Alaska News Nightly: December 1, 2010

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Obama Administration Proceeding Cautiously with Arctic Drilling
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The Obama Administration announced today that while it’s blocking offshore drilling on America’s East Coast and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, it will proceed cautiously in the Arctic.

It had been halted after the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout gushed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Coastal Management Program Closing July 1
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
After more than 30 years, the doors are scheduled to close on one of the state agencies that has been most responsible for development projects in Coastal communities.

Right now, the Coastal Management Program faces a final, lights-out closure on July 1.   The question legislators will have to resolve during next year’s session is how it should be saved.

Troopers Arrest Suspect in Brevig Mission Stabbing
Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome
Alaska State troopers have arrested a suspect in the fatal stabbing of a Brevig Mission man.  Troopers were notified of the death early Tuesday morning.

Unemployment Insurance Tax Rates Rising in 2011
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Alaskans will see an increase in the state’s unemployment insurance tax rate in 2011.

The rate for employers — set by a formula in state law — will go up about half a percent. The employee rate will rise slightly from its current half percent minimum.

Despite the increases, Alaska’s 2011 rate for employers will be the fifth lowest in the last 31 years. That’s according to Virginia Calloway, Chief of Unemployment Insurance Taxes with the state Department of Labor. She says one reason is the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund has more than $200 million in the bank.

Meanwhile, Congress Tuesday failed to pass an extension of federal unemployment insurance, meaning thousands of Alaskans will start losing their benefits in the coming weeks and months.

The state provides 26 weeks of regular benefits, which Congress had extended to 99 weeks through four separate bills.

Tom Nelson, Director of Employment Security at the Labor Department, says more than 35,000 Alaskans received unemployment insurance during the last week of November. Of those, more than 10,000 got some form of federal benefits. New claims for one federal extension expired last week. Another expires Dec. 11. And one extension the federal government had been paying 100 percent will now be split 50-50 between the state and feds.

Alaska is one of only three states — along with Pennsylvania and New Jersey — where employees help fund the system along with employers.

Akiak Man Remains Thankful Despite Thanksgiving Day Fire
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
One Akiak man says he has a lot to be thankful for, even after he a fire destroyed all his possessions on Thanksgiving Day.

Tribal Providers Conference Addresses High Suicide Rates
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The 20th Annual Tribal Providers Conference, going on in Anchorage through this week,  has drawn hundreds of participants from villages across Alaska.  The gathering is sponsored by the federal Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, and presents dozens of workshops and informational sessions on topics ranging from health and foster care to tribal government issues.

One session on Tuesday filled an entire ballroom at the Egan Center with those eager to find solutions to the high rate of suicide among Alaska Natives.

Halibut Fleet Reeling at Proposed Cuts
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
Alaska’s commercial halibut fishermen are facing another major cut to the coast-wide catch in 2011. Scientists with the International Pacific Halibut Commission are recommending a total harvest of a little more than 41 million pounds of the valuable, flat fish in Alaska, Canada and the Pacific Northwest. That would be a 19 percent drop from last year’s overall catch limit. Southeast would be particularly hard-hit again with a potential 47 percent cut.