More tourists are expected to visit Petersburg this summer than in recent years. Located on Mitkof Island, the small town cannot accommodate large cruise ships because of the shallow channels. But that’s just the sort of thing that some visitors are looking for.Download AudioIt’s tough to put an exact number on how many tourists come to Petersburg every year, but it’s definitely in the thousands. The closest figure might be from the Alaska Visitor Statistics Program, which shows about 14,000 came in 2011. That number includes visitors by plane, cruise ship and ferry.Dave Berg looks over a spread sheet of this year’s visitors at Viking Travel, Inc. (Photo by Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg)Dave Berg has operated Viking Travel, Inc. in Petersburg for 31 years.“It looks like it’s going to be a better year for us,” Berg said. “We’re seeing a great increase in the number of independent visitors than we’ve seen in the past.”“Independent travelers” is an industry term that means people who visit on their own outside of the large cruise ships.“Most of the time they have Petersburg as part of an overall Alaska experience,” Berg said.The phone lines in Berg’s office are busy these days. He’s dealing with people from all over the world. He says the increase in tourists is partly due to his business buying out Alaska Ferry Adventures in Homer. They were doing the same line of work—setting up travel packages for visitors. He’s now trying to get those people to come to Petersburg.The main local draw is whale watching. There are also kayaking trips, the Bella Vista garnet mine, and the nearby Anan Bear Observatory. But Berg says it doesn’t have to be that adventurous. People just appreciate walking around the harbors and talking to fishermen.“Just the small town atmosphere, the village that we have, the village feel of Petersburg versus places with the large cruise ships,” Berg said. “There’s a big difference in the experience that people have by coming to small towns.”Marilyn Menish-Meucci runs the Petersburg Visitors Information Center.“The independent traveler loves Petersburg,” Menish-Meucci said. “All the businesses here are locally owned. The only chain we have that is a national chain is Wells Fargo. And so that is huge to people because every time they buy an item in this town, the money stays in this town.”Menish-Meucci says keeping it local is not only good for attracting tourists but also for local businesses.Petersburg’s Chamber of Commerce Director, Cindi Lagoudakis, agrees.“There’s more fuel sales, the gift shops see an increased business and I think some pretty steady clientele in the summertime from independent travelers,” Lagoudakis said. “The food businesses certainly see an uptick and in part that’s why some businesses are only open in the summertime as we have more people coming through town and can support those additional businesses and those dollars flow through town.”It didn’t hurt that Yachting Magazine recently designated Petersburg as one of the best small towns in the country to visit.“So, we’ve had a lot of people calling on the phone asking more questions about what Petersburg is like what we have to offer, questions about our harbors, and some really increased interest in what we have to offer here in Petersburg,” Lagoudakis said.She says it’s often the small town charm that they’re after.“What I hear again and again from folks that are visitors to town is how friendly the community is,” Lagoudakis said. “I think in part is because we don’t have so many people. There’s enough new people but not so many that you feel bombarded by it. And people will say hi to people in the street or they will offer to help you find something or tell you a little bit about why they like Petersburg and it makes it a very desirable place to visit and to live.”Petersburg’s tourist season runs roughly from May 15 through September 15.There will be one large ship– the Caledonian Sky—which is scheduled to be here twice but won’t be able to dock at the harbors because of its size. It carries about 150 passengers and will have to anchor out in Scow Bay or Frederick Sound.A Gold Rush theme ship is scheduled to be here 12 times. Last year, it came up twice.
One of the biggest issues of last year’s governor’s race was the state of the Alaska National Guard. A federal report had concluded that it was plagued with problems, ranging from mishandling of sexual assault reports to a general lack of trust in leadership. For months, media outlets tried to get records on then-Gov. Sean Parnell’s response, and the struggle culminated in a lawsuit. The executive branch was ordered to release thousands of pages of documents related to the Guard just days before an election that Parnell lost.Download AudioRecently, Gov. Bill Walker has re-released many of those same records, along with new ones. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez has been combing through both sets of documents.TOWNSEND: So you spent about a month reviewing these documents. What went into that?GUTIERREZ: Well, between the Parnell release and the Walker release, you’re talking 7,000 pages of documents. I mean, you had eight attorneys plus support staff working on this stuff for about half a year, so it’s a lot of paper. When you print the records out, it’s enough to fill three banker’s boxes. The process of going through them was kind of like playing a very long and very serious version of one of those spot-the-difference games.Were there many differences between the two batches?There were a lot, but nothing that really fundamentally changes my understanding of how the National Guard was managed.Breaking it all down, there were about 1,300 unique documents that the Walker administration released. That includes everything from short one-line e-mails to lengthy reports. When you tally it all up, about two-thirds of those records were technically new. Which is to say, they have new document ID numbers. With the way the Department of Law tracks records, an e-mail chain with 20 different responses would produce 20 separate documents, even if we think of it as a single thread. So, in reality, even a lot of the new documents were just variations on records we’ve seen previously.Now, of the documents where we had a Parnell version to compare to a Walker version, about 40 percent had redaction differences. In some cases, that meant more information was released in the Walker version, and in others, it just meant that different privileges or fewer privileges were used as a justification to black out information.Did you see any trends in terms of what was released and what wasn’t?Where you could compare the Parnell and Walker documents, the Walker documents tended to be more surgically redacted. Like there was one complaint from a National Guardsman that was sent to the Governor’s office in 2013, alleging that his wife was being harassed by a fellow guardsmen and that guardsmen were using state resources inappropriately. The Parnell version totally redacted this complaint, while the Walker version basically just blacked out names.There were also some cases where the Parnell redactions would be claimed using multiple privileges, so if you want to challenge the redaction, you would have to challenge it in five or so separate ways before it could legally be released. Those would often be cut down to one or two privileges in the Walker versions. So, you’re still not getting the information off the bat, but you would only have to come up with a couple of arguments to appeal the decision.You talked to the Department of Law about these differences. How did they explain them?I was told that the instructions given to the attorneys were actually basically the same between both administrations. The Parnell administration didn’t want to release any records when they were asked for them, but once a judge ordered them to hand the documents over, the directive was to err on the side of disclosure while still exercising the appropriate privileges. The explanation given for the differences was actually logistics.Here’s Cori Mills, a spokesperson for the department.MILLS: The main factor in why you got somewhat different results was because of the timing. We were really rushed in the October-November timeframe and crunched to try to get out as many documents as quickly as possible, since the Department of Law hadn’t really become involved until the lawsuit was filed.That meant they couldn’t exactly be painstaking about the process.MILLS: Because of the short timeframe, we just didn’t have the time to do a more laser-focused review and try to focus on, you know, ‘here are the three words we need to redact’ versus ‘okay, we just need to redact this whole paragraph because there’s definitely information in there that’s privileged.’Basically, it’s like the difference between actually cleaning your home versus just throwing everything in the closet, because you know you have guests coming in ten minutes.Was there anything that shocked you or surprised you with this new release?For lack of a better term, there wasn’t really a smoking gun in any of this. I had some help on the review from a few other reporters, and I think KTOO’s Jenny Canfield may have put it best.CANFIELD: I don’t think this new set of documents was very enlightening. It just added more confusion to an already big pile of confusion.Like we are talking David Lynch movie-style confusion. That said, there were some interesting things that came out. Like, before this new release, I didn’t know that thy Parnell administration had actually turned to a media and crisis consultant named Matt Mackowiak to deal with damage control.It was also interesting just seeing how the Parnell administration handled its operations and how little business the governor himself actually did via e-mail. KTOO’s Jeremy Hsieh, another reporter who worked on this, brought this up when talking to Jenny.HSIEH: I worked on the Palin e-mail dump when she was the vice presidential candidate, too. It was her Yahoo mail and she communicated in e-mail. And that seems like a big contrast with Parnell. There’s very little — there might not have been any, actually. There were very, very few e-mails that Sean Parnell had actually written.CANFIELD: I don’t think I saw any. I saw a few addressed to him.As far as what was shocking, well, there was more information released on an allegation that a woman in the National Guard may have been a victim of foul play. A former contractor with the National Guard wrote the Parnell administration saying that a woman who had allegedly been sexually assaulted had died while pregnant and that nobody knew why because there was no conclusive autopsy.Jeremy said those e-mails had a special impact for him, now that the case may be reopened.HSIEH: When Patricia Collins, the special investigator for the Walker administration said in her press conference after her report came out, ‘Hey, we should reinvestigate this dead body, this woman who died under suspect circumstances,’ — that’s a thing that jumped out at me.It’s definitely one of the darker accusations having to do with the Guard in all of these records.Going into the session, there were some calls for the Legislature to hold its own hearings on what happened with the National Guard. That didn’t really happen. Did any of these records touch on how much the Legislature knew about the Guard’s problems?So, there was an anonymous letter that was sent to at least some lawmakers in 2012 that was redacted in the Parnell dump and released in the Walker dump. It was sent from a group that referred to itself as “Friends of the National Guard,” and it was pretty specific and hit on a lot of the things that would come out in the report done by the federal National Guard Bureau.Sen. Pete Kelly’s name came up a few times in the documents, because at the time he was a special assistant for Parnell handling military affairs. It looked like the Fairbanks Republican had been looped in on some complaints having to do with favoritism. An e-mail from Anchorage Republican and Senate President Kevin Meyer’s chief of staff said that he had received complaints about criminal activity from the contractor I mentioned, but that he didn’t have plans to address it.There was one exchange where Rep. Dan Saddler, an Eagle River Republican, complained that the governor should have done more to loop him in on the federal investigation. And then, there were a lot of e-mails having to do with senators like Eagle River Republican Fred Dyson, Anchorage Democrat Hollis French, and North Pole Republican John Coghill actually asking the administration for more information about how the Guard was being managed.Do you think things would have shaken out any differently for the Parnell administration if all of these documents had come out earlier?You know, it’s hard to do the counter-factual, but the team who worked on this did talk about it some. Here’s Jeremy and Jenny again.CANFIELD: It was just strange to see like, so, what impact would that have had had we known it six months ago? Like, some of the things that were redacted just seemed inconsequential.HSIEH: Yeah, like one of the things that really jumped out at me was Nizich especially — from the chunk I saw, Mike Nizich, the former chief of staff to Gov. Parnell, would have really short, terse, one-word, matter-of-fact e-mails, and they’d be completely redacted. It’s like what are we missing here, or what is privileged about saying yes or no or okay.Parnell went into a close election having lost a records lawsuit and, frankly, looking like he was hiding something by first refusing to release the records and then redacting so much of the information. It also made him look like he was unwilling to be held accountable when it comes to really serious questions concerning the public’s safety. That is not a good place to be.The documents weren’t exculpatory, but they also weren’t really any more damaging than the results of last year’s federal investigation. And reading through the records, there’s not really a clear narrative that presents itself except that the National Guard was not in good shape and there was a crazy power struggle going on within it. There was just so much conflicting information in these records.It might be a little simplistic, but there’s that whole saying about how sunlight’s the best disinfectant. I don’t see how releasing this information could have put him in a worse position than he already was.Does this release set a standard for the Walker administration in any way when it comes to transparency?That was one of the things I wanted to find out when I started digging into it, because it’s way easier to release the other guy’s records, right? And based on the fact that the directives from both administrations’ attorneys general were the same and that Walker still exercised at least some privileges in about 60 percent of the documents he released, I don’t think we can say people asking for records should necessarily expect to see records totally free of black boxes when they make their ask.Walker’s administration also exercised executive privilege with about 300 cases, and that’s really the privilege that is, at its heart, the administration’s prerogative to use. They could waive it in every case if they wanted, but if they believe it would damage the office’s ability to function or affect state security, they can offer a justification that it shouldn’t be released.Really, the real standard Walker set for himself when it comes to transparency was well before the release, on the campaign trail. He was critical of Parnell for broadly denying the requests when they were initially made, and said he wouldn’t let things get to the point of a court battle over records.So, if people make similar records requests of his administration, that’s what he should be held to.
Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.Download AudioWade Hampton Census Area Gets A New NameBen Matheson, KYUK – BethelThe western Alaska census district named for a confederate slave owner andCivil War general has a new name.Coast Guard Cutter Sherman Returns To Port To Address Engine TroubleEmily Schwing, KUCB – UnalaskaThe cutter and its crew were forced to turn back from a regular patrol in the Bering Sea when one of the ship’s diesel engines malfunctioned.Computers Aid Firefighting EffortsTim Bodony, KIYU – GalenaThe wildfires around Nulato and Ruby on the Yukon River have been burning slowly but steadily this week. A special crew of fire managers is overseeing the response to these fires from a base at the Galena Airport.State Fish And Game Officials Warn Of ‘Rabbit Fever’ OutbreakAlaska Department of Fish and Game officials sent out a warning after a North Pole man was sickened by tularemia, a bacterial infection known as “rabbit fever.”Associated PressHaines Assembly Approves Lower Cruise Ship Moorage FeesHaines has some of the lowest cruise ship moorage rates in Southeast Alaska. The borough assembly approved further lowering those fees for three summers.Emily Files, KHNS – HainesUAF Addresses Water Quality ConcernsThe University of Alaska Fairbanks has taken action to address campus water quality, after testing this spring revealed an issue.Dan Bross, KUAC – FairbanksAK: Seward’s Mount Marathon Race Hits The Century MarkSeward’s Mt. Marathon race, which takes place July 4th turns one hundred years old this year.Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The UAA cross country running team warms up before practice at the Dome in Anchorage. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)For eight consecutive seasons, both the University of Alaska Anchorage’s men’s and women’s cross-country running teams qualified for the NCAA Division II National Championships. This year they even picked up two titles along the way at last weekend’s West Region Championships in Monmouth, Oregon.Download AudioUAA took the top two spots in both the men’s and women’s races. According to head cross-country coach Michael Friess, that accomplishment is very rare.“We’ve kind of checked back at little bit on records; we don’t know if that’s ever happened – or at least hasn’t happened in a long time – that one school has had the 1st and 2nd finishers in each of the races,” Friess said.Taking the top spot in the women’s race was UAA junior Joyce Chelimo, who is coming back after of a red-shirt season, where she took a season-long hiatus from collegiate competition.She says the year away from racing allowed her to come back this season stronger – both mentally and physically.“I am now more mentally prepared and I’m strong enough that I can handle the pain, than two years ago,” Chelimo said. “I think it comes with experience, and when I was sitting back and I wasn’t competing, I was looking back at myself, like, ‘What do I need to improve? What are competitors doing that I don’t do?’”Chelimo’s 20 minute 42 second time on the 6-kilometer course put her atop the leader board, followed about 17 seconds later by fellow UAA runner Caroline Kurgat.Coach Friess, who in the midst of his 26th season at the helm of the cross-country team, says the meet was a solid showing.“The main goal is to have both teams qualify for the National Championship and to try to then carry some momentum into a national meet,” Friess said.That goal was achieved.The men’s team qualified for nationals with the help of Henry Cheseto‘s second-straight, first place finish at the West Region meet. He says he’s happy he won the regional title again, but now he’s looking to improve his performance at the national meet.“If I took a look back to what I did last year, I was almost there,” Cheseto said. “Meaning I have today to sit there and make sure I will stay with the fast group.”Cheseto ran the 10-kilometer West Region course in 29 minutes and 29 seconds, followed by Dominik Notz – also of UAA – less than 3 seconds later.With 32 teams on the docket for the National Championships, Coach Friess says you can never tell how things will play out.“What every team hopes is that they just have their best race,” Cheseto said. “They can run up to their potential, not maybe something above what they’ve ever done before, but at least just run what they’ve been able to run.”“And I think if we can do that, then we’re gonna be pretty satisfied with our outcome.”The NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Champions will be held November 21st in Joplin, Missouri at the Tom Rutledge Cross Country Course, hosted by Missouri Southern State University.
Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle reached the Yukon River checkpoint of Galena Friday morning. (Photo by Zach Hughes/KSKA)On Friday, before Aliy Zirkle and her team’s run-in with a person riding a snowmachine who, according to an Iditarod press release, deliberately tried to harm her and her team, KNOM’s Emily Schwing sat down with her in Galena during Zirkle’s mandatory 8-hour layover.Zirkle has been racing a dog team in the Iditarod for the 15th time. In the last four years, she has finished in second place three times. On Friday, she came into Galena with a newer leader up front.Download Audio
Hospitals typically are not in the business of providing legal aid to patients, but several tribal health facilities in Alaska are going to start doing just that. The pilot project is being funded through a multi-state grant that’s placing AmeriCorps volunteers in tribal facilities in six states. KNBA’s Joaqlin Estus reports:Listen Now
GCI is looking into what it would take to bring faster internet to Unalaska. The telecommunications company is evaluating if fiber would be a financially feasible solution. Right now, they are in the exploratory process.Listen nowSpokesperson Heather Handyside said the company is surveying a route between a fiber facility in Levelock and Unalaska.“If we are to do a build-out of a fiber cable, it will help us understand how to best engineer that cable so that it can withstand all the elements or obstacles that it might encounter,” Handyside said.Obstacles like strong currents, shipwrecks and deep and varied terrain.For GCI, it’s compelling that Unalaska is the top fishing port in the nation.“I think there’s promise with the change in climate that it could get even busier,” Handyside said. “We’re taking all those things into account when we decide if we want to make this investment.”If built, Handyside estimates the cable could cost tens of millions of dollars and GCI is planning to foot the entire bill. Currently Unalaska is only served by satellite making the internet slow and expensive. Fiber would allow for faster connections.“We know in Unalaska, in particular since you are served by satellite, [fiber] would be a game changer for you,” Handyside said.The marine survey is expected to be completed by mid-October and Handyside said GCI expects to have made a decision about the project by early 2018.
Citizens concerned about Juneau’s electric utility being acquired by Canadian power company Hydro One attended Monday’s Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)The City and Borough of Juneau will ask state regulators to make the city a party to negotiations over the local electric utility’s transfer to a Canadian power company. And it committed money for lawyers to help make that happen.Listen nowJuneau business owner Randy Sutak distributed stickers and leaflets to the more than 30 people attending Monday’s committee meeting. He urged the city to protect ratepayers.“If you don’t have a seat at the table or if you’re not trying to ensure yourself a seat at the table, then there’s no incentive for anybody to negotiate with you,” Sutak said. “In other words, you have to take what you get.”Alaska Electric Light & Power was bought in 2013 by Avista of Spokane. Avista is being acquired by Hydro One, one of Canada’s largest power companies.But the acquisition requires approval by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska which has received critical public comments from customers and lawmakers concerned about rates and the fate of utility assets.The largest prize is Snettisham Hydroelectric Project. The federally built hydro complex was completed in the early 1970s and produces about two-thirds of Juneau’s electricity. It’s owned by the state of Alaska, but AEL&P has an option to acquire it.Mayor Ken Koelsch laid out his top goals for negotiations. Number one was the fate of the Snettisham Hydro Complex.“When current bonds for Snettisham Hydroelectric Facility are retired,” Koelsch said, “the Snettisham assets should remain in the State of Alaska or local CBJ ownership.”That was a sentiment echoed by Assembly member Jesse Kiehl who said he worried a piece of critical infrastructure could become collateral for an out-of-state corporation.“We just don’t know who will control the corporate board in Spokane 50 years from now when Snettisham’s turbines will still be spinning,” Kiehl said. “So by and large, old hydro is cheaper than new hydro, or newly bonded or re-bonded hydro. So I think the mayor’s language is the best protection for Juneau’s ratepayers in the long term.”AEL&P President Connie Hulbert also attended the meeting. After conferring with higher ups, she released a statement:“AEL&P supports the RCA process, which is designed to consider the public’s input and interest,” Hulbert wrote immediately after the meeting. “We are confident that the merger on the horizon for Avista will not negatively impact AEL&P or Juneau, and that AEL&P will continue to operate as we do today, making local decisions to serve our customers.”Hulbert added that many of the questions and concerns expressed by the public and members of the Assembly are addressed in a lengthy brief filed Tuesday the RCA.The Assembly committee set aside $75,000 for expected legal fees and it tasked the city manager to negotiate with Hydro One to secure a deal that could make a formal intervention unnecessary.It’ll be up to the RCA to decide whether the city will be a formal party to the process.
Carol Waldo of Haines (Photo by Daysha Eaton, KHNS – Haines)This week we’re hearing from Carol Waldo in Haines. Waldo owns Glacier Bay Farms, which is set to become one of the first pot businesses in the city. 70 years ago she left Iowa with her family, and drove up the Alaska Highway.Listen nowWALDO: I never really asked my parents, for sure, why they came to Alaska because it was a long ways from home. My dad was in the Navy, and when he came back from the war in November of 1945, I think he had seen some of the world and I think after the war, there just wasn’t any jobs and he heard there were jobs in Alaska. My mom worked all during the war and my grandmother took care of us, and my mom saved her salary. So we had enough money to live for over a year without my dad doing anything.There were three of us when we came to Alaska: my older brother and my younger brother and myself. In the years to follow there were three more children born. And, you have to remember, that was the time of polio — and there was no polio vaccine. A lot of kids were coming down with polio. And I think they thought living in a smaller community, kind of isolated like Haines, there was a healthier environment for the kids.But the road was terrible, and there were very few places to stay. And most of them weren’t very clean. So they bought a tent and sleeping bags and we camped out. They cooked their own food because a lot of those roadhouse were… they had bed bugs and fleas and you name it.Arriving in Haines was kind of a cultural shock because the town… there was only about 300 people.I never heard my parents complain about it. I never heard them say it was a tough trip. They just, I don’t know. They survived the Depression and the war. I guess they thought we were on vacation. I don’t know.