Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005

Ketchikan increases cruise ship head tax

KETCHIKAN - The city of Ketchikan will charge cruise lines $2 more per passenger this season under a measure unanimously approved by the City Council.

The council on Thursday increased the city's head tax from $4 to $6 for passengers on cruise ships tied up at the downtown dock and from $2 to $4 for those lightered into town from ships anchored in the Tongass Narrows.

An amendment proposed by council member George Lybrand to increase the fees to $8 and $6 was rejected 2-5 with council member Tom Coyne joining Lybrand in support of the amendment.

Lybrand said the city needs to increase the fees to get anything done on the planned port expansion project.

Coyne said the city doesn't charge the cruise lines enough.

Mayor Bob Weinstein said the city has a good relationship with the cruise industry, which voiced no real objection to the recommended increase because that money will be used for repairs to the cruise ship dock.

A larger amount is not appropriate, he said, until the city begins its major expansion project, tentatively set to start in 2007.

Senate Finance OK's school funds

JUNEAU - The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill by Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, to spend more than $340 million in Alaska Permanent Fund earnings for school construction and maintenance projects.

The bill was amended Friday in the Senate Finance Committee to include $6.2 million to relocate Noatak School in the Northwest Arctic Borough.

Lawmakers also added $1.1 million to the bill to help complete construction of an elementary school in Delta Junction.

Senate Bill 141 was approved without objection and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Reps enhance commissioner duties

FAIRBANKS - The state House of Representatives voted unanimously to approve language enhancing and defining the duties of the commissioner of Fish and Game and the boards of game and fisheries.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, adds language to state law giving the boards and the commissioner the added responsibility "to promote fishing, hunting and trapping and preserve the heritage" of those activities.

House Bill 75, approved in the House Friday, now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Kelly said the bill will help the state better respond to "attacks" by groups that seek to limit the activities that he called an important part of Alaska's identity.

"Hunting, fishing and trapping are under attack, mostly by Outsiders who presume to tell us who we are," he said.

Kelly mentioned in particular People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the organization's recent request to Gov. Frank Murkowski to ban king salmon fishing in Alaska.

Under the bill, the state could point to its law books to argue it is the responsibility of fish and game management officials to promote hunting, fishing and trapping, Kelly said.

Complaints surface over required tests

ANCHORAGE - Teachers were told new state-required tests given to students across Alaska for the first time last week would take between two and four hours a day over a three-day period.

That's not what happened.

"We had students testing for six, seven, eight hours," said Laurel Vorachek of the Anchorage School District. "It is not appropriate for a third- or fourth-grader to be testing for three days in a row, six hours a day."

Some test booklets were missing pages. Teachers reported that reading passages in some sections were too long for younger kids.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, public schools are required to show annual progress on test scores. The tests are indeed longer because of federal law, said Les Morse, director of assessment and accountability for the Alaska Department of Education.

The old exams didn't test students on all Alaska standards, Morse said. Failing to test students on those standards could result in loss of federal funding, he said.

Students either pass or fail the new exams. There are no time limits. Students used to take this type of test, the Benchmark Exam, in grades three, six and eight. In grades four, five, seven and nine, they took a "norm-referenced" test, which compared a student's score against the average score of a national sample group of students.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau said she plans to contact state education officials for a meeting about the new exams. At least two Anchorage principals had to drive students home at 5:30 p.m. because that's how long it took the kids to finish tests, she said.

"That is outrageous," Comeau said. "Teachers are reporting kids are crying, upset and exhausted."

Native corporation to put up fence

FAIRBANKS - The Chitina Native Corp. plans to put up a chain-link fence to keep dipnetters from crossing private land this summer to get to the Copper River.

In a March 9 letter to the state Department of Natural Resources, the Native corporation said it will replace the concrete barriers it put up last year with a fence to keep dipnetters from crossing a small strip of its land to reach a popular boat launch and parking area.

The Native corporation has told the state it wants $200,000 to $300,000 in trespass fees for dipnetters to use O'Brien Creek for access. The fee would be similar but larger to one that dipnetters paid for 15 years before it was erased last year by the Alaska Legislature.

At this point, no deal is on the horizon.

"We're not giving up but we've got some pretty big challenges to make something work," said Wynn Menefee with the Department of Natural Resources in Anchorage. The Chitina Native Corp. turned down the state's offers to purchase the land or negotiate a land or easement swap, he said.

Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, who is leading the legislative charge to win access at O'Brien Creek, said paying $200,000 to $300,000 amounts to extortion.

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