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The LegHead Report

LegHead (ledj-hed) Report
weekdays at 12:20 p.m.

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Sep 01 2015
City Government to Move Forward on Near Island Quarry and Take Public Input
Tuesday, 01 September 2015
Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The Kodiak Island Borough has granted the city a conditional use permit to continue a quarry construction on Near Island that began in 2009. The city applied for the permit after realizing it had been digging into the conservation zoning district, which requires special permission for certain land uses. Attorney Jill Wittenbrader is one of the people who spoke up at the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing several weeks ago.

“The borough code sets out certain parameters that a conditional use permit must fall into and so the conditional use permit is supposed to be granted if it’s consistent with the nature and character of the surrounding land for instance, and I set forth my testimony at that hearing that I did not think it was consistent with the nature and character of the surrounding land.”

Development on the area has gained a lot of attention especially due to the trail near its boundaries. Wittenbrader says while the public uses Near Island for recreation, the area is not reserved for that purpose, which she says is something city representatives have stressed in meetings with her.

“There is no park land designation, really, through the borough, so when you go to North End Park, or you go to Rotary Park or you go to South End Park, we think of them as parks, and sometimes there’s even signs there saying they’re parks, but there’s nothing even formally designating them as parks beyond maybe a resolution or something.”

Wittenbrader says some of her concerns are about safety.

“I think the city’s looking at a real liability if somebody gets hurt. There’s blasting going out there without signage, without fences posted. There’s cliffs that people could fall off of. I mean, it’s really a dangerous situation,” she says. “I don’t want to advocate that the recreational use be limited, but I think it’s a little bit of a cowboy operation going on.”

Wittenbrader says the P & Z Commission put certain conditions in place, including installing signs and a fence, and restoring some of the vegetation surrounding the site. She says she’s met with various local government representatives and they agree that Near Island’s natural attractions and its harbor uses are important.

And she says they’re listening to the public.

“Many people were concerned. I feel like the Planning and Zoning Commission got that message. I’ve given public comment to the city council. I feel like the city council really gets the message. In the response that I received from them, I felt like they are really concerned about the situation that’s going on and how it’s kinda come about. They say that they’re interested in basically doing the right thing and making it right, and I just hope that there’s follow through on that.”

She says she met with the city manager and mayor about a week ago.

“They stated that this firm is coming down to take public input and public comment and review the plan for Near Island, so that is expected to be occurring this fall, so I would encourage people to submit written or public comments when that opportunity arises.”

The city council’s next work session is scheduled for September 9 and its next regular session for September 10.                    
Sep 01 2015
Talk of the Rock: Twin Creeks Fire
Tuesday, 01 September 2015
Host Kayla Desroches talks about the fire in Chiniak with Jim Schwarber, Alaska Division of Forestry fire information officer, Aimée Kniaziowski, Kodiak emergency services director, and Kathryn Hollis-Buchanan, who's with the Kodiak office of the Red Cross. They update listeners on the Twin Creeks fire, examine the information they now have about the night it started, and think about how to prepare for future emergencies.

3.74 MB | Download MP3 | Open in popup

Sep 01 2015
'Hazard Trees' Pose Danger as Chiniak Fire Mop Up Continues
Tuesday, 01 September 2015
Jay Barrett/KMXT
The State Division of Forestry is declaring 20 percent of the Twin Creeks Fire in Chiniak is now contained.

Current fire activity is limited to smoldering in areas of heavier fuels and there was no change in the size of the fire overnight. Firefighters are securing the fire line closest to homes on its northern flank, and are making steady progress extending additional containment lines at least 100 feet inside the fire's perimeter. The goal is to mop up 300 feet inside all around the fire. 

A challenge for the firefighters securing the perimeter, according to fire information officer Jim Schwarber, is the presence of large fire-damaged trees. 

"When a fire burns through a timber stand it weakens the roots, and those trees will turn into what we call 'hazard trees.' But they will fall down very easily with not necessarily even a strong wind, and that's very dangerous,” Schwarber said. “Our fire crews that are securing that line, up to 300 feet wide around the perimeter, for their safety, some of these hazard trees we're cutting ourselves with the professional fellers we have out there."

There are now about 90 firefighters working the blaze, including the Hooper Bay, Upper Kalskag and the Yukon Type II Initial Attack crew, which arrived on the ferry Sunday night. A Type 3 Incident Management Team from the Alaska Division of Forestry is in place, as well.

The Twin Creeks Fire, known locally as the Chiniak Fire, started last Thursday evening, possibly caused by a downed powerline during a wind storm with gusts to 65 mph. Overnight and the next day strong winds quickly spread the fire through 5,000 acres of grass, timber and logging slash on Leisnoi, Inc. lands. The Chiniak Library, at least one home, and a cabin were destroyed by the fire. 
Aug 31 2015
Assembly and Council Jointly Sign Trawl Bycatch Management Letter
Monday, 31 August 2015
Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A letter the Kodiak City Council recently approved to provide input on the Environmental Impact Statement for Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management has also gained the stamp of approval from the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly.

At a special meeting last Thursday night, fisheries analyst Heather McCarty helped explain the document, which addresses concerns about overconsolidation and regionalization and suggests an idea for a community cooperative.

“All of this right now is just for analysis,” said McCarty. “The council process is so lengthy and they go through several iterations of analysis of every one of these elements of the potential program and what this letter is suggesting is just that these elements are considered for analysis.”

The assembly agreed to sign the letter jointly with the council.

At the work session following the meeting, the assembly also reviewed the standard evaluation procedures for the positions of borough manager and clerk and discussed updating the job descriptions for both. Assemblywoman Rebecca Skinner pointed out why that is a necessary step.

“One of the problems we saw is that what the manager and the clerk actually do is not fully captured in the job descriptions, so in some cases, they do more stuff that is not in the job description. In other cases, there’s things in the job description that everyone acknowledges they don’t actually do. And I almost have a bigger problem with that, because those are the things that fall through the cracks.”

The assembly decided that a smaller group of assemblymembers would review the evaluation criteria in the near future. The assembly also discussed the borough manager’s hiring authority and manager Bud Cassidy asked for the power to grant a higher salary than currently allowed.

“You’ve seen that we’ve not been able to hire anyone at a step C,” said Cassidy. “We’re dealing with a potential fire chief who is maybe even off the scale, so we know it’s not working. It’s a broken system being able to just hire to a step C. I will tell you to this day and age of just hiring employees, we’re not getting many applicants, and the ones that we are getting are not – and will not – accept a job at a C.”

Assemblyman Dan Rohrer suggested comparing the borough’s situation to other governing bodies.

“I guess my big question would be, is it a Kodiak issue, or is the city and the school district -  are they being able to find key positions and get them filled? Because they have some of those same – especially the city – have some very specially oriented jobs with their waste-water treatment plant and their water plant and things of that nature. I would be curious to see if they struggle with those same problems.”

The assembly decided the topic deserves further discussion. Its next regular meeting is scheduled for September 3 and its next work session for September 10.
Aug 31 2015
Homes Protected as Containment Continues on Chiniak Fire
Monday, 31 August 2015
Jay Barrett/KMXT
The State Division of Forestry says homes on the north flank of the Twin Creeks Fire – the official name of the Chiniak blaze – have safe, defensible space around them, after four days of work by an ever-growing crew of firefighters.

They have completed a half mile of that northern fire line nearest the residences there in Chiniak, so that area, at this time, we're confident in saying those structures are no longer threatened by the fire,” said Jim Schwarber, a fire information officer with the Alaska Division of Forestry

Despite gusty winds returning on Sunday, Schwarber said they did not cause any new flare ups.

“Current weather has kept fire activity minimal compared to when things started Thursday night on this fire. The fire growth was minimal yesterday. We do have 10 percent containment of the 5,300-acre or so fire at this point in time,” Schwarber said. “We are working toward 100 percent containment. That is the objective on this fire. We're working to make sure this fire will no longer threaten any of the communities there in Kodiak Island.”

To help contain and mop up the numerous hotspots, Schwarber said more crews arrived all weekend.

“On the ferry last night we had hotshot crew came in. The Yukon Type II initial attack crew came in. That was an important resource we were competing with other fires in the Mat-Su for, and we're glad to get them here. I think they're the third or fourth 20-person crew to show up and we have a Type III management organization in place,” he said. “If we need additional resources we'll be asking for them, but right now, we're in position to make good steady progress on this fire.”

The forecast is calling for gusty, though steadily decreasing, winds through tonight, becoming light and variable tomorrow. Rain returns to the forecast late Wednesday.

With the state division of forestry on-scene and in control of the firefighting efforts, the joint city-borough emergency operations center has been shut down.

One family's home, not three as was reported Friday, was lost to the flames. There is a community effort online over the weekend to find the family a trailer to live in, as they were reportedly staying on their property in a tent. The community's small library was also destroyed.

Residents of Chiniak were allowed back to their property Friday afternoon, but Schwarber cautions residents and visitors that trees with roots weakened by the flames could fall down with little or no notice. 
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