Homeless survey finds at least 70 in Juneau sleeping outside

first_imgCommunity | Health | Housing | JuneauHomeless survey finds at least 70 in Juneau sleeping outsideOctober 11, 2015 by Lisa Phu Share:The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, organized this year’s Vulnerability Index Survey. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)Volunteers and staff from Juneau’s shelter and soup kitchen went to the streets and interviewed 70 homeless people over the course of a few days in September. It’s been three years since the vulnerability index survey was done in the capital city.The surveys can connect people to services, help The Glory Hole keep track of where people are sleeping, and social service agencies can use the data to guide practices and apply for funding.Audio Playerhttps://media.ktoo.org/2015/10/12SURVEY.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.It’s around 4:30 on a Wednesday morning. At The Glory Hole, groups of volunteers sip coffee and discuss plans for a second morning of surveys. Each group is assigned to search a different area of Juneau. The goal is to find homeless people who are sleeping outside and interview them.The morning before, Brad Correia’s group didn’t find anyone in the Mendenhall Valley or out the road.“We walked on a lot of beaches where they have shelters, like in the summer it would be really nice. We thought people would be sleeping in there, like they have fireplaces. But there was nobody,” Correia said.Brad Correia and his group searched for people sleeping outside in the Mendenhall Valley area and out the road. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)The group searched behind Safeway, looked around all the stores in the valley.“Just everywhere and we didn’t find anybody.”Correia thought they might find people sleeping in cars out the road.“‘Cause I thought, if I was homeless and had a car, that’s where I would go to where there wouldn’t be people bothering me, like troopers,” he said.Correia has been homeless. When he first got to Juneau about a year ago, he didn’t have any money and stayed at The Glory Hole. He remembers another man at the shelter who talked a lot.“I ignored him. I just acted like I was reading when he would come and talk to me. Just talk and talk and talk,” Correia said.Days later, that man, Gregory Dockery, was found dead, submerged in water in a ditch near Twin Lakes.This was last November. Correia is afraid Dockery died thinking nobody cared, “Last time I saw him, he was crying, ‘Nobody likes me, nobody cares about me.’”This is why Correia is volunteering to do the homeless survey. He thinks there’s a better solution than dying in the cold.Data from the 2012 survey has been used to apply for funding for Juneau’s Housing First Project.Clyde Didrickson was part of that survey and was just interviewed again. He was walking to the Glory Hole with his wife when a group of interviewers found him.“They let us know who they were and what they were up to asked me if I cared to be interviewed,” Didrickson said.Didrickson felt fine answering personal questions about substance abuse, race, health history, mental health, money, education, how long he’s been homeless. There was one question he found intrusive and didn’t answer: What’s your social security number?Didrickson won’t say where he and his wife spend their nights for fear of being harassed.Clyde Didrickson says he’s been homeless since 1981. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)“We found a dry spot,” Didrickson said.Didrickson is 63, originally from Sitka and a veteran. Didrickson said he’s been homeless since the early 1980s when he was arrested for a felony. His wife is 62. He carries their bedding around in a suitcase – an old tent they use as a tarp and blankets.“Usually after everybody closes up, basically when people stop moving around, we lay out the tarp to give us something dry to lay on and then we lay our bedding out on top of that and then the excess tarp we put over ourselves,” Didrickson saidThe couple wakes up around 5 a.m. They put everything back in the suitcase and begin their day.“Hardest part for us, especially at our age, is finding a facility to use,” Didrickson said.Some public bathrooms lock up for good after the tourist season ends. Others don’t open until later in the morning. Didrickson said he sometimes goes to the bathroom in the woods.At 7 a.m., he walks to The Glory Hole for coffee and warmth. The rest of the day, “Look for some place dry and warm to sit around. A lot of times wait for the library to open,” Didrickson said.At the moment, he’s sitting with his wife, 27-year-old son, and brother-in-law at a table at The Glory Hole.Didrickson says he’ll likely be back at the shelter for lunch and dinner before spending another night outside.Share this story:last_img read more

Ballot initiative seeks to streamline PFD, voter registration process

first_imgGovernmentBallot initiative seeks to streamline PFD, voter registration processDecember 14, 2015 by Brielle Schaefer, KCAW Share:Zoe Kitchel canvassing for the PFD voter ballot initiative. (Photo by Emily Kwong/KCAW)The push to get Alaska residents registered to vote at the same time they sign up for their Permanent Fund dividends started in Anchorage this fall, but Sitka has become an important part of the equation.Sophie Nethercut hit the streets one day earlier this month to gather signatures for the PFD voter ballot initiative.“Are you registered to vote? Have you signed the PFD voter initiative?” she asks passersby. She’s canvassing for the 700 autographs needed from Sitka in order to win the idea a spot on a ballot in 2016. So far, they have 400.“It would make it possible so that when people register for their PFD online but if they’re not registered to vote it would link the two systems so they could be registered to vote,” Nethercut said.To get something on the ballot is a lengthy process. Petitioners must submit signatures from a 10 percent of voters from three-quarters of the house districts in the state and within those house districts, 7 percent of the last election’s voters. Sitka is one of the districts the Anchorage-based campaign is relying on. Statewide, the campaign is shooting for some 40,000 signatures, to give a reasonable margin in case some are invalid.Zoe Kitchel is Sitka’s field organizer for the campaign. She says states across the country have been making it harder for people to vote by eliminating early voting opportunities and requiring government-issued ID. She says this ballot initiative would help guard against that and streamline the process.“The two goals are first to reduce the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy we deal with on a day to day basis,” she said. “And also to make it a lot easier for a lot of people to make it easier for them to get to the polls and to be able to vote at the polls.”The PFD voter initiative is modeled after a similar one in Oregon, Kitchel says. In 2014, voters there proposed and passed the “motor-voter” law, which automatically registered people to vote when they renew or apply for a driver license or state ID at the DMV.“Eighty-five percent of Alaskans actually register for the PFD online and that is a much larger portion of the population than apply for driver’s licenses every year so we would be catching so many more people than we would if we set it up exactly like Oregon,” Kitchel said.This year, more than half a million Alaskans received PFD checks. The Division of Elections estimates that some 70,000 more people will be registered if this initiative is passed. Here’s Nethercut:“This ballot initiative would be a no-brainer, I think,” Nethercut said. “So far no one has refused to sign.”While Kitchel and Nethercut have met little opposition in Sitka, there have been some naysayers. Kitchel says some people think that if others didn’t bother to register they shouldn’t vote.“Our goal is for more people to vote but all this is doing is registering people and people will still need to make that decision to actually go out to the polls,” she said.Others are fearful of giving too much information to the government. But, Kitchel says, Alaska’s online PFD registration system has some of the strictest security – and residents are already volunteering their personal information for their PFD checks anyway.“It is interesting to think that people are so willing and so excited to get free money from the government but I’d like to think if you are benefiting from that then you’d also like to be a part of the process of deciding what that government does and being a part of the decision-making on a larger scale,” Kitchel said.The campaign is making a final push in Sitka over the next couple weeks with hopes of submitting its signatures to headquarters in Anchorage by the end of the month. In the meantime, Nethercut will connect with voters wherever she can — on downtown streets, or by the front door of SeaMart. . There’s also a petition at Old Harbor Books.“You’re persistent,” a passerby said to Nethercut.“Thank you,” she replied. “Have a nice day.”The initiative also includes an opt-out provision for people to easily deregister themselves within a month of signing up for the PFD. If it makes it on the ballot, voters should see it in an election next year.Share this story:last_img read more

New arrivals in Kotzebue Sound preying on belugas

first_imgArctic | Climate Change | Environment | Western | WildlifeNew arrivals in Kotzebue Sound preying on belugasJanuary 28, 2016 by Johanna Eurich, APRN Share:Orcas. (Creative Commons photo by Chis Michel)Kotzebue Sound is changing and beluga hunters are facing new competition. Researcher Manuel Castellote at the Alaska Fisheries Center placed underwater microphones in the Sound. Instead of belugas, he found the source of the problem — killer whales.“It turns out when we look at our data what we found was mainly killer whales. So that’s why the project quickly became a killer whale project.”Things have gotten so bad in Kotzebue Sound that belugas there don’t sing out as much as they do elsewhere. Researchers suspect the belugas are afraid killer whales will find them and eat them.“… because they know that if they are happy they will hear them and they might be predated. So they try to be silent.”As in so many areas in the Arctic, changes are happening more quickly than further south. In Kotzebue Sound, the seabirds that used to eat fish have declined while those eating plankton have increased.Share this story:last_img read more

New proposal could split Permanent Fund draw between PFDs, state budget

first_imgEconomy | Politics | Southeast | State GovernmentNew proposal could split Permanent Fund draw between PFDs, state budgetFebruary 4, 2017 by Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO and Alaska Public Media Share:Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, speaks on the Senate floor in 2015. He has proposed a bill to draw money from the Permanent Fund. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)The amount residents receive in Permanent Fund dividends would be the same as the amount available for the state budget, under a new proposal.It’s one of two Permanent Fund plans lawmakers are considering, although more may be on the way.Using Permanent Fund earnings for anything but dividends was long considered untouchable in Alaska politics. But this legislative session, all but a few lawmakers are talking about different ways to use fund earnings to pay for part of the state budget.The latest proposal is Senate Bill 21, sponsored by Sen. Bert Stedman. The Sitka Republican wants to draw 4.5 percent from the $55 billion fund each year. At least half of the draw would go to dividends. And Stedman said the rest of the draw could be spent on the budget.“We’re all in it together – Republicans, Democrats, independents, urban, rural – it doesn’t matter,” Stedman said. “We’re all in the same ship – and the ship’s sinking, financially. And it’s sinking pretty fast.”In the first year, Stedman’s bill would bring in $1.1 billion to the state budget. That’s about $700 million less than Gov. Bill Walker’s Permanent Fund bill. Stedman’s bill would provide for larger PFDs – about $1,700 compared with $1,000 under Walker’s proposal. The governor’s bill is based on legislation the Senate passed, but failed in the House last year. Walker ended up vetoing half of 2016’s payout.Stedman said his goal is to protect the Permanent Fund into the future.“I don’t want to see us have huge appropriations that are unsustainable into the earnings reserve of the Permanent Fund,” Stedman said. “And the only way to do that is to block the legislative ability of the good-intended Legislature.”The senator kept the bill simple, drawing on the current Permanent Fund law. He said other ideas that would put the state’s budget into long-term balance could be added as amendments to the measure.“This would be a framework that we would put or bolt on or attach other solutions to,” Stedman said. “There’ll be discussions of spending caps or spending limits. There’ll be discussions on taxes – income tax, property tax, if you name the tax, it’s under discussion in the building – and budget reductions.”Stedman has brought the idea to members of Walker’s administration. Revenue Commissioner Randall Hoffbeck said devoting more money to the budget – and drawing more from Permanent Fund earnings – will make it easier to close the $2.7 billion gap between state spending and the amount the state raises in oil royalties, taxes and fees.“We don’t think that it uses our financial assets to their fullest potential – that it’s leaving money on the table,” Hoffbeck said. “And by leaving money on the table, it makes other solutions more difficult.”Stedman said the state could phase in elements of his bill over time. But he said it’s important that it doesn’t draw so much from Permanent Fund earnings that it would affect the fund’s health. And he said that if dividends are much lower, then voters may not accept the changes.Share this story:last_img read more

Light on Trump, Sullivan aims for optimism in address to Alaska Legislature

first_imgEnergy & Mining | Federal Government | State GovernmentLight on Trump, Sullivan aims for optimism in address to Alaska LegislatureFebruary 27, 2017 by LIz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media Share:U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, delivers his annual address Feb. 24, 2017, to the Alaska Legislature. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)In his annual address to the Alaska Legislature, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan did not say much about President Donald Trump, and he did not bring up the issues that drove demonstrators to the steps of the state Capitol on Friday: Trump’s policies on immigration and refugees, and what Congress intends to do about the Affordable Care Act.Sullivan did, though, directly quote a different president.Audio Playerhttp://media.aprn.org/2017/ann-20170224-06.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.“When I think of the great men and women who serve our state, all of you, I’m reminded Theodore Roosevelt’s great speech, about the men and women who are in the arena,” he told the legislators. Sullivan read for them Roosevelt’s words, about the person (“man” in the original) who:“… knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”Sullivan went on to list his congressional achievements from 2016, in advancing infrastructure goals, taking care of veterans and keeping the state’s military installations strong.His main focus for this year, he said, is jobs.“Going forward, I will be 100 percent focused on the economy, in Alaska and throughout our country,” Sullivan said.Sullivan made just a few references to Trump.He said the president’s plans to build up the military and his resource policies will be good for Alaska job creation.“The Trump administration has prioritized energy production, responsible resource development, and streamlining job-killing regulations as some of its top goals,” Sullivan said.U.S Sen. Dan Sullivan talks with reporters during a press availability Feb. 24, 2017, following his annual address to the Alaska Legislature. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)Another president he mentioned, a few times, was Barack Obama.“When President Obama locked up almost all of Alaska’s resource development opportunities in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas over the Christmas holidays, he told Alaskans that we need to ‘move decisively away from fossil fuels,’” Sullivan said.Sullivan said Obama was giving voice to a “dangerous ideological movement” that wants to leave resources in the ground.The senator also rebuked Obama for talking about “philanthropy” as he banned Arctic drilling.“Relying on charity for our future is not something the great state of Alaska should ever aspire to. It is beneath us,” Sullivan said, to applause(Obama said in a December 20 statement that the Arctic needs more investment, from the government, the private sector and “philanthropy.”)Sullivan closed on a historical note, recounting the vision it took to buy Alaska from Russia, 150 years ago.When asked, Sullivan said he wants to see health care coverage continue for the Alaskans who benefit from expanded Medicaid.“That’s my general principle,” Sullivan told reporters in a news conference after his speech. “Right now there’s a lot, a LOT of kind of different approaches to how that might happen, so I’m not committing myself to any one singular approach yet.”An Alaska Dispatch News reporter asked why he didn’t include health care or immigration in his speech. Sullivan said he focused on jobs and wanted to give legislators a sense of optimism.Share this story:last_img read more

Hopes for King Cove road renewed with new Interior secretary

first_imgEnvironment | Federal Government | Nation & WorldHopes for King Cove road renewed with new Interior secretaryMarch 3, 2017 by Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media Share:Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rode a National Park Service horse named Tonto about a mile, posing along the National Mall for photos. The Park Service, the Mall and the horse are within Interior’s domain. (Interior Department photo)Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a former Montana congressman, rode a horse to his first day of work in Washington, D.C., today.The Secretary of the Interior is an important position for Alaska, where more than 60 percent of the land is owned by the federal government.The Interior secretary is also charged with upholding trust obligations to Native tribes.Audio Playerhttp://media.aprn.org/2017/ann-20170302-06.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she hopes she’ll finally get approval for a road to connect King Cove to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay with the new secretary.Zinke seems sympathetic to the need for what she called a “life-saving road,” Murkowski said.“He has had the opportunity to be briefed on it many times,” Murkowski said. “He has also met with some of the residents from King Cove. He has indicated his understanding of the situation.”Zinke, though, would face fierce opposition from conservation groups who say the King Cove road would damage the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and important bird habitat.Soon after his swearing in, Zinke signed an order to reverse a last-minute Obama administration ban on lead ammo and fishing tackle in national wildlife refuges.That made U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, happy.The lead ban “had little to do with science and conservation” and was instead “one last parting gift to our nation’s most extreme environmental elite,” Young said.Steel shot and all-copper bullets cost more than those with lead.Some sportsmen also say the non-lead ammunition shoots differently.Those who want to ban lead ammo argue the toxic metal contaminates waterways, wildlife and people who eat game meat.Share this story:last_img read more

Woman injured in motor vehicle accident out the road dies

first_imgJuneauWoman injured in motor vehicle accident out the road diesJanuary 2, 2018 by Matt Miller, KTOO Share:Update | 3:42 p.m. Tuesday, Jan 2, 2017Family members identified the woman as Michelle Ridgway and confirmed that she died this afternoon.Original story | 10:34 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2017An unidentified 54-year-old Juneau woman was taken to the hospital after a single-vehicle accident Friday afternoon near the 22 mile marker of Glacier Highway.Officers and firefighters arriving on the scene said the heavily damaged vehicle was resting upside down in a ditch. The injured driver appeared to have been ejected and was unresponsive.Juneau police last reported the driver as being medivaced to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle in critical condition.No additional details are currently available from police about the accident or the condition of the driver.Share this story:last_img read more

What we know about the alleged Texas high school shooter

first_imgNPR News | Public SafetyWhat we know about the alleged Texas high school shooterMay 20, 2018 by Samantha Raphelson and Brakkton Booker, NPR News Share:Dimitrios Pagourtzis, whom law enforcement officials took into custody on Friday, has been charged with capital murder and aggravated assault in the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. (Photo courtesy Galveston County Sheriff’s Office via AP)Updated at 6:22 p.m. ETThe 17-year-old who is accused of opening fire at a Texas high school on Friday, killing at least 10 people and wounding 13 others, has been charged with capital murder and aggravated assault.Dimitrios Pagourtzis is being held at Galveston County Jail with no bond, according to a tweet by the Santa Fe Independent School District, and has been speaking to investigators. Officials have not released a motive, but some information about the suspect and the attack is emerging.The Pagourtzis family said in a statement on Saturday they are “saddened and dismayed” by the events and offered condolences to the victims. The family said they are cooperating with authorities conducting the investigation.“We are as shocked as anyone else by these events that occurred,” the family said in the statement. “We are gratified by the public comments made by other Santa Fe High School students that show Dimitri as we know him: a smart, quiet, sweet boy. While we remain mostly in the dark about the specifics of yesterday’s tragedy, what we have learned from media reports seems incompatible with the boy we love.”It appears the shooting rampage at Santa Fe High School was planned. During a Friday press conference, Gov. Greg Abbott said information contained in journals on the suspect’s computer and cellphone suggested that “not only did he want to commit the shooting, but he wanted to commit suicide after the shooting.”Law enforcement can officially confirm that the SFHS suspect has been identified as student Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17. He is charged with capital murder & agg assault of a peace officer. He is in the Galveston County jail on no bond. @FBIHouston #HouNews— Santa Fe ISD (@SantaFeISD) May 18, 2018The suspect, however, gave himself up because he “didn’t have the courage” to follow through with taking his own life, Abbott said.While the evidence points to a planned attack, students who knew the suspect provided an inconsistent description of their classmate.Tyler Ray, an 18-year-old senior, played football for the Sante Fe Indians with the suspect, who was a defensive tackle on the junior varsity team. At a vigil for the victims in the center of Santa Fe on Friday night, Ray told NPR’s John Burnett that he would have never suspected his former teammate is capable of a mass shooting — he was just joking with the suspect on a field trip to a Galveston water park on Thursday, the day before the massacre.“One day you think you know this kid, you think you can hang out with him, you can joke with him,” Ray said. “And the next day, he’s shootin’ up the school. You just never know.”But Lauren Severin, a 17-year-old junior wearing a cross around her neck, told Burnett that after having a couple classes with him, her impression of the suspect was very different. She said she thinks he was bullied in school because he was different.“I don’t think he was normal,” she said. “I think he was really strange and quiet. I wasn’t surprised when I heard it was him. … He always wears this weird trench coat and kind of looks like a psychopath.”The weapons used in the attack — a shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver — were not “legally possessed” by the suspect but appear to be legally owned by his father, who was not named by authorities. It was unclear whether the father was aware his son had the weapons.On Friday, there were reports of possible explosive devices at the school, at the suspect’s home and in a vehicle, according to officials. All but one of those devices were found to be fake. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said Saturday that police found carbon dioxide canisters taped together and a pressure cooker with an alarm clock and nails inside at the high school, but the devices weren’t capable of detonating.Students who knew Dimitrios Pagourtzis provided an inconsistent description of their classmate. One said he never would have suspected, while another said, “I wasn’t surprised when I heard it was him.” (Facebook photo via AP)Authorities say the suspect has provided a statement to police while in custody, telling investigators that he didn’t shoot his classmates whom he liked “so he could have his story told,” the AP reports.The governor said there is nothing at this time that would indicate there were missed warning signs, as in the case of Devin Patrick Kelley, who killed 26 at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church in November 2017, or Nikolas Cruz, who is charged with killing 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school in February.“One of the frustrating things in the early status of this case is that unlike Parkland, unlike Sutherland Springs, there weren’t those kinds of warning signs,” Abbott said “Here the red flag warnings were either nonexistent or very imperceptible.”Facebook posts allegedly linked to Pagourtzis show a black T-shirt with the words “Born to Kill” in white block letters written across the front. Authorities say he had no prior confrontations with law enforcement and has no past criminal history.Attorneys Nicholas Poehl and Robert Barfield, who were hired by the suspect’s parents to represent him in court, are urging the public not to rush to judgment.“I think every parent instinctively knows they don’t know everything about their kids, but when you find out something like this today, it’s extremely hard,” Poehl told Houston TV station KTRK. “To those out there watching, try to remember these people are victims too, they didn’t know and they didn’t expect, and they certainly couldn’t have predicted [the shooting]. Prayers to everyone in this whole mess.”Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.Share this story:last_img read more

AEL&P parent company and Canadian Hydro One call off merger

first_imgBusiness | Energy & Mining | JuneauAEL&P parent company and Canadian Hydro One call off mergerJanuary 23, 2019 by Adelyn Baxter, KTOO Share:Hydro One’s logo on a tower at its headquarters in Toronto on May 20, 2015. Hydro One says it’s Canada’s largest electricity transmission and distribution service provider. (Public domain photo by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine)The proposed merger between the parent company of Juneau’s power utility and a Canadian power company is dead. That’s according to Hydro One and Avista, who announced Wednesday they had terminated the deal.Alaska Electric Light & Power was bought by Avista Corp. in 2014. The Spokane-based parent company opened merger talks with Toronto-based Hydro One in 2017.But the merger needed approval in every state where Avista does business. Alaska’s regulators had approved the deal, but utility regulators in Idaho and Washington rejected the merger.Both states cited fears over political meddling in Hydro One, which is 47-percent owned by the province of Ontario. Populist premier Doug Ford forced Hydro One’s CEO to resign and replaced its board of directors weeks after being elected in June.In a joint statement, Avista and Hydro One said their boards independently decided terminating the deal would be best course of action for the companies and their shareholders.AEL&P President Connie Hulbert wrote in a statement that the outcome of the proposed merger will not affect the Juneau utility, which serves 17,000 homes and businesses including Hecla’s Greens Creek Mine.“It will continue to be business as usual for AEL&P,” she wrote.Some in Juneau had raised concerns over the prospect of a foreign business owning the 125-year-old company.Renewable Juneau, an advocacy group, released a statement applauding regulators for scuttling the merger. Andy Romanoff, who is on the nonprofit’s board of directors, wrote that the proposed merger was not in the public interest.“Idaho and Washington regulators found, for various reasons, that the proposed merger between Canada’s Hydro One and Avista Corporation was not in the public’s best interest. We understand that finding as it is consistent with issues raised in Alaska,” Romanoff wrote. “A concern of note was the prospect of foreign control of the merged corporations and its possible implications for Juneau’s local power utility, AEL&P.”Hydro One will pay Avista a $103 million termination fee as required by the merger agreement, the statement said.In an email, Avista spokesperson Casey Fielder said Avista is not actively seeking any other mergers.CoastAlaska’s Jacob Resneck contributed to this report. Share this story:last_img read more

Aboard Alaska’s endangered ferries, passengers fear a ‘giant step back in time’

first_imgAlaska Native Government & Policy | Alaska’s Energy Desk | Community | Economy | Politics | Southeast | State Government | TransportationAboard Alaska’s endangered ferries, passengers fear a ‘giant step back in time’April 3, 2019 by Nat Herz, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage Share:The MV Malaspina sits at the dock in Auke Bay, near Juneau, as the MV LeConte pulls away from the dock early on March 28, 2019. Both ships are part of the Alaska Marine Highway System. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)Audio Playerhttps://media.ktoo.org/2019/04/ferry.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Just after 6 a.m., a handful of cars drove down the ramp from the Juneau ferry dock into the MV LeConte for the ship’s twice-weekly loop through Angoon and nearby Tenakee Springs.There’s no road to Angoon, a Tlingit village of 450, and there’s no airport, either. To get there from Juneau, you can buy a one-way seaplane ticket for $160 – or spend $55 to ride the ferry.But Gov. Mike Dunleavy has taken aim at the ferry system’s budget, proposing sharp cuts that are threatening its future.Southeast residents, ferry workers and political leaders have responded by staging rallies at the Capitol, arguing that the system is integral to the region’s commerce and character.A single trip on the LeConte last week showed how residents have knit the ships into their lives – and how they would adapt if the ferries stopped running.By the time the LeConte pushed off from the dock, the car deck held a pickup with a new gas stove and oven in the bed, a flatbed trailer stacked with lumber and a box truck filled with fresh produce and dairy.Upstairs, on the observation deck, Shayne Thompson was drinking a cup of coffee. The box truck was his; Thompson runs Angoon’s store and puts supplies on the ferry every week. He said he remembers, as a child before regular ferry service, when food would come just once a month on a barge.“Everybody would grab it, and then we’d be out for three weeks. That’s the way it would go – there was a lot of canned goods eaten then,” Thompson said. “We’re able to live a little healthier lifestyle at this point, thanks to the ferry. And it’s just fantastic.”The MV LeConte cruises through Chatham Strait on its way north to Juneau from Angoon on March 28, 2019. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)Angoon now has no regularly scheduled barges to bring in supplies; neither do a half-dozen other villages that Alaska’s ferries serve, according to the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.Dunleavy, a Republican, rode one of the state ferries from Washington to Ketchikan when he first arrived in the state, in 1983. And he was elected after saying there was “no plan to hack, cut or destroy” Alaska’s ferry system.But when Dunleavy released his budget in February, he did propose to cut the ferries – by more than two-thirds. His proposal to the Legislature budgeted enough money to run the ships only for the first three months of the fiscal year, through Oct. 1. Then, the fleet would be tied up.Dunleavy’s administration said the proposal would save the state $100 million. The governor argues that steep cuts are needed to balance Alaska’s budget, while at the same time paying larger cash dividends to residents.His administration is offering to pay up to $250,000 to a consultant to study privatization and other options for the ferry system.“Most of rural Alaska doesn’t have a ferry system. They don’t have roads. They want to get from one community to another, they have to fly. And I agree it’s an issue,” Dunleavy said last week on “Talk of Alaska.” “There is no easy solution to this problem. We’re trying to find out if there’s ways to make it more efficient, look at different runs, potentially consolidation, potentially privatization.”Policymakers have, however, been studying possible reforms to the ferries for years, without reaching consensus. A 2017 report found that there are “no operating scenarios” where the system can pay for itself “and still fulfill its critical public service mission.”Ticket sales generate a little more than one-third of the money required to run the ferries. For the LeCounte’s Angoon trip, fares would have to be five times higher – about $300 – for the route to pay for itself, according to an analysis provided by Dunleavy’s office.If the ferry system shuts down, Thompson, who runs the Angoon store, said he could hire a barge to bring his freight to the village. But he predicted that prices would rise by about 25 percent, and fresh food would only come once a month.“It’s like a giant step back in time,” he said. “We would have fresh produce and dairy for a week or two of the month. And then, for the rest of the month, it would be all dry goods.”The MV LeConte approaches the dock at the Southeast community of Tenakee Springs on March 28, 2019. (Photo by Nat Herz / Alaska’s Energy Desk)Alaska operates nearly a dozen ferries, and they’re particularly indispensable in Southeast, a 300-mile long archipelago where only a few towns are connected to the road system.Schools use the ferries to move sports teams. When cars need maintenance, people float them to mechanics in Juneau. Sick people who have a hard time loading into bush planes ride ferries to doctor’s appointments. The ships even carry the bodies of elders back to their hometowns.The ferry system is “all things to all people, depending on the day,” said Kurt Rehfeld, who’s worked on Alaska ferries for 30 years – 19 of them on the LeConte. He described passengers almost like family; he knows their children and grandchildren.“They travel to Juneau to keep their lifestyle alive. And we provide the opportunity for that,” Rehfeld said. “I think that’s what government does. I think government is there to make all of our lives a little bit better.”In interviews at the Capitol, lawmakers who represent legislative districts off the ferry system said they understand its importance to Southeast Alaska. But several Republicans said that they’re unwilling to keep subsidizing it at the same level.Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt, the House minority leader, described his colleagues from Southeast as being resistant to necessary change.“I think if they’d get on board and work with the governor – he’s not trying to destroy the system. He’s just trying to create a system that is functional and provides the service, but at a reduced cost,” Pruitt said. “Because we can’t continue to afford going about it the same way that we always have.”He added: “Change is hard for anyone, and that’s not to fault Southeast. I think all of Alaska is going through that right now.”The MV LeConte sits at the dock in Angoon on March 28, 2019. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)Southeast Alaskans note that the ferry system is called the “marine highway,” and they have a comeback ready for people who question its cost: People in Anchorage and Wasilla, Dunleavy’s hometown, don’t pay for plowing or maintenance on their state highways, either.“You should start putting toll booths all over the place in the rest of Alaska,” said Albert Howard, a former Angoon mayor and tribal president who was eating lunch in the LeConte’s dining room. “Then, after you do that, then we’ll say, ‘We’re just going to close this strip of highway.’ Do you understand now?”But Bert Stedman, the Sitka Republican who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said his region has to accept a new political reality. When the ferry system was established a half-century ago, Southeast Alaska’s timber industry was booming. Now, Stedman says, “there’s no more pulp mills.”“And we’ve gone from five senators to two. We have had a significant dilution, since the creation of the marine highway, of political influence. And that is continuing to erode,” Stedman said in an interview in his Capitol office. “We are not in the position where we can, frankly, dictate what we want to do. We just don’t have the numbers.”Stedman spoke just after a long meeting with Ben Stevens, Dunleavy’s policy advisor tasked with reshaping the state ferry system. Stedman said he’s trying to work with the Dunleavy administration on a temporary plan to keep the ferries running, even if they’re running less often, until lawmakers can agree on a longer-term vision for the system.On the LeConte, passengers said they could live with once-weekly trips to Angoon and Tenakee, rather than twice-weekly. On Thursday, the ship carried a few dozen people, even though it has room for 225.As the LeConte neared Angoon, passenger Kevin Frank was leaving the dining room with a couple of boxes – hot sandwiches he was bringing ashore as a treat for his family.Like others, he was already thinking about how he’d cope if the ferry runs less often. Frank said he’s looking for a new skiff, for harvesting seaweed and fishing for halibut and king salmon.“Because Costco might not be an option,” he said.Share this story:last_img read more