Alaska News Nightly: July 20, 2007

Alaska residents weigh in on the federal proposal to list Cook Inlet beluga whales under the Endangered Species Act. Plus, a court order halts Shell Oil’s plans to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea this summer. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Edward Itta, Mayor of North Slope Borough - photo by Lori TownsendExploratory drilling in Beaufort sea temporarily blocked by federal court
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Late yesterday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals placed a temporary injunction against Shell Offshore’s plans for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort sea this summer in order to give plaintiffs a chance to present their arguments against it. The North Slope Borough and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission filed the suit, fearing the activity would disrupt whale migration during the fall hunt. North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta says after 30 years of fighting the concept of offshore development, he was pleasantly surprised by the decision. He says it’s important for North Slope residents to know their way of life will be protected. The Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments in the case on August 14, 2007.

  • Court Order (PDF)
  • Photo: Edward Itta, Mayor of the North Slope Borough in his Barrow office in June 2007; photo by Lori Townsend, APRN

NMFS takes public comment on listing beluga whales as endangered
Mike Mason, KBBI – Homer
The National Marine Fisheries Service is taking testimony this evening in Anchorage on a proposal to list Cook Inlet beluga whales under the federal Endangered Species Act. A similar public hearing was held last night in Homer.

Construction accident at Rock Creek mine takes two lives
Paul Korchin, KNOM – Nome
Two young men are dead following an industrial accident yesterday at the Rock Creek mine site, about 8 miles north of Nome. Tyler Kahle, a 19 year old from Wisconsin and Craig Bagley, a 27 year old from Anchorage died when a construction lift turned over, dropping the men some 50 feet.

Proposed tax in Fairbanks shot down by Assembly
Libby Casey and Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Fairbanks Borough Assembly voted down a proposed gross receipts tax last night. Ordinance co-sponsor Tim Beck says the tax failed to move forward following questions about how it would affect economic development. Despite more public testimony against it, the Assembly will continue to look at a sales tax. The sales tax is being considered as a way to lower the borough property tax rate. A voter-imposed revenue cap limits the amount of money the borough can collect through taxes, and City councilman Jerry Cleworth testified last night that adding a sales tax would not benefit the Borough as a whole. The assembly will take up the sales tax issue at its next meeting, August 7, 2007.

Advisory board prepping recommendations for Marine Highway schedule
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
The state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board plans to take its recommendations for changes in the Marine Highway schedule directly to the Governor. Following three hours of discussion at its meeting on Tuesday — mostly on issues related to the Southeast schedule — the board voted unanimously to explore funding options with the Governor’s office.

BLM (finally) issues land titles to Vietnam vets and a Native corporation
Jesse Zink, KNOM – Nome
At a ceremony in Nome this week, four Alaska Natives became some of the first Vietnam veterans in the state to receive Native land allotments. Plus, a regional corporation took one step closer to being the first in the state to have title to all its land.

MCI dropping calling card recharges for Alaskans
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
After September 4, 2007 people with MCI prepaid long distance phone cards will no longer be able to add minutes for calls out of Alaska. The telecommunications company marketing the calling cards says it can no longer afford to offer the card’s cheap rates out of Alaska.

Ultra Challenge racing field includes hard-core professionals
Libby Casey, KUAC – Fairbanks
In today’s stage of the Sadler’s Ultra Challenge handcycle and wheelchair race (between Fairbanks and Anchorage), South African Ernst Van Dyk tied for first place with Alejandro Albor of California. Oz Sanchez, also of California, was just two seconds back. Australian Paul Nunnari continues to dominate the wheelchair division. And leading the women is Sherry Shulz of Colorado.

While some of the racers in the Ultra Challenge are here for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, many of the competitors leading the pack are professional international athletes, complete with major sponsorships and endorsements.