Alaska News Nightly: August 9, 2010

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Second Plane Strikes Eagle in Sitka
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
A second aircraft sent to Sitka on Sunday to replace Alaska Airlines Flight 68 after it was grounded by an eagle strike, also hit an eagle on takeoff.

The Department of Transportation confirms that the substitute aircraft struck the bird on the runway, but was able to proceed normally with its flight to Seattle.

State Files Charges Using DNA Profile For First Time
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The Alaska Department of Law has filed charges for the first time in a case using a DNA profile, instead of a name. The 10-year statute of limitations on the rape and kidnapping case was scheduled to expire Monday.

Fish and Game Commissioner Accused of DUI
Associated Press
A judge has set a December jury trial for Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd, who is accused of driving under the influence.

The judge prohibited Lloyd from drinking alcohol while the case is pending, but otherwise did not set bail or any travel restrictions.

Authorities say a breath test revealed Lloyd had a .143 blood alcohol level after being stopped for a traffic violation. The legal limit is .08.

Lloyd was arrested in Juneau yesterday (Sunday).

Police Sergeant David Campbell said Lloyd was stopped for expired tags but failed a field sobriety test after an officer saw “signs of possible intoxication.” He said Lloyd took a breath test at the police station.

Campbell said the officer described Lloyd “as a complete gentleman” throughout. Governor Sean Parnell said he’d take “swift and appropriate action” if the court system reveals guilt. Lloyd declined to comment on his arrest.

Huckabee Endorses Joe Miller
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Joe Miller picked up another high-profile endorsement today in his U.S. Senate bid – Mike Huckabee.

But on Friday, a Tea Party Express rally for Miller in Juneau drew only nine people who were not political operatives or news reporters.

Canada Reviewing Arctic Exploration, Drilling Regulations
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Canada’s National Energy Board is undertaking a review of their Arctic exploration and drilling regulations. Scott Gedack is the NEB’s project manager for Arctic off shore drilling review. He says a review of policies was originally scheduled for 2009.

Since the 1970s, Canada’s arctic energy development policy has required that companies applying to explore and drill in Canadian Arctic waters must have contingency plans in place that would enable them to drill a relief well within the same season a primary well is drilled to respond to a blow out.

The Montreal Gazette recently reported that briefing notes for the NEB chairman’s address to a legislative committee contained documents that said drilling a relief well would likely take three years rather than being accomplished in the same season as required. Gedack says the notes did not refer to a specific situation but rather was a scenario raised in the context of questioning about the policy. He says the current regulation clearly requires same season relief well drilling.

Gedack says Canada has had only one arctic project proposal in the last 20 years, called Devin Pactoa, applied for in 2004. He says currently there are no active wells in the Canadian arctic or applications pending before the National Energy Board.

Alongside the US federal government’s restructuring of the Minerals Management Service – the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council is pulling together 10 experts from around the country to review and analyze everything related to the Deepwater Horizon blow out in order to prevent future disasters.

Alaska is undertaking its own review, examining all regulations and statutes related to ultra deep drilling and off shore activity.

Shell, Statoil to Conduct Seismic Studies in Chukchi Sea
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
Both Shell and Statoil have received approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct seismic studies in the Chukchi Sea thanks to a new decision by a federal court. The oil companies had previously been prohibited from doing any work there because of a court order that blocked drilling. U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline had issued that order in July, but revised it to allow research work. Beistline amended the Shell order and the Stat Oil ruling last week.

Phil Dyer is the stakeholder manager for Shell.  He says the research Shell will be doing will help them find off-shore deposits of oil and gas.

Both Senator Mark Begich and Governor Sean Parnell advocated for Shell and Statoil. After Beistline’s order was issued, Begich met with officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to see if the issuance of exploration permits could be expedited. Parnell expressed concern over the number of jobs affected by the exploration hold-ups, something which Dyer stressed as well.

Dyer says Shell hoped to have all the necessary documents to move forward with research by last Friday. Stat Oil could not be reached for comment.

Eight Alaska Drinking Water Systems Violate EPA Standards
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
The Environmental Protection Agency requires communities that use chlorine to clean their drinking water to do quarterly tests for disinfection byproducts. Eight Alaskan drinking water systems are out of compliance with these tests. Six of the systems are in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Sightseers Stranded Near Knik Glacier
Associated Press
Rescuers are battling fierce winds trying to reach Alaska sightseers stranded on a glacier after their small plane encountered some kind of problem.

Rescuers with the Alaska Air National Guard have been trying to reach the sightseers since Sunday afternoon after the plane’s locator beacon went off on Knik Glacier, about 40 miles northeast of Anchorage.

Major Guy Hayes says communications with the stranded Alaskan and four out-of-state visitors has been very limited. He says it’s unknown what kind of mishap befell the plane, only that those on board sustained only minor injuries. He says rescuers hiking to the site have been hampered by blizzard conditions including 70-mph winds.

Pac Rim Coal Seeks Permit Extension
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Pac Rim Coal has asked the state Department of Natural Resources for a two-year extension on the company’s Chuitna Coal Exploration Permit.

Pac Rim wants to construct a strip mine for coal on the west side of Cook Inlet about 11 miles northwest of Tyonek. The permit renewal would re-authorize 82 water monitoring wells, and  the installation of 6 additional monitoring wells. Dan Graham, who is heading the project development for Pac Rim, says the request is routine, because the permit must be updated every two years.

Graham says Pac Rim has held an exploratory permit for the area since 1983, and has since constructed the existing wells and a weather station there.  He says Pac Rim has no plans to drill new wells at this time, but the updated permit has provisions that would allow the company to do so if it desires.

Environmental groups such as the Cook Inlet Keeper are opposing the project.

The state division of mining, land and water is asking for public comments on the Pac Rim request.  The comment period is open until September 24.

Experts May Have Discovered New Truffle
Melati Kaye, KFSK – Petersburg
The US Forest Service is trying to inventory all the plants in the Tongass National Forest, including its mushroom populations.  A crew of mycologists, or mushroom experts, visited Petersburg last month to help with the effort, and during the inventory, one scientist came across what he believes may be a new kind of truffle.

Man Spreads Word of Climate Change in Bike Ride from Alaska to DC and Back
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A Fairbanks man who rode his bike from Alaska to Washington D.C. to spread the word about climate change is back and hopeful that we can break our addiction to fossil fuels.  Vietnam veteran and retired bush pilot Don Ross, started pedaling south last fall, pushing through snow and ice and stopping at communities along the way to talk about the impacts of climate warming.

The 67-year-old Ross says the seven-month ride over 6,000 miles, through three Canadian Provinces and 13 states was a rewarding challenge.  He says people were supportive throughout the journey, giving him places to stay and providing venues and contacts to get his message out.  Ross says the bike trip also provided a direct connection to the environment.

He says a lot of people in the Lower 48 aren’t tuned into climate warming, because the effects aren’t always as evident as they are in Alaska Ross says he believes people are the problem but also the solution when it comes to climate change.

Ross’s days of biking around to spread the word about climate change may not be over.  He’s considering participating in a portion of an upcoming transcontinental ride organized by the environmental group