Alaska News Nightly: December 15, 2010

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Energy Authority Recommends Dam for Susitna
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Alaska Energy Authority’s board of directors made it official on Wednesday.  Karston Rodvik,  AEA’s project manager for external affairs,  says five board members attended the six minute meeting.  The move formally approves the November 23rd Railbelt Large Hydro Evaluation Preliminary Decision document recommending the lower Watana Dam project on the Susitna River. Rodvik said AEA was looking at two hydro projects, one at Lake Chakachamna on the western side of Cook Inlet, the other at the Susitna River site. Earlier this year, the state Legislature provided funding for preliminary planning, design and field work to evaluate and examine the proposed projects. Rodvik says indications are that the Susitna project has a better chance of being built Rodvik says the Susitna project fits state goals of producing 50 percent of Alaska’s power through renewable sources by 2025.

Susitna River Dam Not a New Idea
Diana Haecker, KTNA – Talkeetna
The idea of damming the Susitna River is not new.  It’s been floated on and off for a couple of decades, with little success.  More recent pressures to produce affordable, renewable energy are driving the state to take a look at a scaled – down version this time.

Parnell Releases Next Year’s Budget Proposal
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Governor Parnell on Wednesday presented the starting point for legislative debate over next year’s budget. Calling Alaska for more development of the state’s natural resources, he told the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce – and later in a press conference – that his focus is on making the most of what Alaska has to offer and being ready for whatever happens with the rest of the nation.

Super Computer Jobs at Risk
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Employees of the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center have been given notice that their jobs could end next summer. Some 45 full-time employees and a number of part-time workers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks facility were notified on Tuesday. U.A.F. Executive Officer Bob Shefchik says the move is in anticipation of the loss of a Department of Defense research support grant that funds most of the center’s budget. No formal decision has been made, but the D.O.D. is working to reduce the number of supercomputer centers it contacts with, and it has indicated U.A.F. grant will likely be cut out. That would trim the center’s budget from the current $12 million, to $2.5 million. Shefchik says the plan is for a downsized supercomputing facility. Current Super Computer Center employees will be given first opportunity to apply for the positions at the smaller operation, but chief scientist Greg Newby is being to head up the downsized facility.  Newby says the center has a new computer and storage system in anticipation of possible loss of D.O.D. equipment.

Anchorage Police Disturbed by Abduction Attempt
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage police report that Tuesday morning a man unsuccessfully tried to abduct a student walking to Clark Middle School.  Any such incident is disturbing, but this one is even more so because it’s very similar to attempted abductions that took place last January.

Tribal Leaders Gathering to Meet with Obama
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska Native tribal leaders are gathering Thursday in Washington for the Tribal Nation’s Conference with President Obama. Each of the country’s 565 federally recognized tribes was invited to send a representative.  This is the second time the Obama White House has hosted such an event – the first was one year ago.  And it’s the first administration to hold them on such a scale. Marvin Kelly, on the Emmonak Tribal Council, says he hopes this year Alaska’s voice is heard loud and clear.

Senate Oks Tax Deal; Murkowski, Begich Vote Yes
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
As expected, the US Senate passed on Wednesday the tax deal President Obama struck with Republicans.  Both of Alaska’s Senators supported it.  It would extend for two years the Bush-Era tax cuts for all income brackets – including the wealthiest Americans.  That upsets liberal Democrats, as does the plan to bring back the Estate Tax at a laxer rate than before (at 35 percent for people inheriting more than $5 million.) But Democrats did get some things they liked, including an extension of long term unemployment benefits and tax breaks for college tuition, child care, renewable energy development, and businesses. Wednesday’s vote was 81 to 19. It was an unusual group united in their “no” votes: liberals and fiscal conservatives.  Some of the Senate’s staunchest spending-critics voted against the bill because it will cost more than $800 billion. Passing the US House will be trickier, where many Democrats are against the package.

Miller to Supply Missing Emails
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Joe Miller plans to supply missing emails from his time as Fairbanks Borough attorney.  Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto tells the Associated Press that Miller printed e-mails related to casework, and is going through old client e-mail files to provide the borough with all the information requested.  Borough attorney Rene Broker says the missing emails are needed for the discovery phase of a case challenging the tax value of the Trans-Alaska pipeline, and to meet numerous public records requests.

Mat-Su Restoring Electrical Power
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Matanuska Electric Association  has reported that the number of homes without power in the Matanuska Susitna Borough is down to approximately 500 from  the 1,800 reported  Tuesday night.  High winds in the Valley Tuesday are blamed for the outages.  The main cause is trees falling on the power lines.  Residents are being warned to stay away from downed power lines, as they may still carry current. With winds expected to continue between 45-60 miles an hour through Thursday, many Valley residents are keeping emergency supplies at the ready and watching out for flying debris.  Carole Vardeman, a manager’s assistant with the Mat- Su Borough, says every available crewman is out working on repairing the lines. She says on Tuesday, the highest gusts were clocked at 87 miles an hour in Wasilla.  Blowing snow has impaired driver visibility and caused quite a few accidents.

Grassroots Effort Sought to Combat Suicide
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
Tanana storeowner Cynthia Erickson says she’s seen too many Alaska Natives die from suicide. Recently she sent out an email saying it’s time for Alaska Natives to start a grassroots prevention effort. She’s already received dozens of replies, most from people who have been directly affected by suicide.

North Slope Borough Unveils Watercolors of Arctic Expedition
Jake Neher, KBRW – Barrow
The North Slope Borough is hosting an open house Wednesday night to unveil three watercolors from the first European expedition to Arctic Alaska. The paintings include the first western depictions of the Inupiat people on the North Slope and their way of life.