Alaska News Nightly: February 9, 2011

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Extension Of Patriot Act Falls Short In Congress
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington
Alaska’s Republican Congressman Don Young voted against extending key provisions of the Patriot Act last night. The reauthorization failed by 7 votes, much to the dismay of GOP House leadership.

Power Restored In Akiak
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
A power outage this week in Akiak left the village totally dark for two days and only half of the town is back up and running. The village, located 30 miles up the Kuskokwim River from Bethel, is working to fix what appears to be a mechanical problem at the power plant.

Power Outage Compounds Fuel Shortage
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
The power outage in Akiak has added to a gas dilemma along the Kuskokwim River. Akiak is the second village not selling gasoline right now. The neighboring village of Tuluksak is running out of their winter supply, and the only gasoline vendor there says they can’t afford to give any to out-of-town travelers.

Democrats Urge Parnell To Promote Oil Company Incentives
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Democrats are urging the Parnell administration to make better use of the incentives the state currently offers oil companies.

Senator Hollis French and Representative Les Gara, in a letter sent to Governor Sean Parnell today, say failure to promote the advantages of the state’s tax system is a deterrent to new investment in the state.

French says the oil industry is not hearing that the state offers substantial credits that will be returned to oil explorers. They are also eligible for reductions on the state’s royalty that can carry forward into the production phase of a well.

Conoco-Philips has reported that it has made $7.8 billion in profits since the current tax regime went into effect in 2007.

Representative Gara points to several specific highlights of the state’s tax system that need to be more widely discussed. He says the process is in place now for relief of the state’s royalty on oil if a company can prove that the reduction would make productive an otherwise-uneconomic project. He says another advantage is tax credits that companies can use totaling up to forty percent of their capital costs under some conditions.

The state budget presented for the legislature’s consideration this year includes appropriations to cover some $850 million in incentives already requested by producers. And Governor Parnell has introduced legislation that would make available an estimated billion dollars in incentives covering oil fields as they go into long-term operations. French pointedly did not criticize the governor’s proposals.

In an e-mail, Parnell says he has met with every energy company doing business or expressing interest in developing in Alaska, and he looks forward to working with French and Gara on his bills to improve the state’s tax regime.

State Considers Legal Options Over Walrus Listing
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The state of Alaska is reviewing its legal options regarding the Interior Department’s decision to put Pacific Walrus on the “candidate” list under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday that walrus should be added to the Endangered Species List, but that listing will be delayed because other species are higher priority.

Doug Vincent Lang is the state’s endangered species coordinator. He says he appreciates the decision to keep pacific walrus off the list. But he says walrus shouldn’t even be considered a “candidate” species.

The state has mounted several legal challenges to Endangered Species Act listings in recent years for species like Steller Sea Lions, Cook Inlet Beluga whales and Polar Bears, and Vincent Lang says the state doesn’t disagree with all ESA listing decisions

He says the state will work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure the walrus population stays healthy in Alaska.

Walrus Tracking Links Sea Ice To Populations Decline
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Melting sea ice is the main culprit causing problems for walrus. They need the ice to take them to productive feeding grounds over the continental shelf. Biologists have been working for several years to gain more insight into how they are responding to sea ice changes.

Fishing Vessel Runs Aground In The Aleutians
Alexandra Guitierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
A fishing vessel was grounded in the Aleutian Islands yesterday, in the same area where the Selendang-Ayu went aground in 2004. Now, the state and the Coast Guard are trying to determine the environmental impact.

Neff Takes Yukon Quest Lead, Breaks Record Along The Way
Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks
Hugh Neff has carved out a 3 hour lead in the Yukon Quest. Neff, of Tok, led the way into Dawson yesterday afternoon, smashing the record for covering the first half of the race. Defending champion Hans Gatt of Whitehorse was second into Dawson at 6:36 last night, followed by Ken Anderson of Fox at 8:30.

So far, 14 teams have made it into Dawson where they take a mandatory 36 hour rest. While mushers get a shower, sleep and hot meals, the dogs rest in straw lined tents, get regular massages and pile on the calories to prepare for the second half of the race.

Messenger Feast Begins In Barrow
Jake Neher, KBRW – Barrow
Kivgiq, the “Messenger Feast”, is underway today in Barrow. Seventeen Native Alaskan Eskimo drum and dance groups will perform during the four-day celebration, which only happens every two or three years.