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Southeast Alaska News
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The US Chamber of Commerce has thrown its weight behind the effort to unseat Alaska Sen. Mark Begich in this fall’s election.
Chris Eyler, the executive director of the Northwest Region of the US Chamber of Commerce, says the process of endorsing candidates attempts to be objective, and not every local chamber agrees with the national organization’s picks.
He spoke about election-year politics with the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week (6-25-14). KCAW’s Robert Woolsey attended and filed this report.http://www.kcaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/25USCHAMBER.mp3
The political ad running on TV stations across Alaska blasts Begich on several issues. Maybe you’ve seen it:
(Ad audio) Obamacare. Mark Begich sided with Washington, putting the bureaucrats in control. EPA regulations that could hurt the Alaska economy and cost jobs, Begich sided with Washington — again.
The ad caught the attention of one regular Sitka Chamber attendee, who wanted to learn more about it when Chris Eyler opened the floor to questions.
Chamber audience – If you quick enough at who sponsors it, it says US Chamber of Commerce. How does that support come about?
Eyler – We look at every single senate race. From our point of view, yes, Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Begich are your senators. They represent you in DC. But they are also making decisions that impact the entire country. So from that point of view, we look at it as our responsibility to look at each race and make a decision about getting involved.
Eyler told the Sitka Chamber that the national organization’s main function was to lobby congress and the president on policy issues important to business, and that not every statewide or local chamber was on board when it came to backing candidates. He said the candidates were vetted by a questionnaire, interviews, and other research that the US Chamber’s board uses to make a recommendation or not.
In the case of the Alaska Senate race, they’re going with…
(Ad audio) Dan Sullivan puts Alaska first. He has a track record of taking on Washington in the big fights over Obamacare and the out-of-control EPA. That’s Dan Sullivan.
That’s former Attorney General Dan Sullivan, and not Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan, who’s running for Lt. Governor.
Eyler said there are five senate races the US Chamber considers “toss-ups” this fall, Alaska’s among them. Those five seats, plus two that the Chamber considers “wild cards,” would be enough to give Republicans a majority in the United States Senate, which is currently held by Democrats. Their spending — despite the vetting process — heavily favors Republicans. According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, the US Chamber has spent just over $14-million in the current election cycle — with $12-million going to support Republicans.
Although the US Chamber has spent some money — around $1-million — opposing some Republicans, it has spent nothing in support of Democrats.
Even though Begich is an incumbent, Eyler said the Alaska Democrat did not pass muster on enough chamber issues to win an endorsement.
“With incumbents, we also have a legislative scorecard. We score votes in the senate, then have a scorecard based on those votes. If a member of the senate doesn’t score above 70-percent, they don’t receive our support. In the case of Sen. Begich, on our most recent scorecard he got 50.”
When the US Chamber released the ad in April of this year, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce — where Begich served as mayor for many years — immediately distanced itself. In a statement, Anchorage Chamber president Andrew Halcro wrote, “these ads… have no affiliation with the Anchorage Chamber.”
Alaska State Chamber president Rachael Petro told the Alaska Public Radio Network at the time, “We just have no opinion on this topic and we have nothing to do with those ads.”
Sitka Chamber president Ptarmica McConnell said her board receives questions like this often, especially when the US Chamber visits. “We don’t endorse candidates,” she said. “Even though we’re members of the US Chamber, we’re our own Chamber.”
In November, Alaska voters will decide whether to approve Ballot Measure 2, which would legalize marijuana in the state. During Wednesday’s Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch, a Ketchikan Police Department officer who focuses on drug enforcement talked about the cons of legalization. But, the coordinator for the statewide effort to pass the ballot measure said those arguments are scare tactics.http://www.krbd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/25ChamberPot.mp3
Sergeant Andy Berntson said pot is nothing like it was 20 year ago.
“People are taking the plant, the most basic bud form, and trying to get a higher high, then an even more higher high, and a more concentrated high,” he said. “Basically, people have come up with a system of making a ‘crack weed’ though a chemical process that is very destructive and dangerous.”
Some of the terms for concentrated forms of marijuana include “ear wax” “budder” and “butane hash oil.” Butane is used to extract the plant resin, then grain alcohol is added and the mixture is cooked until it thickens into a concentrated form that can be smoked. Berntson said that production process has led to explosions.
In addition, the concentrated marijuana extract is significantly more potent than the plant form.
“Years ago, you were dealing with 1 to 2 percent. Like Woodstock weed, grass,” he said.
Now, Berntson said, the levels of THC in the new, concentrated forms are 80 to 90 percent.
He also expressed concern about how legalization could affect youth. Berntson said drug use among young people already is a problem.
“Anytime you make something more readily available, there’s just no way you’re not going to increase the abuse,” he said.
Berntson added that candy, cookies and other edible items laced with THC could be accidentally ingested by children, who definitely shouldn’t be exposed to concentrated levels of marijuana. He used a power point presentation provided by Big Marijuana Big Mistake, a state organization that opposes Ballot Measure 2, and showed images of colorful marijuana-infused suckers, plus “Kif Kat” and “Krondike” candy bars.
Berntson said that marijuana at any level of exposure can be harmful. He said it can increase anxiety, lead to panic attacks and reduce cognitive abilities over the long term – especially among young users whose brains are still developing.
Berntson also talked about the Vote Yes on 2 campaign, and said it’s funded by a national organization.
“This is not a grass-roots, in-state push,” he said. “This is a national organization that picked Alaska because they saw us as an easy target.”
But, the state coordinator for the Vote Yes on 2 campaign disagrees.
“This initiative is only on the ballot because over 40,000 Alaskans signed a petition to qualify the petition for the ballot,” said Taylor Bickford. “And so to suggest that this is anything but a homegrown cause that Alaskans support I just think is an insult to the intelligence of average voter in the state, and it’s ultimately going to be Alaskans and Alaskan voters who decide this issue in November.”
Bickford said regulation of marijuana does make sense for Alaska, in part because the state has the highest levels of use in the country already.
“So whether we regulate it or not, it’s going to be available in Alaska from somebody,” he said. “And currently, marijuana sales are entirely controlled by criminal enterprises operating in the black market.”
In response to an argument that a black market for marijuana would continue, because illegal pot would be cheaper and available to youth, Bickford said that’s a ridiculous notion. He said there aren’t thriving black markets for alcohol or tobacco, so “to suggest that taxing and regulating marijuana will do anything but put drug dealers out of business and take this industry out of the hands of criminals is a ridiculous argument to make, and is not supported by any objective evidence or facts or examples from any other jurisdictions in the world that have make this policy change.”
Bickford also responded to the argument that marijuana is a dangerous drug that should remain illegal because of the potential health effects. He said marijuana is safer than alcohol, even in its concentrated form.
“The prohibitionists in this state are doing what they’ve always done; they’re trying to scare and confuse Alaskans into thinking that marijuana is more dangerous than it actually is,” he said.
In his presentation, Berntson was asked about alcohol abuse, and how it compares to marijuana abuse. Berntson responded that there wasn’t much of a difference.
“My argument to that would be, well, let’s leave bad enough alone,” he said. “Let’s not add to our problems.”
Marijuana already is kind of legal in the state. The laws are complicated, but essentially adults can have up to 4 ounces in their own home. But, it’s still illegal to buy or sell marijuana.
Alaskans still have a few months left to think about this issue. The initiative will be on the Nov. 4th general election ballot.
For more arguments from both sides of the issue, see the following websites:
Vote Yes on 2 campaign: http://www.regulatemarijuanainalaska.org/
Big Marijuana, Big Mistake: http://www.bigmarijuanabigmistake.org/
ANCHORAGE — More than 75 U.S. and Canadian scientists have sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for a policy to preserve what remains of America's old-growth forest.
The scientists include two former chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service, Jack Ward Thomas and Mike Dombeck. They say less than 10 percent of the old-growth forest before European settlement is still intact
ANCHORAGE — A petition filed by the state of Alaska to remove some North Pacific humpback whales from protection under the Endangered Species Act merits a closer look, federal officials said Wednesday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the petition to delist the central North Pacific whales presents substantial scientific backing that such action may be warranted. That population, estimated at more than 5,800, feeds in Alaska in the summer and breeds in Hawaii in winter.
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it's can't find emails from a former biologist who was evaluating the impact of a large gold and copper mine proposed in southwest Alaska.
Sitka Health Summit Steering Committee member Doug Osborne breaks the news that Sitka did not win the top Roadmaps to Health Prize, awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. But he explains why Sitka was selected as one of 12 finalists from over 250 U.S. communities for the local focus on citizen-driven health improvement.http://www.kcaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/140625_interview.mp3
Conservation groups are asking for endangered species protection for yellow cedar trees in Alaska. The trees have been dying off in portions of Southeast over the past century and scientists say it’s likely due to a warming climate and lack of snow cover for vulnerable roots. The groups say logging also poses a threat to the cedar trees on the Tongass National Forest.
Kiersten Lippmann is a biologist with The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups petitioning for a listing for yellow cedars under the Endangered Species Act. She said the cedar decline in Southeast Alaska has been drastic. “The reason we’re doing this now is we’re seeing, especially in Alaska, the timber industry is targeting the remaining living cedar. It’s kind of like when the buffalo were dying out, people would go out and hunt the last buffalo because it was their last chance to get them. So they’re going out and killing the ones that are actually still doing OK which is a huge problem for the long-term survival of the species. So if we can get them protected now, it’s really important at this stage in the game, especially with major timber sales planned for a few areas in the Tongass.”
Other petitioners are the Boat Company, Greenpeace and the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community. They cite research done by scientists at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station documenting over half a million acres of yellow cedar decline in Southeast. Scientists say over 70 percent of cedars in those areas are dead, mostly on low elevation areas with wet soils with poor drainage.
The die off started around 1890 and scientists say it’s because yellow cedar roots are more susceptible than other trees to cold and deep freezing in the soil. Snow cover insulates the ground and can keep soil temperatures above freezing. Scientists have also studied whether the trees could survive if transplanted further north and tested for genetic resistance to deer browsing and freezing injuries.
Lippmann doesn’t think a northward move for the species is realistic. “It would be nice if the trees could move north but there’s a limit to that. They’re specialists. They survive on, they’re not very competitive with other tree species. They need a certain kind of soil, certain nutrients in the soil and climate change isn’t going away any time soon and climate change is projected to spread north as well, quite rapidly so the potential for a long lived tree like yellow cedar to actually move is really low. We don’t see it happen very often.”
Yellow cedar can live over a thousand years. They’re highly valued as a building material and for carving because of a natural resistance to rot. Forest Service scientists also say the dead trees are good for up to 30 years and would be a valuable resource for salvage logging that could shift timber harvest away from live trees.
There’s only one plant in Alaska on the endangered species list – that’s the Aleutian shield fern, which is found on Adak Island. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s spokesperson Andrea Medeiros said her agency will consider this petition for yellow cedars. “The service is gonna look at the petition and any information that’s been submitted with it and over the next several weeks, we’ll look at that information and determine whether the information is significant enough for us that would warrant us to consider the petition further consider the species for further consideration.”
The agency’s initial finding of whether to review a species status further is supposed to take 90 days, but that can be much longer than that. A similar initial decision on Southeast Alaska wolves was issued this spring more than two years after the petition was filed.
Sitka has to figure out how to pay for its roads – and soon. That was the message delivered to the Sitka Assembly on Tuesday night (6-24-14), at a work session before their regular meeting. City staff offered a wide range of potential strategies, all aimed at keeping the city from going back to gravel.http://www.kcaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/24ROADS.mp3
Here’s the key number to keep in mind: $2.7-million.
According to Public Works Director Michael Harmon, that’s the amount the city needs to come up with each year, for the next twenty-five years, to maintain its existing road system.
And, Harmon said, the city needs to find that money soon.
“We’re reaching critical mass on a lot of these projects,” he said. “Where the time it takes to design them and get them built, they’re going to deteriorate quicker than we can get on it.”
Many of Sitka’s roads were paved with state money in the 1980s and 90s, and they’re reaching the end of their lifespan. The problem, Harmon said, is that the city has allowed them to deteriorate to such an extent that many now have to be completely reconstructed. That’s a lot more expensive than if the city had gone back over the roads a decade ago with a program to add another layer of asphalt before the existing layer cracked. Then the city could just grind down that top layer and replace it.
That’s what the state is doing now on Halibut Point Road. It’s worth noting that the roadwork that’s been causing the recent traffic headaches in Sitka isn’t a part of this conversation. Halibut Point Road and Sawmill Creek Road are state roads, which the state maintains. And as much as Sitkans have cursed that maintenance while taking the Lake Street detour for the umpteenth time, it’s actually a pretty good model, Harmon said.
“What you see on HPR, they’re grinding it down, they have enough thickness and pavement that they’re not getting into the subgrade and they’re putting a new surface on it,” he said. “So [it's] a pretty good sustainable program.”
Because Sitka didn’t do that maintenance, the city is facing big costs. Harmon’s estimate, again, is $2.7-million a year for 25 years. After that, if the city embraces his maintenance plan, Sitka would spend about $600,000 a year on roads.
For now, the city is spending nowhere near that amount. The assembly set aside $1.3-million for roads this coming year. That’s less than half the estimated need, but it’s a big increase from past years, when the city allocated less than $450,000 a year, on average.
Harmon ran through several funding options, including increasing property taxes or the city’s sales tax, or lifting the sales tax cap.
Another option is local improvement districts, or LIDs, in which homeowners pay part of the cost of maintaining their street. In one arrangement, one side of the street would shoulder one third of the cost, the other side another third, and the city would cover the last third.
But Harmon said that system has its drawbacks. Certain neighborhoods wouldn’t be able to afford it.
“We can end up with a patchwork quilt, so to speak,” Harmon said. “Where you’re driving down the road, [and] you’d have a block of gravel, a block of pavement, and kind of a mishmash.”
Assembly member Mike Reif proposed the idea of a vehicle licensing fee, which could raise up to a million dollars a year.
“The vehicle is the most fair tax I can think of,” Reif said. “Everyone pays it, and it’s based on the number of vehicles you have. And obviously the number of vehicles is probably a little bit based on your affluence level, so those who have a little bit more money will pay more, and those who have one vehicle will pay less.”
Member Phyllis Hackett said she would like to see Sitka band together with other cities to push the state to raise gas taxes, and allocate that money to local roads.
“I think there’s a really solid argument for that, given that we [have] the lowest [gas tax] in the nation and our roads take a beating because of our environmental conditions,” she said.
City Administrator Mark Gorman also said that he thinks state money should play a role. He suggested that the city prioritize roads in its request to the legislature next year.
“My recommendation is the number one priority will be road funding this coming year, and Sen. Stedman has said he will assist us on this,” Gorman said, referring to Sitka State Senator Bert Stedman.
Harmon said that state money is great if and when it arrives. But, he said, Sitka needs to find a more reliable source of funding, and find it fast.
“A lot of these big picture ideas are great to work on for the long run,” he said. “Absolutely, the more we can get the state to participate the better. But we’re so late in the game, you’re going to have at least a certain window where a substantial amount of money’s going to need to go in there, or we’re going to be facing gravel roads. That’s the reality of it.”
FAIRBANKS — Former state Senate President Mike Miller has withdrawn his primary challenge to Sen. Click Bishop, saying it would be divisive to the Republican Party.
Miller said he decided that challenging an incumbent would create an unnecessary “distraction” as Republicans focus on trying to win the high-stakes race for U.S. Senate.
He told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he and Bishop have had “substantial conversations” during the last two weeks, and they agree more than they disagree on issues like state spending and resource development.
NOME — The mother of a man murdered 15 years ago in Anchorage, possibly by convicted killer Joshua Wade, said she wants justice for her son and closure for his death.
But for now, it remains a waiting game for Arlene Soxie as police investigate claims made by a confessed killer that her son was another of his victims. She also claims the man who claimed to be her son’s murderer has been rewarded by authorities by receiving a prison transfer out of Alaska.
Thank you! Our spring drive was a success but with fewer new members than usual. That’s OK! You can invest in your community station right now with a contribution of any size! Join the family of friends, neighbors and puppies that keep Raven Radio flying strong!
Two overdue boaters were found safe early Tuesday afternoon on a beach in the Unuk River area north of Behm Canal.
The search began late Monday night after a family member reported that Patricia Bishop and Ken Wright were overdue from a boating trip.
Coast Guard spokesman Grant DeVuyst said a search helicopter crew was launched right away, but visibility was poor Monday night, and the helicopter had to return.
Early Tuesday morning, the Coast Guard sent a lifeboat crew and diverted the cutter Chandeleur to aid in the search.
In addition, DeVuyst said another helicopter was launched late Tuesday morning, after visibility had improved. Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad personnel and members of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game also joined the search Tuesday morning.
A Cessna airplane working with KVRS spotted two people and their overturned skiff on a beach.
“They weren’t able to get in close enough to confirm who it was, but our helicopter crew got down there and picked up both people and confirmed it was our overdue boaters. So they are safe,” DeVuyst said.
DeVuyst credits the two boaters for filing the float plan with a family member.
“Because they filed a float plan, a family member knew when they were supposed to be back, and that family member knew to contact search and rescue personnel when they didn’t get back on time, so filing the float plan led directly to their rescue today,” he said.
DeVuyst couldn’t confirm why the boaters had ended up stranded on the beach.
Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council Executive Director Kathleen Light has been chosen to attend the 2014 Local Arts Agency Executive Leadership Forum this fall in Utah.
According to an announcement from the Arts Council, the program invited only 21 people from the United States and Canada to participate in the forum.
The goal of the program is to encourage long-term thinking, professional growth and personal renewal for the participants.
The forum will take place at the Sundance Resort outside of Provo, Utah.
PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center received a surprise last week when visiting State Senator Lesil McGuire presented hospital officials with a citation on behalf of the Alaska State Legislature.
McGuire, who represents Anchorage, sponsored the citation to commemorate the opening of the Ketchikan Medical Center’s new chemotherapy infusion suite.
According to PeaceHealth, McGuire said she wanted to offer the recognition after she heard of the new infusion therapy suite, and how it was funded through a partnership between individuals, businesses and private foundations.
New York City theater professionals and Sitka Fine Arts Camp instructors Michael Eisenstien and Nora Gustuson talk about the last week of middle school camp and upcoming culminating performances – June 25, 26, 27 at 7 p.m. at the Sitka Performing Arts Center and the Afternoon Showcase, June 27 from 1‐4 p.m on the Sitka Fine Arts Campus.http://www.kcaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/140624_interview.mp3
FAIRBANKS — A little thing like a flooded creek was not enough to keep an Alaska restaurant owner from delivering Thai ribs and fried rice to stranded customers over the weekend.
Anuson “Knott” Poolsawat, owner of Knott’s Take Out in North Pole, forded the swollen waters of Clear Creek to reach two customers stuck along the Richardson Highway, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Mike Laiti and Brandon Borgens were completing a multi-day drive Saturday night up the Alaska Highway when they called in their order to the restaurant, which was near closing.
A hatchery in the Southeast community of Kake is closing its doors this month and has released its final chum, pink and coho salmon. There’s still some hope that a larger regional hatchery organization can figure out a way to restart the salmon enhancement program there.
The Gunnuk Creek hatchery started in 1973 as a Kake High School project. Community members formed a non-profit and incorporated in 1976. General manager John Oliva says they’re boarding up the hatchery this month and will close the doors June 30th . He said the Kake Non-profit Fisheries Corporation did not have enough money to keep operating. “The corporation owes like 22 million dollars to the state. About half of that, maybe a little more than half of that is actually deferred interest, going back to 1981,” Oliva said.
Oliva noted the state could not provide additional funding and the non-profit was forced to close. “The corporation’s shut the doors voluntarily signed over all the assets to the state. So as of right now, we’re boarding up everying. The state’s sold off a good portion of the equipment, incubators, net pens, net pen complexes, anchor systems, forklifts, trucks, stuff like that to NSRAA.”
NSRAA is the Sitka-based Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. That regional non-profit was already partnering with Gunnuk Creek on a chum project off of nearby Kuiu Island. Now NSRAA is considering whether it should operate the Kake hatchery after Gunnuk Creek closes its doors.
NSRAA general manager Steve Reifenstuhl said they’re evaluating whether it pencils out to install new equipment to re-circulate and regulate the water in Gunnuk Creek. “So that we can number one clean up the water quality and then deal with the extremely cold temperatures in winter and the extremely high temperatures in summer. And by reducing the amount of water we need and recirculating it, we think that we can do a much better job at raising high quality eggs and fry.”
Gunnuk Creek has been logged and has increased sediment and greater temperature fluctuations. Reifenstuhl said the high cost of energy in Kake also will enter into the decision. They’re looking into a small hydro electric turbine to generate the needed electricity. They also have to consider the impact to NSRAA’s facility at Hidden Falls hatchery on Baranof Island where chum are raised. Reifenstuhl said it’s difficult to put additional pressure on the production at Hidden Falls. “It’s difficult for staff to manage another 55-60 thousand broodstock fish. It’s tough on the seiners to pull all those fish out of their fishery. And the facility wasn’t built for anywhere near that much. We can do it. But it would be better if we could do it in Gunnuk Creek.”
Ultimately it’s a decision for the NSRAA’s board of directors, based on information from engineers and staff. Meanwhile, that regional non-profit is going forward with new chum production nearby Kake at Southeast Cove. That program will mean 35 million chum released there next year, and 55 million the following year.
Staff at Gunnuk Creek released their final chum, pinks and coho in late May and early June. Gunnuk Creek’s Oliva thinks some of the salmon could continue to spawn after the hatchery shuts down. “I think there’s a good chance the pinks and the coho will,” Oliva said. “The pinks and the coho came from this creek. The coho definitely are a native Gunnuk creek stock. And the pinks, the hatchery back in the 90s was doing pinks and they stopped and the pinks continued to come so they may come back still. The chums on the other hand may be a different story. You know we put our weirs down and removed all our barriers so the fish can go upstream but there’s going to be limited spawning habitat up there for em. So we still might get some chums to come back but I don’t think there’ll be any great numbers.”
The hatchery was impacted when the Gunnuk Creek dam broke in 2000, leaving the community without a water supply for several days. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rebuilt the dam but Oliva said that too caused problems. “Basically had a full building full of alevins and they killed them all off with the construction. Lost all of our water and stuff when they were doing the construction. So we actually had to start rebuilding again and it was just a battle. You know this last year we’re finally seeing some good returns come back but it was a day late and a dollar short basically.”
Oliva says Gunnuk Creek has four full time employees and 10-12 season workers, mostly local kids who help with the egg takes each year. The fish returning to the area are caught by Southeast’s fishing fleets. The bears that congregate on the creek each year, drawn by the returning chums, have also been an attraction for smaller cruise ships.
ANCHORAGE — A strong earthquake near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands triggered a tsunami warning Monday, but only small waves measuring several inches hit coastal communities.
The National Tsunami Warning Center canceled all tsunami warnings late Monday afternoon, about four hours after the earthquake struck.
ANCHORAGE — The search for a missing French adventurer was suspended along the eastern coast of Katmai National Park and Preserve after aerial searches didn’t reveal any signs of his whereabouts, authorities said.
The search for Francois Guenot was called off late Saturday, a day after park rangers found his kayak containing his identification, food, maps and personal journals, said Katmai National Park Chief Ranger Neal Labrie.