Alaska News Nightly: October 21, 2010

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Early Voting on Pace to Surpass 2006 Numbers
Associated Press
Absentee and early voting could play an important role in the outcome of the Alaska Senate race.

In the first three days of early voting, more than 2,700 ballots have been cast. If that pace continues over the 15 days of early voting, it will exceed the total of 8,455 early ballots cast in the 2006 general election.

So far, election officials also have mailed more than 27,600 absentee ballots, more than in 2006.

Campaigns are focusing on locking in votes early.

The director of the division of elections doesn’t expect to start counting names written onto ballots until about Nov. 18, when the total number of ballots is known and it’s clear whether, legally, the state must count write-ins.

Democrats May Sue Over Voting Booth Write-In Lists
Associated Press
Alaska Democrats are threatening to sue the state, alleging election officials are trying to influence the outcome of the U.S. Senate race by illegally providing voters a list of write-in candidates.

Attorney Joe McKinnon says Democrats will consider their options, including seeking a restraining order, if the state doesn’t end the practice.

Officials removed a write-in list from a voting booth in Homer following a complaint and segregated write-in votes there. But the director of the division of elections says official write-in lists have been sent to polling places and that officials see their providing this, to those who ask for it, as meeting their obligation to provide voter assistance.

Democrats charge it goes beyond that – and is a violation of law.

Republican Party Members Send Open Letter to Joe Miller
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Some well-known Republican Party of Alaska members have written an open letter to Joe Miller, asking the party’s endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate to embrace the party’s official statement of principles.  But Miller’s campaign is calling the letter manipulation from his opponent.

Alaska, Horizon Air Reports Quarterly Profit
Tom Banse, NNN – Washington
The parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air reported a record quarterly profit today.  The air carrier is benefiting from unusually disciplined pricing by the airline industry overall. Northwest News Network Correspondent Tom Banse has the story.

‘Village Survival’ is This Year’s AFN Theme
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks and Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Alaska Federation of Natives Convention got underway in Fairbanks on Thursday.  Thousands of Alaska Native people from all over the state were on hand to hear speeches by government and Native leaders.  This year’s convention theme is “Village Survival” and speakers addressed a range of issues straining rural communities. AFN president Julie Kitka addressed the organization’s annual convention this morning.  She urged Alaska Natives to craft a plan of action on protecting subsistence rights.  She referred to a subsistence resolution to be released Thursday.

Natives can get swept aside by history and be forgotten, Kitka said, or take bold action to achieve their destiny.

“We are unique,” Kitka said, and urged Alaska Natives to work together, rather than remain in isolated pockets around the state.

Kitka’s remarks highlighted the original Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and its more recent amendments as the key to the success of Alaska’s Native corporations.  She called the corporations, “remarkable institutions.” Kitka said, success did not come without challenges, however.

Kitka called the Alaska Native corporations, “tools for us to create our own future and economy.”

“Village Survival” is a battle cry, she said, referring to the theme of this year’s convention.

Kitka called on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to hold hearings to take input from village residents on how to make their communities sustainable.  She said the government can help by absorbing some of the risk of projects and providing low interest loans.  Kitka also expressed strong support for continuation of the federal 8(a) program, while calling for reforms to address any abuses in the program that provides no bid government contracts to Alaska Native Corporations.

Two major awards were handed out at AFN today.  The AFN Citizen of the Year Award went to Alaska Native television producer Jeanie Green.   Congressman Don Young was honored with the Denali Award, which goes to a non-native who benefits the Alaska Native community.  Young was moved to tears by the award, but went on to address issues effecting Alaska life, including access to affordable energy and heavy handed federal regulation.

He told Natives to remember their village roots, no matter where they live now.

The Congressman said he would work with the state and federal governments to get alternate forms or energy into Alaska’s villages.  Young said it would be expensive, but less expensive than having all villagers move to Alaska’s cities.

Keynote speaker Gloria O’Neil of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, called on the state to fulfill its responsibility to provide quality education. But she said the responsibility also lies with Alaskans, who need stop tolerating a system that allows their kids to fail.

O’Neil said Alaska Natives need to acknowledge and overcome a painful history in which schools were used as tools of abuse and assimilation.  She said Natives have a right to be angry, but need to transform that into energy to create a better future. A full AFN slate of events including consideration of resolutions on key issues, continues through Saturday at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.

Justice Leaders Discuss ‘Restorative Justice’
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A State magistrate and tribal justice leader says there’s value to both systems. Tlingit Mike Jackson of Kake spoke at a session on restorative justice at the Elders and Youth Conference in Fairbanks yesterday.  Restorative Justice, which is used in misdemeanor cases, brings together an offender and community members to talk out what happened and come up with ways to make things right.  Jackson says it’s more about learning from what happened than simple punishment.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions for doing wrong.  Jackson says sentences for the most common offense, minor consuming, are always tougher than what he can hand out in state court.

Jackson says the restorative justice process is based on common values of respect, love and forgiveness that help people move on from what they did wrong, rather than become victims of the legal system.

He says he see a lot of people on the street who could benefit from restorative process, but that it’s not the best approach for all situations, and he respects the jurisdiction of the state to handle more serious crimes. Jackson’s work with restorative justice has been recognized by a Supreme Court justice and Harvard University J.F.K. School of Government.

Wrangell Mayor Declares Disability Mentoring Day
Tony Gorman, KSTK – Wrangell
Yesterday was Disability Mentoring Day in Wrangell.  The borough is encouraging all Wrangellites to recognize the potential of people with disabilities and to work toward their integration into the work force. KSTK’s Tony Gorman profiles Wrangell’s new mayor who didn’t let a medical condition stop him from pursuing his goals…

Air Quality Cause for Concern at Fairbanks-Area Schools
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
There are concerns about air quality at Fairbanks area schools.  A number of people, including several parents of kids with breathing problems, testified about the issue before the North Star Borough school board this week.  Anna Marie Benson, the mother of two kids at Fairbanks Wood River Elementary, said winter air quality at the school has gotten worse in recent years.

Benson said air quality is even a problem inside the school.

Others testified about similar smoke problems at other school sites in Fairbanks, and North Pole. Most asked for air quality monitoring and installation of filtration systems at schools with proven problems.

The State and Fairbanks Borough are trying to figure out who’s in charge of air quality.  Last year, voters supported local control, but passed a citizen initiative earlier this month, that prohibits the borough from banning heating devices or fining people for using them.  Borough Air quality specialist Jim Connor says attorneys are considering the implications, but there may be some wiggle room for the borough.

Connor confirms there have been many complaints from the Wood River school and surrounding neighborhood, where borough air quality monitoring has shown elevated fine particulate concentrations.  He attributes the situation to a high level of wood stove use and two hydronic heaters or wood boilers that put out excessive smoke.  He says the two big polluters have been unresponsive to borough and state requests that they stop fouling the air, and court action may be required.

Cruise Science Panel Considers Water Study
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Alaska’s cruise ship science advisory panel takes up water-quality issues at a meeting this week in Juneau.

The 11-member group will hear about an industry-sponsored study of the water ships pump aboard in port communities. The study shows some samples exceeding allowable concentrations of dissolved copper, zinc and nickel.

Cruise ship program manager Rob Edwardson says that could have an impact on regulation of cruise-ship discharges.

“The constituents that already exist in the water that is taken onboard could have measurable quantities in the discharge. And the purpose of going over the study is to benchmark what those levels may be,” he says.

The panel will discuss whether to accept the Alaska Cruise Association’s study, or conduct its own. Industry critics say they want an independent study.

The meeting is being held Thursday and Friday at Juneau’s Centennial Hall. Members will also hear about the state’s wastewater treatment system approval process. And they will hear information on naval architecture and space issues that could affect onboard equipment installation. (Read the panel’s agenda.)

“Some of the science panel members don’t necessarily come from the maritime field. So this would be going over with them in general terms some restrictions and capabilities of ships in general,” he says.

Edwardson began managing the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Cruise Ship Program last month. He’s a longtime Southeast Alaskan and a retired Coast Guard officer who has worked with hazardous materials, law enforcement, and environmental protection programs.

“I’ve always been interested in cruise ships, since I was a little boy. And I wanted to be part of a program that overlooked the industry and helped out the environment in Southeast Alaska,” he says.

Edwardson takes over from Denise Koch, who left the job earlier this year.

The Legislature created the science panel in 2009 to evaluate wastewater treatment options for cruise ships.

Young Hoping to Block Approval of Genetically Engineers Salmon
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
Alaska Congressman Don Young is hoping to block U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of genetically engineered salmon, or at least require industry to label the new farmed fish product. Young has introduced two separate pieces of legislation in response to a Massachusetts company’s application for FDA approval.