Alaska News Nightly: September 24, 2010

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UA Board of Regents Hold Off on Tuition Decision Until November
Miller Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
No change to a previously approved tuition hike for University of Alaska students starting next school year. Friday morning in Juneau, the UA Board of Regents voted to hold the line on undergraduate tuition, and put on hold until November a decision to increase it for the following year.

Parnell Affirms Endorsement of Miller
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Friday, Governor Parnell affirmed his endorsement of Republican and Tea Party candidate Joe Miller’s bid for the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by Lisa Murkowski.

The two appeared at the same event in Wasilla on Friday. The governor was quoted recently as saying he thinks highly of Senator Murkowski, but his campaign manager, Michelle Toohey, says today’s appearance shows that he also thinks highly of Miller.

Earlier this week, Parnell endorsed the Republican Party’s nominee without using Miller’s name during a candidate debate in Anchorage. But today’s joint event was the first time they had personally aligned their campaigns. Toohey says there might be future joint appearances, but that the governor has his own race to consider.

Miller is running against Democrat Scott McAdams – as well as running against Senator Murkowski’s re-election attempt by looking for write-in votes. Murkowski was travelling in Juneau today.

Young Not Endorsing Any U.S. Senate Candidates
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Congressman Don Young is not endorsing a candidate in the U.S. Senate race. He says he has called both Republicans, Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller, to explain why he’s staying out of it.

Young says he’s disappointed that more Alaskans don’t turn out for primary contests, so he’d like to move Alaska’s primary from August to either springtime or early October, when he says more people would be engaged in politics. Young says while Lisa Murkowski has a long-shot as a write in candidate, it’s not time to count her out.

Thursday, U.S. House Republicans unveiled their new goals, what they’ve named the “Pledge to America.” It calls for reducing government spending and repealing the Health Care Act signed into law this year. It’s a lot like the “Contract for America” that Republicans launched in 1994. Representative Young says he generally agrees with it.

Other House Republicans are also supporting their conference’s new plan, but conservative critics say it doesn’t go far enough, and is too much like the effort Republicans made in the 1990s.

ASEA Cancels Union Vote This Fall
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Union trying to organize group University of Alaska support personnel is taking a step back. The Alaska State Employees Association has informed the 2,500-member group of employees, that it’s cancelled a union vote scheduled for this fall. ASEA Business Manager Jim Duncan says organizers aren’t giving up, but need more time to inform staff about unionization.

Duncan says the University has been putting out a lot of information about unionization, and that’s raised a lot of questions among effected staff.

Duncan says the ASEA will hold more meetings and send out mailings. He says it’s not unusual for unionization to take longer than anticipated, and that the ASEA will work to thoroughly answer all question before re-scheduling an election. Duncan says ASEA dues are based on a sliding scale according to salary and are only collected after collective bargaining agreement is hammered out. A chart shows that an employee that makes $50,000 dollars a year, would pay $640 in annual dues.

Inventory Turns Up Hundreds of New Lichen Species
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is one of the world’s richest areas for lichen diversity. A new inventory of lichen in the park turned up hundreds of different lichen species. And dozens of them have never been identified before.

American Safari Cruises Aims to Pick Up Cruise West Passengers
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
A Seattle-based, small-ship tour company is trying to pick up passengers left behind when Cruise West shut down operations.

American Safari Cruises and its sister line, InnerSea Discoveries, are discounting next year’s Alaska sailings. The lines are also looking into the closed company’s assets.

Cruise West, also based in Seattle, stopped operations on Sept. 18 after its Alaska season ended. The company, with ships carrying about 100 passengers each, also shut down sailings in the Pacific Northwest and other destinations.

American Safari’s Tim Jacox says his company, which follows similar routes, is offering $150 to $300 price breaks on next year’s Southeast Alaska sailings.

“We have informed travel agents around the country and internationally that we do have savings available for those who had already been booked on Cruise West. So if they have been booked with Cruise West and want to take advantage of that offer then they can go ahead and rebook with us,” he says.

InnerSea Discoveries and American Safari ships are smaller and generally more expensive than Cruise West’s, though prices vary greatly.

It’s unclear how many tickets Cruise West will refund. But travel insurance and credit card reimbursements are expected to pay back most passengers.

While the company tries to win Cruise West’s customers, Jacox says it’s considering the closed company’s fleet.

“We certainly want to be wise and be looking at opportunities. So as time goes forward, certainly, we’ll see what’s out there and let all the complications unravel and keep an eye on everything,” he says.

Cruise West this year sailed four small ships to Juneau, Sitka, Haines, Skagway, Petersburg, Wrangell and Metlakatla.

InnerSea Discoveries and American Safari plans to sail five small ships and yachts between Juneau, Ketchikan and Seattle next season. Some will stop at Klawock, Wrangell, Glacier Bay, and Admiralty Island.

Biologists Find Surprise in Old Bear
Tara Bicknell, KHNS – Haines
While moose are what most hunters are bringing out of the field this time of year, biologists in Haines found themselves looking over a distinctive brown bear earlier this week. The animal was killed as he charged a man outside of Haines, but when it was brought in to Fish and Game on Monday, it‘s surprising features left biologists wondering how the animal survived so long.

Commercial Red, Blue King Crab Remains Closed in Southeast
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
It will be another year without a commercial fishery for red and blue king crab in Southeast. The fishery was last opened in 2005 but fishery managers say the amount of harvestable red king crab continues to drop around the region. Meanwhile, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game along with the commercial crab fleet are trying out other ways of estimating crab stocks in parts of the region.