyone feels that way, and that was one of my favorites.”
During the project, MacNaughton volunteered to do portraits at Juneau’s Glory Hole soup kitchen and homeless shelter. One of the men who showed up to have his portrait taken told her that there was one secret he couldn’t bear to keep.
“His mom had been killed in a gang shooting when he was eight years old and died in his arms,” MacNaughton said. “He described the wounds, and he said, you know I have to talk about it, or it’s like a brick wall on my shoulders.”
Another subject, a radiology technologist, talked about the moment when she saw something on a patient’s scan that would change her life, but couldn’t tell her – because telling the patient is the doctor’s job. MacNaughton drew her inside the “cone of silence” from the TV show Get Smart.
MacNaughton has practiced art all her life, but she only recently started calling herself an artist. She was for years the artistic coordinator at The Canvas Community Art Studio, which offers art classes for people with disabilities, and is now the Executive Director of the Alaska Arts Education Consortium.
At a certain point, she said, she just had to take a leap of faith.
“It was just deciding I was gonna do it. Just deciding,” MacNaughton said. “All my life I’ve enjoyed art, and I never called myself an artist until a couple of years ago, probably because I thought it sounds arrogant. Because, does that mean I think I’m good enough to be an artist, or really good? So I avoided that theme, though I would always encourage the children or artists with disabilities that I worked with to call themselves artists. And I finally took my own advice and thought, ‘I need to get over it.’ We all do, we need to celebrate being brave enough to try.”
MacNaughton’s portraits will remain on display at Rio’s Wine Bar through the end of May. Rio’s will host an opening reception for the artwork tomorrow (Sat 4-12-14) from 5 to 9 p.m.
MacNaughton will teach two charcoal drawing classes during the day tomorrow (Sat 4-12-14): an introduction to still life drawing from 10 a.m. to noon, and a class on drawing portraits from 1-3 p.m. The costs for each class is $20. Students in the portrait class should bring a photograph to draw from.
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The Sitka Tribe of Alaska has hired a new general manager. Lawrence SpottedBird, currently of Washington State, will start work on Monday (4-14-14).
STA’s previous manager, Ted Wright, resigned in October, after about two years on the job. Tribal Attorney Allen Bell has been serving as the interim manager since then.
Speaking with KCAW on Thursday, SpottedBird, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, said he has spent the last 34 years working with tribes and Native American entrepreneurs on business and economic development. He currently runs a consulting firm, SpottedBird Development.
“I consult with primarily tribes and Native American individuals in business development, with a focus on federal contracting development, looking for opportunities in contracting with the U.S. federal government,” SpottedBird said. “A lot of tribal governments and Native American entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the many incentive programs in the federal government and developing contracting enterprises to do so.”
SpottedBird has also spent time in Southeast Alaska: from 1999 to 2000 he served as general manager of Shaan Seet, the village Native corporation in Craig, on Prince of Wales Island.
Tribal Council Chairman Michael Baines said SpottedBird’s background in economic development is exactly what the Sitka Tribe needs. One key priority for STA in coming years will be finding new sources of revenue, Baines said.
“Getting a solid footing financially and budgetarily is very important,” he said. “So I will be focusing on looking at ways to address the budget and financial situation that any tribe – or any government really – faces around the country.”
Baines said the Council received about sixteen applications for the position, and flew in three finalists for interviews. All of the finalists came from outside of Sitka.
SpottedBird will be formally introduced to the Tribal Council and public at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, April 16, at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Na Kahidi, immediately before the council’s regular meeting.
Inter-Island Ferry Authority General Manager Dennis Watson took the ferry to Ketchikan this week to give an update to the Chamber of Commerce.
The Inter-Island Ferry Authority carries about 50,000 passengers each year between Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan. And a recent study by Sheinberg Associates shows that over 12 years, the ferry saved those people more than $14 million; that is, if the same number of people had traveled by plane.
Those are just a couple of the benefits both islands have experienced since the IFA started service in 2002.
Watson talked a little about the study, but he quickly opened the floor for questions. One audience member asked about the IFA’s spare ferry. The IFA owns the Stikine and the Prince of Wales. The latter is the port authority’s standby boat, so most of the time it’s not in use. Watson said they looked into selling the Prince of Wales, but it’s a challenging decision.
“It’s a tough one. It costs us roughly $350,000 a year to babysit that boat,” he said. “But I can give you a good for-instance: a couple of years ago we were just getting by Guard Island and the Stikine swallowed two valves. So back to town we went. Three weeks later, we were in operation and got the boat back and going. Had we not had (the Prince of Wales) we wouldn’t have had service for those three weeks.”
Watson said that, with a couple of other mechanical issues that came up that same year, the Stikine was out of service about six weeks. On top of emergencies, there’s also routine maintenance to schedule.
A break in service affects more than passengers, the IFA transports about 3 million pounds of seafood annually, supporting the commercial fishing industry. It also carries fresh produce from Ketchikan to POW, providing faster service than a weekly barge.
“There are an awful lot of businesses and activities that depend on that boat running back and forth, so not only is the issue the expense to us for keeping the lay-by boat, but what happens to other people if we don’t have it,” he said.
In response to another audience question, Watson said that nearly all of the IFA’s approximately 40 employees live on Prince of Wales Island, and the on-board employees work 12-hour shifts, four days a week. He said 12 hours is the limit allowed by the U.S. Coast Guard, and they push it to that limit in order to maximize port time in Ketchikan.
“It would seem nice to come over here and turn right around and go back, but that isn’t the way it works for people who want to come over here and do a doctor appointment and then go back that day, which is one of the huge savings involved with it because a tremendous amount of the medical care for people on (POW) Island happens in Ketchikan,” he said.
The IFA leaves Hollis on POW at 8 in the morning. The trip takes about three hours, so passengers have about four hours in Ketchikan before the ferry departs at 3:30 p.m., headed back to the big island.
Another audience member wondered about the condition of the IFA docks on both sides of the 36-mile ferry trip.
“They’re both a mess,” he said. “If you’ve ever been on the dock that we tie up here in town and gone inside that thing and looked around, you’d walk out with your jaw dropped. It’s a mess.”
The docks are state-owned, and the Alaska Department of Transportation has plans to rebuild them. Watson said the Hollis dock will be completely rebuilt next year. During a portion of that construction, the ferry will change its POW port to Coffman Cove.
“And that will be what we call a ‘turn and burn.’ It’s a four-hour-and-change trip to Ketchikan,” he said. “We’ll be offloading people and vans and onloading the other, and heading right back to the island.”
Watson said that change likely will take place in May or June of 2015. State officials have estimated that the Hollis dock will be closed about two weeks, but Watson believes it likely will be closer to a month.
If you click the link below, you can find a downloadable version of the Sheinberg Associates study, along with more information about IFA.
Whale biologist Dr. Alex Werth, a professor at Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College, is the April scientist-in-residence at the Sitka Sound Science Center. He and Jan Straley discuss upcoming events at the Science Center. Werth hopes to talk to as many Sitkans as possible over the course of the month about how they relate to the ocean, and is offering to speak with school and community groups, with a special emphasis on the human genome project, evolution, and marine conservation. You can find more information about Werth and his work here.