Alaska News Nightly: July 19, 2007

Senator Murkowski defends her controversial land deal on the Kenai River. Plus, a new study shows melting of the world’s glaciers will have a bigger effect on sea level than previously thought. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Kenai land deal between friends puts Murkowski on defense
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, D.C. (read by Lori Townsend, APRN)
Senator Lisa Murkowski and her husband have come under fire from bloggers, talk radio and conventional news media for a Kenai River land purchase from real estate developer and political supporter Bob Penney. Late last year, Murkowski and her husband Vern Martell bought a 1.27 acre tract of land owned by Penney upriver from his home. They paid $179,400, based on the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s most recent assessment at the time. But soon after the sale, the land was re-assessed at almost $215,000. And according to the Anchorage Daily News, similar lots on the Kenai River go for tens of thousands of dollars over the assessed value. That’s led some critics to argue that Murkowski and Martell got a ‘sweetheart’ deal from a long-time friend and paid below-market value. Speaking to APRN today she defended the transaction.

Melting glaciers expected to feed faster, higher sea level rise
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The massive polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica contain the vast majority of frozen water on the planet. But a new study shows melting from the world’s glaciers and ice caps will be a bigger factor in sea level rise this century. The thinnest glaciers and tidewater glaciers will be most dramatically affected. We spoke with researcher Shad O’Neel about the paper’s conclusions and implications.

“Glaciers Dominate Eustatic Sea-Level Rise in the 21st Century”
Ice loss to the sea currently accounts for virtually all of sea-level rise not attributable to ocean warming; about 60% of the ice loss is from glaciers and ice caps rather than from the two ice sheets. The contribution of these smaller glaciers has accelerated over the last decade, in part due to dramatic thinning and retreat of marine-terminating glaciers associated with a dynamic instability generally not considered in mass balance/climate modeling. This acceleration of glacier melt may cause 0.1-0.25 m of additional sea-level rise by 2100. Full abstract here (paper available for a fee).

Legislators ask Governor’s team to collaborate in expanding children’s health insurance
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau (read by Lori Townsend, APRN)
The sponsors of House and Senate bills that would provide affordable health care coverage to all the state’s children have asked the Palin administration to work with them on the subject. The Governor’s Health Care Strategies Planning Council has set as its mission, “To develop strategies, including performance measures, to provide health care access to all Alaskans by 2014.” Anchorage Senator Bill Wielechowski says the Council and his pending legislation are pointing the same way.

McGrath fuel costs nearly double, gas now $7.15/gallon
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Low water levels on the upper Kuskokwim have made it impossible to barge fuel into McGrath this year. The region’s fuel delivery company — Crowley — has been flying in shipments instead. That’s sent the price of heating oil to $6.78 a gallon and unleaded gasoline to $7.15. Higher river levels in recent days have allowed Crowley to dispatch a barge. But there’s no guarantee it will make it, because the two lowest spots on the river have no gauges. Meanwhile McGrath is considering a biomass project to reduce costs.

New state law will develop alcohol shipping database alongside new transport rules
Angela Denning-Barns, KYUK – Bethel
A new state law is intended to help curb the bootlegging of alcohol in rural Alaska.

Exploratory mining begins in Kisaralik Lake area; DNR takes public comment
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) commissioner Tom Irwin was in Bethel earlier this week to hear public testimony about an exploratory mining permit the agency granted in Kisaralik Lake region. (Kisa Gold, mentioned in the story, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gold Crest Mines.)

Quote from a May 16, 2007 SEC filing by Gold Crest Mines, Inc.: “The Company intends to engage in exploration work on its Kisa group of claims in Alaska. The work program for the next 12 months includes airborne aeromagnetic and electromagnetic surveys, geologic mapping, soil, stream sediment and rock chip sampling, ground geophysical surveys and diamond drill testing of three prospects on Kisa claim group.”

Murkowski takes the helm of Senate’s Indian Affairs committee
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, D.C.
Lisa Murkowski made a little history when she was formally installed today as the ranking Republican and Vice Chair of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Indian Affairs. The post opened up after the recent death of Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas. Murkowski is also the first Alaskan to hold a leadership role on the Indian Affairs panel. Wearing an Alaska Native necklace, Murkowski said she looks forward to working in a non-partisan way on Native American issues. And she says she will depend on Native leaders to help find solutions for the range of complex issues facing Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities. She says completing an overhaul of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act tops her agenda.

Initiative to publicly fund state elections blocked, expected to resurface
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau (read by Lori Townsend, APRN)
The Lieutenant Governor today denied certification of a preliminary ballot initiative that would have enabled a system to pay for some state election campaigns. Ballot initiative sponsors anticipated the decision and are already on track with a substitute. The turned-down, original initiative would have provided funding for elections through a special tax on oil. The group supporting the initiative, Alaska Clean Elections, holds a fundraising and education meeting in Anchorage tonight.

Echo Cove area suffering off-road damage; Juneau to hold hearings
John Ryan, KTOO – Juneau
Juneau officials expect to hold public hearings next week to address tribal concerns about property destruction, alcohol consumption and gunfire around the Echo Cove boat ramp, about 40 miles north of Juneau.

Governor’s funding cuts slowing watershed documentation and cleanup in Southeast
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Watershed work in Yakutat, Haines and Skagway could slow due to one of Governor Sarah Palin’s vetoes. The governor’s office says it’s not a top priority.

World Eskimo-Indian Olympics: Day 2
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Athletes at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics competed in the stick pull today. In the men’s division Darrel Shavings from Nunuvut Island took first place and Sarah Keller won the women’s division. Mike Poulter made it 65 inches to win the greased pole walk and Nolowa Nusunqinya made it 80 inches to win the women’s division. Tonight’s events include the four man carry demonstration, Alaska high kick finals and a muktuk eating contest. Contestants get a one-inch square piece of muktuk and they must chew it — swallowing it whole will disqualify them. Dance groups will also be performing tonight and the Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics contestants will give impromptu speeches.