Alaska News Nightly: August 4, 2010

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Rep. Young Cleared in Federal Investigation
Associated Press
Representative Don Young’s office says the veteran congressman has been cleared in a federal investigation. Young’s spokeswoman, Meredith Kenny, says the Alaska Republican’s legal team was notified Wednesday by the Department of Justice that the case will not be prosecuted. She says the Congressman isn’t ready to comment on the development yet.

The Republican was facing federal investigations into connections to Bill Allen, the former Veco CEO who was convicted of bribing state lawmakers. The investigation was also looking into an unusual spending bill earmark that benefited one Young’s campaign supporters in Florida.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the case. The department typically doesn’t confirm or comment on ongoing investigations or their conclusion, if charges aren’t brought.

White House Pushes For Small Business Stimulus Bill
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The White House is pushing hard for a small business stimulus bill.  It would establish a $30 billion lending fund for community and smaller banks that lend to local businesses, and give $12 billion in tax breaks.

Alaska’s Democratic Senator Mark Begich tried to drum up support for it on the Senate floor last week.

Begich says as a small business owner he has an appreciation of what the assistance will mean to Alaska’s companies and small banks.  Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski says she likes the core of the bill, but not the add-ons included by the Democrats, like the $30 billion lending pot.  She says it lacks oversight and accountability.

State officials are waiting to see whether the bill will get passed this week before the Senate adjourns.  John Katz, director of the Governor’s Washington office, says Sean Parnell supports small business, but is waiting to see how things fall into place.

The head of the Small Business Administration, Karen Mills, says the bill will fund programs already in place that funnel money to small businesses throughout the country – including Alaska.  Mills was in the state last July and visited small business development centers.

While Mills was in Alaska, she spoke at an Anchorage conference on 8-A government contracting.  The program gives special opportunities to Alaska Native Corporations so they can secure government contracts.  It’s come under scrutiny because the corporations can get no-bid federal contracts of any size.

Critics say the Native Corporations are getting too much of a leg-up, and are strong enough now that they don’t need it.  The program is currently undergoing a rewrite, and may change so that the companies have to report back on how their shareholders are benefited by the contracts.

Mills says while they’re tightening oversight of the program, she defends it and says it does serve a valuable purpose.

The SBA’s rewrite of the 8-A program is now in review within the agency.

Anchorage Road Dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The city of Anchorage today held a ceremony to open a new road named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The naming of a city street after Dr. King has a controversial history stretching back three decades. Advocates originally sought to have 9th Avenue named after the civil rights leader but the idea was met by opposition from a group led by Don Smith and rejected in a city-wide vote, as was a similar attempt to name the Performing Arts Center after King. Reverend Doctor Alonzo Patterson is the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church. Dr. Patterson says during that time of controversy there was a proposal to name a strip of the Minnesota Drive bypass after King.

Conservation Groups Challenge State’s Beluga Whale Lawsuit
Associated Press
A half-dozen conservation groups are challenging the state’s lawsuit to overturn the listing of beluga whales off Anchorage as endangered. The groups are seeking to uphold the 2008 Environmental Protection Act listing for the few hundred whales in Cook Inlet.

The state filed a lawsuit in June to overturn the listing. The state’s position is that the listing is unnecessary because the population has stabilized. It also is concerned about the listing’s impact on economic development, including expanding the Port of Anchorage. Conservation groups say the belugas need the extra protections the ESA listing brings, and accuse the state of wasting taxpayer money fighting the listing in court instead of helping the whales recover.

Court Ruling Bans Nelchina Hunt Permits
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Despite another change in a court ruling Wednesday, some aspects of the Nelchina caribou hunt will go forward.  Last week, the state Board of Game followed a directive from District Judge Carl Bauman and allowed modified fall caribou and moose hunting in the Nelchina area. Judge Bauman had ruled in July that the Ahtna Community hunt and the Tier One subsistence hunt were illegal.  At the request of the State Department of Fish and Game, Judge Bauman issued a partial stay to the July 9 ruling prohibiting the hunts, which allowed the department to restore the autumn portion of the Tier One hunt. The department then issued an additional 500 permits to those who had held Ahtna Community hunt tags.  Bruce Dale is Region 4 supervisor for Fish and Game.

Fish and Game planned to issue 1,000 permits for the Tier One hunt, based on revised estimates of the strength of the Nelchina herd. Today, Judge Bauman canceled the extra permits, at the request of plaintiffs in the original suit.

But Ken John, Athna CEO, disputed the stay of the judge’s original ruling.

John says Ahtna is reviewing options and may ask the state Supreme Court to allow the subsistence law, by returning to Tier Two hunts. Dale says the original 850 permits are still good and will be available Friday.

Marine Highway Ridership on the Rise
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
More people are sailing Alaska’s marine highway this year. Rider and vehicle numbers are up after dropping last year.

Priest Cleared of Sexual Assault Accusation
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A Catholic Priest who worked in Fairbanks for 12 years has been cleared of an accusation of sexual abuse.  Father Gerald Ornowski was accused last year by a woman for abuse she claimed happened in 1994 when she was growing up in Stebbins, where Ornowski was then serving.  The woman withdrew her claims this spring, and her civil damages case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge.  Father Ornowski is a member of a Massachusetts based order, but in Alaska is under the supervision of the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese.  Diocese spokesman Robert Hannon says the case against Father Ornowski was dismissed with extreme prejudice.

Ornowski has been on administrative leave from his most recent assignment in Fairbanks as a Chaplain and pastor at St Mark’s University church.  Hannon says it’s unclear whether Father Ornowski, will return to work for the Diocese, or take a new assignment from his Massachsetts based order.  Ornowski is travelling and unavailable for comment, but in Diocese press release says he harbors no animosity towards his accuser, and thanks those who supported him during the year long ordeal.

Group Organizes Juneau’s Bid for 2014 Arctic Winter Games
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
The group behind Juneau’s bid to host the 2014 Arctic Winter Games launched a website Sunday and will spend the next 45 days organizing all the documents needed for the city’s bid. The book-length report will detail how Juneau plans to pull off the event, which happens every two years in a different Northern region. Group members gave a presentation to the Assembly earlier this week.

Anchorage Youth Program Garners National Honors
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Some Anchorage youngsters will have tales to tell when it comes time to swap stories on how they spent their summer.  Many of them spent it in hard labor, digging gravel and filling wheelbarrows to help  blaze a trail for a good cause.  And they didn’t know it, at the time, but their work was getting national recognition.