Alaska News Nightly: January 13, 2011

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Climate Change Forcing Officials to Examine Water, Sewer Problem in Rural Alaska
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
There are still 4,000 homes in rural Alaska that don’t have access to piped water or sewer. Many more are using aging systems that need upgrading. And an unlikely culprit – climate change – is forcing government officials and engineers to look at using new technologies to correct the problem.

Sobering Center Opens in Bethel
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
A new sobering center opened this week in Bethel. The building will provide new ways for the community to deal with inebriates.  And many are hopeful it will free up emergency services for those that truly need them.

Center for Biological Diversity Planning to Sue Over Critical Habitat Designation
Andy Fischer, APRN – Anchorage
The Center for Biological Diversity is planning to sue the Interior Department over land designated as critical habitat for polar bears, saying the designation doesn’t do enough to protect bears from the effects of oil and gas production.

The 187,000 square miles along the Alaska’s northern coast and in the Arctic Ocean was designated as Critical Habitat in November. The Interior Department is still authorizing oil leasing in the area, including a potential exploratory well that could be drilled this summer in the Chukchi Sea.

Rebecca Noblin, director of the Center for Biological Diversity office in Anchorage, says the suit is a way to ensure the Interior Department is sufficiently protecting the Polar Bear under the Endangered Species Act.

Oil production in critical habitat areas isn’t illegal, but the Interior Department is responsible for ensuring activities don’t take place that would harm the bears or their habitat.

Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, says allowing oil exploration in a critical habitat area isn’t unusual, and the Interior Department has successfully allowed it before in the Arctic.

The polar bear was listed as threatened in 2008 under the Endangered Species Act, due in large part to the projected loss of Arctic sea ice.

Despite Prevention Efforts, Suicide Rates Remain High
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
An annual report by the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council shows Alaska Natives continue to have a high suicide rate, despite millions of dollars spent on the problem over the past decade.  But the report also indicates a new willingness to discuss the once taboo subject, and that may be the beginning of finding solutions.

Kate Burkhart is the Executive Director of the Council.  She says improved communication is the foundation for developing more effective strategies to reach the goal of fewer suicides.

The Council was established 10 years ago by the state legislature in response to a rash of suicides.  It’s duties include providing information about the suicide prevention system in Alaska and improving  the overall health status of Alaskans by reducing suicide and the impact of suicide on individual families and communities.

A suicide prevention summit held a year ago pointed to a disconnect between state, tribal and community suicide prevention efforts.

Although this year’s report avoids drawing conclusions,  Burkhart says it is pointing to a future direction, in which members of the public and prevention specialists will help implement a statewide plan.

A new web portal,, could help connect stakeholders.

Burkhart says a shift in how mental health grants were awarded over the past decade had a direct effect on small community programs, which were squeezed out by larger health providers with greater staffing resources.

Smaller entities could not compete for grants in terms of management and reporting requirements, and funding went to more regionalized entities.  Burkhart is quick to note that the municipality of Anchorage actually received some of the lowest levels of funding during that time period, and funding is not a question of urban over rural.

The Council’s report is the most recent attempt to highlight suicide prevention in the state.  A legislative report released this past November pointed to skyrocketing rates of suicide among Alaska Natives, and attempted to find underlying causes.  That same month, in Anchorage, federal BIA  representatives hosted a public discussion about suicide among Natives.  Burkhart says being willing to listen to a person in trouble and showing that each life is important is something that everyone can do to help with suicide prevention.

Waterman Trial Moved to Anchorage
Maria Dudzak, KRBD – Ketchikan
The second jury trial of Rachelle Waterman has been moved to Anchorage.  That was the decision at a pretrial hearing held in Ketchikan Superior Court Wednesday morning.  Waterman is accused of conspiring to kill her mother in 2004.  She was 16 at the time of the murder.  Her first trial, held in Juneau, ended in a hung jury.

ANB Drops Objections to Campbell’s Appointment
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood have changed their minds about Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell.

Southeast’s oldest Alaska Native organizations decided to drop their objections after meeting with Campbell last week. Bob Loescher heads up the organizations’ Subsistence Committee.

Pipeline Fix Expected This Weekend
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Oil is leaking at rate of less than two gallons a minute from a feeder line at Trans Alaska Pump Station 1.  Response crews are using a vacuum truck to suck up the oil as it accumulates into the basement of a pump house, where the leak was first discovered last Saturday.  A three-day shutdown that followed ended Tuesday night when the pipeline was re-started to prevent system wide freeze up problems. A fix for the leaky feeder line is in the works.  A 157-foot pipe to bypass the bad line is expected to be installed during a 36-hour shutdown planned for this weekend. The mainline is currently running at a 400,000 barrel a day rate, about 200,000 barrels short of the pre-incident level, but enough to relieve build up of crude in Prudhoe Bay storage tanks, and to allow North Slope wells to operate at closer to normal flow.

Military Training Ranges May Expand
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
Starting Thursday night, Alaskans will get a chance to give their opinions on a plan to nearly double the size of military training ranges around the state and the Gulf of Alaska – and to train more, late into the night, with aircraft, artillery and missiles.

Climber Soloing Denali Hits 11,500-Foot Mark
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Minnesota adventurer Lonnie Dupre reports making it to the 11,500 foot level of Denali, and starting up the steep pitch known as Motorcycle Hill on the mountain’s West Buttress route this morning.  In an audio blog posted Wednesday, Dupre sounded optimistic about his climb.

Dupre is trying to become the first person to solo climb Denali in the month of January.  He’s sleeping in snow caves to hide from the wind and cold, and walking with an aluminum ladder to protect him in a crevasse fall. The 49-year-old has extensive polar experience but minimal high altitude climbing time. He scaled Denali for the first time last summer.  His website says only one other expedition, comprised of three Russians, has summitted Denali in January.