EXPECT DELAYS – Lines of traffic move slowly down Sawmill Creek Road today as a repaving project progresses near the Indian River bridge. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Assembly Advances Sitka CARES Funds

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

The Assembly gave final approval Tuesday to budgets for $9.5 million in CARES Act funds to be distributed to Sitka businesses, nonprofits and other entities, to offset the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Assembly had previously approved spending up to $4.5 million for utility and moorage relief for citizens and businesses harmed by the pandemic. The deadline to apply for those grants is 4 p.m. Friday.

The $9.5 million authorized Tuesday is to be awarded in the following categories:

– Businesses and nonprofits, $5 million, based on gross revenues and other factors. Grants range from $2,500 to $10,000. City officials said they hope to post applications on the city website by August 1.

– New city-funded programs, $2.5 million, with $500,000 for childcare subsidies, $200,000 for food security, $300,000 for mental and behavioral health support, $750,000 for housing support; and $750,000 for transitional employment.

City Controller Melissa Haley said today that details are still in the works for the specific programs, but that staff has been working with various partners in town to develop the plans. She said the city is looking closely at initiatives already established in other communities.

“There’s definitely going to be fluid conversation with the Assembly as programs are developed,” Haley said. “We now know exactly what we have for each category so we can move forward.”

– City Impact and Mitigation: $1 million, including IT improvements, protection of employees and the public, and CARES spending consultation. City Administrator John Leach said among the ideas are hands-free faucets, sanitizer and masks for various city buildings. Assembly members talked about the possibility of using CARES Act funds to improve the ventilation in city and school buildings as a COVID prevention measure. The vote was 7-0 on the ordinance.

– Sitka School District, $430,000, for computer purchases and additional AmeriCorps volunteers to serve as tutors, counselors and mentors. The vote was 5-2, with Steven Eisenbeisz, Kevin Knox, Kevin Mosher, Thor Christianson and Mayor Gary Paxton voting in favor. Richard Wein and Valorie Nelson voted against.

Nelson and Wein said that in light of the CARES funding award to schools, they thought the school district should give back its half of the $458,071 of Secure Rural Schools money the city unexpectedly received recently. Wein said SRS is one of the few avenues the city has for funding roads, and the schools could have access to CARES funds.

‘Encouraging’ Mask/Covering

The Assembly approved a resolution encouraging the wearing of masks or face coverings in “public settings or communal spaces outside the home.”

The resolution states that it is unenforceable and it provides a number of exceptions.

The vote was 5-2 to approve the resolution, with Mayor Gary Paxton, Richard Wein, Kevin Knox, Thor Christianson and Steven Eisenbeisz voting in favor. Kevin Mosher and Valorie Nelson voted against.

The resolution is similar to the one turned down at the last Assembly meeting, but the new one doesn’t say it’s an “order.” Instead, people are “highly encouraged” to wear masks in places such as grocery stores, bars and restaurants. A number of exceptions apply.

Four speakers from the public opposed the resolution, for various reasons.

“I most strongly recommend you reject this resolution,” said Dr. David Lam, a physician with special training in public health. “While it is better than the last resolution ... it is still a very bad idea. The Assembly is not a medical body and with the exception of Dr. Wein you have no medical expertise on which to base this resolution. I strongly recommend you let people make up their own minds about this issue, based on their own knowledge and on discussions with their own healthcare providers. And quit trying to force or scare people into actions that you may like.”

Lam said articles in peer-reviewed journals don’t support wearing face masks in the community setting.

Others had their own reasons for opposing the resolution. They noted the unenforceability of the resolution and said it’s more appropriately left up to individuals.

The majority of Assembly members generally said they felt there was no harm in encouraging people to wear masks.

 Co-sponsor Christianson said masks are a tool to prevent the spread of COVID, as cases continue to rise in the U.S. and across Alaska. He said wearing masks is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the state and countries across the developed world.

“The mask is not primarily to protect the wearer, it’s to protect other people from you if you have it and don’t realize it,” Christianson said. “It is a tool and right now it’s the only one we have ... Nobody says it’s perfect.”

Nelson spoke against, saying she had a problem with the process used to get the item on the agenda, and with bringing basically the same items back that were turned down before.

Mosher was also against, saying he didn’t feel it would change behavior, and that it would create more divisiveness in the community among those with differing opinions.

Paxton commented that he does not wear a mask in restaurants and walking on the sea walk, but found that there was nothing wrong with the resolution.

“This is simply a resolution suggesting and recommending you wear a mask,” he said.

Other Business

Also at the meeting, the Assembly:

– heard a report from the new electric utility director, Scott Elder.

Scott Elder, Sitka’s new electric utility director, introduces himself to Assembly members and gives an overview of his plans for the department Tuesday night. (Sentinel Photo)

 

– reappointed Mary Ann Hall to the Local Emergency Planning Committee.

– presented a citation in recognition of Coast Guard Day, on August 4.

CITATION – Cmdr. Brian McLaughlin, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka, left, and Joshua Ewing, command master chief at the air station, show a proclamation after it was presented at Tuesday's Assembly meeting. The proclamation honoring the personnel of the U.S. Coast Guard notes Sitka's status as one of only 28 designated Coast Guard Cities in the U.S. and the upcoming Coast Guard Day on August 4. (Sentinel Photo)

– recognized Donna Callistini for her 10 years of service on the Local Emergency Planning Committee.

– approved marijuana license renewals for AKO Farms on Beardslee Way.

Other items on the agenda, including a boat haulout, grant applications and a forbearance agreement will be covered in a future edition of the Sentinel.

 

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August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:

 

On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

The single copy price is again 75 cents. The news racks do not require coins to open, but we ask that the 75 cents for a non-subscription single copy sale be paid with coins in the slot.

– The Sitka Sentinel Staff

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 8-7-20)

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 11:20 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 53

Total statewide – 3,536

Total (cumulative) deaths – 25

Active cases in Sitka – 20 (14 resident; 6 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 15 (11 resident; 4 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 141.

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

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

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20 YEARS AGO
August 2000

High prices for chum salmon, low pink returns, and record numbers of fish in Deep Inlet have turned the Sitka fishing grounds into Route 66 this summer. “Overall it’s been a fantastic season so far,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, operations manager for the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

50 YEARS AGO
August 1970

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Ireney, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, will head a gathering of Orthodox prelates from North American and abroad in ceremonies canonizing the first American Orthodox saints, Father Herman of Alaska. A group of Sitkans will fly to Kodiak for the event.

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