Alaska News Nightly: November 9, 2010

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Absentee, Early Vote Counting Begins Today
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The Division of Elections is counting the first round of absentee and early votes Tuesday – APRN’s Dave Donaldson has some early returns, but there are a lot of votes still to be tabulated.

Election Officials Keeping Eye Out For Voter Fraud
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
As division of elections officials oversee the count of absentee, early and questioned ballots over the next several days, the specter of voter fraud in an election that saw record numbers of early voting is a concern. Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai says election officials have a system in place to ensure that those who vote early can’t vote again. Fenumiai says if you vote early, you’re automatically given voter history in the registration system and names are crossed off precinct lists.

Write-In Vote Count Programming Available Live on Gavel-to-Gavel
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Public Television will let you watch the count of the write-in votes in the race for the U.S. Senate – on your TV or computer.   KTOO television in Juneau provides the live Gavel-to-Gavel coverage of the legislative session – along with other public affairs programming – statewide.  And beginning Wednesday, Bill Legere, the station’s president and general manager, says the service will offer a live continuous video coverage of the vote-counting process in Juneau.

Legere says the service is part of the ongoing philosophy of Gavel-to-Gavel – to show people things they would not ordinarily be able to see.  He says the only people that will be allowed into the building are Elections offices, officially recognized observers and the media.  The service will be available on cable channels that provide Gavel-to-Gavel during the legislative session and the 360-North channel during the rest of the year.  It will also be available on the internet at

Parnell Begins Accepting Resignations From Commissioners, Other High-Level Officials
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Governor Parnell will replace nearly half of the cabinet-level people that met him when Sarah Palin resigned last year.   Parnell announced last week that he had asked for resignations from all commissioners and other high-level appointed officials.  And so far he has accepted those resignations from Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin, Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin,  Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer,  Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Hogan, Education Commissioner Larry LeDoux and Transportation Commissioner Leo Von Scheben.  The resignation of Deputy Natural Resources Commissioner Marty Rutherford was also accepted.

His spokesperson Sharon Leighow says the commissioners will all remain in office until the Governor his own administration next month.

Leighow says the rest of the cabinet will remain in place for his administration.   He plans to have jobs filled by his inauguration – however if any position is still vacant, he will appoint someone to temporarily fill it.

Leighow also says the governor will have letters of resignation by the end of the week from agency heads and sub-cabinet appointees.  However there is no indication of which of those individuals will be replaced.

The governor will take the oath of office in Juneau on Dec. 6.

Johansen Loses Leadership Post; Thomas, Wilson Move Up
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
One of the most powerful members of Alaska’s House of Representatives has left the Republican-led majority caucus.

Ketchikan’s Kyle Johansen walked out of an organizational meeting last weekend that kept Kenai’s Mike Chenault as speaker of the House.

Johansen left after another GOP representative, Anchorage’s Charisse Millett, was denied a committee assignment she had sought. The two lawmakers have been described as having a “close personal relationship.”

While Johansen lost a significant post, two other Southeast lawmakers – Bill Thomas and Peggy Wilson – moved into new leadership roles.

Father, Two Sons Die After Snowmachine  Falls Through Ice
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
The village of Newtok suffered a great loss over the weekend.

A father and two of his sons are reported dead after their snowmachine fell through the ice near Newtok on Saturday.

Alaska State troopers are reporting the deceased as George Earviak Sr., 67, and his sons George Earviak Jr., 11, and Teddy Earviak, 9.

It was originally reported that they were going to set blackfish traps, but Bethel Search and Rescue says that the blackfish traps were left at home.  They think it’s more likely that they were checking the trail.  But they didn’t get far.

The pond they fell through was near the village’s airport and within sight of some of the homes.  There was new snow on the ground that covered their tracks, but the machine was found pointing away from the village, indicating that the trio was still leaving the village.

Bethel Search and Rescue says the pond is man-made, and approximately 14 feet deep. They say ice was thin where the snow machine broke through.

Newtok is located near the Bering Sea, about 100 miles West of Bethel.

The three left the village on Saturday morning.  After they failed to return a search and rescue mission was initialized that day.  That included local volunteers, along with air support from the Troopers and Civil Air Patrol.

Ground searchers located their submerged snow machine, the next day, on Sunday afternoon at about 12:30. Volunteers’ teams from Kwethluk, Napaskiak and Bethel assisted.  They were able to drag the pond and retrieve all three bodies.  Drowning is the likely cause of death but an autopsy will be performed by the State Medical examiner’s office.

Alcohol does not appear to be a factor.

Search and Rescue Teams Concerned About Kuskokwim River Corridor
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Meanwhile, the main transportation corridor in and out of Bethel is extremely dangerous right now. That’s the word from Search and Rescue members concerned that a slow freeze-up on the Kuskokwim River is tempting travelers to push their luck.

Men Charged in Bethel Killing Plead Not Guilty
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Three men charged in connection with the torture killing in Bethel pleaded not guilty in court on Monday.

Defendants Jeff Hout, 46, and Harry Ned Williams, 32 appeared at their arraignment shackled together and wearing yellow jump suits. Hout and Williams are both facing charges of Murder in the First, and Murder in the Second for the death of 19-year-old Benjamin Kaiser of Hooper Bay. Williams was found dead and beaten at Hout’s residence on Oct. 27.  Hout and Williams have also been charged with kidnapping and tampering with evidence, both felony crimes.

In court Williams was represented by a Public Defender from Anchorage.

Hout had no legal representation at the arraignment. He entered his own plea of not guilty.  He was previously represented by a private firm, but that arraignment is no longer in place.  Hout told the judge he plans on filing paper work to obtain a court ordered attorney, but he said he’s waiting for his mother to provide him with his financial information.  Hout told the judge his mother takes care of his finances.

A third Defendant, David Kenny, 37, was present telephonically.  His lawyer, who was also on the phone, said that Kenny was currently hospitalized, but did not explain further.  Kenny entered a not guilty plea for charges of hindering a prosecution and tampering with evidence. Those are both felony charges.

The judge for the case is Michael McConahy of the Fairbanks Superior Court.  McConay said he will conduct much of the proceedings telephonically, but he also said he will come to Bethel for the trial itself.  He scheduled the trail to begin the last week of Janurary.

Four Killed in House Fire Near Caswell
Associated Press
Four people have been killed in a house fire near Caswell.

Alaska State Troopers say the home about 55 miles north of Anchorage was engulfed in flames when they arrived just before 6 a.m. Tuesday.

A passer-by noticed flames at the home at Mile 87 Parks Highway, and reported the fire.

Several fire crews from surrounding towns responded to the blaze.

Additional details were not immediately available.

Troopers, the Alaska Bureau of Investigation and the state fire marshal’s office are investigating.

Record Setting Harvest, Rebounding Prices Fuel Successful Pink Salmon Harvest
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
A record-setting pink salmon harvest in Prince William Sound and rebounding prices at the docks around Alaska helped propel the value of the 2010 salmon catch to its highest level in nearly two decades.

Statewide, the salmon harvest topped 168 million fish, up more than five million from last year. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it’s the 11th largest salmon harvest since statehood.

Fish and Game assistant director Geron Bruce says the value of this year’s catch reached historic levels.

Statewide, fishing fleets landed over 105 million pink salmon in 2010. A record 69 million pinks were caught in Prince William Sound, with the bulk of those fish returning to hatcheries.  In Bristol Bay, this year’s catch of more than 28 million sockeye salmon were worth nearly $149 million at the docks. Those two catches made up more than half of the total value of this year’s salmon harvest statewide.

In Southeast, the pink salmon catch ended up topping $24 million, worth around $31 million at the docks. Southeast fishermen caught almost 9.5 million chum, with an average price of 72 cents a pound, and a total worth more than $56 million. Most of those chum are produced by the region’s hatcheries and chums remain by far the most valuable of the five salmon species in the Panhandle.

Bruce says prices for chum and pinks were notable this year.

Salmon prices have been on the rise since a low-point in 2002. As for other species, Southeast permit holders caught 2.5 million coho, with an average price of a $1.19 a pound. Southeast’s king salmon catch was 249,000 fish and the sockeye harvest was 717,000.

Elsewhere around the state, 2010 was a poor pink salmon year along the Alaska Peninsula. The catch was 867,000 humpies, from a pre-season forecast of 5.8 million. It was also another poor year on the Yukon River for fall chum and king salmon.

Batch of Smoked Salmon Recalled by DEC
Associated Press
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has requested the recall of a batch of smoked salmon from a Fairbanks producer after it found a shipment contaminated with a pathogen.

The department has targeted half-pound bags of Santa’s Smokehouse Cajun-Style Smoked Keta Salmon sold between Aug. 27 and Nov. 6.

The department found the bacterium Listeria in a batch sold at the company’s retail stores.

The Santa’s Smokehouse brand is produced by Interior Alaska Fish Processors, Inc.

No illnesses have been reported in association with the recall.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has not yet identified the source of the contamination.

Commercial Shipping Noise May be Most Serious Acoustic Threat to Whales
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
The most serious acoustic threat to the ocean’s cetacean populations may be the noise from commercial shipping, rather than the more controversial use of powerful naval sonar.  That’s the contention of Dr. Roger Gentry, a former researcher at the National Marine Fisheries Service. Gentry is now a private consultant, and one of eight scientists presenting their work at this year’s Whalefest in Sitka.

CIRC Seeking Support for Fire Island Wind Farm
Associated Press
The Cook Inlet Region Corporation has asked the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce to pressure utilities to support its planned Fire Island wind farm project.

KTUU reports the Native Corporation has already spent $9 million and begun clearing land on Fire Island to build 33 turbines.

To get federal stimulus money for the project the corporation needs agreements from utilities to buy the power. Those contracts must be approved by state regulators by March.

The corporation says it’s negotiating with utilities and working on ways to integrate the variable wind power with electricity generated by natural gas.