Alaska News Nightly: September 2, 2010

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Attorney General Reviewing Bill Allen Investigation Reports
Associated Press
Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan says his office is reviewing police reports compiled in a child sex abuse investigation involving former VECO chief Bill Allen.

The federal government has said it won’t pursue charges in the case. Allen was the government’s star witness in the corruption trial of the late Senator Ted Stevens. The charges were later thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct. Allen pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers, and is serving three years in a federal prison.

Anchorage police conducted two investigations into whether Allen had sex with an underage girl in the 1990s.

State Asks for Eastern Population of Sea Lions to be Taken off Threatened Species List
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Thursday, Governor Sean Parnell announced the state has asked the Federal Government to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the Eastern population of Stellar Sea Lions. The animals are currently listed as a “threatened” species.

Walruses Gathering on Alaska’s Northwest Coast
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
For only the third time in human memory, walruses have started to congregate in large numbers on Alaska’s Northwest coast. Earlier this week, the animals began hauling out on shore, after the sea ice they depend on for foraging disappeared.

Local Energy Company Looking to Deliver Natural Gas to Fairbanks
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
There’s another natural gas delivery option for Fairbanks.  A local energy company has begun an open season to gauge market interest in a 10 inch diameter pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Fox, with smaller feeder lines to industrial consumers.  Energia Cura principle partner Alex Gajdos, says the $500 million pipeline is designed specifically to meet local demand.

Gajdos says the project is gauged to accommodate existing customers like Golden Valley Electric and the oil refineries in North Pole. He says the company will pursue gas supply agreements with North Slope producers, or the state for a share of its royalty gas. The plan also calls for trading the state an equity share in the pipeline in exchange for right of way easements.  Gajdos says the project pencils out better than larger bore pipelines that depend on export, and hinge on market prices outside Alaska. He says the high cost of energy in Fairbanks makes the unusual project work.

Gados says the pipeline would be 40 percent debt financed as currently envisioned, but stresses things are in the preliminary stages.  Energia Cura has been involved in several Fairbanks area projects.  The company runs pipelines that feed the North Pole refineries, and has installed control systems for Golden Valley.

Fishing Citations Dismissed Against State Senator Kookesh
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
On Thursday, a judge dismissed subsistence fishing citations against state Senator Albert Kookesh. All but one charge against three co-defendants were also dismissed.

The four were cited for catching more sockeye salmon than their subsistence permits allowed. They were contacted by state troopers July 12, 2009, while beach seining at a bay near Angoon, on Southeast Alaska’s Admiralty Island.

Kookesh and the other defendants, all Angoon residents, challenged the state’s right to manage subsistence on the island, which is mostly federal land.

They lost that round. But they also argued that the state failed to follow its own rules for setting harvest limits.

Kookesh says those limits were too low.

“We challenged what we thought was unfair bag limits on the subsistence-use fishery in Angoon. They said that you can only get 15 fish per family per year and a couple miles away you had commercial seine boats getting thousands of fish a day,” he says.

The charges were dismissed by Sitka Superior Court Judge David George, who presided because Angoon’s magistrate is Kookesh’s daughter.

The others cited were Rocky Estrada Sr., Stanley Johnson, and Scott Hunter. Tony Strong represented the four fishermen.

“The 15-fish limit was not promulgated to all the strictures of the administrative procedures act. And that failure to follow the administrative procedures act means the regulation is not valid and the defendants cannot be prosecuted for failure to follow the 15-fish limit,” he says.

Strong says Hunter still faces a charge alleging he did not get a subsistence permit before he went fishing.

District Attorney Doug Gardner could not be reached for immediate comment.

Kookesh says he hopes the ruling leads to other challenges of subsistence fishing limits.

First Alaskans Institute Continues Fight Against Racism
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
Yesterday the First Alaskans Institute held a press conference to describe progress in its fight against racism. Since launching the project in July, they’ve formed a working group of a dozen or so people, including DJs of the Bob and Mark morning show on Anchorage radio station KWHL, or K-whale. The two are in the group after hearing feedback on a skit they aired in May.

Sullivan Paints Grim Picture of Anchorage Budget
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan presented a grim picture to the city Assembly this week.  Sullivan says the estimated 2011 costs of current services in the city are $448 million. That figure presents a gap of somewhere between $18 million and $18.5 million in city revenues and city expenses next year.  And those numbers are dependent on a possible hike in city property taxes.

City budget preparations are underway now, although the proposed budget will not be presented to the Assembly until October 1.

Sullivan says his administration is in the middle of a two year plan to return the city to fiscal stability.   The 2011 budget will require some difficult choices regarding which services to provide at what level.  Sullivan says he’s not opposed to a city sales tax as a means of increasing revenues:

Sullivan says factors complicating the 2011 budget are pay raises mandated by city labor contracts and increases to the cost of employee health insurance. The mayor says he’s hearing from Anchorage residents about financial problems caused by the economic slowdown of the past couple of years. Community members recently were asked to weigh in on potential revenue shortfalls and tax scenarios during the city’s community budget dialogues. A final report detailing results of those sessions is expected this month.

Ocean Beauty Seafoods to Resume Full Operations
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
Ocean Beauty Seafoods will resume full operations in Petersburg next year. That’s according to company officials who point to early indications of a strong pink salmon return. Just the opposite was the case this year. Ocean beauty shuttered its Petersburg plant for the most part this summer in anticipation of low pink returns. The company continued to purchase fish from the area, but it only processed them at its Excursion Inlet plant near Juneau. Ocean Beauty vice president for marketing and communications Tom Sunderland:

When ocean beauty announced it would be closed this summer, company officials emphasized it would be only be for one year. However, that didn’t stop some speculation in town that it might be longer. Municipal officials and business owners worried about the decline of raw fish tax income to the city as well the loss of seasonal business from transient fishing vessels, cannery workers and the plant itself.

The news that ocean beauty is planning to buy fish again in Petersburg next summer comes as a relief to Mayor Al Dwyer. Dwyer and the city council have been discussing ways to help improve the local fishing industry.

Petersburg’s two other major processing plants are owned by Icicle Seafoods and Trident Seafoods….both of which operated this year. Ocean beauty has run its plant in Petersburg since 1985. Historically, this was the first summer in at least 20 years that icicle had the only major canning operation in town.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has not yet put out official pink salmon projections for next year. However, fishery managers say an annual survey of out-migrating salmon fry, indicates southeast could see a big return in 2011.

Norton Sound Fishermen Reach $1 Million Mark
Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome
Thanks to a change in eating trends and demand for safe, wild seafood after the Gulf Coast oil spill, Norton Sound fishermen on the West Coast of Alaska have crossed the $1 million mark in revenue this year—the first time since 1983.

New Rules in Place to Reduce Salmon Bycatch
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service published new rules meant to reduce salmon bycatch.