Alaska News Nightly: July 21, 2010

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Domestic Terror Reaches Alaska
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Domestic terror reached Alaska in a chilling case Wednesday.  On Wednesday afternoon, US Department of Justice attorney Karen Loeffler announced that both Paul Rockwood, Jr. and his wife, Nadia Rockwood, pleaded guilty to charges of making false statements to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in a domestic terrorism investigation.  The investigation was conducted by the District of Alaska’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).

Loeffler said Rockwood, 35, converted to Islam around 2001 and soon became an advocate of  jihad promoting cleric Anwar Al – Awalaki. and began researching targets for execution.

Both Rockwoods moved to Alaska in 2006 and lived in King Salmon, although Loeffler would not comment on what they did to support themselves there.  Loeffler said Nadia Rockwood, 36, was fully aware of her husband’s activities.

The hit list Loeffler refers to did not contain the names of any Alaskans.

Judge Ralph Beistline accepted the guilty pleas today.  Loeffler said Paul Rockwood faces an eight-year prison sentence.  His wife faces five years of probation.  Due to the plea agreement,  Nadia Rockwood, who holds dual citizenship, will be able to go back to England.  Sentencing is set for August 23.

Federal Judge Halts Offshore Gas and Oil Activity in Chukchi
Lori Townsend and Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Federal district judge Beistline today halted activity on offshore oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea. Lease Sale 193 was conducted in 2008 and garnered $2.7 billion during the sale. Anchorage Judge Ralph Beistline found the Minerals Management Service had violated the National Environmental Policy Act in two areas. Under NEPA regulations MMS should have determined what potential environmental impact information was missing that was important to their decision making and whether they could obtain that information. Erik Grafe is an attorney with Earth Justice, the law firm that represented 15 environmental and Native organizations in the lease challenge. He says MMS did not comply with those requirements.

Grafe says MMS would have to show that the cost or time involved with obtaining the missing information would be exorbitant in order to be released from the requirement.

Beistline also found that MMS had failed to analyze the potential impacts from natural gas exploration and development on the leases.

Grafe says no activity can happen on the leases until the agency analyzes what is missing if they can get it and if not, justify why not to the judge. The major lease holders are Shell and ConocoPhillips, others include Stat Oil, ENI and Repsol. Shell was the highest bidder on the leases at $2.1 billion.

Caroline Cannon is President of the Native village of Point Hope – a plaintiff in the lawsuit. She says the lease sale happened too quickly, without input from local communities. Her reaction to the decision has been an emotional one.

A spokesman for the Minerals Management Service, now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says the agency is reviewing the judge’s decision and won’t have a comment at this time. Shell didn’t not return calls in time for this story. It’s not yet known if the defendants will appeal.

Advisory Council Hosts Kazakhstan Representatives
Eric Wander, KCHU – Valdez
The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council last week hosted a group of representatives from non-governmental organizations in the mineral and fossil fuel-rich country of Kazakhstan who are trying to form a citizen monitoring group based on the RCAC’s model.

Poll Finds Miller’s Number Lagging Behind
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
A new poll shows US Senate candidate Joe Miller has a tough road ahead to beat incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary August 24.  The poll found that among likely Republican voters, 62 percent would choose Murkowski and only 30 percent Miller. Fewer than 50 percent of poll respondents even recognized Joe Miller’s name, compared to 98 percent for Murkowski. Ivan Moore research conducted the poll. Moore says those are difficult numbers to turn around.

Miller has the support of the Tea Party Express. The organization has promised to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on radio and TV adds to boost his name recognition in Alaska. Former Governor Sarah Palin has also endorsed Miller. But Moore says it’s not clear how much that will matter. His poll found 40 percent of registered voters viewed Palin favorably, while nearly half had a negative impression of Palin:

Moore says his research company paid for the poll. The poll was conducted earlier this month and included 650 registered voters in the state.

Kodiak Hostel Opens for Business
Jacob Resnick, KMXT – Kodiak
The Kodiak Island Hostel opened for business earlier this month offering a relatively inexpensive bed for tourists and temporary workers in the community. But owner Rhonda Maker says she’s seeing first-hand the housing crunch as foreign guest workers hired by the island’s canneries come to her looking for a place to stay.

Group Aims to Bring Reds Back to Pilgrim River
Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome
Salmon Lake is the primary spawning ground for red salmon on the Pilgrim River north of Nome and 40 miles north of the Gold Rush City, the lake is critical habitat for red salmon smolt — the place where fish grow for a couple of years before heading out to sea.

The salmon numbers at the time of statehood were so high, they supported a commercial fishery. Things have changed. A road that passes salmon lake was put in in the late 1950s. Salmon numbers have not been consistent since.

The Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation—the regional CDQ group—has a project that could bring red salmon back to the Pilgrim River.

Sockeye Surge Up Copper River
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A surge of sockeye is coming up the Copper River.  The Department of Fish and Game reports that nearly 156,000 salmon were counted at the Miles Lake sonar, near the river’s mouth, between July 5 and July 11.  Fish and Game area management biologist Mark Sommerville says the salmon are expected to pass through the Chitina dipnet area next week.

The supplemental harvest is over the regular Chitina personal use season limit of 15 sockeye per person, or 30 per household.  Sommerville says the large plug of fish moving upstream right now, is likely a specific stock.

Sommerville says it now appears that the overall Copper River sockeye return will exceed the pre-season forecast of 2.1 million fish.

Jewel Surprises Karaoke Bar
Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer
Have you ever been really, really impressed by a karaoke performance? So much so that you thought the amateur singer sounded just like the professional? A hundred or so people in a small Santa Monica, California karaoke bar felt that same way last week when Homer’s most famous former resident paid them a surprise visit.