Alaska News Nightly: January 4, 2011

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Shell Oil Faces Another Setback in Beaufort, Chukchi Seas
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Shell Oil is facing another setback in its plans to drill exploratory wells off shore in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.  Some Alaska Native and conservation groups have succeeded in challenging the oil company’s clean air permits that would have allowed the drilling to go forward this summer. Shell external affairs director Curtis Smith said without the permits the company can’t proceed with its drilling plans in 2011.

Smith says Shell’s plans are to drill in the Beaufort Sea this summer.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Justice, The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope alleged that the company would emit tons of pollutants into the Arctic environment from the drilling.

Shell’s clean air permits were granted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, but the challenge sent them back to an Environmental Appeals Board for review.  Last week, the board found that the EPA’s analysis of the impact of nitrogen dioxide emissions from drilling ships on Alaska Native communities was too limited.

The board remanded the permits back to the EPA for another look.   EPA spokesperson Suzanne Sakowski says two permits were sent back on Dec. 30.  They are for the prevention of significant deterioration of air quality under the Clean Air Act.  One permit was for the Beaufort Sea, the other for the Chukchi.  Sakowski says the EPA must now review its analysis of the permits.   Smith says the board felt the EPA limited its scope of analysis on the impacts of drilling to air in some coastal communities, and failed to determine at which point drill ship emissions become a source of pollution.

The Board did not approve the complainants request to review whether the best available emissions control technology was being applied to drilling support ships.   Smith says there is no indication when the EPA will complete its review of the permits.  He says Shell has only four months in which to work on exploratory drilling this year.

Anchorage Teacher Arraigned on Multiple Counts of Sexual Abuse of a Minor
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Monday, an Anchorage High School music teacher was arraigned on multiple counts of sexual abuse of a minor with three female students.   Police say they learned of the alleged misconduct during the holiday break and arrested the teacher before schools resumed on Monday.

Search and Rescue Team Successful Near Bering Sea
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
A search and rescue mission near the Bering Sea ended successfully when a missing traveler was found cold and wet.

50 Teams Expected for Copper Basin 300 Race
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Past champions Lance Mackey, Allen Moore and Mitch Seavy headline the field for this weekend’s Copper Basin 300 sled dog race. A large turnout is expected for the season’s first big mid-distance race.  41 mushers are officially on the roster for the 22nd running of the Copper Basin, and race board president Heidi Sutter says additional entries are arriving in the mail and about 50 teams are expected.

Iditarod Qualifier Expected to Test Teams
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Copper Basin 300 usually sets the stage for the sled dog racing season, and this year’s competitors will see some changes.

The starting line will be in Paxson, about 70 miles north of Glennallen instead of at Lake Louise, as in the past. The race is a qualifier for the Iditarod, and in recent years, more and more ”well known” mushers have been signing up for the run.  The Copper Basin has drawn some big names in dog mushing this year.   Lance Mackey, Aily Zirlke, Sebastian Schnuelle, Ramey Smith, Mitch Seavey and Sonny Lindner will be competing in the race. Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey says it’s a good race for testing dogs.

Mackey says rookie mushers will learn a lot by running the course.

Although the Copper Basin area is known for frigid winters, the area did not escape the recent warm spell that swept much of the state, although trail reports indicate a foot of new snow between Paxson and Chistochina.   Mackey says that should not be a hurdle for this year’s race.

The race is expected to end back at Paxson Lodge on Sunday.

No More Outages Reported in Savoonga
Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome
Alaska Village Electric Cooperative officials report there have been no outages in Savoonga since Monday. They are currently working on getting power washing equipment to the St Lawrence island community by Thursday in order to remove the frozen salt spray that caused recent outages.

Disaster Response Team Due to Assess Lingering Damage in Savoonga
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
It’s unclear if the disaster response team was able to fly out from Nome to Savoonga yet today, weather has been delaying their departure. State Division of Homeland Security spokesman Jeremy Zidek says once they arrive, the four-person team will meet with local leaders and inspect damage.

Zidek says the main problem now is frozen water and sewer lines. He says the work that goes into making a disaster declaration determination is complicated and involves looking at what needs are not being met by other types of revenue.

Zidek says community officials have also asked for assistance managing the ongoing emergency management response.

He says emergency supplies from the Red Cross and others has helped meet the needs for residents there and some regular service has returned.

Zidek says it’s expected the team will be in Savoonga for at least a few days.

Lessons Learned During Outage, Says Sitka City Report
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
In October, Sitka residents lost electrical power after a tree took out the only line from the Blue Lake Dam to Sitka.

Power was restored to the center of town within hours, but outside of the city center, residents endured rolling blackouts for three days.

New Congress Begins Wednesday
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The new Congress will be sworn-in in Washington Wednesday, opening a period of divided government, with Republicans taking control of the House and Democrats retaining a slimmer lead in the Senate.

Sealaska Accepting Applications for College Scholarship Program
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Applications are now available for Sealaska’s college scholarship program. For the first time, shareholders and lineal descendants can apply online.

The program is run by the Sealaska Heritage Institute, the regional Native corporation’s cultural arm. President Rosita Worl says it provides funds for university studies, graduate school and vocational programs.

Funding is based on endowment earnings, so the total handed out varies from year to year.

Worl says the program usually awards about 400 scholarships annually, totaling around $600,000. The amount varies from student to student.

Scholarships are also awarded to some heritage and language program students.

The deadline is March 1 and recipients will be notified in early May.

Sealaska is headquartered in Juneau and has about 20,000 shareholders, most in Southeast Alaska, Anchorage or the Pacific Northwest. Its businesses include timber, construction, investments, plastics and environmental monitoring.