Alaska News Nightly: July 30, 2007

Federal agents with the FBI and the IRS are searching Senator Stevens’ Girdwood home. Plus, residents of Coffman Cove hope a new school will help revitalize the struggling community. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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FBI and IRS search Ted Stevens’ Girdwood home
The Associated Press and David Shurtleff, APRN – Anchorage
Agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service are searching the Girdwood home of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. The search was confirmed this afternoon by Dave Heller, FBI assistant special agent in charge of the Alaska office.

Heller says he can’t comment on the nature of the investigation. Federal investigators previously confirmed they were reviewing a renovation project at his home that more than doubled its size.

The remodeling of Stevens’ home in 2000 was overseen by VECO Executive Bill Allen, who has pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state legislators. Stevens has only commented once on the investigation while speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago.

Today, Stevens’ communications director Aaron Saunders replied to e-mailed questions with a written statement from Senator Stevens. Stevens reiterated that he will not comment on the investigation to avoid the perception that he may be trying to influence it. His statement today urged Alaskans not to draw conclusions until the investigation is complete.

Democrat Jake Metcalfe announces his run for U.S. House
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, D.C. and Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
There’s another challenger taking aim at Congressman Don Young in next year’s elections. Jake Metcalfe has stepped aside as chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party to become a candidate. He joins Diane Benson, who won a surprising percentage of votes in an under-funded run at Young in last year’s elections. Metcalfe served two terms on the Anchorage School Board.

In the early 90s, while working as the Bethel District Attorney, he was elected to a two-year term on the Bethel City Council. Metcalfe believes he has the right qualities to represent working people, veterans and other Alaskans in the U.S. House.

Things appear to have happened fast. Just last Thursday, Metcalfe joined other state Democratic party leaders to unveil a website aimed at dumping Don Young because of the criminal investigation he’s under and other questions raised about his ethics. But by Saturday, Metcalfe told party staffers he was leaving to run for Young’s seat and was ready to launch a campaign website.

Another potential Democratic challenger, former state House minority leader Ethan Berkowitz, is planning to decide by late summer or early fall whether to run. He says Metcalfe’s move is not affecting that timetable but he questions whether Metcalfe’s switch from party chairman to congressional candidate is wise.

For his part, Jake Metcalfe believes the Democratic Party is in good shape as he steps away to focus on his congressional bid.

Metcalfe and Berkowitz also seem to have a different philosophy about selecting a candidate to vie for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat. Berkowitz believes Democrats should pick and rally behind the strongest candidate. Metcalfe welcomes a primary contest.

And Metcalfe admits it’s possible other good Democrats might jump in the race. Metcalfe is in Washington, D.C. to attend a conference held by his employer, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). But his run for Congress presents a quandary because there has been some consideration of trying to set up a union-related meeting with Congressman Young tomorrow.

Metcalfe also hopes to meet with key House Democrats to talk about this campaign. Diane Benson, who got 40% of the vote in her run against Young in last year’s general election, has already filed for next year’s campaign. She did not return calls placed to her campaign office today.

Fire in Yukon Flats village of Beaver takes out power plant
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

State agencies are helping the village of Beaver following a fire that destroyed the community’s power plant. The State’s Emergency Communications Center at Ft. Richardson was activated yesterday due to concerns that the flames would spread to the fuel tank farm, and threaten the rest of the Yukon Flats village. Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management program manager Bob Stewart says the Alaska Fire Service flew smoke jumpers to the village, but residents were able to control the fire themselves using heavy equipment.

Stewart says an Alaska State Trooper flew into Beaver yesterday to monitor the situation and communicate with the State’s Emergency Operation Center via satellite telephone. The fire knocked out all electricity in the village of 72 people. Communications maintenance provider United Utilities flew in a portable generator yesterday to charge batteries for essential telephone equipment. And Stewart says a state emergency response staff member is also headed to the village this afternoon to asses local needs, including the drinking water and food supply. There is concern the village may have exhausted a large portion of its potable water to fight the fire.

The State Fire Marshall’s Office is investigating the cause of the fire. The powerhouse was undergoing work yesterday when the blaze broke out.

‘Nordic Viking’ salvaged; Prince William Sound under observation for fuel impacts
Casey Kelly, KMXT – Kodiak
The 127-foot fishing vessel Nordic Viking was salvaged off the rocks this weekend near Port Gravina in Prince William Sound. The boat ran aground July 21, spilling about 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel into the ocean.

Coffman Cove planning for new school in 2008 after waiting 18 years for funding
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
A small Southeast Alaska community is on track to get a new school. Coffman Cove, on Prince of Wales Island, won legislative funding this year to replace its aging educational facility. Community members say it’s badly needed and will help keep families in town.

School activist Lynn Bateman explains a school display of designs and drawings of the new Coffman Cove schoolSchool advocate Lynn Bateman stands on the ramp up to one of Coffman Cove's school buildingsOne of the modular buildings that make up Coffman Cove's Howard Valentine School
Photos courtesy Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska (hover over the photos for a caption; click for a larger photo)

bushby.jpgKarl Bushby heading to Siberia in August — to walk home to the U.K.
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
World walker Karl Bushby is back in Fairbanks. The Englishman who’s been making his way around the planet since 1998 — and crossed the Bering Strait in 2006 — has been regrouping in Fairbanks due to permit issues in Russia.

Bushby and traveling partner Dimitry Kieffer of Seattle walked 400 miles into Siberia this past spring before finding out what they thought was a six month permit was only good for two months. Bushby says that forced him to return to the U.S. where he’s been sorting out the situation and trying to raise money in anticipation of the next segment of his journey.

Bushby plans to return to Siberia in early August to resume his walk where he left off. Busby and Kieffer have parted ways as Kieffer continues his own journey by bicycle and Bushby keeps walking. Fairbanks has become a second home of sorts for Bushby, where friends have aided him in organizing his travels across Alaska and Siberia. He says he’ll likely be back in town again for a couple months this fall to renew his visa before heading out on Siberia’s Kolyma River next winter.

Bushby figures he still has five years and 16,000 miles to make it home to London. He’s trying to become the first person to travel from the Southern tip of South America to England on foot.

Juneau to get another ‘dumb, cheap and ugly’ parking garage?
Weld Royal, KTOO – Juneau
Telephone Hill in downtown Juneau could become the site of yet another big public debate. The city is planning a new parking garage and transit center that would hug the Hill. It’s reminding some residents of the controversy 20 years ago over the Marine Park Parking Garage.