Alaska News Nightly: October 1, 2010

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Alaska Board of Game Addressing Nelchina Caribou Herd Issues
Associated Press
The Alaska Board of Game will hold a special meeting next week in Anchorage.

The special meeting was scheduled to deal with legal problems that arose this summer surrounding the Nelchina caribou herd community hunt.

But the board added items to the Oct. 8 special meeting at which public input is limited.

The board will now also be considering Alaska Department of Fish and Game proposals setting trapping seasons for black bears; re authorizing predator control near Glennallen and instituting new policies that could be in place for years for managing Alaska’s wolves and bears.

A conservation group and a former Fish and Game employee-turned-watchdog say the limitations of the special meeting will result in Alaskans getting shortchanged when deciding some of Alaska’s most important wildlife issues.

Recall Vote to Determine Fate of North Pole Mayor
Flyn Ludington, KUAC – Fairbanks
The city of North Pole holds municipal elections next week, the results of which will determine whether Mayor Doug Isaacson will finish his term. A few concerned citizens have spearheaded a movement to recall the Mayor for what they believe have been abuses of power.

Wrangell Medical Center Tops List of Funded Projects
Tony Gorman, KSTK – Wrangell
Several projects in Southeast Alaska will receive funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the new Wrangell medical center project topping the list. The announcement was made during the Tongass futures roundtable in Ketchikan.

Mat-Su District Two Race
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Matanuska Susitna Borough voters go to the polls October 5 to choose two Assembly seats. KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer has more on the District Two race, which pits the incumbent against a challenger with a long service record in the Valley.

Mayor Sullivan Presents Version of Municipal Budget
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan presented his version of the municipal budget at a city Assembly work session Friday. Sullivan said the proposed 2011 General Government Operating Budget could be the foundation of a six-year economic recovery plan for the city.

Sullivan said the flat economy is reflected in the budget, which shows a modest increase in taxes but shows significant decreases in several areas of city spending.

He forecast necessary reductions in city spending in years to come, saying cuts will be felt by all city departments.

110 city positions are to be cut, although 56 of them are already vacant, Sullivan said. Other jobs may be moved, so that grants will pay for them.

The proposed 2011 budget reflects a 1.6 percent increase in property taxes, which is expected to bring the city $3.8 million in additional revenues.

Sullivan said taxing to the cap will not be accepted by the public. A series of public dialogues hosted by the city indicated the residents want the municipality to provide services more efficiently

The mayor said the main drivers of increased expenditures are salary and benefit cost increases for city employees, new debts posed by police and fire retirement contributions and bond debts, which taken together reflect a $13.8 million spending increase.

The total proposed budget comes to $435.2 million. Anchorage Assembly chair Dick Traini said, on the whole, the work session was productive.

The Assembly will be discussing the proposed budget for weeks to come. Traini says it will be mid November before a final version is approved.

Berkowitz Proposes Role Realignment for Attorney General
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Democratic candidate for Governor Ethan Berkowitz today proposed realigning the role of the Attorney General – to make certain that the AG independently represents the public, not the governor’s personal interests.

Berkowitz says it will avoid a possible abuse of power and could have prevented some of the ethical issues that have arisen over the past few administrations.

Berkowitz says he not change the current method of selecting the Attorney General – who appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. However, he would like to prevent the AG from being fired without cause – saying that would give the Department of Law more independence in its service to the public. Along with the separation of the two officers, the governor would have a legal counsel on his own staff to handle his own office’s legal needs.

He also would like to limit the members of the state Personnel Board to one term – to avoid the perception that they are satisfying the governor’s wishes in any decisions they might make.

Berkowitz says these changes, such as the Governor’s Legal Counsel, would have avoided some of the conflict that came out of the Troopergate inquiries in 2008.

Governor Parnell’s campaign staff took the proposals as attacks on the integrity of Governor and the Attorney General. The statement read in part: “Ethan’s attacks won’t interfere one bit with Governor Parnell’s efforts to ensure that good jobs are available for Alaskans who are working to raise their families. Governor Parnell will continue to fight the federal government when it limits our resource development and our freedoms.”

UAF Launches New Recycling Effort
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The University of Alaska Fairbanks is beginning a new recycling effort. Like most University campuses, UAF produces reams of paper, and as KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, the goal of the voluntary recycling program launched this week, is to keep much of it out of the landfill.

Proposed Solution to Water Contamination Could Spur Legal Action
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A proposed solution to well water contamination in North Pole could spur legal action against Flint Hills Refinery. A lawyer representing a North Pole resident suing Flint Hills for sulfolane contamination, says the company’s offer of water treatment systems is not an adequate fix. Attorney Jason Weiner also says accepting one could mean giving up a sizeable legal claims.

Weiner says the number reflects health and property value impacts. Sulfolane contamination has affected about 150 North Pole properties, and some property owners have accepted deals with the company including free hookups to city water. A judge recently turned down a request for a class action suit against Flint Hills. Weiner says the judge felt resident’s potential claims would vary too much.

Weiner says the judge also wanted to see additional plaintiffs come forward So far only his client has filed suit, but he expects more to do so now that Flint Hills has presented the treatment systems, or installation of bulk water tanks, as its final solutions. Flint Hills spokesman Jeff Cook says a water treatment is the best fix.

Cook says testing will continue before the water treatment systems are offered to residents. He says Flint Hills will cover all installation and maintenance.

Cook could not comment on what legal releases residents might have to agree to. The refinery began providing bottled water to effected residents after sulfolane was discovered in local wells about a year ago. Sulfolane is a solvent used in the refining process. Historic spills that occurred prior to Flint Hills buying the facility from Williams are blamed for pollution that’s migrated through ground water. Flint Hills is installing 2 new wells to feed the city of North Pole municipal water system, as a precautionary measure.

Independent Travelers Slightly Made Up for Lack of Cruise Ship Traffic
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Alaska’s 2010 tourism season is over. Excursion managers and cruise line officials are still crunching the numbers. But it looks like the drop in cruise ship traffic was at least partially made up by an increase in independent travelers.