Alaska News Nightly: July 28, 2010

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Republicans Criticize Proposed Energy, Oil Spill Bill
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senator Lisa Murkowski and her fellow Republicans are slamming the energy and oil spill bill unveiled Tuesday night by the top Senate Democrat. Harry Reid of Nevada gave up on passing a major climate bill this summer due to lack of support, so instead introduced a bill with minor energy goals, like incentives to make homes more efficient.  It also includes oil spill legislation that would affect operators in Alaska. It would remove the current $75 million liability cap on economic damages from an oil spill.  Senator Murkowski says that will cut out small operators, and enable more foreign companies to set up shop on America’s shores.

Murkowski’s Energy Committee has created its own version of a spill bill.  So has Senator Mark Begich’s Commerce Committee, which finished marking up or editing a bill of its own on Tuesday night. Begich says while Reid used some of their ideas, the provisions for Alaska were left out.  He calls it “pretty thin.”

Begich says instead of sharing the profits of offshore drilling with states, shared revenue would go into a conservation fund to buy more federal land.  Begich says there’s already plenty of that.

He’s also concerned because the Reid bill does not include funding for Alaska’s Regional Citizens Advisory Councils, which were set up after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Begich wants to establish an Arctic Citizens Advisory Council so locals have input into Arctic Ocean development.  But Governor Sean Parnell is criticizing that plan.  His special assistant Joe Balash says it could disrupt the state’s authority – and doesn’t allow the governor to appoint its members.

Begich disagrees, and says the Governor is probably misinformed about how it would work.

Senator Reid hopes to move quickly on his energy – oil spill bill, but he’ll need the support of members like Begich, and the Senate only has one more week in Washington before it recesses for a month.

Top EPA Official Visits Villages
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Several villages near the Kuskokwim River got a chance to meet with the top administrator of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.  Lisa Jackson, and her entourage, traveled by bush plane to meet with tribal leaders.  Her visit is part of an effort by the Obama Administration to strengthen ties with Alaska Native Tribes.

Mountain Village Opts to Remain Dry
Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome & Angela Denning- Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
Mountain Village will remain a dry community, according to the unofficial tally from yesterday’s special election. The ballot question was whether or not the community should go damp—allowing the possession of alcohol in the village, but not allowing local sales.

City Manager Anita Andrews says that 118 voted to remain dry with 61 voting to go damp.

There are still 32 question and absentee ballots left to be counted, but they’re not enough to change the outcome.

The local canvass board still has to meet to make the election results official.

Sealaska Land-Selection Legislation Draws Opposition
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
58 members of Congress have signed a letter opposing Sealaska’s lands-selection legislation.

The group of Democrats asked House committee leaders to keep the bill out of any larger public-lands measure. Supporters and opponents have said it’s most likely to pass as part of an omnibus lands bill.

The letter was released yesterday by the Alaska Wilderness League, based in Washington, D.C. It says the selections bill would, “give the green light to industrial clear-cutting of the best remaining old growth in the United States.”

League spokeswoman Gwen Dobbs says the letter was spearheaded by Representatives Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona.

The bill would allow Sealaska to complete its land selections outside boundaries set by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Southeast Native Corporation and its supporters say the measure would boost the region’s economy and allow for a sustainable timber industry.

The letter was sent to the co-chairmen of the House Natural Resources Committee, the first stop for Don Young’s version of the bill.

Young was aware that the letter was being circulated and sent his own letter discouraging colleagues from signing on.

It said the legislation would not increase loss of old growth trees in the Tongass.

The bill’s main focus has been in the Senate Resources Committee, where Lisa Murkowski’s version is undergoing changes.

Robert Dillon is Murkowski’s committee spokesman.

Murkowski released a series of amendments to the measure July 1. Dillon says they are still under consideration and no hearing date has been set.

Experimental Program Helps Hatcheries Recover
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
Earlier this month, two hatcheries in Sitka both suffered devastating accidents over the same weekend. The Sheldon Jackson Hatchery lost about 240,000 salmon fry when a water intake pipe became blocked. At Medvejie Hatchery, a few miles south, the damage was worse.  A closed water-intake valve resulted in the loss of nearly a million Chinook fry. But Medvejie also has been conducting an experimental program that, in the weeks since the accident, has helped the hatchery recover from the damage caused by the accident.

Hoonah Sawmill Fire Called Accidental
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
Last week’s fire at a Hoonah sawmill has been called accidental.

Deputy state fire Marshall Bob Plumb says it’s believed that some sawdust smoldering in the mill building likely ignited a small aerosol or propane cylinder.

The fire destroyed the mill building and the head rig saw. But Sue Tyler of Icy Straits Lumber and Milling says their secondary manufacturing facilities, and log and lumber inventory stored on site are largely intact. She credits the Hoonah fire department for containing the blaze.

Tyler says they had a little insurance, but it may not be enough to cover the mill’s replacement.

Icy Straits supplied high value-added wood products throughout southeast Alaska. A small retail outlet was planned for Lemon Creek.

Alaska Has Among Highest Brain Injury Rates in Nation
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Alaska has one of the highest incidences of brain injuries in the nation – more than 10,000 Alaskans live with a life-long disability resulting from a brain injury.

Dr. Harvey Jacobs, a national expert on brain injuries.  He’s in Anchorage this week to share information at the Alaska Brain Injury Conference.  Dr. Jacobs says the consequences of a brain injury can be devastating

He says anyone can be susceptible to such an injury. Falls, vehicle accidents and physical assaults are the most common causes, and all age groups are vulnerable.   Dr. Jacobs says prevention is the key

He says wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets is essential to protect the brain.  A good investment, he says, considering the jello-like brain can be  injured even by a mild blow.   According to Center For Disease Control data, the financial losses due to brain injuries in our society could be $100 billion a year in costs of care and lost economic opportunities.  There are 1.7 million brain injured people in the US, and 80,000 to 100,000 of them  have permanent disabilities.

Jill Hodges, executive director of the Alaska Brain Injury Network, says the Bethel area has the highest incidence of brain injuries in the state. 800 Alaskans are hospitalized each year with moderate to severe brain injuries. 650 of those survive

Males aged 16 – 24 are at the highest risk, but infants are at risk, too, because of shaken baby syndrome.  She says a lot of work has to be done to convince bush snowmachiners and four wheelers to wear head protection.  She says the state and the Alaska Native Health Consortium have made some efforts in this direction.  Hodges says in rural Alaska, CT scans are rare, so most injured rural residents are medevaced to Anchorage or Seattle for acute care, but on return to the village, the state and the regional behavioral health service become the primary caregivers.  Hodges says there is no single rehabilitative care center in Alaska, but progress is being made in that direction.

Four ‘Fortress of the Bear’ Bears Tagged and Collared
Shady Grove Oliver, KCAW – Sitka
Four brown bears were tagged and collared this week at Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear. The collars will allow the bears to be tracked and studied in the future. KCAW’s Shady Grove Oliver was at the Fortress as the bears wrapped up their unlikely adventure.