Alaska News Nightly: December 2, 2010

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Police Investigating Spenard-Area Abduction
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Anchorage police are saying a woman who claimed she was abducted and held over night by strangers has a credible story. Sergeant Kenneth McCoy with APD’s Special Victims unit said the victim, a young woman in her 20s, left work late on Tuesday evening and went to visit a friend in the Spenard area. When she got out of her car in an apartment complex parking lot, two men with bandanas covering their faces grabbed her, put her into a van, bound her hands and placed something over her head. She was taken to a building and held overnight. Sergeant McCoy says the next day, they moved her again.

Sergeant McCoy says her injuries are consistent with a struggle with captors. He would not say if she was assaulted while held in the building over night. He says the evidence backs up her story.

McCoy says Anchorage police are now reaching out to the public for help.

Murkowski Granted Intervener Status in Miller Case
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
Senator Lisa Murkowski is now part of the lawsuit filed against the state over the counting of write-in ballots.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge William Carey has granted intervener status to Murkowski. During a court hearing Wednesday, Carey questioned whether Murkowski truly had an interest in the case that Republican nominee Joe Miller filed against the State Division of Elections. Miller is challenging the criteria used for counting write-in ballots apparently cast Nov. 2 for Murkowski, his opponent in the U.S. Senate race.

In the five-page opinion issued Thursday morning, Judge Carey reiterated his earlier skepticism with Murkowski’s legal interest in the lawsuit. But he seemed satisfied with an additional pleading made overnight by a Murkowski lawyer, which highlighted 2,016 write-in votes that Election workers did not count. One of the criteria for intervener status would be a so-called “adversity of interest” between the state and another party like Murkowski.

Judge Carey has expedited consideration of the case. Arguments are scheduled for next Wednesday in Juneau Superior Court. He plans to issue a decision by the following day.

The case will likely be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. It will then go back to federal District Court before election results for the Senate race can be certified and a Senator is sworn in next month.

Conservationists Calling for Stronger Protections for ANWR
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge turns 50 on Monday, and conservationists are using the anniversary to call for stronger protections.  They want President Obama to declare “monument status” for the Refuge – a move that would beef up its protections without having to get congressional approval.  It wouldn’t carry the same weight as “wilderness status,” but would block most forms of development.

The President of the Wilderness Society, Bill Meadows, says getting the President to designate it a monument area has a better chance than being protected by Congress.

With the House shifting to Republican control in the New Year, there’s zero likelihood of seeing Congress pass stronger protections in the next two years, a reality Meadows admits.

Thursday morning, outside the U.S. Capitol Building, Refuge advocates gathered to mark the approaching anniversary, including Sarah James with the Gwich’in Steering Committee, who traveled from Arctic Village.  James has been working to protect the Refuge for decades and has appeared at dozens of similar events, but says she new motivation after the April BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last month 25 Senators sent a letter to President Obama calling for stepped-up protection.  More than 50 House members signed on to a similar letter this fall, including Washington State Congressman Jay Inslee.  He says the most viable way to boost protection is through the White House.

The Alaska Congressional delegation and the Governor continue their fight against Refuge protection efforts, and are pushing to see development in ANWR.  Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich blasted the letters sent by members of Congress last month that called for stepped-up protection.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing the long term management plan of the Refuge.  It’s working on a first draft of a new Comprehensive Conservation Plan, which will be out in the spring.

Environmentalists have also seen that as a possible way to get a recommendation for further protections. What was originally called the Arctic National Wildlife Range was established by the Eisenhower administration in 1960.

Federal Halibut Charter Permits to be Issued Soon
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
The first federal permits for Alaska’s halibut charter businesses are expected to be issued soon. That’s according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is working to implement a new regulatory regime for charter catches in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Matt Lichtenstein asked the agency for an update.

Investigation into Campaign Complaint Continues
Tara Bicknell, KHNS – Haines
An investigation continues into a formal complaint against District Five State Representative Bill Thomas and several of his re-election campaign members, regarding campaign disclosure law and a series of newspaper ads.  Alaska Public Offices Commission on Thursday rejected a staff recommendation to dismiss several complaints against Thomas and ordered further investigation.

Alaska Public Offices Commission began reviewing the legality of a series of “thank you” ads that ran in the Haines newspaper leading up to the state primary election, after blogger Linda Kellen-Biegel filed a complaint alleging that the campaign members that arranged the ads did not file the required campaign disclosure reports.

The ads in question ran on a weekly basis and contained photos and ended with the name and address of one of several Haines businesses indicating who paid for the ad.  They also showed either a photo or the name of Representative Thomas.

The weekly newspaper for Haines, the Chilkat Valley News, said the local businesses were billed for the ads, but that Haines resident James Studley, also listed as Deputy Director of the campaign to re-elect Thomas, coordinated the buy.  APOC law states that independent expenditures cannot be made in cooperation with an agent of the candidate.

APOC staff investigated the accusations and issued a report early last month recommending the complainant’s allegations be dismissed, with the exception that two of the ads that expressly included the word “vote” should be considered campaign expenditures and contributions that should have been reported to APOC.

A November hearing saw presentations from the complainant, who protested the recommendation, no member of the Thomas party was present. Following the hearing, the Commission chose not to dismiss the bulk of the complaints’ allegations at this time.

The determination is not final, and the commission requested further investigation.

Change in Society Needed to Cull Domestic Violence
Diana Haecker, KTNA – Talkeetna
In July, Governor Sean Parnell hired on a specialist to deal with the rampant domestic violence and sexual abuse occurrences in Alaska. Katie Tepas is the person and she says that nothing less than a change in society is needed to end domestic violence.

Crewman Pleads Guilty to Sexually Harassing Observer
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
On Tuesday, Victor Chavez-Ramirez, 28, pleaded guilty to sexually harassing a National Marine Fisheries Service observer while aboard the vessel Frontier Spirit in 2008.

Because he was working in the United States illegally, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith sentenced him to be deported and fined him $1,500. She also set a probationary term of three years, and ordered that Chavez-Ramirez enroll in sexual harassment training and avoid work in the fishing industry during the terms of his probation.

Chavez-Ramirez was arrested in November in Unalaska while working on the Frontier Explorer, the sister vessel to the Frontier Spirit. Both vessels are owned by the Seattle-based company Clipper Seafoods, Ltd. He was arraigned last week, and his trial had initially been set for January.

Charges of sexual assault and of interfering with the work of a federal fisheries observer were dropped as part of the plea bargain. The plaintiff was satisfied with the sentence.

Mayor Sullivan Presents City’s Wish List
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan presented a draft of the city’s wish list for the upcoming legislative session earlier this week.  As KSKA’s Len Anderson reports, most of the items are capital projects totaling approximately $220 million.

Young Votes Against Censuring New York Representative
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Congressman Don Young was one of only two Republicans to vote against censuring New York Representative Charles Rangel Thursday evening.

On an overwhelming vote of 333 to 79, the House voted to subject Rangel to a public censure, the first punishment of its kind in nearly three decades.  Right after the vote Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for him to stand in the House well and hear that he had been officially censured.

It’s the second-highest punishment the House offers, one step down from expulsion.  Congressman Young bucked the popular call for punishment.  He said in a statement that quote, “I have never voted to censure anyone.  It should be up to the voters, not up to the Congress.”

Instead Young was one of only three Republicans to vote for a reprimand, a lesser punishment.

The 80-year-old Rangel was censured for 11 ethics violations, including not paying taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic and having hundreds of thousands of dollars in undisclosed assets.

Congressman Young did stand with his party Thursday on a tax cut vote.  He voted against keeping the Bush-era middle class tax cuts. Democrats pushed the vote – and won 234 to 188.  Republicans say they want to keep all the Bush-era tax breaks, including those for the wealthiest households making more than $250,000.  They took an all-or-nothing stance.

The middle class tax cut proposal goes to the Senate, where it has slim prospects of surviving a filibuster.

Trial for Former Fish and Game Commissioner Delayed
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
A jury trial for the outgoing Fish and Game Commissioner accused of driving drunk has been delayed for another two months.

Court records indicate that Denby Lloyd’s attorney has asked for the trial to be postponed until Feb. 14 before Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins. Trial was initially set for Dec. 6 in Juneau.

The 56-year-old Lloyd was initially charged in August for driving with a blood alcohol content of .143 and reckless endangerment because his wife was also in the truck.

He recently announced his intention to retire from the job and return to Kodiak.

Proposed Homer Tidal Power Study Rejected, Expanded to All of Cook Inlet
Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer
The City of Homer received some good news and some bad news from the Alaska Energy Authority last week. The bad news is the city’s grant application to fund a tidal power study on Kachemak Bay has been rejected. The good news is the agency liked the idea so much they’re expanding it to include all of Cook Inlet.