Alaska News Nightly: July 6, 2010

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State Considering Liberty Project Oversight
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The state is considering taking an unprecedented step to ensure BP’s Liberty drilling project on the North Slope is completed safely. The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission may require that state personnel are on site, monitoring the project 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Liberty reservoir is about five miles off the North Slope coast, in federal waters. But BP is planning to access the oil from a man made drilling pad in state waters, using a technology called ultra extended reach.

Denali Pipeline Open Season Begins
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Natural Gas producers have a choice of ways to get their resource to market as of this morning. The Denali Pipeline began its Open Season – the 90 days when potential users can make long-term commitments to the project.   Dave MacDowell, Denali’s spokesman, says those who respond to the offer show they are willing to buy capacity on the line.

The Denali line goes up against the TransCanada-Exxon pipeline project, which is working with support from the state under a license approved by the legislature.  The two projects are very similar.  Both will feed into North American gas supplies at the Alberta Hub in Canada.  The TransCanada project’s cost is estimated to be between $32 and $42 billion.  And while TransCanada’s projected tariff for delivery to Alberta is between $2.80 and $3.50, MacDowell says the Denali project is expecting a tariff of $2.65.  Also, there is a federal loan guarantee available to whichever project gets final federal approval.

However, there are differences between the two.  TransCanada carries a state-offered freeze on state taxes for those who respond to the initial Open Season.  Also different is Denali’s absence of an alternate route to Valdez where Natural Gas could be liquefied for export.  But MacDowell says such an option is not off the table completely.

Judicial Council Makes Recommendations for Retention
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
On Tuesday, the Judicial Council recommended voters keep 27 judicial appointments on the bench when they stand for retention this fall.  However, the council also recommended against retention of one judge – Anchorage District Court Judge Richard Postma.   He is also the subject of a probable cause complaint from another, separate agency – the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct.  That complaint will be resolved by the Conduct Commission in a hearing in early December, after the election.

The Judicial Council’s executive director Larry Cohn says the recommendation of non-retention is not connected to the conduct complaint. He says it is the result of a complete investigation.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Judicial Council explained its review and the results of a hearing with Judge Postma.  They found he “has experienced persistent difficulty in coping with the Anchorage District Court caseload and stressful situations. Judge Postma has lacked patience, dignity and courtesy in his communications which has contributed to constant friction between Judge Postma and other judges, court administrators and court staff. Judge Postma has a tendency to lose his temper.”

The Judicial Council has recommended judicial non-retention just three times in the last two decades.

Bartlett Regional Hospital Struggling to Improve Equipment
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
As Bartlett Regional Hospital struggles to improve its workplace environment, concerns about failing equipment have been taken to the Juneau Assembly. The city-owned hospital is governed by an assembly appointed board of directors and managed by Quorum Health Resources. Quorum’s contract expires in 2011. A Bartlett neurologist says the hospital is putting the community at risk by not purchasing a new CT scanner.

Military Leaders Push for Alternative Energy
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
A new group of advocates for renewable and alternative energy plan is emerging: veterans and retired military leaders. A national advocacy group called “Operation Free” organized a panel of speakers in Anchorage Tuesday.

The nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and climate change are already leading to increased costs for the military, says Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General John Castellaw. And he says leaders are considering what to do about military bases that will be under water due to rising ocean levels.  The military is also getting hit by the rising cost of fuel, which, in Afghanistan, is soaring:

The group says climate change will bring increased instability due to shortages of water and food, mass migrations and natural disasters as well as extremism and terrorism. The U.S. military may need to intervene to protect countries with extensive oil reserves. U. S. Senator Mark Begich says America’s dependence on oil is undermining its strategic position in the world:

Operation Free says the U.S. is paying Iran $100-million a year for oil.

As a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees, Begich says he’s learned that the U.S. Department of Defense is the nation’s largest energy consumer. He noted that it’s also the largest developer of renewable and alternative energy.

As a nation, though, Begich says we’re losing jobs to other countries. A few years ago China produced 5-percent of the world’s solar panels, and now produces 60-percent, even though solar panel technology was invented in the United States.

Fish Processors Paying Highest Price in a Decade
Melati Kaye, KFSK – Petersburg
There’s some good news on the fishing grounds in Southeast Alaska in the first weeks of the summer salmon season. Processors are paying some of the highest prices fishermen have seen in the last decade. It could be a silver lining in a year with low returns expected. To find out more, KFSK’s Melati Kaye hitched a ride aboard a fishing tender as it loaded up on the early season catch and files this report.

Wilderness Preservation Continues
Lily Mihalik, KCAW – Sitka
This summer, as part of an ongoing project to document and preserve wilderness, the Forest Service is sending staff, biologists and volunteers into the field to collect data. Although solitude surveyors on the trip were primarily interested in what’s not found in wilderness, the botanists on the expedition had a different idea.