Alaska News Nightly: November 5, 2010

Individual news stories are posted in the Alaska News category and you can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio (MP3)

Drug Trafficking, Money Laundering Ring Bust Leads to 19 Arrests
Ben Stanton, KDLL – Kenai
An inter-state drug trafficking and money laundering investigation by a law enforcement task force has led to the arrest of 19 Alaskans.  Federal prosecutors unsealed charges Friday after the investigation through the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

State Wins Rights to Issue Clean Water Act Wastewater Discharge Permits
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The state of Alaska has won the right to issue Clean Water Act wastewater discharge permits for mines, despite a legal challenge from environmental groups and some Alaska Native tribes.

Division of Elections Gearing Up for Write-In Count
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The Division of Elections is setting up what it needs to count the write-in ballots that were cast in Tuesday’s General Election.

Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says all the ballots will be counted in Juneau beginning Wednesday of next week and will take about three or four days.

Working in pairs, Fenumiai says the people actually counting the ballots are all experienced members of the Division’s hand-count verification team. She says they have all been workers at polling places in the past and have been members of various election boards.  And she says they have proven that they take their jobs very seriously.

Friday, Fenumiai says there are more than 43,000 ballots that have not been counted – including absentees, early votes and questioned ballots.  If those also include write-ins they will be dealt with as they arise.  The next run of absentee ballots will be done Tuesday, the ninth.  Still another count is expected on Nov. 12 to deal with some of the questioned ballots.  The final count of absentee ballots will be done on Nov. 17.

The entire counting schedule faces a Nov. 29 certification date.

Alaska Trappers Mourn Death of Dean Wilson
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Trappers are mourning the loss of Dean Wilson Senior of Kenny Lake.  The master trapper and fur buyer, passed away earlier this week following a long illness.  He was 69-years-old.

Wilson grew up in the village of Northway, learned to trap as a child, and spent his life working in the field, and running a seasonal fur buying operation in Fairbanks.  Alaska Trappers Association president Randy Zarnke says Wilson was known as the patriarch of Alaska trapping and did a lot to support the traditional activity, especially with kids.

Zarnke says Wilson’s roots were in traditional trapping, but he embraced evolution of the craft.

Another longtime friend and fellow trapper Pete Buist of Fairbanks says Wilson was always willing to share his knowledge.

Buist says Wilson will be remembered for his outgoing personality and sense of humor. Buist recounts a time when Wilson asked him to help promote a fur contest.

The Alaska Trappers Association shared memories of Dean Wilson Sr. at its monthly meeting his week in Fairbanks.  Wilson’s funeral is scheduled for Sunday at the Kenny Lake School.

Some Southeast Black Bear Populations Experiencing Significant Decline
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
Select populations of black bear in Southeast may be declining at a significant pace.

That’s according to multiple fish and game staff members who addressed the state board of game. The board began its five-day southeast region meeting in Ketchikan Friday.

Fish and game wildlife management coordinator Neil Barton says the state saw a sharp increase in black bear harvests in southeast in the mid-90s.

In the last several years, Barton says fish and game has noted a marked decline in the harvest rate of black bears on multiple islands within Southeast.

While some black bear populations in Southeast appear to be faring well, Barton says fish and game is concerned about a population decline on Kuiu and Kupreanoff islands. He says the highest concentration of black bear hunters has been on Prince of Wales Island, which has seen the largest drop in harvests.

About 800 black bears were harvested last year in the region. Of those, 75 percent were taken by non-resident hunters.

The apparent decline in the black bear population appears to have had a positive affect on the Prince of Wales deer population, which fish and game estimates is at a 15-year high.

Of the 46 proposed game management changes the board is slated to take up, 19 of them deal with black bear.

Whales Aren’t the Only Alaska Marine Mammals Destined for Stardom
Adam Kane, KDLG – Dillingham
The Hollywood movie, “Everybody Loves Whales” is taking center stage lately as film crews shoot in various locations around the state.  But another movie, some of it shot in Western Alaska, will be airing on television this month, and as KDLG’s Adam Kane tells us….it stars a long time Alaska resident – the Pacific walrus.

Geothermal Energy Project Continues Project in Akutan
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB –Unalaska
The City of Akutan continues to make progress on its geothermal energy project. For more than a year, the city has been working to turn the island’s hot springs into a renewable energy resource. This summer, two exploratory wells have been drilled 1,500 feet into the earth, at a site about three miles away from the town in Hot Spring Valley Bay. According to program manager Ray Mann, the results have been promising. Geologists have measured temperatures of about 360 degrees in the wells – hot enough to move forward with the project.

Last week, Mann traveled to California to address the Geothermal Resources Council and talk about where the project stands and where it’s going.

Right now, the project is estimated to cost $45 million, and it has largely been paid for with Alaska Renewable Energy funds and city money. Energy produced by the well could be enough to develop a 12 megawatt power system on the island. Akutan is part of the eastern Aleutian Chain. It has a population of about 800 people, and it supports a major fish processing plant. The production of geothermal energy is expected to eliminate the need for heating fuel on the island.

The project is expected to be online by 2012.

Sealaska Fall Dividends Total Nearly $10 Billion
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Sealaska’s fall dividends will total almost $10 million.

The Juneau-based regional Native Corporation will distribute the money to about 20,000 tribal members Dec. 3.

Urban and at-large shareholders owning 100 shares will get $577 each. Village, descendent and left-out shareholders will receive $120 each. Qualified elders will get another $120.

Urban shareholders, who make up about 60 percent of recipients, will get less than half the amount distributed last December. The end-of-2009 payment was about $1,200.

The difference in payments is money from a resource-earnings pool funded by all regional Native corporations. Sealaska CEO Chris McNeil says this year’s earnings are lower.

Forest Service Overhauling Recreation Planning
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
The Forest Service is overhauling its recreation planning, and trying to involve communities in sustainable tourism.

The pilot program in the Tongass is called “The Sitka Sustainable Outdoor Recreation Plan.”

Responders Cleaning Up Diesel Fuel Spill North of Talkeetna
Associated Press
Responders are cleaning up a large diesel fuel spill north of Talkeetna following an accident involving a tanker trailer on the Parks Highway.

Officials with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation estimate more than 2,500 gallons of diesel spilled in the mishap Thursday near mile 177.

DEC says the Big State Logistics driver was hauling a 9,100-gallon tank and 5,000-gallon pup tank north -when the semitrailer slid from the road.

The driver was not hurt.

Responders are also removing the remaining fuel in the tanks.