Alaska News Nightly: January 17, 2011

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Governor Says Proposed Oil Tax Change Will Spur Development, Create More Jobs
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Governor Sean Parnell today [Monday] presented a plan to make minor changes in the state’s oil tax that he says would spur development and create more jobs in new fields.

Trans Alaska Pipeline Restarts
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Oil is flowing again through the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Workers labored through the night to install bypass piping at pump station one. That work was completed early this morning and the pipeline restarted just after 10 am. Katie Pesznecker is a spokesperson with the Joint Information center in Fairbanks. She says things went well over night, even though the operation took a little longer than expected.

The target goal for the next 24 hours is to bring the pipeline up to 500,000 barrels a day. Before the leak was discovered more than a week ago, the pipeline was carrying about 630,000 barrels a day.

Interagency Sweep Nets 45 Criminals
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Last week an interagency enforcement sweep in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley netted 45 criminals, plus guns, snow machines, a pair of marijuana growing operations and a runaway.

Professionals, Advocates Work to Highlight Benefits of Federal Health Care
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
As Congress prepares to battle over the newly enacted Health care reform law, Alaskan health care professionals and reform advocates are working to highlight what they see as the benefits of the federal overhaul.

At a forum sponsored by the Alaska Public Health Association last week in Anchorage, AARP advocacy director Pat Luby said the reform will be especially beneficial for 60 percent of AARP members who are under age 65 and still in the workplace. Luby said 20 percent of Alaskans between 50 and 64 have no health insurance.

Luby says far too many elders think that long term care, whether in a nursing home or at home will be paid for by Medicare once they reach age 65.

He says nursing home care averages $4 to $500 per day in Alaska. Luby says perhaps surprisingly, the primary opponents of health care reform are AARP members.

Doctor Tom Hunt is the CEO for physician services at Providence Health and Services in Alaska. He says the rhetoric and scare tactics swirling around what should be serious, respectful dialogue about someone’s final days has been unfortunate. His group wants to lead with a coherent approach to end of life discussions.

The need for more physicians in primary care was also highlighted.

Shelly Hughes is the Government Affairs director for the Alaska Primary Care Association. She says, in other countries, primary care is huge, specialized care is small and patients have better outcomes. She says the U.S. government should invest in primary care and provide incentives for students.

Other benefits touted by the panel were the elimination of insurance companies rejecting someone for a pre-existing condition. Life time caps for medical expenses were also eliminated under the reform package. Children with severe diseases such as leukemia were hitting those limits as early as age 12.

Alaska Housing Finance Corporation Receives Higher Bond Rating
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation recently received a higher bond rating, due in part to its $5-billion in assets. The higher bond rating may mean millions of dollars in savings for the corporation, which finances housing programs.

Board Deliberating Changes to Cook Inlet, Kodiak and Chignik Finfish Fisheries
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The state’s Board of Fisheries sat down to work in Anchorage Sunday afternoon.  The panel hears staff reports and public testimony on all proposals this session prior to deliberating changes in the Cook Inlet, Kodiak and Chignik finfish fisheries.   A number of proposals on this session’s agenda deal with the rules governing the Pacific Cod fishery in state waters in the Chignik area, which is located on the southern shore of the Alaska Peninsula. Richard Sharp, the mayor of the city of Chignik, says that many proposals submitted by the city and by the Chignik Marketing Association are aimed at bringing the city increased fish processing earnings.   Several proposals would have the Board of Fish okay a reduction in the percentage of Pacific cod allowed to fishermen using jig gear, while increasing the pot fishery share in the cod quota.   Sharp says about a million pounds of cod is going unharvested, because no jig fishermen are registering for the jig fishery in Chignik.

The city has also requested that the jig allocation for Pacific cod rollover to all legal gear types by March 21 if no vessels using jigging machines have registered. Other proposals would limit the number of hooks used in jig gear.

Jig fishing gear uses horizontal hooked lines for harvesting cod.

Darius Kasperzak, a Kodiak jig fisherman, has been fishing Pacific cod for a dozen years.  He says the jig fishery is the last open access fishery left.

Since Chignik is a super exclusive zone, vessels registered elsewhere cannot fish Chignik waters.  Kasperzak fishes elsewhere, although he says the lack of jiggers in Chignik is driven by a lack of buyers there.

Mayor Sharp says lost harvest opportunity in Chignik state waters occurs when no one fishes the ten percent jig gear allocation for Pacific cod. He says the fishery would be better served if the unused quota was rolled over early enough in the season to be targeted by other gear types.

Cold Weather, Little Snow Sets Rough Track for Alcan 200
Tara Bicknell, KHNS – Haines
Frigid temperatures and sparse snow set a rough track for the 42nd annual Alcan200, the longest snowmachine road race on the continent.  The ride took place on Saturday outside of Haines, Alaska where racers from around the state and Canada competed.

Russian Orthodox Christmas Tradition Followed by Darker Custom
Anne Hillman, KUCB – Unalaska
Every year from Jan. 7-9 many Russian Orthodox believers go staring for Russian Christmas.

They follow a star from house to house just as the Three Wise Men followed the star to Bethlehem. But in some parts of rural Alaska, the tradition of bringing blessings to each house is followed for eight days by a much darker custom.