Alaska News Nightly: July 22, 2010

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Tribal Law Legislation Takes Big Step
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
A new law aimed at improving justice and safety for Alaska Natives and Native Americans is awaiting President Obama’s signature.  The Tribal Law and Order Act won bi-partisan support, and passed the US House on Wednesday.

The President says he will sign it, and in a written statement called it “an important step” to help the federal government better address public safety challenges confronting tribal communities.

It mostly relates to Reservation lands and Indian Country outside Alaska, but Senator Lisa Murkowski, who sits on the Indian Affairs Committee, says the bill also helps Alaska.

It allows the state and tribal non-profits that employ VPSO’s, or Village Public Safety Officers, to apply for federal grants.  Currently the VPSO jobs are only funded through state or congressional earmarks.  It also lets the VPSOs train at the Indian Policy Academy in New Mexico.

Murkowski says one of the big problems with prosecuting serious sexual assault crimes, both in Alaska and on reservations, is the inability to collect and process forensic evidence.  The bill calls for the research wing of Congress to evaluate the Indian Health Service facilities, and how evidence is dealt with.  Murkowski says that’s a basic first step toward protecting women.

But one item that would have been a big help to Alaska tribes was stripped out of the bill. It would have called for a $50 million pilot project to allow Alaska tribes to create cooperative partnerships with the state and feds. The project would have enhanced the authority of tribal courts to locally address sexual assault, domestic violence and drug and alcohol related crimes.  Murkowski says she’ll look for other ways to advance the demonstration project.

The director of the State of Alaska’s Washington DC office, John Katz, says it was important to the state that Alaska tribes were not given increased criminal jurisdiction as a bi-product.  Most of Alaska’s tribes are not considered part of “Indian Country,” and so don’t have the same jurisdictional oversight. Katz says the state got on board once that was acknowledged in the bill.

Cold Case Remains Unsolved
Diana Gish, KMXT – Kodiak
A murder that took place almost 30 years ago in Kodiak remains unsolved. Fisherman Thomas Carbine was found dead in the parking lot of the Beachcomber bar around 3:30 in the morning on July 15, 1982.

Soldier Charged in Shooting Deaths of Wife, Daughter
Associated Press
A 21-year-old soldier has been charged with murder in the shooting deaths of his wife and infant daughter in their Anchorage apartment. The shootings happened soon after his return from Afghanistan.

Specalist Kip Lynch was indicted Thursday on first-degree murder charges in the April deaths of his 19-year-old wife, Racquell Lynch, and eight-month-old daughter, Kyirsta Lynch. Kip Lynch was found severely injured in another room of the home.

Lynch, a military police officer, returned from Afghanistan two months before the shootings. Authorities say he has sufficiently recovered from his injuries to be charged with the crimes.

Fire Destroys Hoonah Sawmill
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
A fire today destroyed the Hoonah sawmill. The mill building for Icy Straits Lumber and Milling was leveled in the blaze that started just before 6:00 a.m. Thursday.

City administrator Bob Prunella visited the site as Hoonah volunteers and forest service firefighters finished putting out the blaze.

No one was reported injured during the blaze.

Icy straits lumber and milling is operated by Wes Tyler of Hoonah. The mill turns Tongass timber into high value-added products for use by local builders.

Prunella says state fire Marshalls were expected to arrive Thursday afternoon to begin investigating the cause of the fire.

Man Faces Charges After Hitting Whales With Boat
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
A Craig man is facing federal charges after authorities say he intentionally struck humpback whales while operating a jet boat on two separate occasions.

Naknek Electric Association Tests Geothermal Project
Adam Kane, KDLG – Dillingham
The Naknek Electric Association has started testing on the first well of their Geothermal Electric Generation Project near King Salmon. The project has involved a $20 million investment and more than a decade of planning and developing.

DEC Investigates KNWR Spill
Ben Stanton, KDLL – Kenai
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is excavating soil and cutting grass in the Kenai National Wildlife refuge at the site of a crude oil spill.  While cleaning it up, they hope to determine which of the four oil pipes are the source of the spill at the Swanson River oil drilling site.  The pipe is apparently no longer leaking.  The estimated 630 gallons of oil was first reported by Chevron, which is the company that operates at that site. DEC oil spill responder Steve Russell says the area looks likes power-line right of way.

That pond, the grass, and pipeline corridor are all affected by the oil.  But Russell says there are no immediate impacts to the wildlife that frequent the area, which has now been fenced off to help prevent wildlife from entering.

Wind Turbines Rise Behind Local Business
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage scored a green energy first this week when two wind turbines rose behind a plumbing and sheet metal business.

Harrison Family Heads For Fairbanks on Bike for Five
Sue Deyoe, KTNA – Talkeetna
The bicycle built for five is slowly headed for Fairbanks. The Harrison family, they call themselves pedowins, left their home in Kentucky on August 1 last year.  Their goal is Fairbanks, Alaska. The family is pedaling north with three girls, ages three, five and seven. They have less than 300 miles left on their 7,000 mile journey. KTNA’s Sue Deyoe caught up with them at the gas station in Talkeetna as they warmed up after a cold, rainy ride.