Alaska News Nightly: February 10, 2011

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Nikiski LNG Plant Closing in Spring
Ben Stanton, KDLL – Kenai
Workers at the Liquefied Natural Gas Plant in Nikiski will be looking for new jobs.  The LNG plant, co-owned by Conoco-Philips and Marathon Oil Corporation, will close this spring.  The announcement Wednesday led to strong reactions from elected officials on the local, state and federal levels.  Along with about 30 skilled workers losing their jobs, the closure poses questions about the viability of an in-state natural gas pipeline.  It also could cause gas shortfalls next winter.

Persily Says Plant Closure Helps Make Case for Gas Pipeline
Ben Stanton, KDLL – Kenai
The Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects Larry Persily also reacted to the LNG closure.  He says he thinks that this announcement helps make the case for the project he is overseeing that aims to get a gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48.

He says that the Nikiski plant helped supply the Japanese gas market, which is much smaller than North American markets.

Persily says because so many gas producers are in the global market, it makes export of LNG too costly compared with supplying North America, which burns three times as much gas as China, India, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan combined.

Persily says that the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation’s plan for a gas line from the North Slope to South Central needs facilities like the Nikiski LNG plant to be viable.

A recent report to the Alaska Legislature shows that large subsidies would be needed for an in-state-only gas line to work.  Persily says if the Nikiski plant is unavailable, then those subsidies would be, in his words, “astronomical.”

Auditor Releases Findings for Coastal Management Program Future
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Thursday, the Legislature’s auditor released her findings and recommendations for the future of the state’s Coastal Management Program.   The program is designed to involve coastal residents in any development in their areas – allowing them input in government decisions at both the state and federal levels.

The audit was prompted by last year’s legislative debate when lawmakers from coastal communities unsuccessfully attempted to expand the program.  This year, those same interests are combined with the scheduled closing of the program at the end of June.    Two bills have been introduced to extend the program unchanged, but supporters have deferred decisions on expansion until the audit was complete.

House Finance Co-Chair Bill Thomas, of Haines, predicts changes pointed out by one audit finding that criticized the Department of Natural Resources’ policy forbidding outside consultants from helping coastal communities.  However, Thomas downplays the final audit’s role in any plans for expansion of the program.

The audit primarily focused on management, transparency and communications with local management bodies — finding faults in record keeping and in steps that have resulted in a lack of consensus-building that the program was designed to facilitate.

Senate Finance Co-Chair Lyman Hoffman of Bethel says he plans to meet next month with the director of the federal coastal management system.  He says he wants to find out how the program works in other oil-producing states – and particularly to find out how the state’s program fits in with the intent of federal law.  He says the audit has pointed to possible changes to Alaska’s program.

Neither of the simple extension bills has yet been scheduled for hearings.

Former Young Aide Found Guilty of Conspiracy, Accepting Illegal Gratuity
Associated Press
A jury says a former aide for Congressman Don Young broke the law by taking a trip to the World Series with a corporate official and lobbyist who picked up the tab.

The federal court jury in Washington today found Fraser Verrusio guilty of conspiracy and accepting an illegal gratuity for the trip to the first game of the 2003 World Series in New York. He also was found guilty of making a false statement for failing to report the trip on his House financial disclosure form.

Verrusio was policy director for the Transportation Committee under Young, who was Chairman of the committee then. The trip was paid by United Rentals, a construction equipment rental company that wanted Verrusio’s help getting an amendment in a highway money bill.

The World Series trip came to the attention of federal authorities investigating influence-peddling related to Jack Abramoff.

Fate of Health Care Overhaul Rests with Supreme Court
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Last week, U.S. Senate Democrats voted down a Republican effort to repeal the Obama administration’s health care law, and since then,  the fate of  the health care overhaul  rests with the nation’s Supreme Court, which is expected to hear a constitutional challenge to the  law.  The law’s mandate that Americans buy health insurance has been targeted as unconstitutional, and, as KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer reports, Governor Parnell’s opposition to the health care law, is drawing the ire of some senior citizen advocates.

Power Restored in Akiak
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
Power has been restored to the village of Akiak. Nearly all of the village went dark Monday morning.

Valdez Star Founder Passes Away
Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez
Lifelong journalist Pat Lynn has died. He was best known in Alaska as the former voice of the Prince William Sound and founder of the Valdez Star.

Top-10 Yukon Quest Teams Back on Trail
Emily Schwing & Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The top-10 teams in the Yukon Quest are back on the trail following mandatory 36-hour layovers at the race’s halfway point in Dawson City.  Race leader Hugh Neff and his 13 dogs hit the trail at 3:35 this morning.  They were followed out by Hans Gatt, Ken Anderson, Brent Sass, Sebastian Schnuelle, Allen Moore, Wade Mars and Dallas Seavy.  Neff had a 2 hour 41 minute lead on Gatt who is also running 13 dogs.

The quest trail is a long haul for dogs and mushers.  Hydration and calorie intake are supremely important for dogs, but as KUAC’s Emily Schwing reports from Dawson, food and drink are also key to mushers.

GPS Units Allowed in 2011 Iditarod
Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome
The rules for the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race have been released. Not much has changed from last year, but the Iditarod Board of Directors has made one notable allowance in the 39th running of the race.