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PUBLISHED: 6:35 PM on Wednesday, January 2, 2008
In a year
What a year for Southeast Alaska. A cruise ship runs aground. The state ferry system hits more problems. Fires and plane crashes end in tragedy. Alaska founding pioneer and lifelong Juneauite Tom Stewart dies. "...A father of our constitution, a father of our justice system, including a judicial selection process admired around the nation and world; and a father of so many chapters in our state's young history," wrote Alaska Chief Justice Dana Fabe, in a prepared statement after Stewart's death. Gas pipeline legislation is passed. And locals worry about the erosion of high-paying jobs. Here are details of a few of the stories that made headlines in 2007.

Big snow

Juneau broke snow records during the 2006-2007 winter. About 200 inches of the white stuff fell last winter. That beat the capital city's snowiest season on record. During the winter of 1964-65, 194.1 inches were recorded.

For many Southeast communities, November 2006, broke records for snow and cold. Elfin Cove recorded 81.5 inches of snow that month. Gustavus, Hoonah, Petersburg, Wrangell and Craig also broke snow records that month.


Courtesy photo
  Alana Ballam-Schwan of Ragdoll Boutique, left, chats with Jason Clifton, middle, and Jeremy Bauer, right, of Bauer/ Clifton Interiors at the Island Pub on Feb. 15, 2007, during Knowledge Industry Network's monthly networking event, which is aimed to connect young professionals.
Meanwhile Haines was the region's coldest area last November with an average temperature of 15 degrees Farenheit, 16 degrees below average, according to the National Weather Service.

The battle to retain brainpower

When talented scientists departed London in the 1950s for Canada and the United States, the Royal Society of London called the phenomenon "brain drain." Today it happens worldwide when homelands fail to provide opportunities, or present hurdles to the pursuit of happiness and smart, talented people leave for other areas.

People are departing Southeast Alaska because the region lacks interesting, well-paid jobs. Between 2003 and 2004 all areas of Southeast Alaska lost population, according to a 2007 report by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Juneau fared somewhat better than the rest of the panhandle with its economy based on government and its role as a regional transportation and service hub. In general, the research institute blames the problem on the decline of resource-based industries. The commercial fishing industry remains flat and the amount of fish processing done in the area has fallen thanks to high costs and lower prices for fish.

Regional planners put hopes in tourism as one way to retain the region's best and brightest. The number of cruise ship visitors stopping at major Southeast ports has doubled since 1990. Unfortunately, a precise measure of tourism's impact on Southeast Alaska is yet to be performed because the large cruise ship corporations have been unwilling to provide information detailing the ways the industry affects specific Southeast cities and villages, according to ISER.


Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Former Juneau-Douglas High School student Joseph Frederick, who sparked the first significant decision on student free speech in a decade, walked in the 2007 Fourth of July parade in Juneau, where he passed out copies of the Bill of Rights.
Government jobs march North

In 1900, Juneau became the seat of government for the Alaska Territory. When the territory became the 49th state in 1959, Juneau held the statehood ceremonies.

Today, state government remains the largest employer in the capital city. How long that will be the case remains an open question.

Legislators have been trying since Alaska became a state to move the seat of government. To persuade voters it should be done, they've pointed to other examples across the nation. One of Abraham Lincoln's triumphs as an Illinois lawmaker was to move that state's capital from Vandalia to Springfield. In general political leaders have moved state capitals to put the seat of government closer to population or geographic centers.

In at least two cases, however, the central government has been shifted out of a region believed too powerful.

In Alaska the first ballot initiative to reposition the star on the map was put before voters in 1960. Since then measures have come up in the legislature every few years.

It's possible that Alaskans will never again vote to relocate the star on the map. A capital move would cost a bundle and the state has other expensive priorities, such as building a natural gas pipeline, funding schools, roads and bridges.

They may not have to thanks to a trend known as capital creep. Jobs are leaving Juneau for Anchorage. Today a majority of state commissioners live in the Anchorage area. People who want to take high-level government jobs don't have to relocate to Juneau, but they may have to move from Juneau and other parts of Alaska to Anchorage.

Over the past two decades, the number of workers employed by the state in the Anchorage region jumped by 38 percent, according to Department of Labor figures. In Juneau, the numbers over the same period were flat.

For much of the last year the Governor's Mansion in Juneau stood empty as Governor Sarah Palin conducted official business in Anchorage and other parts of the state. In an historic move, the governor scheduled Alaska's first special legislative session outside of Juneau last summer. Special sessions are expected to increase.

The governor has talked about holding them around the state. Each one would have a different venue far away from Juneau, which prides itself on being Alaska's capital city.

No place like home

In 2007 in Juneau, the number of homes for sale increased, and average home prices dropped. A Juneau Economic Development Council report released over the summer warned of the steep increase in residential real estate inventories for sale.

Even so, many still can't afford homes, observes Daniel Ungier, a member of the city and borough of Juneau's Affordable Housing Commission.

Juneau rents are the most expensive in Alaska, according to state figures. The average price for a two-bedroom apartment is one thousand eighty dollars a month. About half of Juneau's renters put more than a third of their salary towards rent.

Juneau's Affordable Housing Commission was created about a year ago to figure out ways to boost the city's stock of inexpensive homes and the number of rental units.

Affordable housing is more than a Juneau problem. In Hoonah, tribal officials say there are few homes on the market--to rent or buy. When units are advertised for rent, they're quickly snapped up. Homes on the market for sale are being purchased by out-of-towners. In Sitka, local officials have also been focusing on ways to spur affordable housing construction including hiring an affordable housing expert from California.

Trying to dig for gold

In late October, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Idaho-based mining company's plan for gold tailings disposal at its Kensington Mine outside of Juneau.

The case had originated with a suit by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Sierra Club Juneau group opposing a discharge permit by federal and state agencies which allowed Coeur d'Alene to use Lower Slate Lake for tailings disposal for the Kensington project.

In a prepared statement following the autumn ruling the company said it is "continuing its discussions with the plaintiffs to explore options for the Kensington Mine to begin production as well as reviewing a possible appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States."

Meanwhile, the Coeur has announced a new tailings plan, but other project details are yet to be worked out.

Located 45 air miles northwest of Juneau, Kensington is expected to yield 150,000 ounces of gold annually at an estimated cash cost of $310 per year ounce. That is over a mine life of up to 15 years.

Quiet outside the classroom

In a 5-to-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court justices further limited the right of students to speak freely in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, originating in Juneau.

The case began in the capital city in 2002 as the Olympic torch passed through on its way to Salt Lake City. That's when Juneau-Douglas High School student Joseph Frederick and a couple of friends stood across the street from school and unfurled a banner that read Bong Hits 4 Jesus. In the glare of TV cameras, the school principal told Frederick to remove the banner. He said no and was suspended. He then sued the principal and the school district for violation of free speech rights. Frederick won in lower federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court took the case on appeal. In June in the first significant decision on student free speech in a decade, it ruled against Frederick, who now, by the way, is an English teacher in China.

Corruption probe and a cold swim

A federal investigation that started with the raid of a half dozen lawmakers' offices in Juneau and Anchorage a year and a half ago continues to shine a spotlight on a former Southeast legislator. In August 2006, federal agents searched offices of Anchorage Senators Ben Stevens and John Cowdery and Nome Senator Donny Olson as were workplaces of Republican represenatives Pete Kott, Eagle River, Vic Kohring, Wasilla, and Bruce Weyrauch of Juneau.

Since then a few lawmakers have resigned; two have been convicted on bribery charges. Weyrauch was also indicted, but he awaits an appeals ruling which could delay his trial until 2009.

It's been a tough year for Weyrauch. In April he went missing after dropping off his son at their waterfront Juneau home. He told Alaska State Troopers he was in his boat headed for a nearby harbor when along the way he slipped and fell into Auke Bay's chilly waters. He swam for an hour to reach Coghlan Island where he spent the night. The U.S. Coast Guard and a squadron of volunteers searched the water and land for the former lawmaker. A Seadogs search and rescue volunteers about 17 hours after he disappeared.

what better than the rest of the panhandle with its economy based on government and its role as a regional transportation and service hub. In general, the research institute blames the problem on the decline of resource-based industries. The commercial fishing industry remains flat and the amount of fish processing done in the area has fallen thanks to high costs and lower prices for fish.

Regional planners put hopes in tourism as one way to retain the region's best and brightest. The number of cruise ship visitors stopping at major Southeast ports has doubled since 1990. Unfortunately, a precise measure of tourism's impact on Southeast Alaska is yet to be performed because the large cruise ship corporations have been unwilling to provide information detailing the ways the industry affects specific Southeast cities and villages, according to ISER.

Government jobs march North

In 1900, Juneau became the seat of government for the Alaska Territory. When the territory became the 49th state in 1959, Juneau held the statehood ceremonies.

Today, state government remains the largest employer in the capital city. How long that will be the case remains an open question.

Legislators have been trying since Alaska became a state to move the seat of government. To persuade voters it should be done, they've pointed to other examples across the nation. One of Abraham Lincoln's triumphs as an Illinois lawmaker was to move that state's capital from Vandalia to Springfield. In general political leaders have moved state capitals to put the seat of government closer to population or geographic centers.

In at least two cases, however, the central government has been shifted out of a region believed too powerful.

In Alaska the first ballot initiative to reposition the star on the map was put before voters in 1960. Since then measures have come up in the legislature every few years.

It's possible that Alaskans will never again vote to relocate the star on the map. A capital move would cost a bundle and the state has other expensive priorities, such as building a natural gas pipeline, funding schools, roads and bridges.

They may not have to thanks to a trend known as capital creep. Jobs are leaving Juneau for Anchorage. Today a majority of state commissioners live in the Anchorage area. People who want to take high-level government jobs don't have to relocate to Juneau, but they may have to move from Juneau and other parts of Alaska to Anchorage.

Over the past two decades, the number of workers employed by the state in the Anchorage region jumped by 38 percent, according to Department of Labor figures. In Juneau, the numbers over the same period were flat.

For much of the last year the Governor's Mansion in Juneau stood empty as Governor Sarah Palin conducted official business in Anchorage and other parts of the state. In an historic move, the governor scheduled Alaska's first special legislative session outside of Juneau last summer. Special sessions are expected to increase.

The governor has talked about holding them around the state. Each one would have a different venue far away from Juneau, which prides itself on being Alaska's capital city.

No place like home

In 2007 in Juneau, the number of homes for sale increased, and average home prices dropped. A Juneau Economic Development Council report released over the summer warned of the steep increase in residential real estate inventories for sale.

Even so, many still can't afford homes, observes Daniel Ungier, a member of the city and borough of Juneau's Affordable Housing Commission.

Juneau rents are the most expensive in Alaska, according to state figures. The average price for a two-bedroom apartment is one thousand eighty dollars a month. About half of Juneau's renters put more than a third of their salary towards rent.

Juneau's Affordable Housing Commission was created about a year ago to figure out ways to boost the city's stock of inexpensive homes and the number of rental units.

Affordable housing is more than a Juneau problem. In Hoonah, tribal officials say there are few homes on the market--to rent or buy. When units are advertised for rent, they're quickly snapped up. Homes on the market for sale are being purchased by out-of-towners. In Sitka, local officials have also been focusing on ways to spur affordable housing construction including hiring an affordable housing expert from California.

Trying to dig for gold

In late October, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Idaho-based mining company's plan for gold tailings disposal at its Kensington Mine outside of Juneau.

The case had originated with a suit by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Sierra Club Juneau group opposing a discharge permit by federal and state agencies which allowed Coeur d'Alene to use Lower Slate Lake for tailings disposal for the Kensington project.

In a prepared statement following the autumn ruling the company said it is "continuing its discussions with the plaintiffs to explore options for the Kensington Mine to begin production as well as reviewing a possible appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States."

Meanwhile, the Coeur has announced a new tailings plan, but other project details are yet to be worked out.

Located 45 air miles northwest of Juneau, Kensington is expected to yield 150,000 ounces of gold annually at an estimated cash cost of $310 per year ounce. That is over a mine life of up to 15 years.


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