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SitNews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska
June 29, 2017

Front Page Feature Photo By CAPT. RICHARD M. GURRY

John Hopkins Glacier
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Front Page Feature Photo By CAPT. RICHARD M. GURRY


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Ketchikan: After decades, Gravina Access Project Reaches Milestone By MARY KAUFFMAN - The Gravina Access has been a priority for Ketchikan since at least 1972, when the Ketchikan airport was constructed directly across Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan. Now a milestone finally clears the way for the Alaska Department of Transportation to begin final design and start construction associated with the Gravina Access Project.

After decades, Gravina Access Project Reaches Milestone

Alternatives G4 & G4V
Map Courtesy ADOT

Last week, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) joined the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in signing the June 2017 Gravina Access Project Record of Decision and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

According to a news release from the Governor, the Alaska Department of Transportation is working closely with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough on design details of the various projects. Once those agreements are completed, the ADT&DOT can begin final design with a goal of starting construction before 2019 and completing by 2021.

Last fall, Governor Walker committed to investing in Ketchikan the $96.8 million originally allocated to the project. Estimated cost for the Gravina Access Project is $45 million. Additional potential linked developments on Gravina and Revillagigedo Islands would use the remainder of the original project funds. Federal money previously set aside for improving Ketchikan’s connection to the airport will be used to finance design, construction and related activities.

The purpose of the Gravina Access Project is to improve transportation between Ketchikan and Saxman on Revillagigedo Island and the Ketchikan International Airport.

On October 21, 2015, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced that it had decided to recommend the Gravina Access Project Alternative G4v as the state’s preferred alternative to the Federal Highway Administration. Alternative G4v does not include a new ferry service or new ferry terminals.

The selected alternative, G4v, includes:

  • The reconstruction of existing airport ferry berths;
  •  Improvements to pedestrian facilities at the airport ferry terminals;
  • A new heavy freight mooring facility and new ferry layup dock on Gravina Island;
  • Shuttle vans for transportation to and from the airport;
  •  Upland improvements to Gravina pedestrian access; and
  • Replacement of the Airport Creek bridge and reconstruction of portions of Seley Road. 

The original nine build alternatives considered included six bridge alternatives and three ferry alternatives. Six build alternatives were determined reasonable in 2000.  The Final EIS which was distributed to the public and federal and state agencies on July 30, 2004, identified Alternative F1 as the FHWA’s and DOT&PF’s Preferred Alternative. The FHWA issued a Record of Decision on September 15, 2004, and identified Alternative F1 as the Selected Alternative that would best satisfy the purpose of and need for the Gravina Access project while minimizing impacts on aviation, navigation, marine habitat, and the local economy. Alternative F1 would cross Tongass Narrows via Pennock Island with two bridges: a 200-foot bridge over the East Channel and 120-foot bridge over the West Channel. 

The 2004 Preferred Alternative F1 included a road segment on Gravina Island to connect the bridge over West Channel to the Airport Access Road. The road segment, referred to as the Gravina Island Highway, started approximately 3.4 miles south of the airport runway and continued north to the intersection of the Airport Access Road and Lewis Reef Road. The DOT&PF had moved forward with construction of the Gravina Island Highway prior to Governor Palin’s announcement and completed construction of the highway in the fall 2008. The Gravina Island Highway cost approximately $26 million and is now open and provides public access to lands on Gravina Island. Access to the highway is by ferry.

In 2005 with the passage of a landmark transportation bill, approximately $223 million was included in the massive Highway Transportantion Bill passed on 07/29/05 for the Gravian Access Project with the requirement the Alaska State Legislature to approve approximately $65 million in matching funds for the project. - More...
Thursday PM - June 29, 2017

Southeast Alaska: Opposition grows in Alaska and BC to new development of Tulsequah Chief mine; BC government urged to clean it up or close it down By MARY KAUFFMAN - Almost two years ago British Columbia’s (B.C.) then Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett came to Juneau, flew over the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine, and promised to clean up the ongoing acid mine drainage.

Opposition grows in Alaska and BC to new development of Tulsequah Chief mine; BC government urged to clean it up or close it down

A tailings pond and a disused water treatment plant can be seen at the Tulsequah Chief mine site. The mine is about 62 miles south-west of Atlin B.C, and about 40 miles northeast of Juneau.
Photo courtesy Rivers Without Borders

The mine, closed since 1959, has been continuously leaking contaminated water into the Tulsequah River, which drains directly into the Taku River and enters Alaska just a few miles south of the capital city of Juneau.

However, B.C.’s commitments, and the future of the Taku, are now more in doubt than ever due to the possibility of a new buyer for the mine. Current mine owner Chieftain Metals declared bankruptcy in September 2016 and the company was placed into receivership. On June 2, 2017 the receiver, Grant Thornton, posted documents to its website showing that a new company was interested in purchasing the mine. The company’s name was redacted from the documents.

 “The Tulsequah Chief is not a viable mine, and it’s time to clean it up and close it down once and for all,” said John Morris, Sr., an elder and Tribal Council member of the Douglas Indian Association, a federally-recognized Alaska Native tribe with traditional territory in the Taku watershed. “Two mining companies have gone bankrupt trying to re-open this mine and have left a legacy of toxic acid mine drainage into salmon habitat. B.C.’s assurances of mine cleanup seem hollow, with B.C. more interested in re-opening this failed mine rather than cleaning up its 60 year legacy of pollution.” 

“It is shocking that B.C. has not discussed the implications of a new mine buyer with the State of Alaska through the Statement of Cooperation signed last year,” said Frederick Olsen, Jr, President of the Organized Village of Kasaan and Chairman of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group. “Alaska needs to seek the help of the U.S. federal government to hold B.C. accountable for its environmental responsibilities at Tulsequah Chief.”

Quoting a news release from Rivers Without Borders, Bennett visited the mine site in August 2015, seemed shocked at the acid mine drainage pouring into the river and promised to remedy the problem. However, he quickly started backtracking, claiming no contamination was entering the river and there was no environmental threat, despite evidence to the contrary. People on both sides of the border now worry B.C. is hoping to pass cleanup responsibility to a new mine buyer, a tactic that has resulted in two bankruptcies and little effort to halt the pollution.

“Trying to re-open the Tulsequah Chief a third time is not a cleanup plan. It is a recipe for another bankruptcy, more pollution, and opening up the heart of the Taku to mining and road building,” said Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director for Rivers Without Borders. “Why would B.C., and this new buyer, want to re-invigorate a 20 year old international controversy that was the impetus for the growing concerns about B.C. mining across the transboundary region? This is a Clark/Bennett leftover that the new incoming B.C. government should end.” 

There is significant opposition to the mine, a proposed access road and river barging access, while feasibility studies have shown substantial economic risks. In 2012 the Taku River Tlingit First Nation passed a Joint Clan Mandate opposing the mine. The Douglas Indian Association and the Organized Village of Kasaan recently passed resolutions calling for cleanup and closure of Tulsequah Chief.  A recent letter from six Alaska legislators to the governor called for more actions to ensure cleanup of Tulsequah Chief, noting “It is strikingly apparent that B.C. is and has been awaiting a new mine buyer to avoid financial obligations for cleanup.”  

“Children of the Taku Society supports the 2012 Taku River Tlingit First Nation consensus mandate opposing the Tulsequah Chief Mine. The secretive negotiations about a new mine buyer without First Nation input further fuel our desire to stop this mine that threatens our sovereignty and our territory. Any buyer should note the Taku River Tlingit mandate and consult with the First Nation before any decision is made,” said Chantelle Hart of the Children of the Taku Society, a volunteer Yukon-based society dedicated to maintaining the culture, traditions and heritage of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. “The Tulsequah Chief Mine is a legacy from the Christi Clark administration that the new B.C. government should promptly clean up and close down.”

“It is shocking that B.C. has not discussed the implications of a new mine buyer with the State of Alaska through the Statement of Cooperation signed last year. Alaska needs to seek the help of the U.S. federal government to hold B.C. accountable for its environmental responsibilities at Tulsequah Chief,”  said Frederick Olsen, Jr., Chairman of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, which represents 16 tribes in Southeast Alaska. “If B.C. can’t solve the pollution problem at the relatively small Tulsequah Chief, what can we expect at much larger mines such as Red Chris and KSM, especially without federal involvement under the Boundary Waters Treaty?”

Today’s broad concerns about B.C. mining across the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds began with the Tulsequah Chief in the late 1990’s. Alaskans and British Columbians were then concerned about one, relatively small, B.C. mine that posed serious threats to salmon habitat and fisheries in one watershed. These concerns have now spread across the entire transboundary region due to B.C.’s aggressive mining programs.  

“Given Tulsequah Chief, Mount Polley, critical B.C. Auditor General reviews of mining oversight, and weaknesses in the Alaska/B.C. Statement of Cooperation, we have real reason to worry about B.C.’s mining upstream of us. If B.C. wants us to take its words about environmental responsibility seriously, the province should start by taking action to clean up and close down Tulsequah Chief, said Cynthia Wallesz, Executive Director of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters. “This ongoing pollution is a clear sign B.C. is far more interested in supporting the mining industry than in enforcing laws, honoring treaties and being a responsible neighbor. Alaska needs to step up and ask for help from our congressional delegation and federal government.”  

"If B.C. officials want to be good neighbors, prove their commitment to environmental stewardship, and protect existing uses they could start by cleaning up the mess at Tulsequah Chief and working with the State of Alaska to secure meaningful protections for water quality, fish and wildlife, and folks on both sides of the border that rely on an abundance of healthy natural resources," said Dale Kelley, Executive Director of Alaska Trollers Association. - More....
Thursday PM - June 28, 2017


Path to End Oil & Gas Cash Payments Offered; House Majority Says Flaws in Alaska’s Oil Tax Regime are Bigger Than Paying Cash for Tax Credits By MARY KAUFFMAN - Today, members of the Alaska Senate Majority offered a path to end cash tax payments to oil and gas companies. During a press conference this morning, the Alaska Senate Majority agreed to support an end to cash subsidies for North Slope oil companies, but refused to consider the other provisions in the House version of HB 111 that would protect Alaska during times of low oil prices and ensure Alaskans know how oil industry subsidies are used and who gets them.

House Bill 111 is a priority of the Alaska House Majority Coalition as part of a series of bills that make up a comprehensive fiscal plan. The House version of HB 111 would end the practice of paying oil companies cash for tax credits but also included provisions limiting the nearly unlimited liability to the state under the current oil tax credit system.

Both versions of HB 111 end the practice of subsidizing the oil industry on the North Slope with unaffordable tax credits, which is expected to save the State of Alaska an estimated $1.5 billion over the next 10 years. However, according to the Alaska House Majority Coalition, the Senate version of the bill would result in the loss of an estimated $1.45 billion by replacing the cash for credit system with a higher percentage of “carry forward” deductions that oil companies could subtract from production and other taxes they pay to the State of Alaska.

"We believe it is urgent to pass legislation ending these cash payments," said Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks). "The state will bleed at least one million dollars per day between now and the end of the year – that could pay for seven troopers for an entire year – unless we act now."

With little more than two weeks remaining in the second special session called by Gov. Bill Walker, Senators are urging their colleagues in the Alaska House to come to the table and end a program both sides agree the state can no longer afford.

"Under this proposal, the state will stop offering cash payments for credits beginning July 1, 2017," said Sen. Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage), chair of the Senate Resources Committee. "We must stop this cash bleed. It will save us at least $200 million between now and Dec. 31 – possibly more."

The Alaska Senate passed a bill to end cash payments to oil and gas companies on May 15, but the House failed to concur. In an effort to strike compromise, the Senate adopted several changes, including a provision to enact "100 percent ring-fencing."

The provision would mean that 100 percent of losses incurred on a lease stay with that lease until it enters production. Then, the losses could be applied against the taxpayer's overall segment (North Slope or Cook Inlet). As a result, the state will, essentially, require production before allowing loss deductions.

"The Senate is prepared with a proposal to move forward on, reach compromise, and end cash payments, today," said Sen. Giessel. "We are calling on the House to join us and take action. We can and must do our job, now."

“We continue to see a kick the can approach from our colleagues in the Senate Majority on this and other fiscal plan measures. We have said from day one that Alaska’s flawed oil tax system needs to be fixed to give industry the stability they need to make investments going forward,” said House Resources Committee Co-chair Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), Chair of the Conference Committee tasked with working out the differences between the House and Senate versions of HB 111.

Tarr said, “This new Senate Majority proposal is a half-measure that continues a flawed system that leaves Alaska on the hook covering potentially billions in industry losses for years to come. I look forward to working with Senator Giessel on this issue, but the proposal they unveiled today does not address the underlying problem of costs to the state.”

“I can’t support the Senate Majority’s new proposal because they essentially are just changing the name of the liability but the state will still pay the same to the oil companies. We may not pay cash but will still lose revenue for our commonly held oil resources. Changing the name but paying the same is not a solution,” said House Resources Committee Co-chair Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), who sits on the HB 111 Conference Committee.

Josephson said, “The members of my Coalition tried to fix many of the well understood flaws in the oil tax system last year, but those solutions were rejected by the Senate Majority. We are trying to fix these flaws again this year but the Senate Majority continues to refuse to act. Our Coalition has had a sense of urgency to fix this flawed system since the first day of the session. The first time I have seen a sense of urgency on this issue from the Senate Majority is this morning.” - More...
Thursday PM - June 29, 2017




MICHAEL REAGAN: Tuning Out the Fake News Media - The stock market is soaring.

The economy is improving and employment is up.

But all you get from the Fake News Media (FNM) every night is more Trump bashing.

Night after night, as one phony scandal involving the president, his family or his administration fizzles into nothing and is replaced by another, TV and cable channels bring on their biased reporters to bash Donald Trump.

No wonder everyone's I meet is bummed - especially those who watch nothing but the FNM's TV and cable channels.

I can always tell someone who watches nothing but the FNM, because when you meet them they ask, "So what do you think about your president now?"

I also run into people all the time who didn't vote for Trump and want to feel good about the president.

But when they turn on their TVs or pick up their shrinking newspapers, all they get are negative news stories about Trump.

I'm waiting for the fakers at CNN, MSNBC or the New York Times to do a hard-hitting investigation exposing how the president ties his shoes wrong every morning. - More...
Thursday PM - June 29, 2017


JOHN L. MICEK: It Should Be An Interesting July 4 for Republicans - Senate Republicans better get ready for some fireworks. Their July 4 recess is going to be a hot one.

Earlier this week, with Republican ranks deeply fractured, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, announced he was postponing a critical, make-or-break procedural vote on a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act, until after a weeklong holiday break.

The not-entirely-unsurprising announcement is a virtual guarantee that GOP senators will be deluged by lobbyists and constituents on both sides of the issue at a time most of them would rather be marching in home state parades or crashing barbecues.

The Kentucky Republican needed 50 votes to approve a measure allowing debate to proceed on the Obamacare replacement bill, which would result in 22 million more Americans losing their insurance over the next decade, even as it drove up out-of-pocket expenses.

The analysis by the independent Congressional Budget Office also concluded that the GOP bill would reduce federal spending by $321 billion during the same time period.

But in a perfect storm of awful, McConnell couldn't muster the support. As was the case in the House, conservatives complained that the bill didn't go far enough.

For example, they demanded that states be allowed to waive the existing law's prohibition against insurance companies charging sick people higher prices for coverage, The New York Times reported.  - More...
Thursday PM - June 29, 2017

jgp Editorial Cartoon: CNN Snake

Editorial Cartoon: CNN Snake
By Rick McKee ©2017, The Augusta Chronicle
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.


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letter Traffic suggestions By A. M. Johnson - Nothing better to do than reflect on a couple of issues related to Ketchikan traffic. Our traffic due to restrictive nature of our streets and roads, should be rated at a near 10 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most taxing. - More...
Thursday PM - June 29, 2017

letter A Call to Leadership By Randall Hoffbeck - When, after being in session for 160 days, I began to hear both the House and Senate leadership talking about passing just a budget and going home, I was reminded of a meeting I had last summer with a professor from the University of Potsdam. - More...
Thursday PM - June 29, 2017

letter Health Care By Ray Metcalfe - By week's end we will know if either of our Alaskan US Senators are willing to concoct an excuse to throw 100,000 Alaskans under the bus for the opportunity to stay in Senator McConnell's good graces. Oddly enough, the same vote will deliver a giant tax break to wealthy families, their families included... And by the way; have you ever wondered why the same industry complaining about the exorbitant costs of insuring their workers also pay lobbyists to lobby against Bernie Sanders proposal to lift the burden from their shoulders with better quality, lower deductible coverage through a single payer system? Bernie wants to expand Medicare to cover every American of every age through Medicare. - More...
Thursday PM - June 29, 2017

letter Protect Medicaid By David G. Katzeek - One day, we will tell future generations of our choice. Did we help our neighbors when they were sick, or did we ignore their needs? This is the question before all Alaskans when it comes to Medicaid. - More...
Tuesday AM - June 27, 2017

letter Open Letter: Rep. Jonathan S. Kreiss-Tomkins By Gregg Parsley - Several of us in the Southeast Alaska mariculture industry would like you to look into what it would take to begin the process for Federal Disaster Relief funds for our oyster industry here in Southeast Alaska due to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). We, Shikat Bay Oysters, have been shutdown for going on 4 weeks with no relief in sight, we have lost to date over $25,000 and once our parts per unit (ppu) numbers fall below the 80 ppu number we will still have to wait another two weeks before we are able to put oysters back into commerce. I can see us, Shikat Bay Oysters, loosing in excess of $40,000 due to this unusually early and unseasonably PSP outbreak. - More...
Tuesday AM - June 27, 2017

letter RE: Use for Taku By Kay Taylor - The idea of the Ferry Taku being used for lodging for our representatives to save money is great. We need to stop frittering away dollars. If the Ferry system is good enough for us then it is good enough for our representatives. Moving it to Juneau for housing would solve two problems. We need to cut down on per diem for our traveling representatives. - More...
Tuesday AM - June 27, 2017

letter Living Within Means By Lance Clark - I think Senator Gardner shows us exactly what the fiscal problem is. Living within our means is not a foreign idea to her, it's an evil one! To be good people we have to always spend more than we have. I don't know her personally but her way of thinking sounds insane. - More...
Tuesday AM - June 27, 2017

letter RE: Wildlife Recovery Following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill By Paul D. Boehm - Just to make sure that your readers have accurate and balanced scientific information you should note that the USGS’s fine work on recovery of sea otters (summarized in Deep Sea Research) largely overstates the effect of the oil spill in delaying recovery of sea otters. - More...
Monday PM - June 19, 2017

letter Why There's Gridlock By Sen. Berta Gardner - I'm not surprised that at day 154 of the 2017 legislature, my inbox is stuffed with messages from Alaskans asking what is going on, asking for a budget, asking for a fiscal plan, decrying or begging for income taxes, opposing cuts to education, etc. Here is the essence of my response to folks. - More...
Monday PM - June 19, 2017

letter Sealaska Board of Directors By Dominic Salvato - The news coming out of Juneau is Sealaska shareholders want to reduce the size of the board of directors. Passing Sealaska resolutions are impossible under current ANCSA election rules. - More...
Monday PM - June 19, 2017

letter The Race to Alaska By Michael Spence - Kudos to the Northwest Maritime Center for running its third successful Race to Alaska. Ketchikan has a long and rich maritime heritage and makes an ideal venue for the sport of sailing and the promotion of maritime trades. - More...
Monday PM - June 19, 2017

letter Use for Taku By A. M. Johnson - As a suggestion regarding the Alaska Ferry Taku currently for sale without any apparent takers at what is soon to be a ridiculous reduced price. Would it not be better than paying a huge mooring sum while making the sales attempt, to move the Taku to Juneau and provide housing and meals for the legislature. Rather than paying out $250 dollars a day per legislator, provide room and board. - More...
Tuesday PM - June 13, 2017

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