Alaska News Nightly: November 18, 2010

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New Parnell Administration Aiming to Grow Economy
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Governor Sean Parnell spoke to the Resource Development Council in Anchorage Thursday morning. Marking his first large public appearance since winning the election, Parnell seemed excited and energized to talk about resource development in Alaska, as well as introducing some of his new cabinet appointees.

Parnell said his administration, along with the legislature had changed the investment climate to create incentives for exploration business. He said an announcement Wednesday showed how tax changes in the state resource system can help grow the economy.

Parnell said studies in the Outer Continental Shelf area of the Arctic have been conducted by Shell and others for years and more would be needed before actual development happened in those waters. He said the state can’t let the federal government continue to say no to OCS development.

Governor Parnell also announced the first of his selections to head up his cabinet positions. He listed each person’s accomplishments first. His pick to head up the Department of Natural Resources is current Attorney General Dan Sullivan.

Parnell chose Mark Lukin a current deputy in the department as the new commissioner for the Department of Transportation, highlighting his experience in national management and the military.

Parnell said he’s calling on Cora Campbell to be acting commissioner of Fish and Game. Denby Lloyd is resigning on Dec. 1. Campbell is currently the Governor’s representative on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Parnell says he wants to see more integration of fishery research in the future.

Parnell said he wasn’t singling out Fish and Game, saying state government departments often work in silos.

Parnell chose former Murkowski administration communications director Becky Hultberg to head up the department of Administration. Susan Bell will stay on as commissioner of Commerce and Economic Development. Parnell said he hopes to announce more appointees early next week.

Murkowski Declares Victory, Miller Seeking Preliminary Injunction
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Lisa Murkowski trumped naysayers yesterday by claiming victory in her U.S. Senate race against Republican Party candidate Joe Miller.  Murkowski flew back to Anchorage from Washington DC, on Wednesday to accept her election win, after a hand count of absentee ballots put her more than 10,000 votes ahead of Miller.

Joe Miller asked a federal judge for a preliminary injunction stopping officials from certifying Alaska’s U.S. Senate election, according to the Associated Press.

Military Searching for Missing F-22 Pilot
Associated Press
Military officials are setting up a camp off the Denali Highway in interior Alaska in preparation for a ground search for an Air Force pilot missing after a crash of an F-22 Raptor.

Air Force personnel plan to search south of the highway, a 134-mile mostly gravel road that runs east from near the entrance to Denali National Park to Paxson on the Richardson Highway.

The highway is open seasonally and closes for the winter.

The single-seat jet took off Tuesday from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage on a training run. After about an hour and 20 minutes in the air, it disappeared from ground radar at 7:40 p.m.

The crash site was found Wednesday about 100 miles north of Anchorage.

The pilot’s name has not been released.

Anglo American CEO Speaks About Heightening Interest in Copper Industry
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Anglo American CEO of copper John MacKenzie flew in from Santiago, Chile to address Alaska business leaders in Anchorage this week. Anglo American is a world leader in platinum and diamonds, and a major producer of coal, iron ore and nickel

MacKenzie focused his remarks on the heightening interest in copper worldwide, due to a burgeoning technological industry and the rise of the middle class in China and India.  He said copper is critical to green energy technology as well, and is a necessary component for everything from wind turbines to hybrid autos. MacKenzie told the group that Pebble is a world class resource which presents the opportunity to apply modern techniques to mining.

Anglo American operates in 30 countries around the globe and has a $60 billion annual budget.   Pebble development has drawn opposition from environmentalists, fishing interests and some Alaska Native tribes because of threats to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.

Mining Company New Major Sponsor for 2011 Iditarod
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race has announced a new, major sponsor for the 2011 race.  A mining company that may want to run a gas line along a portion of the trail is contributing $285,000.

Federal Agencies Working to Deal With High Suicide Rates in Alaska
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Federal agencies that deal with Alaska Native health issues want to hear from Alaskans about preventing suicide.  Alaska Natives and American Indians have a suicide rate 72 percent higher than the general American population, so the agencies are holding listening sessions all over the country to collect feedback on what should be done to address the problem.

The effort is a partnership of the Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.  Doctor Rose Weakhee, the director of IHS’s Behavioral Health Program, says they want to listen rather than talk.

Weakhee says they’re inviting everyone – not just heath care providers – because it’s important to recognize how entire communities are impacted by suicide, and can collectively help to fight it.

Weakhee says it’s a complicated public health issue, especially in Native villages where risk factors are higher than in other communities.

The Indian Health Service is planning a national conference next summer about suicide prevention. The agencies are hosting 10 tribal listening sessions throughout the country.  The Alaska gathering is scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 30, in Anchorage at the Egan Convention Center.

Open Enrollment of New Medicare Plans Running Through End of Year
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The open enrollment period to review and join new Medicare prescription drug plans started on Monday and will run through the end of the year.

Persily Paints Picture Filled With Competing Gas Markets
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects has laid out factors working for and against development of line from the North Slope.  Larry Persily addressed the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce this week, painting a market picture filled with a lot of competing gas, including major projects overseas.

Given all the worldwide competition, and relatively low gas prices, Persily said an Alaska project should focus on the Lower 48, the world’s biggest gas market.   Two proposed Alaska gas line projects to feed North American markets completed open seasons this summer, and there are also smaller proposed projects to meet in state demand.  Persily said an instate line isn’t a good economic choice.

Persily said a large diameter line to the Lower 48 also has the advantage of several federal benefits including an investment tax credit for a North Slope gas processing plant.  Persily said the next step toward development of a large diameter North Slope gas line hinges in part on the state and industry hammering out tax issues.

Stalled Timber Sale Begins Move Forward
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
An appeals court is allowing work to resume on a small timber sale near Coffman Cove. The legal decision is part of the larger battle over the Logjam sale, a controversial project on central Prince of Wales Island.