Alaska News Nightly: August 14, 2007

The state is paying out almost $2 million to educators in the first year of its performance incentive program. Plus, staff at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward are working to rehabilitate their first northern fur seal. The animals aren’t usually found in Southcentral Alaska. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Shell’s plan to drill in Arctic coastal waters under legal review
David Shurtleff, APRN – Anchorage
A plan that would allow Shell Oil to explore for gas and oil in the Beaufort Sea was before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this afternoon, but the judges did not reach a decision. Back in July, the Court issued a temporary injunction to stop the drilling plan after several conservation groups, as well as the North Slope Borough and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, filed a joint lawsuit. They claim Shell’s exploration plan violates the National Environmental Protection Act because the company was granted the permit without conducting an environmental impact statement.

Don Young’s picnic draws protestors, supporters and the hungry
David Shurtleff, APRN – Anchorage
Close to 75 protestors showed up at Congressman Don Young’s public “salmon bake” in Anchorage last night, turning portions of the otherwise peaceful picnic in to an hour-long screaming match.

Photos by David Shurtleff, APRN

New mapping project focused on polar sea floor north of Alaska
Duncan Moon, APRN – Anchorage
A team of researchers departs Barrow later this week on a scientific mission to map an area of the Arctic sea floor called the Chukchi Cap. The scientists will do their work aboard the icebreaking Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Larry Mayer, Director of the Center of Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire, will be the lead scientist on board. He says the program is focused on mapping the margins of U.S. waters.

Alaska paying nearly $2 million to teachers and staff for improved test scores
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
The state of Alaska will pay out more than $1.8 million to Alaska teachers and staff in the first year of a statewide incentive program designed to increase student achievement. In a news conference this morning, Education Commissioner Roger Sampson said 770 teachers and support staff in 42 schools will share in the payments for their work in improving student scores on standardized tests. Ninety-five percent of each school’s students had to take the standardized tests in reading, writing and math in order to qualify for the incentive. Schools receiving incentives were generally distributed between urban and rural — 19 in urban and small-town districts and 23 in rural and remote areas with a high Native student population.

Alaska deploying vocational tests to assess student workforce readiness
Steve Brown, KSTK – Wrangell
Alaska’s departments of Labor and Education are collaborating on a new vocational program that would track students’ career readiness beginning as early as the sixth grade.

Polar bear pops up 200 miles inland from Arctic Ocean
Chris Harbord, CBC – Whitehorse
It wasn’t your usual grizzly bear sighting for residents of Fort McPherson, on the Dempster Highway, late last week. This white-coated visitor had traveled almost 200 miles into town from the Arctic Ocean. When it arrived, the big, burly polar bear became an instant celebrity — and the snapshot of a lifetime for some lucky tourists.

Northern fur seal turns up in Cook Inlet — at least 800 miles off-course
Duncan Moon, APRN – Anchorage
The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward is caring for its first northern fur seal. The one-year old male was found by a fisherman outside of the Homer harbor earlier this summer. Northern fur seals are extremely rare in southcentral Alaska.

Photo courtesy Tim Lebling, Alaska SeaLife Center