Alaska News Nightly: January 18, 2011

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Lt. Governor Treadwell Gavels in House, Senate Sessions
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
This year’s legislature got underway Tuesday in Juneau, as Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell gaveled in the House of Representatives, then the Senate, Tuesday afternoon.

The Alaska Youth Choir helped welcome both the House and Senate back to town. But as soon as members took their oaths of office and went through the formalities of organizing, they all recognized that they have a lot of work to do in the next 90 days.

Members noted that the top item of the session will be deciding what to do to increase oil production. So far, only one plan is on the table – in bills presented by both Governor Sean Parnell and Anchorage Republican Mike Hawker.  The idea of changing the way oil taxes are calculated is gathering support.

But there’s a question of whether any oil tax change is necessary. Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski, part of the Senate Majority, says the administration is starting off in the wrong direction.

A few committees get down to work Wednesday afternoon, but the big push on the major issues will begin Wednesday evening when the Governor will deliver his State of the State message to a joint session.

Coalition of Alaska Native Groups Plan to Sue Over Critical Polar Bear Habitat
Jake Neher, KBRW – Barrow
A coalition of Alaska Native groups say they plan to file suit against the Federal Government over its recent designation of critical habitat for polar bears.

Steller Sea Lions May Be Taken Off Endangered Species List
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
It may be time to take the eastern Steller Sea Lion off the endangered species list. That’s according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is doing a comprehensive review to decide whether the population is free of threats and healthy enough to warrant the change.  Alaska, Washington and Oregon have petitioned for de-listing, which could reduce the regulatory burden on some public and private sector activities.

Advisory Group Brainstorms Solution to Delta Junction Bison Problem
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
An advisory group has come up with long-awaited recommendations on how to handle the problem of bison roaming through Delta Junction area farmer’s fields.  As KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports, it’s all about fencing…lots of it.

Sitka Hoping to Increase Cruise Ship Visits
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
Sitka is among the communities in Southeast Alaska that sees fewer visits from cruise ships than the Inside Passage mainstays of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. But local officials are hoping to change that, and last week they asked for the Sitka Assembly’s help.

State Will Provide Emergency Funds to Savoonga
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The state of Alaska will provide emergency funds to Savoonga villagers whose homes were damaged by recent power outages. A dramatic storm that wiped out electric transmission lines in late December and early January is being blamed for prolonged power failures that resulted in burst pipes, ruptured sewer lines and interior flooding in privately owned homes and public buildings.  About 150 people had to take shelter in Savoonga’s school for several days.

Governor Sean Parnell has declared the storm a disaster, and activated the state’s Individual Assistance Program, which is designed to provide financial assistance to individuals or families to meet eligible disaster related necessary expenses and unmet needs.  The maximum amount for the current year is over $15,000.

Investigators Still Looking into Diver’s Death
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Investigators continue looking for the reason a diver died last week while collecting sea cucumbers near Metlakatla.

The man, whose name has not been released, was working on the 68-foot fishing tender Island Dancer on Jan. 12.

Marshall Newberry is with the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment in Ketchikan.

Another diver was in the water at the same time, but was in a different area. Newberry says the other three people on the Wrangell-based Island Dancer saw what happened.

The crew pulled him out of the water using his air hose, but could not revive him. Newberry says the man was diving in less than 60 feet of water.

The Coast Guard is testing equipment and the body will undergo a medical examination.

Skilak Lake Sets Scene for ‘Caribou Island’
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Skilak Lake on the Kenai Peninsula is the setting for a new novel that comes out Tuesday. Author David Vann, who spent his early childhood in Alaska, writes about a rapidly disintegrating 30 year marriage in, “Caribou Island.” But Vann says the largest character in the book is really Alaska. Because the tragedy that unfolds couldn’t happen any other place.