Alaska News Nightly: September 29, 2010

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Wreckage of Missing Floatplane Found
Adam Kane, KDLG – Dillingham
Debris from a float plane missing for more than a month has been found washed up on a beach in Katmai National Park and Preserve.

All of ANWR May Be Designated as Wilderness Area
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering recommending designating the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area. Right now, three sections of the refuge are not considered wilderness areas, including the coastal plain that contains an estimated 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Enforcement in Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve a Sore Issue
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
National Park Service boat safety checks conducted in the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve between Eagle and Circle in recent weeks have resulted in conflicts. One man has been charged with disorderly conduct and other offenses, while charges are possible in a second case.  Yukon Charley Preserve Superintendent Greg Dudgeon says the agency conducts river patrols during hunting season to enforce laws and be proactive.

Dudgeon says that includes proper licenses and boat registrations. Yukon River resident Wayne Hall says in one of the recent incidents, longtime local Tim Henry was handcuffed by rangers after refusing to cooperate about an un-registered boat.  Hall, who lives off the grid without a phone, says relations between locals and the Park Service are the worst he’s experienced in 18 years on the river. John Sturgeon, in Anchorage who’s hunted in the Yukon Charley area for 40 years, says law enforcement has always been a sore issue.

Sturgeon says he’d like to pursue a court case challenging the Park service jurisdiction, but has deferred to the state, which is pursuing administrative appeals. The Yukon is one of many navigable waterways in Alaska that the state was granted management over when it was admitted to the Union, but is still working to assert that right. Park Service spokesman John Quinley says the agency has jurisdiction to conduct law enforcement.

Quinley says river patrols are also on the lookout for hunting and fishing violations. The Yukon Charley Preserve’s Dudgeon says the agency has made about 60 contacts with river travelers in the last few weeks, most of them without any trouble, but he acknowledges resentment of the Park Service.

Dudgeon says that has to be balanced with the Park Service’s mandates to protect resources and manage the preserve for all people. The regulations and enforcement that came with creation of the Yukon Charley Preserve effectively forced out people who moved to the region to live off the land in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Eagle resident Ann Millard counts only four families who still live remotely on the river, within the preserve. She says the latest law enforcement cases have revived hard feelings.

Millard says some locals still blame the Park Service for the death of famed river dweller Dick Cook.  Cook died when his boat capsized while travelling to Eagle for a meeting with the Park Service in 2001.  Fairbanks writer Dan O’Neill documented the exodus of river residents in his 2007 book:  “A Land Gone Lonesome.”

Miller Campaign May Face Fine
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Republican and Tea Party candidate Joe Miller could face a $50,000 fine for violating U.S. Senate Ethics rules.   Miller, who’s running for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Scott McAdams and write-in candidate, incumbent Lisa Murkowski, has been accused of failing to file required financial disclosure information.

McAdams and Murkowski filed their disclosure statements within thirty-days of announcing their candidacy as required.   Miller formally opened his campaign on April 27.

Incomplete financial disclosure forms led to criminal charges against former Senator Ted Stevens two years ago.  He was prosecuted for omitting $250,000 in gifts. Stevens was convicted for failing to disclose them, but the case was later thrown out because prosecutors didn’t pass along crucial information to his lawyers. Calls to Miller’s office by APRN on Wednesday to find out if the error has been corrected were not returned by Miller or his staff. However the Anchorage Daily News reported Miller’s spokesman Randy Desoto emailed ADN staff saying the failure to file was a simple oversight and they are working on it now.

Miller is in Washington DC this week for several fundraising events and to meet with incumbent senators from other states.

Parnell Represents State at Stevens’ Funeral in DC
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska’s Governor was in Washington, DC for a couple days this week to represent the state at the burial of former Senator Ted Stevens.  Governor Sean Parnell says despite knowing Stevens for years and following his career, he was newly impressed by the breadth of the former senator’s legacy.

But Stevens was best known as an appropriator – someone who brought money home to Alaska.  Parnell says the height of getting federal funds may be over, but Alaska still needs money for infrastructure projects, since it is, in his words, “under-developed” compared to other states.

Giving the state more control over resources from the feds is a common pitch-point right now for candidates seeing office in November.  Parnell, who’s running for reelection, and others say if Alaska had more independence, it could make its own financial decisions.  But Alaska’s members of Congress have already been fighting that battle for years.  Parnell says what’s changed is that he thinks the federal government is encroaching more in Alaska than ever before.  The Governor says Washington has some hard choices to make in the years ahead about its priorities.

The big events in Washington and Alaska honoring Ted Stevens are now over.  But Parnell has issued a proclamation declaring the former senator’s birthday, November 18, as Ted Stevens day.

On Monday the US Senate voted to name a mountain and part of an ice field in Alaska after Stevens.  The mountain known as South Hunter Peak is in Denali National Park, south of Mount McKinley.  It’s the tallest unnamed peak in Alaska at 13,895 feet.

The legislation now goes to the US House.

Alaska Airlines to Extend Wireless to In-State Routes
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska, Juneau
Alaska Airlines will extend wireless Internet service to most in-state routes by the end of the year. But there will be gaps.

The Alaska Marine Highway System also plans to offer onboard, online service. But it’s unclear when it will be available to the public.

Permanent Fund Principle Input High, Despite Declining North Slope Production
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation is holding its annual meetings in Fairbanks this week.  The state owned corporation’s director Mike Burns says the fund’s value has been on a roller coasters ride in recent years, as the economy has gone from boom to bust, and now recovery.

Burns says the fund survived despite the heavy financial slump of 2008, one of the five worst economic years on record in the U.S.  Permanent Fund investments are diversified worldwide, and Burns says fund managers did not react when the sharp down turn hit.

Burns says Alaskans should take confidence away from the experience, and be proud of the financial legacy the fund has created with state oil royalties.

25 percent of state oil royalty interest goes into the Permanent Fund’s principle.  Burns says that’s meant between $650 and $820 million being deposited into the fund annually over the last four years.  He says high oil prices have elevated fund input, despite declining North Slope production.

Mat-Su Voters Choosing Candidates to Fill Two Assembly Seats
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Matanuska Susitna Borough voters will choose candidates for two Borough Assembly seats when they go to the polls next Tuesday.  KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer has more on the District One race, which has three candidates vying for the outgoing Borough Deputy Mayor’s chair.

Deadliest Catch Will Be Missing Some Familiar Faces This Season
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
Next week the Deadliest Catch production crew will be arriving in Dutch Harbor to prepare for the seventh season of the popular Discovery Channel television series. But some of the show’s biggest stars won’t be greeting them. Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand of the Time Bandit and Sig Hansen of the Northwestern sent a statement to the Hollywood Reporter yesterday, saying that they will not be returning to the show.

This announcement follows the news that Discovery Communications has filed a $3 million lawsuit against the Hillstrand brothers for failing to complete work on a special spin-off called “Hillstranded.” The spin-off was supposed to follow the two crab fishermen away from their boat during the off season. Because of the lawsuit, the brothers have decided to leave the show and Hansen is departing with them in solidarity. Original Productions films the series, and a producer for the show says they expect to remain on their production schedule.

But the exit of this trio will leave the show with few familiar faces. Phil Harris, who was captain of the Cornelia Marie, died earlier this year. His sons are expected to appear in the show this season.

Liz Hillman, a spokesperson for Discovery Communications, says the company is not offering comment on the situation.