Alaska News Nightly: October 7, 2010

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Department of Energy Approves LNG Export License Continuation
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The U.S. Department of Energy has approved the continuation of ConocoPhillips-Marathon Liquefied Natural Gas Export License shipments to overseas markets for the next two years.

The approval allows the company to ship gas that was authorized but not yet delivered under a license granted in 2008 – but not to increase the quantities allowed at the time of the original agreement.

There were concerns about the export license in light of the uncertain gas supplies available for Anchorage and Southcentral utilities. But the Department found that there are enough contract commitments and safeguards in place to assure that local needs will be met.

Natalie Lowman, of Conoco-Phillips, says those requirements have always been a part of their plan. She says the export of gas is necessary to stay in business to provide local supplies.

Anchorage Republican Mike Hawker has been active in the legislative search for gas for the region. He says without the federal order, the plant could have been shut down. Admitting that it sounds odd to ship gas when a shortage is looming, Hawker says that exporting makes it possible to fill the high demand periods.

Democrat Chris Tuck, of Anchorage, also has been working on local energy needs for the Anchorage area. He says seeing the license extended can provide some comfort for residents until a new storage facility becomes available – now planned for the 2012-13 season. That will allow for a reservoir of 8 billion cubic feet of gas.

The storage facility resulted from legislation sponsored by Representative Hawker that came of out this year’s session. The Non-Firm Supply Contracts and the Gas Storage facilities are now before the Regulatory Commission of Alaska. The Storage application has been scheduled for hearings early next month.

Pick Click Give Program Donations Flow in on Dividend Day
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Public broadcasting, the Food Bank of Alaska and an Anchorage homeless shelter are among the big winners in the second year of the Pick Click Give program.

Pick Click Give allows Alaskans to donate a portion of their permanent fund dividend to participating charities.

Official Explains the Write-In Vote
Adam Kane, KDLG – Dillingham
The state division of elections will be dealing with a lot more write-in votes than usual this November. KDLG’s Adam Kane spoke with division director Gail Fenumiai about what will be allowed and how the ballots will be counted.

Prosecutors Recommend Court Martial for Wasilla Soldier
Associated Press
An investigating officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington has recommended a court martial for the Wasilla solider accused of killing three civilians in Afghanistan. The recommendation now goes to the commander of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division for a final decision on a military trial.

22-year-old Specialist Jeremy Morlock is one of five Lewis-McChord soldiers accused of killing civilians for sport in a recent Stryker brigade deployment. All have denied the accusations. They could face the death penalty if convicted.

Morlock was the first to have a pretrial hearing September 27 at the Army base near Tacoma.

Attorney Honored for Work with Domestic Violence Victims
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
The state of Alaska has honored a Petersburg attorney for his volunteer legal work on behalf of domestic violence victims. John Hoag received an award from Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan during a ceremony in Anchorage last week marking domestic violence awareness month.

Researchers Share Results from Arctic Ocean Diversity Project
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Alaska based researchers are part of a group of marine scientists from around the globe gathered in London this week. They’re sharing results from a decade long survey of sea life compiled by 2,700 scientists. It’s one of the largest scientific collaborations ever conducted. The University of Alaska Fairbanks has been involved in several components of the worldwide project.

Oceanography professor Russ Hopkroft is one of three UAF researchers who led an Arctic Ocean Diversity Project. Hopkroft says it started with sorting through over a century’s worth of marine life discoveries.

The Arctic marine data base consists of a quarter million species. It includes previously identified life as well as new discoveries from recent years field work in the Chuckchi and Beaufort seas and the Canadian Basin. Hopkroft says the UAF team identified 71 previously unknown life forms.

Hopkroft says technology, like remotely operated submarines, have enabled new discoveries. He says climate change makes this a pivotal time for creating a data base for arctic marine life, against which future surveys can be compared. He says while the first 10 year phase of the marine life survey has come to a close, the survey could continue depending on available funding. Another UAF-led component of the project looked at marine life in near shore environments.

Fisheries Service Will Not Adopt New Steller Sea Lion Management Plan
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
An official from the National Marine Fisheries Service announced yesterday that they would not be adopting the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s alternative plan for Steller Sea Lion management. The council had hoped that NMFS would consider relaxing the proposed restrictions and reducing the potential closures, but – with few exceptions – NMFS is moving ahead with the plan announced in August.

Effective January 1, NMFS will be closing Pacific Cod and Atka Mackerel fisheries in the western Aleutian Islands, in an effort to increase the food supply for the endangered western stock of sea lions. Doug DeMaster, a research director for NMFS, says that while this is a difficult process with many stakeholders involved, adhering to the Endangered Species Act is the top priority.

Many representatives from the fishing industry are less than pleased. They estimate that the loss to the commercial fisheries in the Western Aleutians is about $30 million, and that the brunt of that will fall on only a dozen boats. David Benton is the executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance, an industry group that has been critical of both the science behind the decision and the speed at which NMFS is operating. He’s concerned there wasn’t enough time for the agency to review the Council’s management plan.

But conservation groups are pleased that NMFS didn’t weaken its plan. Michael Levine is Pacific senior council for the conservation group Oceana, and he says that the western stock of Steller Sea Lions are currently in a critical situation, and that their continued decline demands immediate attention.

The Council will be meeting through the end of the week, and will be discussing the prospect of a scientific review of the biological opinion.

Flags at Half-Staff Around State Honoring Late Statehood Pioneer
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
Alaska flags around the state are at half-staff on Thursday in honor of statehood pioneer and economist George Rogers, who died earlier this week at the age of 93.

He’s being remembered this week for his contributions to the young state, especially his economic understanding of Alaska.

In this second of two features of his life, Rosemarie Alexander from member station KTOO reports that Rogers most tangible legacy is the University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research, now located on the Anchorage campus.