Alaska News Nightly: July 19, 2010

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Tea Party Express Comes to Anchorage
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Top officials with the Tea Party Express were in Anchorage on Monday to begin campaigning for US Senate Candidate Joe Miller. Miller is trying to win the Republican primary on August 24 against incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The Tea Party Express was expelled from the National Tea Party Federation this weekend after one if its founders made racist comments on his blog. Mark Williams wrote a satirical letter that was supposed to be from the NAACP to Abraham Lincoln that read, in part, “We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing.” Today, Tea Party Express chairman Amy Kremer said Williams won’t lose his job as party spokesman:

The Tea Party Express won’t say exactly how much money they will spend to elect Joe Miller or how many paid staff and volunteers they intend to have on the ground in Alaska.

Steve Wackowski is communications director for US Senator Lisa Murkowski. He says he was shocked and disappointed by the Mark Williams racist comments. And he says the Tea Party Express only intends to smear Senator Murkowski:

The Tea Party Express says its Joe Miller ads will begin airing next week. The Tea Party Express has had success in other Republican primary battles. In Nevada, it helped Senate candidate Sharron Angle defeat a better-known Republican, pouring a half-million dollars into her campaign.

Thousands of Alaskans Remain Out of Work
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Despite an improving job market, thousands of Alaskans remain out of work and some have fallen through the cracks as Congress argues over extending unemployment benefits. But that could change this week, and as KTOO’s Casey Kelly reports, the state is prepared:

Texas-Based Developer Given More Time to Drill
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
On Monday, the state offered a little more time for a Texas-based developer to drill for natural gas in Cook Inlet – but not much. Technically in default, Escopeta Oil and Gas has one last chance to drill a well.

In a letter to the company, the Department of Natural Resources placed the Kitchen Lights Unit of Cook Inlet in default of its leases of more than 80,000 acres. Oil and Gas Director Kevin Banks says the leases have been extended four times and the unit is in line to be terminated.

Development has stalled since Geological and Seismic tests done by Escopeta in 2001 and since updated– indicated that the company has the potential to develop more than a trillion cubic feet of gas in Kitchen Lights. The most recent delay has been attributed to the company’s need to rent a semi-submersible vessel and a Jack-Up rig for the drilling operations. Banks says termination of the unit can be avoided if Escopeta meets a time schedule to resolve those problems.

Besides the $4-million bond, the extension of the lease depends on a well completed by the end of September 2011. Banks says the prospect is among the more attractive areas for development in Cook Inlet. The letter of default from Commissioner Tom Irwin says the state has seen strong interest in Cook Inlet development and it is in the state’s best interest to maximize the potential for the area. Danny Davis, president of Escopeta, did not return phone calls to comment on the company’s plans.

Quake Strikes Fox Islands
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
A 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck in the Fox Islands region of the Aleutians on Saturday night. The earthquake occurred hit about 40 miles from Nikolski, and was felt as far away as Kodiak.

According to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, the initial earthquake happened 21 miles below the sea bed, and at least 20 aftershocks with magnitudes higher than four have hit since Saturday night. The strongest of these was a 5.8 magnitude aftershock that was felt in Nikolski around noon on Sunday. Natasha Rupert, a seismologist with the center, says that the aftershocks aren’t over yet.

For a 6.7 magnitude earthquake, the effect has been negligible. No tsunami hit in the aftermath of the quake, and no injuries related to the earthquake have been reported. While phones are down in Nikolski, there also hasn’t been word of any permanent damage according to Cindi Preller at the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

If the earthquake didn’t cause much harm to Nikolski, it caused even less to Unalaska, where about a dozen people reported feeling the earthquake to local police. Jamie Sunderland is director of public safety.

The last time a major earthquake hit the region was October, when a 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck about 75 miles away from Nikolski.

Development Plans Under Careful Watch
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Plans to develop an iron mine on eastern Prince of Wales Island are waiting for environmental issues to be resolved. The project is being watched closely by regulators, a nearby village and an environmental group.

Anchorage Airport Larger Than Others in Comparable Communities
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is about five times bigger than those in other communities of the same size… in part because 90 percent of the cargo flights between Asia and North America come through Alaska. Cargo traffic has grown over the years, but recently dropped.

Moe Bailey Laid to Rest
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Wasilla’s Maurice “Moe” Bailey was laid to rest today with full military honors at Fort Richardson National Cemetary. Bailey, who died of leukemia last week at age 71, was the force behind Veterans Aviation Outreach, a volunteer organization that assisted Alaska’s military veterans with everything from free air transport for medical care to moose meat giveaways. KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer spoke with Bailey a couple of years ago as he was organizing a veterans aid flight to Southwest Alaska.

First Alaskans Addresses Racism
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
First Alaskans Institute is working on a new project to address racism in Alaska. The Institute has a two year grant worth $350,000 from the WK Kellogg Foundation to start a statewide conversation on the issue.

Liz Medicine Crow is leading the new initiative. She says the dialogue about race will start among Alaska Natives and grow from there. She wants to start things off with a big question.

Liz Medicine Crow is Director of the Alaska Native Policy Center at First Alaskans Institute.