Alaska News Nightly: July 26, 2010

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Court Rules Against Lynn Canal Highway
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
A federal appeals court panel heard oral arguments on the Juneau Access Road today.  A lower court ruled that the decision to go ahead with a highway along the coast of Lynn Canal violated the National Environmental Policy Act because it didn’t properly analyze what could be done with the ferry system as an alternative.  The state argued that the decision was legal.

Two Towns Anticipate Fresh Water Market
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka & Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
In rapidly expanding nations like India, Pakistan and China, disputes are heating up over a scarce and precious resource: water.  The presence of freshwater shapes a region’s health and agriculture, and control of this resource can determine who has electrical, and political, power.    Alaska, with its many rivers and glaciers, is positioned to become a major freshwater distributor, and two towns across the state are working to monetize their water supplies.

Great Land Trust, Municipality Dispute 60 Acre Swath
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Great Land Trust and the municipality of Anchorage have locked horns over 60 acres of wild land, including fragile wetlands.  The land, now in private ownership, was to be purchased by the Trust and then donated to the city of Anchorage as a park.  The Trust has raised almost $7 million for the purchase, and the city was to put up $2.7 million for the project.  But a week and a half ago, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan decided to pull the city’s money out of the deal.  Great Land Trust Executive Director Phil Shepherd says he can’t understand the city’s position.

Shepherd says the parcel of land is noted in the municipalities 20-20 development plan in numerous instances, after a series of public meetings was held to identify open spaces.  The land is in pristine condition because it was held by two old Anchorage families.   Now the families wish to sell it.

But the city’s $2. 7 million contribution is crucial.   That money is designated for wetlands projects, but Mayor Dan Sullivan says there are other projects in the city that need completion, too.  Sullivan said today that the park project was undertaken during a previous city administration.

Sullivan says, park or not, the wetlands portion of the land will always be protected under law, but the city needs more money  on the tax rolls.

Mayor Sullivan says the city is looking at the possibility of splitting the land between high end development and the wetlands.  He says he’s meeting with the Anchorage Community Development Authority, an entity which works with the city to make development purchases, to see if a partnership with the Great Land Trust can be worked out.

Sheperd says more than a hundred private donors, and organizations like Ducks Unlimited, US Fish and Wildlife and the Rasmusson Foundation have helped fund the park idea. If a compromise with the city can’t be reached,   the grants funds and donations will have to be returned.

Polar Bear Ventures South
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
A polar bear showed up well south of its usual territory last week. One was seen in the Lower Yukon River, near the Bering Sea village of Emmonak.  That’s a village in the Northern part of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Parnell Finishes First Year in Office
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Monday is the first anniversary of Sean Parnell’s tenure in the governor’s office.  He says the transition has been easy, once he got past the job of ending the national media attention centered on the office.  He says that allowed him to focus on the more important task of trying to bring the state together again.

Parnell has also tried to unify the state’s delegation in Washington DC.   Congressman Don Young says that’s one of the highlights of the governor’s first year.

Parnell says he’s focused on dealing with what’s important to him – not what has been important in the past.  He refers to the merit-based scholarship program, changes to the educational system, and the fight against domestic violence.

Parnell says that part of making the transition into the governor’s office was continuing his practice of talking to as many people as possible – even those who disagree with him.  Parnell has six opponents in the Republican Primary that will be held August 24.

Juneau Housing Prices Presents Challenges
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Finding safe, clean, and affordable housing continues to be a major challenge in Juneau. A recent report from the Juneau Economic Development Council shows housing prices in the Capital City have increased significantly over the last decade, while incomes have remained relatively flat. 34 percent of Juneau households qualify as “housing burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent or mortgage.

Delta Junction Celebrates 50 Years
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
Delta Junction celebrated its 50th anniversary yesterday with a look back and some encouraging words about the future.