Alaska News Nightly: July 23, 2010

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Pilot Dies in Floatplane Crash
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
A 38-year-old Pacific Airways pilot died in a floatplane crash Friday morning in Ketchikan. Federal agencies are investigating the cause of the crash, which killed the plane’s only occupant – pilot and Ketchikan resident Josh Murdock.

Lockheed Martin Adds Alaska Native Corporation to Team
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Aerospace company Lockheed Martin has added an Alaska Native corporation to the team its building to pursue the contract for maintaining and developing US missile defense systems in Alaska and the Lower 48. Lockheed is teaming with Nana Regional corporation subsidiaries on a $3 billion, five-year contract the Army is putting out for bid.  Lockheed Martin Vice President of Missile Defense Matt Joyce says Nana, which has had a support contract at the primary US interceptor site at Fort Greely for seven years, would take on new responsibilities through the missile defense contract.

Joyce says the Nana companies will also work at Army Missile Defense system program offices in Huntsville, Alabama.  Many of the missile defense jobs at Fort Greely are high tech and commonly filled by outside workers, but Joyce said that will change with Nana.Nana subsidiary Akima Logistics president Jonathan Widdis says his company can train Alaskans to fill the positions.

Nana is the second partner Lockheed has brought to its missile defense team.  The state owned Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation, which runs the Kodiak rocket launch complex is also a member of the Lockheed lead group that will bid on the missile defense contract.  Lockheed says it expects to announce additional team partners in the near future. The RFP for the Army Missile Defense system is due to be out next month, with a contract awarded early next year. The missile defense contract has been held by Boeing for the last 10 years, and the company will compete to retain it.

Education Task Force Aims At Higher Education and Career Possibilities
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The legislature continued task force hearings today designed to get more of Alaska’s students ready for higher education or careers.  The group of 20 lawmakers and experts came together with the goal of coming up with recommendations to improve the graduation rate and reduce the number of students who need remedial studies when they get to college.

The task force was set up by Senate President Gary Stevens, who is also its chairman.  He says the current system is not working.

The Task Force wraps up meetings Friday. They’ll also gather during next year’s legislative session before making a full report in April.

Supreme Court Denies Injunction Request Against Railroad Herbicide Permit
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Alaska Supreme Court has denied a request for injunction against the Alaska Railroad’s herbicide spraying permit, clearing the way for the Railroad to begin using chemicals to kill weeds along their track right of way. The permit had been challenged by the Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Native village of Eklutna citing fears about human health impacts, water contamination and overspray of berry-picking areas. Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig had amended the permit to disallow spraying within 200 feet of any water wells along the right of way. The court said the permit will stand as amended.

Bearfest Kicks Off in Wrangell
Tony Gorman, KSTK – Wrangell
Alaska Bearfest kicked off this week and, in Wrangell, you can’t talk about bears without mentioning the Anan Bear Observatory.  The observatory is one of the Wrangell Ranger District’s biggest attractions.

Bill Extending Unemployment Benefits Signed into Law
Libby Casey, APRN – Anchorage
Representative Don Young was one of yesterday’s “yes” votes on extending unemployment benefits. He was one of 31 Republicans to support the bill.

All but 10 Democrats voted for it.  The final vote was 272 to 152. President Obama signed the extension into law yesterday right after the House vote.

In the Senate, Lisa Murkowski was a “no” vote.

Fish and Game Officials Push to Delay Ruling to Leave Subsistence Harvesters Out of Hunt
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
State Fish and Game officials want the courts to delay a ruling which would push subsistence harvesters out of the fall caribou hunt.  Earlier this month, a Kenai judge ruled the upcoming August 10 Nelchina caribou hunt illegal, because recent changes in the hunt’s permitting scheme violate the state constitution. But with more than 800 permits already issued for this year’s hunt, game managers say the court decision will only cause suffering.

Lawmakers Anticipate Scaled Back Energy Bill
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska’s Senators say they want to see the details of top Senate Democrat Harry Reid’s plans for a scaled-back energy bill.  Yesterday Reid abandoned the effort to get climate change legislation passed this summer.  That frustrated environmentalists and disappointed liberal Democrats who want to see pollution from the nation’s power plants curbed.  Reid says instead he’ll unveil next week the details of a much smaller bill, focused instead on responding to the BP oil blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico, and tackling some minor energy issues. Senator Begich says he needs to see more of what Reid has in store.

Begich says he wants to see how it’s paid for, and find out what the oil spill legislation entails.  Begich says he won’t support it if it curbs oil and gas exploration in Alaska.

Senator Lisa Murkowski’s spokesman on the Energy Committee, Robert Dillon, says Reid is including the Committee’s bill that deals with the BP oil spill and reforms the Interior Department, but that may not be enough to win her support.

Dillon says Murkowski wants to see her work last year on an energy bill advanced.  That includes pushing renewables, and controversial elements like nuclear power and offshore drilling.

Scientists Work to Save Yellow Cedar
Melati Kaye, KFSK – Petersburg
Scientists in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest are trying to find ways to save an economically and ecologically valuable tree—the Alaskan Yellow Cedar. Some of the latest experiments are focusing on whether cedars can be transplanted further north, along with a search for the hardier genetic strains of the tree.

Kids Learn About Natural World
Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer
Tucked away on a remote section of coastline on Seldovia Bay, a small group of local kids are getting hands-on with the natural world – learning about the plants, animals and geography around them while having a lot of fun in the process. KBBI’s Aaron Selbig spent a day with the kids and has this story.