OPEN AIR CONCERT – From left, musicians Ross Venneberg, Brian Neal, Wade Demmert and Roger Schmidt perform an outdoor brass concert for residents of the Pioneers Home Monday. The professional musicians, who are hunkered down in Sitka, are regulars at the annual Holiday Brass Concert. The Pioneers Home has been closed to visitors during the pandemic. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Pebble Mine Opponents Say Feds Favor Project

ANCHORAGE (AP) — A federal agency announced a preferred transportation route for precious metals leaving a proposed mine, angering opposition groups who say the decision represents a significant change that needs public review.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made a preliminary determination that a “northern route” is the practical and least environmentally damaging option for the Pebble Mine, The Anchorage Daily News reported  Saturday.

The open-pit mine would be about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage, straddling salmon-producing headwaters of the Bristol Bay fishery.

A northern route carrying copper and gold concentrate would travel over land about 80 miles (129 kilometers) around the coast of Lake Iliamna.

The Corps is expected to release a final environmental review of the project, possibly next month, before determining whether it issues a permit, a permit with conditions or denies Pebble’s application, Corps spokesman John Budnik said.

The Corps’ preliminary preferred alternative is different from the original option submitted by project owner Pebble Limited Partnership. Pebble submitted plans in late 2017 calling for a southern route with an ice-breaking ferry across Lake Iliamna.

The northern route includes a pipeline for the metals and “dramatically reduces truck traffic,” Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said Friday.

“This is about Pebble pushing for a bigger mine under the guise of the smaller plan,” said Rachel James of conservation group SalmonState. “This is a con game, a giant bait and switch, and the Army Corps is in on the scam: analyze for one option and allow for another.”

The Bristol Bay Native Corp. said in a statement that the northern route could support a larger mine, which the organization views as an indication Pebble will seek extensions beyond the 20-year permit being pursued.

The regional Alaska Native corporation has said it will not make its lands available for the route.

“It is unacceptable for (Pebble) to make such a significant change in its plans after the completion of the preliminary final environmental impact statement,” said Dan Cheyette, the corporation’s vice president of lands.

“(The northern route) has not been vetted and scrutinized by both the public and cooperating agencies on the same level as other transportation routes,” he said in a statement.

Alannah Hurley of United Tribes of Bristol Bay said, “The decision is another attempt to streamline and do things behind closed doors, so the public can’t engage.”

 

 

Alaska Job Numbers Take Dive

By BECKY BOHRER
 
The Associated Press

JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska had 42,200 fewer jobs in April than a year earlier as coronavirus fears shut down or disrupted businesses at a time when many traditionally would start adding jobs for the summer, the state labor department reported Friday.

As restrictions ease, some of the jobs will return, but many seasonal jobs won’t happen this year, such as those serving the cruise ship industry, the report stated. 

Nearly 540 voyages to Alaska have been canceled, or 89% of expected sailings, according to Cruise Lines International Association Alaska. Streets that normally would be bustling with tourists in places like Juneau have been eerily quiet.

The upheaval was widespread, though the labor department said some sectors were hit harder. The leisure and hospitality industry, for example, saw its April job numbers cut nearly in half compared with April 2019. Retail had an estimated 5,000 fewer jobs, and construction, 1,800 fewer.

Health care had 3,600 fewer jobs, according to the report. The state earlier this month allowed elective procedures, which it had previously ordered delayed, to resume with additional protocols aimed at guarding against the virus. 

The only sector with more jobs than in April 2019 was the federal government, which had about 700 more because of Census hiring, the department reported.

Alaska’s April unemployment rate was 12.9%, compared with the national rate of 14.7%. It is the highest recorded rate for Alaska since reporting began in 1976, state labor department economist Karinne Wiebold said by email. The state’s rate in March was 5.2%, a low.

But she said comparing the virus-related shock to an oil-price related economic downturn “is like comparing apples and oranges.” The state hit an unemployment rate of 11.2% in 1986, which Wiebold said was the prior high and came during a oil-bust recession.

Dan Robinson, chief of research and analysis for the department, in a recent report cautioned against reading too much into Alaska’s unemployment rate. 

He said state and local rates are produced using models created by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that “struggle to capture short-term dramatic changes in the labor force, especially in small states with high seasonality like Alaska.” 

Job estimates and unemployment claims could be more helpful measurements in assessing the economy, he said.

Initial and continued unemployment claims, for the most recent reporting week, were sharply higher than a year ago.

Alaska has reported just over 400 cases of COVID-19, with 10 deaths. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

Travis Smith, who co-owns two restaurants in Juneau, said he left town in December for a brief sabbatical after coming off what he called his “best year ever” in business. From afar, he said he watched as things fell apart “in a matter of weeks.”

The state in March ordered restaurants closed for dine-in services; drive-up, delivery and drive-through options remained. Though the state in late April began letting restaurants resume dine-in service with limits on capacity, Smith said, from a business standpoint it didn’t make sense. 

Smith’s restaurant, The Rookery Cafe, has a long, narrow flow and “you do have to do so much business to make these things make sense,” he said. It recently opened for takeout service. 

As of Friday, businesses in Alaska were allowed to fully reopen. State guidance says businesses should help individuals with “personal mitigation strategies,” such as encouraging face coverings, regular cleaning and finding ways for customers to keep distance from each other. 

Collette Costa, co-owner and manager of the Gold Town Nickelodeon, said she has projects she wants to work on at her Juneau theater but also would be cautious about reopening. The theater has been doing drive-in screenings. 

She said she doesn’t know what the future will hold for her industry.

“I just know that I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to get anyone sick,” she said.

 

Alaska PFD Checks To Be Mailed in July

By BECKY BOHRER
 
The Associated Press

JUNEAU (AP) — Checks from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund will begin going out to residents three months early, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said, citing economic hardships caused by the coronavirus.

He called these “extraordinary times.”

“We need to make sure that people of Alaska have cash in their hands to help with this economy,” Dunleavy, a Republican, said Wednesday evening.

This year’s check is expected to be about $1,000 and Dunleavy’s office said the Permanent Fund Dividend Division, which determines annual eligibility for the checks, has received more than 670,000 applications. 

The division estimates nearly 600,000 people will receive payment on July 1. Payments will be made later for others as their eligibility is confirmed.

Residents must meet residency requirements to qualify for the checks, which typically start going out in the fall. Traditionally, dividends have been paid with earnings from the oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. This year’s payout is being paid in part from a state savings account.

State Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, an Anchorage Democrat, urged Dunleavy to move up the payment distribution before the announcement was made and said the outcome left him “pleased, because I think it’s necessary.”

Dunleavy’s announcement came as the state prepares to further reopen parts of its economy that were shut down or restricted due to coronavirus concerns. In moving to allow businesses to open to full capacity starting Friday, Dunleavy cited low case numbers and said restrictions had bought time to build up the state’s health care capacity. 

The state is encouraging people to continue taking precautions, such as maintaining distance from each other, wearing face coverings in public areas where maintaining distance is difficult and frequently washing their hands. 

“We’re as prepared as we’re ever going to be,” Dunleavy said in an interview Thursday. He said he expects numbers will rise because there is no vaccine. He said the state will respond if there is a spike or cluster of cases.

Alaska has reported just over 400 cases, with 10 deaths. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

Dunleavy said he is concerned “the economy with every day that goes by with less economic activity takes a hit that’s going to be difficult and take a long time to recover from.”

“We have to instill confidence in people that we can manage this thing and part of managing that is encouraging them to get back towards - towards - normal,” he added.

Begich has urged people to proceed cautiously as reopening continues. By July 1, “you can imagine that if indeed our health situation is better, there’d be an inclination for people to go and spend that money,” he said. 

Moratoria on evictions for nonpayment of rent, foreclosures or repossession of vehicles for people facing financial hardships related to the virus also are due to expire June 30.

The state’s initial unemployment claims were 7,741 for the most recent reporting week, according to the labor department. That compares to 819 for the same period in 2019. Initial claims reached a high of 14,590 earlier in the pandemic.

Federal figures are somewhat higher for the most recent week but previously have been revised to match the state’s numbers.

There were 50,049 continued unemployment claims, state labor department figures show. Lennon Weller, actuary for Alaska’s unemployment system, said that category generally reflects how many people were determined eligible and filing for benefits. It is 43,188 more than during the same period a year ago. 

 

 

______________________

 

Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-7-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:15 p.m. Tuesday.

New cases as of Sunday: 19

Total statewide – 1,184

Total (cumulative) deaths – 17

Active cases in Sitka – 8 (3 resident; 5 non-resident)

Recovered cases in Sitka – 12 (10 resident; 2 non-resident)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 78.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

______________________

 

Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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