Alaska News Nightly: July 13, 2010

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Portions of Taylor Highway Remain Closed
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Much of the Taylor Highway remains closed due to flood damage. Storms dropped between 1 and 4 inches of rain across the eastern interior in recent days causing the Forty Mile River to  crest at a record 94 and half feet at the Taylor Highway Bridge on Monday.  Levels on the Forty Mile and its tributaries are now falling, but as KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, the high water has left sections the gravel road in ruins.

Coast Guard Holds Memorial for Servicemen
Ed Ronco and Lily Mihalik, KCAW – Sitka
The Coast Guard is a family. That was the prevailing sentiment at a memorial service held this afternoon in Sitka for Lieutenant Sean Krueger, Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Hoke and Petty Officer 2nd Class Brett Banks. The three Coast Guard servicemen died last week when their MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crashed into the water off La Push, Washington.

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp made the trip from Washington, D.C., to attend the memorial service.

Today’s memorial service was also watched online by more than 1,300 people. The survivor of the crash, Lieutenant Lance Leone, was released from a Seattle hospital on Monday after being treated for a broken arm and leg.

Pebble Mine Permits to be Challenged
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
State permits for the Pebble Mine will be challenged in court.  State Superior Court judge Eric Aarseth has found  the state Department of Natural Resources in 2009 issued permits for the mine without considering  the mine’s impact on public resources.   The judge said that the state should have considered state constitutional issues before issuing the permits.

The Superior Court action results from a lawsuit filed by Nunamta Aulukestai, a group made up of eight village corporations in Southwest Alaska.  The lawsuit alleges that DNR issued the land-use and water-use permits behind closed doors in violation of the Alaska Constitution.

Nunamta Aulukestai’s goal is to stop the development of Pebble Mine, which is a copper and gold mine being developed near the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers,  which are the largest sockeye salmon producing rivers in the world.  Opponents of the Pebble mine claim that the open pit mine will compromise the sockeye salmon resource and do harm to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.

Mike Heatwohl, spokesman for the Pebble Project,  says the implications of the judge’s decision are under review.

Heatlwohl says Pebble exploration will continue for the present time.  A trial is scheduled for December 6.

Alaska Scores Low on Performance Report
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
Alaska did not fare well in a recent federal report on performance of American Indian and Alaska Native students.

Greenpeace Founder Passes Away
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
Today Amchitka is known mostly as a wildlife reserve. But in the 1970s, it was a cause. The U.S. government selected this island in the Aleutian Chain as a nuclear testing site, and suddenly the place
inspired protests and music festivals. Jim Bohlen was a major leader in this anti-nuclear campaign and became a founder of Greenpeace. He died last week at age 84.

Critical Habitat Designation Could Cost State, Oil Industry, Millions
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The state says the proposed critical habitat designation for the polar bear could end up costing the oil industry, the state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars. In a recent letter to Interior
Secretary Ken Salazar, Governor Sean Parnell says the US Fish and Wildlife Service is grossly underestimated the economic impact of the designation, because it didn’t consider the indirect affects of delays, legal fees and lost jobs.

The state, along with Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, paid for an independent analysis of the economic impact of the proposed critical habitat designation. Its asking the Fish and Wildlife service to re-do the economic analysis and redraw the critical habitat boundary, which it says is too broad. Bruce Woods is a spokesperson for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. He says the agency is taking all of the comments it receives into account before writing the final critical habitat plan for the polar bear. He says the habitat designation is required by law:

The Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to release the final critical habitat plan in October. The polar bear was listed as threatened under the endangered species act in 2008.

Willow Creek Fire Grows
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Wildfire smoke spread across Fairbanks today.  The smoke is from the Willow Creek fire, a lightning-caused blaze that’s been burning across the Tanana River, 10 miles from town for a month.  It’s lay
smoldering in recent weeks, but put up a towering column of smoke late yesterday.

The Willow Creek Fire was mapped at 2,900 acres Monday night, an increase of about 1,000 acres.  The fire, and another smaller blaze to its southeast, is burning in an uninhabited area, which includes military training lands.

Anchorage Neighborhood Housing Services to Receive Grants
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage Neighborhood Housing Services will receive a little over $7 million in two federal housing grants for the elderly and persons with disabilities.  KSKA’s Len Anderson reports on yesterday’s announcement from the U-S Department of Housing and Urban Affairs.

Sitka Organizations Explore Sustainable Economic Opportunities
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
Two Sitka organizations have teamed up to foster sustainable economic opportunities in the community. They’ve jointly hired an intern to explore ways entrepreneurs can tap into money and expertise in the changing economy of the Tongass.