Alaska News Nightly: July 23, 2008

The AGIA plan passes the Alaska House, headed for the Senate, but not without some grousing along the way. Plus, Fairbanks will open a new youth mental health facility next month, a Bush administration health secretary tours the bush, and Anchorage’s health is in doubt as it puts on extra pounds. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

Individual news stories are posted in the Alaska News category and you can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via e-mail, podcast and RSS.

Download audio

Alaska House votes for AGIA / TransCanada plan
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The gas line is on its way to the Senate. Last night and again today the House gave approval for the Palin administration to issue a license with TransCanada to begin work on developing the project taking North Slope natural gas to North American markets. But the measure picked up some legislative baggage going out the door.

New youth mental health facility opening in Fairbanks
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A new youth mental health facility opens next month in Fairbanks. The Boys and Girls Home of Alaska will provide residential treatment, previously only available in-state on a limited basis in Anchorage. The 120-bed facility is the product of a partnership between Iowa-based Boys and Girls Home, and Family Centered Services of Fairbanks. Family Centered Services director John Regitano says the new facility will allow kids previously sent to the lower 48 for treatment to remain in Alaska.

120 people, including psychiatrists, therapists and nurses will operate the new Boys and Girls Home. The $28 million campus-like facility includes classrooms, a gym and cafeteria. Yearly operational costs, estimated at $10 to $11 million will largely be covered by Medicaid funds, money that in the past has gone to outside treatment centers.

High crime rates in Native communities targeted by proposed law
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Legislation introduced today seeks to address the problem of high crime rates in Native communities and reservations across the country. The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2008 was introduced by Senate Indian Affairs Committee chair Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. It’s in response to a call by tribal leaders for help with disproportionate rates of rape and sexual assault perpetrated against Native women as well as clarifying and strengthening law enforcement presence in Native communities.

Bush health secretary tours remote Y-K delta
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt is visiting parts of Alaska this week. As part of his 3-day trip, Leavitt flew out to the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta today.

EPA’s particulate standards harder for Fairbanks to meet as wood burning grows
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Increased wood and coal burning for heating in the Fairbanks area has local officials concerned about fine particulate pollution. Borough Air Quality Specialist Jim Connor says the tiny airborne particles, released by combustion, have been recognized as a serious health concern. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drastically tightened standards for fine particulates in 2006 to reflect the new research which implicated them in everything from asthma attacks to heart and lung disease.

Fat Anchorage not slimming down, despite ‘obesity war’
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
The Muncipality of Anchorage’s official “war on obesity” is not going well. Those trying to coordinate the effort for slimmer citizens say they need more resources, including a municipal coordinator.

Unqualified staff just first on long list of ‘Empress’ errors
John Ryan, KTOO – Juneau
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators say a long list of errors by captain and crew led to last year’s grounding of the Empress of the North in Icy Strait, a main shipping route west of Juneau.

Alaska Marine Highway ridership up in wake of schedule expansions
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
More people are riding state ferries in Southeast this summer. Figures from the Marine Highway System show both passenger and vehicle numbers up for the region’s ports. Officials credit schedule changes including increased fast ferry service to Sitka and more sailings from Prince Rupert.