Alaska News Nightly: November 2, 2010

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State’s DEC Taking Over Some Federal Clean Water Act Powers
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Federal Environmental Protection Agency is turning over some of its Clean Water Act authority to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.  This week, DEC  took control of wastewater discharge permits for mines and, in a year, will take over wastewater discharge permits for oil and gas developments.   EPA started transferring it’s wastewater permitting and enforcement authority to the state about two years ago, after approving a request from the state.   Sharmon Stambaugh is DEC’s water quality program manager

Stambaugh says the state has been  taking charge of EPA permitting in four phases.

DEC knew years before taking over the permitting work that staff would have to be ramped up, she says. The legislature has increased DEC’s budget to allow more personnel.  Stambaugh says DEC has the staff to do the job now and points out that DEC has the opportunity to use other state resources, such as the Large Mine Permit Team and it’s own water quality team.

But some Alaska Native groups sued against the EPA’s decision to turn over the permitting, and they were joined by environmental groups, charging that the state is too easy on polluters.  Among the plaintiffs are  tribal governments in Dillingham and Nondalton, and a coalition of Bristol Bay Native corporations.   The concern over the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska is at issue.  If the mine is developed, the state would be charged with the oversight of its wastewater discharges.   The suit is before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to make a decision soon.

Stambaugh  says that the   EPA still will have the opportunity to review drafts of state permits and that  the federal agency keeps the authority to take over a state permit if  it  does not agree with the way the state implements the Clean Water Act standards.

Efforts to Stop Pebble Mine Discussed
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The effort to stop development of the proposed Pebble Mine through the use of a veto authority granted to the EPA was discussed at length Monday night during a meeting in Dillingham.

Homeless Death Raises Police Suspicions
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Another death of an Anchorage homeless man has raised police suspicions as to the nature of the death.  The man’s body was found in a tent in the Midtown area of the city around 5 a.m. Monday.  Anchorage Police have taken five people in to headquarters for questioning. No charges have yet been filed.

An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.

Legendary Alaskan Broadcaster Passes Away
Associated Press
KNOM broadcasting pioneer Tom Busch has died.

Busch died unexpectedly Monday morning in his sleep. He was 63.

Busch was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Boston College. He moved to Nome in 1970 to design and build the radio station. Busch served as KNOM’s general manager from 1975 to 2005 and then served as the station’s fundraiser.

KNOM is a public service radio station in Nome that is owned by the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska, and serves Native villages in western Alaska.

Busch was a member of the Alaska Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.

City Addresses ‘Spice’ Issue
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
There’s no legal ban yet, but the Anchorage Assembly has passed a resolution asking businesses to pull a hallucinatory drug being sold throughout the city as “incense.”

Fairbanks Looks Underground for Energy
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Fairbanks North Star Borough will use federal money to investigate local geothermal energy potential. $1 million from the Department of Energy is being put out by the borough as a request for proposals to develop a model and technology for turning underground heat into electricity.  Borough Grant Coordinator Chris Storkok explained the goals of the effort to the Borough Assembly last week.

The Borough Assembly has approved offering the money as a grant to an entity that can provide matching funds.  Fairbanks is already on the geothermal map for the successful development of  a power plant at Chena Hot Spring Resort.  Engineer Gwen Holdman, who stewarded development of the project, and now serves as Director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, says Chena Hot Springs could produce some level of power for Fairbanks.

Holdman says that’s not enough power at current energy process given the cost of building 30 miles of transmission line to tie Chena into the grid.  The same problem exists with other known local geothermal resources at Circle and Big Windy Hot Springs.   Tests of Fairbanks area deep water wells have not yielded any indication of geothermal heat. Holdman says it’s unlikely another Chean Hot Springs type site will be discovered but there may be  less apparent geothermal sources.

Holdman says a 10,000 foot deep hole drilled at Eielson Air Force Base decades ago, found a normal deep earth temperature.  That’s about 200 degrees, but too far down to tap.  Holdman says a better option might be using lesser heat closer to the surface. She says ground source heat pumps that amplify the differential between earth and surface temperature, may be an option depending on the cost of carbon based energy.

Sitka Trive of Alaska Seek Better Enforcement of Herring Roe Harvest
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is asking for better enforcement of rules that prohibit out-of-state residents from harvesting subsistence herring roe. The tribe’s concern centers around commercial fishing vessels that bring in tons of the eggs and giving them away for free.

Questions Arise About Formation of New Petersburg Borough
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
City employees, attorneys and a committee of local residents fielded questions last week on the formation of a new Petersburg borough.