Alaska News Nightly: January 7, 2011

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Legislators File 104 Bills for Consideration So Far This Year
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Legislators have already filed one hundred four bills for consideration in this year’s session that begins on January 18th.   On top of that,  they have proposed six changes to the state constitution.

Oil Spill Commission Releases Key Chapter of Report
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The commission investigating the Deepwater Horizon blow out will release their full report next week. One key chapter has been released this week. Former Lt. Governor and chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, Fran Ulmer was on the commission. Although she cannot yet talk about the full report, she says it’s clear that process safety protections for a high risk industry were not in place. She says the U.S. does not do as well in this area as other countries.

Ulmer says commissioners will be traveling to New Orleans to report their findings to the people of Louisiana, then passing the report to the Obama administration and congress next Tuesday.

Troopers Fly to Little Diomede to Investigate Gun Shots, Possible Arson
Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome
Alaska State Troopers flew yesterday to Little Diomede to respond to a situation involving shots fired and allegations of arson.

Former Pastor Will Not Face Criminal Charges
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
The former pastor of the Catholic Church in Sitka will not face any criminal charges in connection to questionable material found on Parish computers in November.

Father Edmund Penisten was removed from his job as pastor of St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in mid-November after software programs alerted church officials to possible pornographic material on computers at the Parish.

Sitka police Lt. Barry Allen says investigators at a state-run computer forensics lab did not find anything on the hard drives that would warrant criminal charges.

Father Pat Travers is spokesman for the Diocese of Juneau, which oversees the parish. He said Penisten remains at a church-affiliated residential facility in the Lower 48 states for evaluation. The Diocese did not disclose where specifically.

An update posted to the Diocese website says Bishop Edward Burns learned Wednesday that no charges would be filed, and that the diocese would continue working to determine if Penisten is suited for ministry.

Prior to arriving at St. Gregory’s in October, Penisten worked at Holy Name Parish in Ketchikan.

Alaska Seafood Cooperative Files Suit Against National Marine Fisheries Service
Anne Hillman, KUCB – Unalaska
Earlier this week the Alaska Seafood Cooperative and other seafood organizations filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service to block the new rules aimed at protecting the far western stock of the endangered Steller sea lions. The rule, which went into effect on Jan. 1, closes area 543 in the western area of the Aleutians to fishing for Atka Mackrel and Pacific Cod.

Seven of Alaska Seafood Cooperative’s ships fish in area 543 and they represent about 90 percent of the area’s Atka Mackrel quota. Their attorney, Linda Larson, says the co-op does not think the new regulation is justified.

The population of Steller sea lions is increasing in other areas of the state.

NMFS itself estimates that communities and companies involved in the affected fisheries could lose between $44 and $60 million per year because of the fishery closure. Though the agency cannot comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson says the rule was pushed forward and put into place by Jan. 1, despite objections from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, because NMFS had to be in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. According to that legislation, NMFS is required to manage the groundfish fisheries in such a way as to not cause jeopardy or adverse modifications to the critical habitat of the endangered sea lions. In this case it meant protecting the vital food source for the western stock of marine mammals.

Fishing for Atka Mackrel and Pacific Cod typically starts in late January but will not this season. Larson says that they are trying to expedite the case and have it heard by the same judge who will review a similar suit made by the state of Alaska against the regulation in December. The judge will review the documents that NMFS had before them when they made their decision and will read briefs and arguments filed by both sides. The case should take a few months to go through the system if expedited. Larson says they have not decided whether or not to file an injunction to try to fish this season.

WWII Coast Guard Signalman Honored on Kodiak-Based Cutter
Jacob Resneck, KMXT – Kodiak
A 22-year-old Coast Guard signalman died more than 68 years ago helping defend a beachhead being overrun by Japanese forces at Guadalcanal. On Jan. 5 he was honored on the Kodiak-based high endurance cutter that bears his name.

Eight Vying for Mat-Su Borough Mayor
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Eight men are vying for the Matanuska Susitna Borough mayor’s position in a special election set for next Tuesday.  According to Borough clerk Lonnie McKechnie, that’s a big field of candidates

The Borough mayor’s job pays a bit over $19,000 a year, plus expenses.  The vacancy came after former Borough mayor Talis Colberg resigned last year to take a job with the Matanuska Susitna campus of the University of Alaska.

The winner of the upcoming mayor’s election will fill out Colberg’s term until October of 2012.   The Borough mayor’s duties are in part to preside over Borough Assembly meetings, breaking tie votes if necessary, and presenting the face of the Borough at local ceremonies.

A hired manager presides over Borough day to day affairs.

The candidates are Larry DeVilbis, John Leiner, Brian Sullivan, Kurt Jarmer, Bruce Walden, Kenneth Clark, David Wilson and Jeff Ward.

Yukon Quest Field Filling Out
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Yukon Quest is less than a month out, and the field stands at 30. Top racers in the mix include defending and four-time race champion and speed record holder Hans Gatt, 2009 winner Sebastian Schnuelle, and past runners up Hugh Neff and Ken Anderson. The latest roster changes include the addition of rookie Jodi Bailey of Chatanika.  Bailey will join her husband Dan Kaduce, a Quest veteran, on the trail.  The Quest has also seen three mushers drop from the entry list.  Terry Williams, Peg Harpham and Kurt Reich have withdrawn.

Meanwhile, work is well underway on the race route.  Alaska side race director Marty Steury says snow is a little low in the Fairbanks area, but overall the trail is shaping up.

The Canadian military is back, preparing the Quest trail on the other side of the border.  The Rangers have long been involved in grooming the race route, but did not work the trail last year. This year the Rangers are partnering with the quest gain, and Canadian side race director Geogina Leslie says their experience is valuable.

The Canadian Rangers use a three-phase process to put in the Quest trail, starting early with brush clearing, and packing with snow machines. The second phase, closer to race time, re-establishes the trail, while the third step called “proofing”, done just before the race starts, provides a final touch up.  The 2011 Yukon Quest begins in Whitehorse Feb. 5.

State Honors Schools Boosting Student Achievement
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The State of Alaska is honoring a couple of Alaska schools for their success in boosting student achievement. One of those schools is in the Bristol Bay region.

Two Rivers Elementary School Receives Special Recognition
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Two Rivers Elementary School in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District also shared in today’s National Title I Distinguished Schools recognition.  Two Rivers was recognized for exceptional student performance for two or more consecutive years.

Two Rivers School, one of the top 10 percent of Title I schools in the state, is thirty miles outside of Fairbanks.