Alaska News Nightly: January 21, 2011

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State to Run Disaster Assistance Center in Savoonga
Associated Press
The state will run a disaster assistance center in Savoonga to help residents whose homes were damaged after a storm caused prolonged power outages.

The center will operate at the village city hall next week.

Jeremy Zidek with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security says state assistance specialists will help.

In late December through early January, a severe winter storm brought high winds and cold temperatures to the community. Salt water froze on electrical transmission lines, causing power outages, which led to frozen and broken water pipes.

Senate Bill Would Establish Professional Standards for Fishing Guides
Jacob Resneck, KMXT – Kodiak
A bill that would create an independent board regulating licensed sport fishing guides is gaining ground in the Alaska Senate.

‘Hangar 6’ Report is Inconclusive
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A long awaited report is inconclusive on what sickened construction workers at Ft. Wainwright in 2006.  The draft report on the “Hangar 6” incident by state and federal health agencies was released after a public records request from an attorney, and subsequently published on line by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Alaska Dispatch. Former State Public Health Department toxicologist and study co-author Dr. Lori Vergruggee confirms the workers were exposed to a toxic chemical, but says the investigation found no clear culprit.

35 workers reported nausea, dizziness and headaches following the unearthing of odorous chalky tasting vapors during grading of a parking area outside the aircraft hangar construction site in June 2006. Subsequent health problems included blood in urine, memory loss, fatigue, sore throat and tingling skin. Most of the workers eventually recovered but four continue to claim health problems stemming from the incident.  Verbrugge says doctors also tried to back track a cause from the symptoms.

Verbruggee says she unsuccessfully searched over 10,000 pages of soil chemical analysis reports trying to find something.

The State report cites a lack of on-site air monitoring, no field environmental screener, and failure to halt work upon initial complaints about illness.  It recommends retaining pavement as a cap over the site, and better safety plans and equipment and an awareness about the toxic legacy at the 70-year-old army post.  Ft. Wainwright is a National Superfund Toxic waste site, and has a long history of contamination.  A year prior to the Hangar 6” incident, construction workers unearthed PCB’s and other toxins at the Taku Gardens housing site.  The Army did not get back in time to comment on the issue.

Ft. Richardson Soldier Killed in Afghanistan
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
A Fort Richardson soldier died in Afghanistan on Wednesday. 23-year-old Private First Class- Amy Renee Sinkler was a motor transport operator and was killed when her vehicle was struck by a rocket propelled grenade on Jan 19.

Sinkler was from Chadbourn North Carolina.

She was assigned to the 109th Transportation Company, 3rd Manuever Enhancement brigade at Fort Richardson. Sinkler joined the Army in August of 2009 and arrived in Alaska in one year ago.

There were three other soldiers in the vehicle but they were not injured.

Next of kin have been notified.

Alaska Natives Seek Greater Voice in Federal Subsistence Management
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Alaska Natives want a greater voice in federal subsistence management.  In keeping with President Barak Obama’s promise to consult with tribes in formulating federal regulations regarding subsistence, the Federal Subsistence Board Friday took comments from tribal representatives on how to cope with an increasing gap between the needs of tribes tied to a subsistence way of life and the daily reality of dwindling resources.

Former Alaska First Lady Passes Away at 96
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
Former Alaska first lady Neva Egan has died at the age of 96.  She was the state’s very first First Lady.

She passed away Wednesday night at the Juneau Pioneer Home.

The wife of the late Governor Bill Egan, she was the mother of Juneau State Senator Dennis Egan.

Two 1960s-Era Oil Wells to be Restored
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Restoration work is planned for two of the oldest oil wells on the North Slope.  State Department of Natural Resources Northern region oil and gas team manager Gary Schultz says Conoco Philips’ Nora and Lisa exploration wells, drilled in the Foothills area of the North Slope back in the late 1960’s, are scheduled for reclamation work this winter.

The reserve pits contain petroleum based drilling muds, and Schultz says capping them traps the mud between the surface and the frozen soil underneath.

Schultz says the project is happening now because the 40-year-old wells have posed minimal environmental threat.  He says many other higher priority wells have already been restored.  State law and the BP Arco merger charter agreement line out well restoration requirements. An ice road off the Dalton Highway will be used to access the well sites.

Southeast Alaska May Lose 400 Jobs This Year
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Southeast Alaska could lose about 400 jobs this year. That’s according to a projection by the state Labor Department. But a regional economic development group is more optimistic.

Residents Hoping to Block Coal Mining on West Side of Cook Inlet
Ben Stanton, KDLL – Kenai
A group of residents wants to prevent coal mining on the west side of Cook Inlet.  Delaware-based PacRim Coal is still in the planning process, but two local groups have filed a petition with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources that would declare a certain area of the Chuitna watershed “unsuitable for mining.” One area the company would like to mine is underneath Middle Creek, which is a salmon-bearing stream.  At a public hearing for the petition on Wednesday in Kenai, residents spoke out mostly in opposition to mining the area.