Talkeetna is currently struggling with a growing debt from its water and sewer system. It’s one example of a problem that is rapidly spreading through the state, where small communities can’t pay the operating and maintenance costs of systems more than twenty years ago with federal funds.
The Cape Edgecumbe weather buoy, which records observations and reports them on a website from a station off-shore from Sitka, is back in service.
The buoy has a tendency to break free from its anchor. The Coast Guard Cutter Maple, which is home-ported in Sitka, picked up the buoy in September 2012, after it spent six days adrift.
The buoy is operated by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and provides weather observations to the National Weather Service, as well as mariners. Lt. Ray Reichl is the executive officer aboard the Maple. He says there are several weather buoys throughout the Gulf of Alaska, but the one off Sitka is especially important.
“It’s not just the commercial fishery that utilizes this one,” he said. “It’s utilized heavily by the recreational fleet as well as normal commercial traffic – non-fishery related.”
The Maple returned the buoy to service on Aug. 20. It takes about 30 minutes to physically put the buoy back on station. But the job doesn’t end there.
“Once it’s in the water floating free, it’s about a four-hour test and evaluation process to make sure the sensors that it’s sending back to the satellite and to the viewers on the website is the same as the actual on-scene weather that we’re observing,” Reichl said.
KCAW spoke to Reichl while he was in Kodiak, where the Maple had traveled to tend to some buoys in the western Gulf of Alaska.
For almost a year the ferry Tustumena has been out of service for repairs, leaving much of Southwest Alaska accessible only by air. The Kennicott picked up additional sailings between Kodiak and Homer, but the impacts from reduced ferry service were still felt throughout the island. Now, as summer quickly fades into fall, classes are resuming at Kodiak High School and young athletes are starting to feel the impact as well.
Unlike high school sports teams on the mainland, Kodiak athletes can’t just hop on a bus to see competition. Instead, they must either take the ferry or fly. For years the Alaska Marine Highway System has cut the district a deal and made ferry-going a financially feasible and preferred method of travel. But with fewer regular sailings, teams now have to look to the sky if they hope to compete off island.
Air travel means less athletes can go, not to mention it’s more expensive. A lot more expensive.
Take for instance the football team. There are eight weeks in Kodiak’s regular season, and seven of those were slated for ferry travel. But the Kennicott’s schedule doesn’t match all of those dates, so now three weeks will have to be flown. That may not sound like a huge difference, until you look at the price tag. Sixty players could ride the ferry for about $4,000, but flying will now run the program more than $13,000. That’s a $9,000 difference just for one team, on one trip.
“Cost to the district and to these clubs and booster club is astronomical not having the ferry in line.”
That’s Kodiak High School Athletic Director Bryan Ferris, who estimates an additional $27,000 being spent on football travel alone this year. And if the team makes it to the playoffs, that’s another three weeks of travel the program will have to find funding for.
The impacts are fairly across the board for other fall sports. The cross country team was forced to cancel its annual week-long ferry trip, which gave runners of all skill levels a chance to compete off island. In fact, the entire cross country schedule was rearranged.
“Took out a trip, took another trip, Kenai had to back out of coming over because the ferry wasn’t running, they just didn’t have the funs to pay their way.”
The high cost means other schools won’t bring as many athletes to Kodiak.
“West Anchorage was going to come down on the ferry, they’re going to still come down by flying, but instead of bringing 60 kids for about f$4,000 they’re going to bring 15 kids for about $4,600.”
And it’s a two-way street. Now, fewer Kodiak athletes will get to compete off island.
“It’s great when we can send a whole team, you know, even kids that might not be your starting five your best seven varsity runners, but you’re sending 30 kids to race in a community race. We won’t have those opportunities as we would have if the ferry was running.”
Ferris said that’s most evident on the swim team, which will cut 50 percent of its travelers this year, but increase its travel costs by almost 100 percent.
Ferris said the Booster Club has already budgeted for its annual contribution, which averages about $85,000 toward Kodiak athletics each year. The school district has locked in its athletic funding for the year, which means all these additional costs are falling on individual sports teams to fundraise locally.
“We have a wonderful community, they step up and support our groups, but, it’s taxing on them. To have one group after another come asking them for money to help send kids to travel or bring kids here.”
And while everyone hopes the Tustumena will be up and running again in October, Ferris said more delays could mean financial burdens for winter sports teams as well.
“Traditionally in the winter we travel a few less times on the ferry, you know the basketball team could take one trip. Usually the peninsula teams if the ferry is running, they’ll always take the ferry to cut their costs. Wresting usually makes a couple trips. So I hope they align with either the Kennicott or whatever’s running at that time, but I couldn’t tell you if they will lose any of their weekends of activity yet.”
Ferris said they’re making the best of things this fall and he’s keeping his fingers crossed that the Tustumena comes back online as soon as possible.
National Public Radio launched Playgrounds for Everyone this week looking at how communities and local governments are adapting to new standards for playgrounds that make them more accessible for children with disabilities. KTOO wanted to know how Juneau’s playgrounds measure up.
It’s recess at Glacier Valley Elementary School. A dozen kids run straight to a piece of playground equipment that looks like a three dimensional spider web. They climb onto the webbing where they hover ten feet off the ground. Elsewhere in the playground, students crawl up ladders, go down slides, pump their legs on swings.
But not all kids can access the playground so easily.
Cindle Stolarik is a special education teacher at Glacier Valley. She teaches eight students in kindergarten to fifth grade. They have a range of abilities and disabilities including “cognitive impairments, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, autism, and traumatic brain injury.”
For two students in wheelchairs, the school playground equipment can be a challenge.
“It definitely would be helpful if there were wheelchair ramps and swings that accommodated our students. I feel like we make it work and we incorporate our students. We get them out of the wheelchairs and we make sure they can participate with their friends but it would definitely be easier if it was more accessible,” Stolarik says.
Para-educator Jamie Lachester works with one of these students during recess.
“I help him transfer out of his wheelchair into the rubber chip area because he will crawl around and that’s softer on his knees. When it comes to getting up on the equipment, I will help him go up the stairs and then stand very close proximity to him as he is crawling around make sure he doesn’t slide of the sides because it gets very slippery,” Lachester says.
Juneau has a total of 17 playgrounds with play equipment – 11 in city parks and six in the schools.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that playgrounds are built to be accessible for all children. That means making it possible for every child, including those with disabilities, to get on and off, as well as move around the equipment.
The playground at Twin Lakes was built in 2007 and Project Playground is currently in phase 2 of the project. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)
Project Playground at Twin Lakes is supposed to do just that.
Chris Mertl is a landscape architect with Corvus Design:
“The idea with transfer platforms is a child in a wheelchair can use their upper body strength and pull themselves out of the chair and get onto the pieces of play equipment. We’re also fortunate here at Project Playground that we have ramps, so kids in chairs and walkers can actually go up the ramps systems and get into the higher elevation play elements.”
Southeast Alaska Independent Living, or SAIL, is one of the organizations that helped get Project Playground built in 2007. SAIL executive director Joan O’Keefe says it was supposed to be an ADA showcase.
“There’s a number of accessible features over there, but unfortunately it’s difficult for someone who uses a wheelchair to get to those features.”
Like other Juneau playgrounds, the surface beneath the play equipment at Twin Lakes is covered with what looks like wood chips. They’re actually shredded rubber pieces, which are good for cushioning a fall but terrible for moving a wheelchair through.
O’Keefe hopes phase two of Project Playground can fix the problem. The goal is to createpathways that start at the playground’s entrance and connect different pieces of equipment at the transfer platforms.
The next step for Project Playground is to create pathways from compressed blocks of shredded rubber that would give a more solid surface for equipment to travel over. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)
Landscape architect Mertl says the pathways can be made from the same shredded rubber…
“but what it is is it’s bound together so we have a fairly stable solid surface that still has the same impact absorption capacity as the loose stuff but it allows wheelchairs to get over it, it allows people with walkers or crutches that they’re not going to get buried into the loose stuff.”
Mertl says this type of surfacing is expensive. A cost estimate is over $110,000.
“It’s all up to funding. We have a playground that is functional, but can we go further and make it better? Of course we can.”
Phase two of Project Playground is currently on the city’s parks and recreation priority list but funds won’t be made available until at least 2016.
Additional reporting by Heather Bryant.
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This year, Alaska got the OK to start judging schools using its own measurements instead of the standards required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. But with new metrics come new — and more difficult — tests, and state officials are expecting to see student performance and school ratings fall as a result. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
It’s rare for standardized tests to get any love. Most kids hate taking them. It’s not uncommon to hear teachers and education experts say you can’t get a real sense of how much students learned in a year from a few hours of filling out bubbles. In the spring of 2015, expect a whole new complaint: that for the past decade, Alaska’s assessment tests have been telling us that our kids are smarter than they really are.
Rep. Lynn Gattis, a Wasilla Republican, was less than thrilled when she heard this from Deputy Education Commissioner Les Morse at a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
GATTIS: But next year, my child — still the same kid, still the same reader — could very well fall way down below because of our new standards?
MORSE: That is potentially possible.
That year, the current “Standards Based Assessments” will be replaced with something new, and that something will almost certainly be more challenging.
The state committed to adopting a new test when it decided to implement Alaska-specific standards. The Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) also supported moving to a harder test because they felt the current one had a sort of inflationary effect. More than half of Alaska students entering the university system need remediation, and employers have told the agency that graduates from the state’s public high schools weren’t prepared for the workforce.
But the anticipation of a drop in performance has left some legislators with heartburn.
“I could have been doing summer school, I could have been doing tutoring. And I’ve lost two years that I can’t back,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican, of the plight some students might face.
Wilson expressed disappointment that students were going to see lower scores even if they were learning at the same rate. She also wanted to know if the state could just grade students on a harder curve before the new assessments were adopted.
WILSON: If we knew right now, even before the new test began, that proficient meant reading at grade level or doing math at grade level — even if it dropped a little bit for my student, knowing that they’re on grade level, which right now you’re saying we don’t know if proficient and grade level are interchangeable — why would we wait another two years for our newest testing when we could change those cut scores tomorrow if we wanted to?
But it’s not as simple as that, responded Deputy Commissioner Morse. First of all, the state would have to go through a long vetting process to make sure that adjusting the scores was appropriate. By the time that would be complete, schools would already be using the new test.
Morse said even if the state could change the rating scale, it would be like comparing apples to oranges. The problem isn’t with the test: It’s that more is being expected out of students.
“You could take the current assessment, but it’s an assessment of some other standards. And you could say, we’re going to raise the bar, but it’s really technically hard to say, here’s how much harder it should be on this easier test,” said Hanley. It’s technically kind of hard to do that and say it gives you a new, honest picture, because it doesn’t. You just actually told them here’s how you score if we raise the cut score on an easier test than what you’re going to face in the future.”
What students will face in the future has yet to be determined. DEED is pilot testing what’s called the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which about half the states in the country could implement in the next couple of years. But the state is also still considering the more expensive option of creating its own test. DEED would like to have a new test selected by the end of the academic calendar.
“We’re not wedded to anything yet,” said Education Commissioner Mike Hanley, in a phone interview.
Hanley reiterated his deputy’s statement that curving this year’s test as a stop-gap measure wouldn’t work. He also described the currents calls for changing the scoring “ironic,” noting that the legislature had a “significant say in the cut score” and had previously pushed for a gentler grading system out of concern that not enough students were achieving proficiency.
Hanley added that there are things that can be done to lessen the impact of the new scoring system in the interim. Right now, DEED is reaching out to school districts to discuss how to best implement the new standards. And Hanley recommended that parents ask schools what students can do to meet those standards, instead of just relying on their test results this year.
“The flaw is not that we’re going to see a drop in scores,” said Hanley. “The flaw is that we haven’t been totally honest with our students at this point. It’s time to correct that.”
One rarely thinks of strawberries in connection with our state, but Palmer producer Arthur Keyes realized the potential for growing the sweet berries on his farm years ago.
”There’s about eight thousand strawberry plants, and I think this is our fourth or fifth year now producing strawberries.”
Now this summer’s strawberry crop is being harvested. I pick a ripe one from a plant loaded with them
”..yeah, it’s like eating an apple”… “OMG.. look at the size of it, and it doesn’t get all hollow in the center.”
The berries are huge – and delicious.
”I’m producing on about three acres here. It’s pretty intense. I have about fifteen employees on this three acres. [when] You get into the bigger farms, you are going to see twenty or thirty employees working on those farms. And they are using mechanized harvesting. Everything we do here is by hand. “
Keyes says Alaska’s long summer days, and unusual soil, combine to make his berries not only larger, but juicier and sweeter than berries grown in California. Keyes gestures toward another acre, this one planted with onions
“I call em Yensis sweet onions. YENSIS. And I get that word, because this is the only place in the world.. this Palmer region.. that has yensis soil. And it’s a silt soil derived from the glaciers that we have. Off the Matanuska glacier and the Eklutna glacier. It’s a combination.”
It’s the Yensis soil that gives Palmer vegetables their sweet juicyness compared with vegetables imported from outside.
” Our Alaskan carrots, up to eight times sweeter than a California carrot. Strawberries, potatoes, name a crop and it’s going to to be sweeter.. Broccoli…anyone like Alaska brocsoli?” “Yeah!” ” I mean, is there any other broccoli you would rather eat? No. So these crops during our long days are developing carbs all day long and then we get a cool night, because of our latitude, we get these cool nights that come in and those carbs convert to sugars. And then you end up at the end of the season with these crops that are phenomenal.”
Keyes Glacier Valley Farm was the first stop on a farm tour organized by Representative Bill Stoltz, a Republican from Chugiak, who is urging state lawmakers to recognize Alaska’s agricultural potential.
Agriculture has long been a low priority for the legislature . Stoltze wants to remedy that. (Stoltze) *He* sponsored House Resolution #1 which creates an Alaska Food Resource Working Group. The move got gubernatorial approval to develop state policies aimed at increasing the purchase and consumption of Alaska grown products.
“We got the ball in the air on elevating agricultural issues and food issues to the cabinet level.”
The farm tour introduced lawmakers and department commissioners to Alaska produce literally from the ground up.
A USDA agricultural census last year puts total receipts from state agriculture from 2011 at 31.7 million dollars. No threat to big oil, but, then, there’s no real comparison. You can’t eat oil. Food security is a growing issue in Alaska. Stoltze warns that if transportation to our state was interrupted by a national disaster, Alaskans would have only a few weeks supply on hand.
“We have a lot more capacity, especially on the cold root vegetables, potatoes and carrots, to grow a lot more of our own.”
Few farmers in the Valley mass market their produce. One who does is Paul Huppert, who sells at four major supermarket chains [ Carr's WalMart, Fred Meyer, Three Bears ] and to restaurants and the military under the Gold Nugget and Palmer Produce brands. Huppert has a warehouse near Palmer, where semi trucks haul away boxes of lettuce, kale, carrots and broccoli destined for other areas of the state. Getting produce to markets far away in top condition starts with cooling, he says, pointing to a huge machine near the door
”If you folks don’t know what it is, it’s a vacuum cooler. For years and years and years they tried every way in the world to ship lettuce, head lettuce, leaf lettuce and stuff like that to the East Coast, because we had the field heat, we never took it out. That machine, we can fit 150 cases of headlettuce in it. “
Huppert says one of the big problems for growers is a labor shortage. But one of the perks – pesticides are not needed in Alaska because our state’s isolation keeps pests out. Huppert says agricultural land should be kept that way.. by law.
“It’s not like we need it today or tomorrow, but we are going to need it in the future, and that’s all there is to it. You know, it’s kind of selfish to think we need to use it all today.”
Legislator Stoltze says consumers have the power to demand more Alaska products in local stores, then retailers will comply.
”My resolution is not a mandate, it’s a roadmap of how we can do better for agriculture in Alaska. “
Stoltze says it’s time state agencies helped to do that.
The United States Sixth Fleet is sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Fifth Fleet is in nearby Bahrain. The Pentagon is mobilizing forces for long-range bombings or cruise missile strikes.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the U.S. government is holding the government of Bashar al-Assad responsible for the chemical attack last week.
“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children, and innocent bystanders by chemical weddings, is a moral obscenity,” he said in the State Department briefing room. “By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.”
President Barack Obama has long said a chemical attack would be a red line. This is reportedly the second such attack, but much larger than the previous.
U.S. Senator Mark Begich said he’s skeptical of engaging.
“They cannot go down this path without consultation and engagement with the Congress,” he said Tuesday on the public radio program “Talk of Alaska.”
But that may happen. Strikes could begin any day – and Congress is not due back in Washington until September 9th. Begich said he can’t support the actions if the United States acts alone.
British and French leaders have indicated they’re willing to support the military strikes.
“It can’t be the U.S. carrying the weight of the world all the time. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and others in that region need to step up to the plate,” Begich said. “It means other countries around the globe, and this includes people like Russia and China, they need to step up, and quit playing the politics of the Middle East for leverage for their own political and economic purposes.”
Russia and China will not side with the United States in the conflict. Russia has proven to be Syria’s largest backer. Both Moscow and Beijing are protecting Damascus on the United Nations Security Council.
Neither of the Republicans in the delegation would talk about the issue. A spokesman for Representative Don Young said he’s opposed to military intervention – that the country isn’t ready for another war after fighting two for a dozen years. He also wants the president to seek approval from Congress. Young voted for the 2002 Iraq War Resolution.
Senator Lisa Murkowski declined several requests for comment.
Students are returning to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus for classes beginning this week. But this will be the last year they will have the opportunity to seek career advice from staff. The office of Career Services will close in December 2014 as part of what the University calls a “budgetary pullback.” UAF Spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says the closure will save 270 thousand dollars.
The number of immigrant, refugee and other students who need help with English is growing parts of Anchorage, but the school district is spread thin because of last year’s cuts and they don’t have the money to hire any new teachers or tutors.
The stories in this series were produced through a fellowship from the Institute for Justice & Journalism.
This fall, Nester Cunanan entered Mears Middle School in South Anchorage with the odds stacked against him.
“I learned English from the TV and watching Disney Channel. Yeah, I watched American movies a lot.”
Cunanan is what the Anchorage School District calls an ‘English Language Learner’, or ELL student. Today, the round-faced 8th grader with an easy smile, is registering for classes in the Mears gym. He just moved to Anchorage from the Philippines. He says his favorite subject is Science.
I’m hoping to try to dissect a frog, cause I haven’t dissected a frog yet.
In order to succeed in science classes, Cunanan will have to pickup an array of special, subject specific words that he likely didn’t pick up while watching American movies in the Philippines. It’s a steep learning curve. The graduation rate for ELL seniors has been stuck between 40 and 50 percent for years. And, unless something changes soon, the district’s goal to have a 90 percent graduation rate for all students by 2020 seems unlikely. Cunanan is on target to graduate with the class of 2018. He seems to speak well, but then this happens.
“I forgot the word …”
That’s typical says ELL Tutor Pam Strickland. And she says language isn’t the only thing the kids need to learn.
“The kids don’t know how the system works. You know, they need to know that you have to raise your hand or you know different cultural things that they bring that they need to know the difference here – and how the classroom runs. And then trying to help them understand make the connections between the vocabulary. A lot of subject matter will translate easily, like Math – the symbols are the same, but just translating the vocabulary. And then learning to fit in.”
Strickland, who bounces between Mears and nearby Goldenview is the only ELL tutor for both schools. She says that the number of students that she works with has tripled over the past few years, but the district hasn’t hired any more help. And that worries her.
“I think hiring more people would be a quick solution. If we’re gonna say we’re gonna service English Language Students, then I think that has to be what we’re doing and it’s hard to do when you have 80 students.”
It’s a problem that Phil Farson, who runs the English Language Learner Program for the Anchorage School District, is well aware of. He says the ELL population is shifting, growing in outlying areas.
“We’re seeing a gradual shift of ELL students into the Southern parts of the city. And schools that in the past that traditionally, very few or no ELL students are finding that they have 20, 30, 40 kids.”
But because of 25 million dollars in budget cuts last school year, Farson says he’s stretched so thin that he can’t hire additional staff and stay within budget. No ELL teachers were cut last year, but tutors were.
“Our overall budget allocation for this coming school year is substantially less than it was the previous year. In fact, all together, the equivalent of about 10 positions were lost in terms of what we call our para-professionals, or our tutors.”
That leaves less staff for more kids — about 100 tutors for around 56-hundred ELL students in the district.
Back at Mears, Valerie Davidson is registering her daughter, Kylie. Her daughter is Yup’ik, and she speaks English well. But Davidson is passionate about the importance of providing support for ELL students. She makes her point by asking me a question in Yup’ik:
“You ready? Yup’ik question … wow, so since you didn’t answer, I’m afraid that you’re not going to be able to be in the advanced classes. And you’re not going to be able to get the most out of your education because I just asked you if you understood. And since you didn’t respond, you’re just not going to advance with the rest of the kids.”
Davidson says having enough English language teachers and tutors is critical to insuring that every student gets an equal chance at an education. Back on the other side of the gym, Cunanan says he’s excited to start school, but you can hear some uncertainty in his voice.
“Yeah, cause I guess I’ll have new friends here and a new experience.”
Cunnanan says he hopes to graduate from high school, go to college and maybe become a scientist. Administrators says that they anticipate additional budget cuts this school year, no word yet on whether programs for English Language Learners will be included.
The Tlingit-Haida Central Council’s Head Start program serves more than 250 Southeast Alaska preschoolers. But they’ll have less time in the classroom this year due to budget cuts tied to sequestration. We took a this look at the program and the impacts of lower funding.Head Start program, run by Tlingit-Haida Central Council, for years.
“My first little girl craved socialization. We couldn’t give her enough of it and so for her I thought it would be a real good place to get to socialize,” she says.
Guthrie started taking her daughter just two days a week. Soon, both of them, and later, the other Guthrie kids, became regulars.
“You were encouraged to come in and sit down and hang out if you wanted to all day, encouraged to come to lunch, and bring your other younger kids, and sit and have lunch and socialize and hang out. So I really liked that aspect,” Guthrie says.
Family contact is a key part of Head Start, a federal preschool education and screening program that began in the mid-‘60s. Along with working with kids, it helps parents learn more about caring for young children, and preparing them for school.
But there will be less of that this year.
Sequestration’s across-the-board, 5.3 percent cut means Tlingit-Haida’s Head Start programs will begin three weeks late.
That affects about 260 children at 15 centers in nine cities: Angoon, Craig, Klawock, Saxman, Hoonah, Petersburg, Wrangell, Juneau and Sitka.
Haines, Kake, Hydaburg and Ketchikan also have Head Start classrooms. They’re run by the Anchorage-based Rural Alaska Community Action Program. Officials could not be reached by our deadline for comment on how they’re handling the budget cuts.
Former Tlingit-Haida Head Start teacher Karen McCullough of Petersburg supervises the council’s program in southern Southeast.
“All the research has shown that socializing children, getting them used to routines, getting them used to playing with other children, and relating with other adults … increases their language base, (which) really helps children when they enter into the public school system,” McCullough says.
Head Start also provides preschoolers with breakfast and lunch, and teaches them basic hygiene, such as brushing their teeth.
Some don’t get that at home.
Tlingit-Haida Regional Program Director Albert Rinehart says staffers are also trained to spot physical or behavioral problems best addressed at an early age.
“We help identify any potential issues that might hold them up later on with their schooling – hearing tests, eye tests and other, more severe types of disabilities,” Rinehart says.
The budget cuts will reduce classroom days by close to 10 percent. It will also lower hours – and pay – for Tlingit-Haida 55 staffers.
Tlingit-Haida Head Start usually begins classes in early September, about the same time older children head to school. McCullough says the three-week delay could force some parents to choose another place.
“There are also other preschool programs and parents who are looking for places for children start to worry when school starts up in the fall. And so, Head Start may not be their first consideration because of that,” McCullough says.
As a tribal program, Tlingit-Haida Head Start gives a preference for Native preschoolers. It also favors low-income children, though others, such as the Guthries, still get in.
Rinehart says he polled staff about the best way to address the budget cut.
“We provided options from a shorter work week to ending the school year earlier or starting the next school year later. And our survey overwhelmingly showed support for a later start-up,” Rinehart says.
Officials say flat funding doesn’t keep up with inflation. A number of grants are no longer available, and that’s hurt the program too.
Back at the Guthrie house, Savann is thinking about sequestration’s impacts.
“Any time you’re cutting the money, who you’re really hurting are the people and the families and the kids who need it the most,” she says.
Her husband and children are Tlingit and Tsimshian and she says her family has enjoyed the cultural aspects of the program.
And she encourages other parents to think about joining too.
“It doesn’t matter what your race is and where you come from, it’s a great place for kids. And it’s a great place for them to learn basic skills from brushing their teeth to how to say please and thank you. It’s a great experience and the staff does a really good job,” she says.
Tlingit-Haida Head Start classrooms open for students on Sept. 23.
State officials say they’ll withdraw funding for a $15 million Hoonah dock unless the Southeast city changes its location.
The money was appropriated by the Legislature, in part to support the town’s Icy Strait Point tourist attraction, 40 air miles west of Juneau.
Community and Regional Affairs Director Scott Ruby sent a letter earlier this month threatening to take away the grant. He also put a hold on any project spending.
He says it’s because the cruise industry doesn’t like the dock’s location.
“The primary use was going to be a cruise ship dock. But also, when it’s not being used for a cruise ship dock, it would be constructed such that it could be used for other purposes (such as) freight and ferries and whatever. It’s a multi-use dock.”
Two other proposed locations are acceptable to the industry.
Hoonah City Administrator Bob Prunella says officials won’t comment until they meet with the state. That’s scheduled to happen Thursday.
Sitka’s Bert Stedman represents Hoonah in the Senate. He says local leaders need to decide whether to move ahead.
“I think it’s a good idea for Hoonah to have a dock. But you need to build facilities that will help the industry prosper and move forward with the community.”
Hoonah has about two weeks to respond to the state. Officials will then decide whether to block funding.
The original legislative grant was for $17 million. Lawmakers last spring diverted $2 million to a clinic project approved by Hoonah leaders.
Stedman diverted another $5 million to a swimming pool at the state’s Mount Edgecumbe boarding high school in Sitka. Governor Sean Parnell vetoed that provision, saying the money should stay in Hoonah.
The very word “Alaska” is synonymous with wintery snow and ice although on one Palmer farm, the sweet taste of summer can be found in an acre of plump, big -as- your -fist strawberries that are destined for sale at farmer’s markets. As KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer reports, a recent tour of Matanuska Valley farms is helping state legislators get in touch with Alaska’s agricultural potential.
Political, business and tribal leaders from the Bristol Bay region welcomed the new EPA Administrator to Dillingham Tuesday. They called on the EPA to step in and stop development of the proposed Pebble Mine. KDLG’s Mike Mason has the story.
Listen to full meeting audio at KDLG.org
The 78-foot sunken fishing tender Lone Star is still stuck in the mud in the Igushik River as responders try and figure out a new way to recover the vessel. The vessel grounded on June 30th while taking fish from the local fishermen for processing by Trident Seafoods. It began taking on water and eventually capsized in about 18-feet of water. It’s been sitting on the bottom of the Igushik River since that time and it looks like it will stay there for a little longer as responders try and figure out a way to get the vessel unstuck from the mud. Petty Officer Shawn Eggert is a spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, which is monitoring the recovery effort.
A worldwide environmental conservation group is becoming more involved in the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. This summer, contractors working under the Alaska Energy Authority have been conducting 58 studies to assess the environmental impact of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project. The Nature Conservancy, which operates in 35 countries and across the entire United States, has hired a consultant to review the data that the studies produce and generate and independent assessment of some of the environmental risks.
AEA says that the proposed dam would generate enough power to fill the needs of half of the Railbelt’s current consumers at a cost of $5.19 billion dollars. Some opponents of the dam claim that environmental impacts would outweigh the benefit of what would be one of the tallest dams in America. The Nature Conservancy plans to conduct an independent evaluation of the study data to see how significant the environmental impacts will be on one of Southcentral Alaska’s key industries.
“For the Susitna-Watana Hydro Project, we want to use that framework to look at what are the risks for salmon, in particular salmon habitat, if that project were to be built”
That’s Corinne Smith. She oversees the Nature Conservancy’s efforts in the Mat-Su Basin. To sift through the large amount of fishery data, the Conservancy has brought in Anchor QEA, a nationwide engineering and environmental consulting firm with offices in Anchorage. Smith says that the data currently being gathered could prove useful in determining the potential impact of the Susitna-Watana dam as well as future hydroelectric projects.
“If we were to build a big dam on any large river, like the Susitna, in the state, we would use the Susitna as a case study because there is so much information about that particular river, and there will be in the next two years, after AEA’s studies.”
That wealth of data will include information on the spawning areas and run strength of area salmon as well as potential impacts on their habitat, such as water flow rate, silt accumulation, vegetation, and changes in how the river freezes. The determinations that The Nature Conservancy and Anchor QEA reach are not purely for their own use, however, and Smith hopes that others will find the data helpful.
“Our goal is also to provide information for other stakeholders in the process–to have a clear framework for how to assess the impacts from the study. That’s a lot of information. It’s a little unclear, yet, how it all flows together. We’re taking just one piece of it, and that’s salmon salmon. Obviously there are a lot of other potential impacts from the dam, and we’re just looking at the salmon piece of it.”
Smith says that The Nature Conservancy plans to keep in line with AEA’s study timeframe, and expects to reach some conclusions by the end of 2014.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium plans to close Front Street Clinic on October 1, according to SEARHC COO Dan Neumeister. The decision by the board of directors comes after two days of meetings last week.
Neumeister says deciding to close the clinic geared for homeless and low-income patients was difficult. He cites budgetary constraints, including sequestration.
Dan Austin with the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness says he’s not surprised with SEARHC’s decision.
“I think we have reached a point where we need to make that transition. I believe that for 10 years, SEARHC has done a wonderful service for the community, but we need to find an alternative.”
According to Neumeister, Front Street Clinic costs about $600,000 a year to operate. $160,000 of that comes from a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant. The remaining more than $400,000, he says, comes from SEARHC. Neumeister says SEARHC makes that money through billings at its facilities.
The HRSA grant went into effect May 1 and is good for one year. Neumeister does not know how much, if any, of the $160,000 remains, but says he is working with the federal agency on how leftover funds can be re-designated.
Neumeister plans to hold a meeting in Juneau Tuesday to facilitate discussions on how the clinic can stay open. Neumeister did not identify who would be at the meeting but the city and borough of Juneau and the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness confirm they will have representatives present.
Dan Austin with the Coalition is optimistic that the community will find a solution.
“The big issue is going to be, in the event that the HRSA grant cannot keep the doors open at Front Street Clinic, where can we go to find some additional resources? That’s a big challenge in this time, but this is a community that can step up to the plate and do that.”
Neumeister says SEARHC remains committed to taking care of Alaska Native homeless. The responsibility of the general public, says Neumeister, needs to go back to the general public. He says Juneau has other organizations responsible for the homeless.
Neumeister also plans on meeting with Front Street Clinic staff today.
The Board of Directors for Buccaneer Energy has a new look again, just weeks after an attempt to overtake the Board by two Singapore-based investment companies was only partially successful.
In a press release, the company announced three of the six Board members resigned effective August 14th. Nicholas Davies, Clinton Adams and Shaun Scott had only been on the Board since July 2nd, when they were nominated by Pacific Hill International and Harbour Sun Limited, both based in Singapore. Those two companies hold approximately five and a half percent of the Buccaneer’s issued capital funds.
The Board split earlier this summer was about Buccaneer’s future plans for the jack-up rig Endeavour. The Singapore faction felt the focus should narrow to onshore development of natural gas, while the rest of the Board, which includes Buccaneer founder and CEO Curtis Burton and executive chairmen Dean Gallegos supported using Endeavour in Cook Inlet.
Now, Buccaneer will enlist the help of a search firm to find a new Board member. It will also have to work out another Board appointee with yet another investment firm. Meridian Capital, which has an almost twenty percent interest in Buccaneer, gets to appoint its own nominee as part of the deal it signed back in June.
That Buccaneer’s board is in a prolonged game of musical chairs should be of interest to Alaska taxpayers. They’re one of the company’s partners by way of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. AIDEA has invested more than $23 million into Kenai Offshore Ventures, which co-owns Endeauvour with Buccaneer and another investment company, Ezion, which took a 50% interest in Kenai Offshore Ventures when it signed on in 2011.
The original Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Bethel was totaled by a fire early Sunday morning. The structure still remains but the inside is blackened. The emergency call came into the police and fire departments at about 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 25. The caller said the outside of the building was burning.
The fire department worked on putting out the fire for about 3 and half hours.
The old church was built in 1943-44 and was used for about 12 years until a new church was built. At that point, the old church became the parish hall. About 16 years ago, a third Catholic Church was built. The second one became the new social hall and the oldest one was used for things like AA meetings.
A few years ago, it became the rummage room where the church would sell donated items for next to nothing. The church made about $7,000 a year on those sales. They say it was more about providing a service to the public. They plan to continue to hold rummage sales once they figure out a new location.
The old church building was insured.
Volunteers from Petersburg were not able to free a humpback whale tangled up in a gillnet near Petersburg on Friday and Saturday.
Members of Petersburg’s whale entanglement team Friday morning responded to the call of a whale caught in a gillnet in Frederick Sound. Petersburg Marine Mammal Center president and team member Barry Bracken said he and other volunteers boated out to the tangled whale, caught in gear still connected to the fishing boat around 11 a.m. Friday just north of Sukoi Island. That’s more than five miles north of Petersburg.
“We worked with the whale attached to the boat for a couple of hours,” Bracken said. “We were not making much headway with it. The whale at one point had swept under the boat and so we had the gillnet gear wrapped around the prop shaft so the boat was immobilized. We decided at that point it probably would be better to cut the whale free and try to work at it on it as a free swimming whale and allow the vessel with escort to return to Petersburg.”
Photo courtesy of Don Holmes
The entanglement team kept trying to cut the gear loose for several more hours Friday but were unable to free the animal. Instead they attached a buoy and tracking device, allowing them to find the whale again Saturday morning. By that point, the humpback had passed by Cape Fanshaw headed north in Frederick Sound.
Bracken described it as a large adult humpback with what looks like two wraps of lead-line from the gillnet. “It looks like those go back underneath the pectoral fins to a large mass of gear below the fluke,” he said. “The fluke is relatively clear, the blowhole itself is clear, there’s not much netting on the back of the animal, but it appears that there’s a very large mass of combined corkline, leadline and web that is just below the fluke so he can’t even raise his tail up out of the water and really can’t raise it close enough for us to get any kind of purchase on that.”
The North Pacific Large Whale Disentanglement Network, which includes the local team members, is tracking the whale. Local volunteers may try again to free the whale Wednesday if weather conditions are better and the animal has not travelled too far away from Petersburg. Otherwise it could be up to a disentanglement team from elsewhere in Southeast to try.
Frederick Sound has seen expanded fishing area for gillnetters this year due to strong returns of salmon, although the entanglement did not happen in the expanded fishing area near Mitkof Island. Boaters have also been reporting an unusually large number of humpbacks in local waters.
Bracken said this is the first response for the local entanglement team this year. “We were a little bit nervous when the expanded area was opened in Frederick Sound and we’d had more whales in the in the area than we’ve had for a number of years and so we’ve been kinda been keeping our fingers crossed that we’d make it though the season, not only for the sake of the whales but also the sake of the fishermen because it’s certainly no fun for them to have that level of involvement and the loss of fishing time and the destruction of gear and everything that goes with it. So we were really keeping our fingers crossed that it was gonna work out but unfortunately these things happen.”
Bracken notes the entanglement was documented by the National Marine Fisheries Service observer program. That program is in its second year of cataloging the gillnet fleet and interactions with marine mammals around Petersburg and Wrangell.
A multi-day totem-raising celebration is taking place in Klawock. Here’s KRBD’s Sean Carlson, who called in from Prince of Wales Island Friday with a quick report with KRBD’s Leila Kheiry.