The Sitka Global Warming group marches in 2017. The Sitka Assembly recently established a Climate Action Task Force with the goal of reducing Sitka’s carbon footprint. (KCAW/Kwong)

Just over a decade ago, Sitka created a task force to take on the emerging problem of climate change. Although the task force was short-lived, its recommendations had a surprising impact on reducing carbon emissions. Now the Sitka Assembly would like to double-down on that success, and secure federal assistance to develop a renewable energy strategy for the long-term.

Last month, the Sitka Assembly created a climate task force, tasked with tackling Sitka’s carbon footprint. But it wasn’t the first time the assembly tried to tackle climate change. About a decade ago, a short-lived task force wrote a plan identifying actions the city could take to combat climate change at the local level.

When the assembly met on Tuesday (2-9-21), City Administrator John Leach said they’d recently revisited those goals. 

“When the first climate group was established, I think it was 2010, something we heard is they put this plan forward and nothing happened. And I want to provide you and the public with some numbers,” he said.

One of the goals in the 2010 plan was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions put off by the city’s vehicles and facilities by 25 percent by 2020, compared to baseline data gathered in 2003. Leach said an electric department staffer recently discovered that they exceeded the old task force’s goal by quite a bit. 

“Right now, on our own, by implementing our interruptible power program, our total reduction from municipal buildings and vehicles is 2407 tons of CO2. That equates to a 64 percent reduction.”

The city staffer had gathered the new data to bolster the city’s application to a program backed by the Department of Energy. The National Renewable Energy Lab partners with cities for over a year to develop community-driven plans around sustainable energy.

Leach and Utility Director Scott Elder were seeking the assembly’s approval to apply. Elder said if the city was accepted into the program, the Lab would provide experts to help develop a strategy around renewable energy at no cost beyond city staff time. Leach said there was considerable public support for the application, and most assembly members were on board. 

Member Valorie Nelson said she would approve it, as long as it didn’t come with any unanticipated costs.

“If staff comes back and says, ‘We need an extra body’ then I’ll be having second thoughts if I’m still sitting at this table,” she said. 

Member Thor Christianson hoped the program could save the city money in the long-run. 

“I don’t see how it can hurt us, really, by trying to better identify ways we can be more efficient,” he said. “Quite often the more ecologically sound decision is more efficient and saves us money in the long run.”

The assembly approved the application to the program. Utility Director Elder said they should hear back about whether they were accepted within a month.  

Assembly member questions veracity of vaccine claim

Days after an Alaska legislator from Eagle River was criticized for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine, a former Sitka Assembly member was cut off at a meeting while commenting on vaccine safety.

Dr. Richard Wein is a former Sitka Assembly member who also sits on the state medical board. When the Assembly met on Tuesday (02-10-21), during public comment on non-agenda items, Wein shared a recent figure about vaccine deaths 

“The CDC just recently published their vaccination problems and there have been 501 deaths related to the vaccine so far with the average age being 77,” he said.

That’s when assembly member Rebecca Himschoot cut in.
“Mr. Mayor? If I doubt the veracity of the comments being made do I bring that up or do we just continue?” Himschoot asked.

“I don’t know that we have a mechanism to do that unfortunately,” Mayor Eisenbeisz responded.

Wein ended his comments there. KCAW reached out to the state’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink to fact check the statement. Last week, she confirmed at a senate committee hearing that no vaccine-caused deaths had been reported in the United States or in Alaska.

“That is still the case as of today,” she said to KCAW on Wednesday. “I know that the CDC is doing on-going investigations, watching these numbers to see what’s happening in comparison to the baseline rate. But there are no cases to date, nationally or at the state, of deaths associated with the vaccine.”

The CDC does track the number of patients who receive the vaccine and later die. Zink said health care providers are required to report every reaction, complication or deaths to the federal government through the VAERS database, even if providers don’t think the deaths are related to the vaccine.   

“It’s a completely unverified database. It’s just a way to be able to provide input to the CDC and the FDA on what’s happening after vaccines are out. It’s one of a series of ways that the CDC and the FDA monitor vaccines after they have been out,” she said.

“For example, in the data that we see from these vaccines, if there was a person who was struck by lightning, it’s reported because it was something that happened to a person after they got vaccinated.

Zink said the CDC monitors the database and uses other tools to determine if the death rate is higher than it should be among vaccinated people, and they often investigate individual cases that are reported. And while people who have received the vaccine have also died, and those numbers are collected in the VAERS system, so far the CDC has not reported that any of those deaths were caused by the vaccine. Zink confirmed that, to date, two people in the state have had severe allergic reactions to the vaccine–both have since recovered.

In other business the Sitka Assembly:

  • Unanimously approved the list of legislative priorities for Fiscal Year 2022
  • Approved $30,000 in funding for potential sale expenses associated with the sale of Sitka Community Hospital. The group voted 6-1 with member Valorie Nelson opposed.
  • Unanimously approved funding for repairs to the Bulk Water Line at Gary Paxton Industrial Park and additional funding for a boom truck for the Electric Department.
  • Approved the minutes from the January assembly meetings.