Alaska News Nightly: January 14, 2011

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Susitna River Dam Tops Priority List So Far For Legislature
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The legislature will go into this year’s session on Tuesday with 132 bills and seven Constitutional amendments on the table – but a lot more are on the way.  The second bundle of bills lawmakers have worked on since last year’s session were released Friday.

Friday, Governor Parnell began lining up his bills for consideration during this year’s session.

At the top of the priorities released so far is a bill that will take the next steps for the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Susitna River.

The bill that will be read into the legislative record when the session begins would authorize the Alaska Energy Authority to construct the dam and would give the agency the money from the Railbelt Energy Fund to begin work.

Proposed Bill Would Stop ‘Doc Fees’
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
One Anchorage representative has pre-filed legislation to stop a common car dealer practice that  he says has no basis other than pure profit for the dealer.

Pipeline Temporarily Shutting Down For Repairs
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Trans Alaska Pipeline is scheduled to be shut down Friday night to address a leaky pipe.  The feeder line is seeping oil at Pump Station One at Prudhoe Bay, and Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan says the plan is to bypass it with a new section of steel pipe that was prefabricated in Fairbanks this week..

It will be the second TAPS shut down this week. The pipeline was idled for 84 hours when the leaky feeder pipe was discovered last Saturday, then re-started at limited throughput due to freeze concerns. Temperatures have cooled considerably on the North Slope in recent days, but Egan says this weekend’s shutdown should be short enough to avert a pipeline freeze up.

Eagan says there are also no longer concerns about ice being pushed by two pipeline cleaning pigs that were in the line.

Meanwhile, workers have picked up thousands of gallons of leaked crude this week at Prudhoe Bay, as it’s seeped from the bad feeder line into the basement of a pump house.  No oil has escaped to the environment, but the situation has substantially reduced Alaska crude production, and mobilized an over 500 person response.

TAPS Maintenance Prompts Audit of Valdez Terminal
Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez
Concerns about the line’s maintenance are prompting a watchdog group to conduct an audit of Alyeska’s marine terminal in Valdez.

Alaska Bar Association Offering Free Legal Clinic
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Alaska Bar Association is offering a free legal clinic on Monday, January 17, in honor of Martin Luther King, Junior Day.

The clinic will take place in Anchorage at the Mountain View Community Center from one to seven pm. In Juneau at the Dimond Courthouse and in Fairbanks at the Rabinowitz courthouse.

Free legal consultations and referrals will be available in the areas of family law, landlord – tenant issues and public benefits.

About half of Alaska’s 80,000 low-income citizens are expected to need legal help in a given year.

Developers, Bethel Exploring Possible Port Facility Partnership
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Developers of the Donlin Creek Gold mine and the City of Bethel are trying to explore a potential partnership for a port facility in the Lower Kuskokwim River. But the first attempt to formalize negotiations failed at council’s last meeting.  The mining company was attempting to get the City to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Marine Science Symposium Coming to Anchorage
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
A big science meeting that happens every year in Anchorage is bigger than ever this year.

Sponsored by the North Pacific Research Board, the ninth annual Marine Science Symposium is where the results of this year’s scientific field season are revealed. The Board pays for a lot of that research from a federally designated fund, but in recent years, there have been significant infusions of research money from offshore oil and gas lease bids, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies.

Among other things, the Symposium will feature the observations from a second year of biological and chemical surveys of the Chukchi Sea, where Shell bid close to $2 billion for oil leases.

Presidential Oil Spill Commission member Fran Ulmer will talk about that body’s findings, announced this week in Washington.  The latest field observations of Pacific Walrus will be shared: Withdrawing sea ice has forced many female walrus to shore to have their calves, and there are signs that they have been increasingly moving into Russian waters. A lot of fisheries science will be presented as well.

Clarence Pautzke has been Executive Director of the Research Board for nine years, and has seen a lot of growth in that time:

The poster sessions take place in the evening.  The scientists put up posters describing their work and are available to talk with anyone who comes by.

Scientists will present a proposal for an array of observing equipment in the Bering Strait.  And the Calista Elders Council will present its plan for documenting indigenous Yupik knowledge and integrating it with scientific observations.

Fairbanks Not on Pace to Address Air Quality Problem By 2014
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Fairbanks Borough Assembly heard public testimony on the latest version of an air quality control ordinance last night. The law aimed at bringing Fairbanks in compliance with federal fine particulate pollution standards, was amended in response to a measure approved by local voters last fall that stops the borough from regulating the use of heating devices.  Fairbanks resident David Troop suggested an emissions tax as a way to encourage people to burn clean.

Former Borough Air Pollution Control Commission member Michael Pollen, who recently completed his term, said the commission grudgingly approved the proposed amendments which strip limits on smoke output and fines for violating them, but cautioned that the problem still has to be dealt with.

Pollen said the borough is not on track to meet a 2014 deadline for a plan to address local P.M. 2.5 pollution.  The Borough’s only remaining tools are non-punitive measures local education and a wood stove and boiler repair, removal or replacement program. Another Fairbanks resident who testified last night, Tim Sovde of Fairbanks questioned the borough’s tactics.

Hundreds have already taken part in the change out program, receiving cash and tax breaks to fix or replace inefficient stoves and boilers, but the borough estimates it needs to swap out thousands of older heating appliances to fully address the problem. The amended air quality ordinance was advanced by the assembly for public hearing at the Jan. 27 assembly meeting.

Alcan 200 Snowmachine Race Starting Over Weekend
Tara Bicknell, KHNS – Haines
The Alcan 200 snowmachine race turns a stretch of the Alcan highway into a race track this weekend, for the 42nd year in a row.

NPS Pondering Fee Increase for Denali Climbers
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The National Park service is looking to the Lower 48 for input on plans to increase the fee for scaling North America’s highest peak and nearby Mt. Foraker. Public meetings are planned for Seattle and Golden, Colo. next week. Meetings were held in Alaska last month. Park Service spokeswoman Kris Fister says the current $200 fee doesn’t come close to covering the $1,200 per climber it costs to run the mountaineering program.

Over a thousand people try to scale Denali each year. The fee, which started out at $150, used to recover about 30 percent of the program’s cost, but now, even after being upped to $200, covers just 17 percent. Fister says raising the climber fee isn’t the only option, but that they’ve already tried to maximize efficiency and feel the agency is offering what’s required to run a responsible mountaineering program.

Fister says Denali’s climbing program was ramped up in the mid 1990’s due to increasing numbers of deaths on the mountain.  Fister says of the world’s high peaks where fees are charged, Denali’s is on low end.  Any increase in the climbing fee eventually approved would not go into effect until the 2012 season.

Coast Guard Investigating Death of Commercial Diver
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
The U.S. Coast Guard is looking into the death of a commercial diver harvesting sea cucumbers near Metlakatla.

Ketchikan Marine Safety Detachment staff traveled to the southern Southeast Alaska city to investigate the incident. There’s no word yet of what they found.

The agency reports the man was diving off the Island Dancer, a 68-foot fishing tender, early Wednesday afternoon. Crew members said he surfaced after a dive, pulled off his mask and sank back into the water.

The crew pulled him out using his air hose and attempted to revive him without success.

The death took place in Chester Bay, near Metlakatla. The Tsimshian community is on Annette Island, about 15 miles south of Ketchikan.

The Coast Guard had no further information about their investigation as of Friday afternoon. Metlakatla’s Police Department was also involved in investigation but had no comment on the effort.

Man Dies in Crash on Richardson Highway
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
A Delta Junction man died Wednesday of injuries he sustained in a vehicle accident on an icy stretch of the Richardson Highway south of Birch Lake. It was the latest of several accidents in the area in recent days.