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Southeast Alaska News
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.
Sitka Tribe hires Lawrence SpottedBird as general manager. Four running for president of Tlingit-Haida Central Council. Sitka Bear Task Force to clean up brown bear garbage caches. Sitka Historical Museum opens newest exhibit. Juneau jury starts deliberations in 17-year-old Yakutat murder case.
Hydaburg and Annette Island school districts were among three Alaska Native groups that received advanced telecommunications technology grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development office.
Hydaburg School District was awarded $500,000 to purchase video conference equipment for distance learning and training, in cooperation with the University of Alaska Southeast. According to USDA, the equipment will serve schools in the Hydaburg, Southeast Island and Craig districts.
The equipment also will be used for staff professional development, virtual field trips, education for all community members and to connect Alaska Native students with other Native American students in the U.S.
Annette Island School District was awarded about $400,000 for video conferencing to connect Metlakatla students with other rural Native students.
The third recipient was the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, which received about $260,000 for video conferencing equipment to rural clinics. The equipment will allow face-to-face medical consultation.
Gov. Sean Parnell introduced his public employees’ and teachers’ retirement system fix in bill form Thursday — a move lawmakers say will expedite the process with only 10 days left in the session.
It’s the same plan the governor announced in December and included in his recommended budget — infuse the Retirement System Trust Fund with $3 billion from savings now so the state can cut ongoing annual payments down to $500 million.
Planning for the weather forecast, tidal movements and a look at the resident wildlife on a new kayak route just became possible — before even leaving the driveway.
Anyone can virtually travel the coast of the Kenai Peninsula using the Alaska Ocean Observing System’s new comprehensive portal called the “Ocean Data Explorer.”
JUNEAU — The Alaska House on Thursday began debating legislation that would further define medically necessary abortions for purposes of Medicaid funding.
SB49 is similar to regulations that were approved by the state health commissioner and are currently subject of a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. A spokesman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, Erik Houser, said the case is on hold pending what happens in the Legislature.
Little more than a week after a Homer rally urging respect, not violence, a domestic violence assault ended in the death of 24-year-old Aaron Michael Rael-Catholic of Homer. The incident occurred April 2, on McLay Road, about four miles out East End Road.
The State Medical Examiner’s office has determined Rael-Catholic died from a single gunshot wound to the head, according to an April 5 dispatch from the Alaska State Troopers.
JUNEAU — House Speaker Mike Chenault on Thursday said legislative passage of a bill to raise Alaska’s minimum wage would guarantee that wages go up, while the outcome of a similar ballot initiative would be dependent on the whim of votes.
Juneau - ConocoPhillips’ Scott Jepsen painted a pretty picture of the current activity and future plans on the North Slope to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday — investment is high and projections indicate production will soon follow.
But everything he told the chamber lunch crowd hinged on a big “if.”
If Alaskans vote not to repeal SB21 this fall, the $1.7 billion capital budget will stay in place and the company will continue to expect up to 50,000 barrels of new production per day within the next four years.
ANCHORAGE — Alaska State Troopers say a 26-year-old Wasilla man has been arrested after he struck two troopers with his vehicle.
Michael Ingersol was arrested on multiple charges, including assault on troopers, eluding and driving with a license suspended.
Troopers say the two officers drove themselves to a hospital. They were released after treatment for non-debilitating injuries.
According to troopers, Ingersol’s mother called Wednesday evening and said she didn’t want her son at her home.
ANCHORAGE — Three Anchorage residents have been indicted in connection with the April 1 shooting death of a 15-year-old girl.
Prosecutors say 24-year-old Jamal Townsend and 29-year-old Lammar Burney were each indicted Wednesday on seven counts including first- and- second degree murder and second-degree assault, as well as assault and misconduct involving a weapon.
Townsend also was indicted on one count of misconduct involving a weapon for alleged conduct in March at the same Mountain View home where Precious Alex was fatally shot.
KENAI — Kenai police are seeking funds to replace a patrol car demolished during a traffic stop.
The Peninsula Clarion reported Officer Casey Hershberger on March 8 arrested a 27-year-old Soldotna man suspected of driving under the influence and drug misconduct.
Police say the suspect was in the back seat when a sedan driven by 19-year-old Anna Nisler rear-ended the patrol car.
Hershberger was standing at the open right rear door of the patrol car.
ANCHORAGE — A Coast Guard investigator says murder suspect James Wells had time to leave a Kodiak communications station, switch cars and drive home after shooting two co-workers.
Special Agent Aaron Woods testified Thursday that he recreated the scenario by driving from the communications station to Wells’ home.
Wells is charged with murder in the deaths of Richard Belisle and Petty Officer First Class James Hopkins.
BARROW — Barrow is about to have a new hotel.
A subsidiary of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. says the 70-room Top of the World Hotel will open April 22 in Barrow.
The new facility replaces a hotel which suffered smoke damage when the adjacent restaurant, Pepe’s North of the Border, burned down last Labor Day weekend.
Officials say the old hotel will not reopen.
The new hotel is located next to the post office. Rooms will have Wi-Fi and cable. It also will have three conference rooms and a fitness area.
In this photo from 2008 Morning Edition Host Melissa Marconi Wentzel brings her newborn boy Caellum into KCAW for the first time. Every single person that loves and supports Raven Radio was at some point…not yet a member. Is that YOU? Please join your friends and neighbors to keep us flying strong and contribute whatever amount is comfortable right now. Thank you!
Petersburg police cordoned off middle harbor Wednesday morning and took one person into custody following gun shots in the harbor.
Police chief Kelly Swihart said his department had a report of multiple gun shots fired from a boat in middle harbor around 6:20 a.m. “Officers responded to investigate and heard more gun fire. Weren’t exactly able to tell where it was coming from, from their position and called for assistance. We were able to develop a little bit of information pinpoint where it was coming from and we have taken one person into custody,” Swihart said.
Police arrested 56-year-old Terry Slafter and he’s facing a charge of reckless endangerment. Slafter was living on a boat in the harbor. Police recovered a rifle from the scene and maybe a couple dozen empty shell casings. Swihart says no shots were fired by police officers during the incident and no shots were fired at police during the incident. Slafter did receive some minor injuries during his arrest. Police have not heard of anyone else injured by the shots or any damage.
Swihart says officers closed off middle harbor during the response as a safety measure. “Yeah anytime we’re responding to a dynamic situation like that we wanna make sure that we do what we can to keep the public safe to keep them out of the immediate area. And you know we wanna be able to keep our officers safe too. The fewer people we have to manage the more we can focus our attention on the situation at hand.”
The police investigation into the gun shots is ongoing and they do anticipate forwarding additional charges against Slafter.
Petersburg’s borough assembly has put aside talks of budget cuts for the time being. The assembly Monday voted to advance a draft budget proposed by borough staff with no reductions for the school district and community service organizations. Local residents urged assembly members not to make across the board cuts. However, the borough budget won’t be finalized until later this spring.
Next year’s spending plan does not come up for official assembly approval until meetings in May and June. However, borough staff presented the assembly with a draft budget this month and asked for early direction about changes they’d like to see. Assembly members last week proposed cuts to appropriations to the school district, Petersburg mental health services and other local organizations along with borough departments. However, they fell short of the four vote majority needed to suggest those changes.
The talk of budget reductions prompted opposition from the public this week. Sue Paulsen said she opposed across the board budget reductions “We all know this is a time of transition when it comes to the city of Petersburg becoming the Petersburg borough. And there’s going to be a big change in the tax base. And there’ll no doubt be discussions about what appropriate reserves in each area ought to be. And of course I bow to you, you’ll be having these discussion it’s not going to be easy. But a general reduction in services right off the bat seems to me absolutely inappropriate at this time, not justified by an in articulated gesture to save money.”
Others who testified also sought no reduction in the borough’s one point eight million dollar contribution to the school district or payments to other community service organizations.
“And I would just like you to think long and hard and I know we have some tough planning to do as far as long term goals with the budget for the financial stability of our wonderful community,” said teacher Ginger Evens. “But just we need to take a long term plan and look. And I think when some of these cuts came out at first, it’s quite shocking when there hasn’t been mention of any kind of cuts and then all of a sudden, we’ve already been making our plans with the district, knowing personally what Ive been involved with the budget discussions that we do do long term planning and I would just ask the same of the assembly.”
Parent and coach Matt Pawuk is a graduate of Petersburg High School and encouraged the assembly to keep school funding at current levels. “You know I am immensely appreciative of the teachers that we have. I work closely with some of the teachers as a coach, things like that. They do a heck of a job. I know my sister’s on school board so I follow things a little more closely than others might. I encourage you to look at the budget and find out where we’re wasting money because I just don’t see it happening. I think everything that we put into our kids is a very good investment.”
Hospital CEO Liz Woodyard thought the borough could bring in more tax revenue. “Just like a hospital, the schools, mental health, the museum, they’re all important to bringing people to Petersburg and keeping people here. So I would support personally with more tax, to pay more tax. Because I think the services are worth it, or tobacco tax or an alcohol tax, personally I would because I feel it’s very important and I feel the taxes are pretty reasonable here.”
The borough already will be seeing more tax revenue in the upcoming year from new property and sales in the expanded municipal boundaries. Money from the state is also expected to increase. Overall the draft budget anticipates putting aside some 437,000 dollars for future purchases of land or other development.
Vice mayor Cindi Lagoudakis also noted that the borough has money saved already. “Currently we have over 20 million dollars in reserves. That money is being invested and its held in reserve for emergencies and in some places its depreciation funds that are allocated to different departments. Though it is allocated to different departments the assembly does have the ability to move that money between projects and functions if the need arose. The fund has increased over the last 3-4 years by 300,000 to 400,000 dollars every year. Now it makes sense to keep that money in reserve I’m not saying we should get rid of it but just but just to let you know that there is money available.”
Lagoudakis noted the general fund reserve is currently just under four million dollars, only a half million dollars from the maximum allowed in policy for that reserve account.
Other assembly members said they were glad to hear from the public on the issue. Here’s Jeigh Stanton Gregor. “Speaking for myself, it’s important to have these discussions now as opposed to the first week in May when we sit down to have the first official reading of this budget. Frankly speaking the last week including the meeting, was good democracy. It’s good to hear where people are at. Good to hear what’s important to members of the community. Important to hear consequences of decisions we make.”
Stanton Gregor liked an idea by Kurt Wohlhueter to hold community forums about how to address future needs. And Bob Lynn thought the borough would have to make some choices in the future and did not think people wanted to pay more taxes. “I’ll say that I had a young woman talk to me this morning, said that she was holding down two jobs in order to make ends meet and she said whatever you do she says don’t raise taxes. And I’m just saying that on the other side of the coin. And I think we do have to, we are going to have to take a look at how we are going to continue to make ends meet.”
Lynn appreciated that the school budget was on a different schedule than the borough’s budget and did not think it was the right time to make cuts to the school contribution. He and the others voted to support the staff’s draft budget which maintains the current level of funding to the school district and community service grants. The spending plan will be up for its first official vote in an ordinance before the assembly at its first meeting in May.