Alaska News Nightly: October 19, 2010

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Yakutat Gold Operation Seems Unlikely
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
An Oklahoma company may be backing off claims that it’s found billions of dollars of gold in the Yakutat area. In fact, the company says there may not be any commercially recoverable minerals in the area.

Tribal Leaders Revisit ANCSA
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Alaska Native people from around the state are gathering in Fairbanks. The primary attention is on the ongoing Elders and Youth Conference and the Alaska Federation of Native Conference later this week, but there’s also a smaller event happening. The Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit is the sixth in a series aimed at turning back Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act provisions that stripped Natives of tribal lands, hunting and fishing rights and self governance. Yupik leader Harold Napoleon gave a presentation Monday on the history of assimilation of Alaska Natives by outside forces.  ANCSA set up corporations to manage native lands, an arrangement Napoleon said has fallen short.

Napoleon and about 50 other Alaska Native leaders from across the state are meeting through Wednesday, pushing changes that would retain native corporations, but re-establish tribal lands and governance.  Virginia Commack of Ambler said the elimination of tribal jurisdiction in favor of a corporate structure, was part of an orchestrated assimilation plan.

Commack called ANCSA the latest in a long history of U.S. policies aimed at terminating the uniqueness and power of Native Americans. The Native leaders are preparing resolutions for consideration at the Alaska Federation of Native Convention that begins Thursday in Fairbanks.

One resolution seeks to halt implementation of a 2005 law that instructs the federal government to consult with Alaska Native Corporations on the same basis as Indian tribes.   Another seeks to open up enrollment to Alaska Native Corporations to all Natives born after the 1971 ANCSA cut off.   Ivan Ivan of Akiak encouraged attendees not to be daunted by the challenge of changing federal law.

The group has heard speeches by a number of Native elders including Howard Luke of Fairbanks. Elders addressed the gathering in mix of English and their own languages, recounting traditional ways, and their erosion in recent decades, a rapid change they say made Natives ashamed of who they are, and turned them inward with destructive practices.  They say regaining tribal land and status is an essential step toward recovering and prospering again.

Prosecutors Say No Charges Will Be Filed After Miller Event
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The furor over an incident at U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller’s “Town Hall” meeting in Anchorage continues, although city prosecutors say no charges will be filed.

Miller Speaks With CNN About Disciplinary Action
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller admits he was disciplined two years ago for violating the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s ethics policy while employed as a lawyer.  He acknowledged it on CNN last night, after refusing to answer any related questions from Alaskan media.

The allegations arose last week when Miller’s old boss, former Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker, came forward and said Miller was disciplined – and nearly lost his job – for violating the ethics policy.  Whitaker alleged Miller used borough computers in an attempt to oust GOP state chairman Randy Ruedrich, which breaks the rules of doing political work on borough equipment and time.  Whitaker said Miller was disciplined, but wasn’t fired because he was needed on a project.

Miller had refused to talk about the allegations, and accused “the media” of drumming up stories.  He told reporters last week he would answer no questions about his past employment or personal history.

But on Monday, CNN Anchor John King asked Miller if it’s true he was disciplined for something he did on his lunch hour at the Borough.

Miller went on to say he did not lose his job over it, and that he later left the Borough because of disagreements he had with the administration.

Miller told CNN the issue is being inflated.

Miller said the incident happened during his “time off.”  Miller did not give CNN specifics about exactly what he did, and his campaign ignored interview requests by APRN last night.  Miller has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the matter from Alaskan reporters, and has refused to release his borough personnel records.

New Analysis of Chukchi Sea Development Released
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The federal agency that regulates oil and gas drilling offshore has released a new analysis of development in the Chukchi Sea.  The public comment period opened Friday on the latest plan.  It’s a supplemental environmental impact statement ordered by the courts, which said the initial EIS left out some important elements.

The new statement had to look at the impact of natural gas development, not just oil and had to determine whether missing information was relevant to the drilling proposal.

A group of 15 conservation and Alaska Native groups filed a lawsuit challenging the original environmental analysis.  Environmental group EarthJustice represented the plaintiffs.   Anchorage-based staff attorney Erik Grafe says they were hoping to see more information from this new supplemental analysis.

Grafe complains that the information gaps pointed out by the conservation and native groups have still not been filled-in.

But the Alaska regional director for the Bureau of Ocean Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the agency that regulates offshore drilling, disagrees.  John Gall in Anchorage says they did exactly what the district court judge laid out.

Gall says more scientific study and research will still go on in the Chukchi since it’s considered to be a “frontier area,” but that the judge did not mandate the agency to go further into the EIS.

The supplemental environmental impact statement says natural gas will have the same impacts of oil drilling.  It also says no more new information is needed to move forward.

The public comment period on the Chukchi development lease sale is now open, and runs through the end of November.

Southeast Loses Boat Repair Facility for Winter
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
There’s one less option for hauling out and repairing boats in Southeast this winter. Petersburg Shipwrights is closed until March. The business has been a popular choice for boat work among the region’s commercial fleets. Petersburg officials and boat owners say the news has added urgency to the need for a new marine haul-out and work yard in town.

Fish & Wildlife Releases Sea Otter Recovery Plan
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its recovery plan for the northern sea otter population in Southwest Alaska.

Since 2005, these otters have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and a team made up of 15 biologists, conservationists, government representatives, and community and industry leaders have in the meantime drafted a plan to increase their numbers. The plan divides up Southwest Alaska into five management units, ranging from the Western Aleutian Islands to Bristol Bay and Kodiak. It lays out the current status of sea otters, looks at current management practices, and proposes specific actions to be taken to protect them. It also sets the terms for their de-listing, says Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods.

The recovery plan is also setting a benchmark for “up-listing” the otters – moving their status from threatened to endangered if their numbers continue to decline. While there are some areas of Alaska where sea otters are thriving, their population has dropped more than 50 percent in the past 30 years. In 2005, there were believed to be only 42,000 sea otters in the region.

While there isn’t an obvious cause for this decline, the recovery team has listed predation by killer whales as the most likely cause, along with oil spills as another important factor. The team has also looked at subsistence harvest and bycatch in fisheries as reasons that the population might be shrinking, but lists them as secondary causes.

Right now, the plan is still in draft form. As of now, its main recommendations concern habitat monitoring and oil spill response. The plan would be implemented over the next five years, and cost $15 million.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife is accepting written comment on the draft until Feb. 9, 2011.

CIRI Seeks Public Support for Fire Island
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Cook Inlet Region Incorporate’s much touted Fire Island wind turbine project currently faces an uncertain future, but all too certain deadline.  That’s why this week CIRI is turning to the public, particularly those people concerned about their monthly electricity bills.