Alaska News Nightly: February 24, 2011

Individual news stories are posted in the Alaska News category and you can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio (MP3)

Ice Age Child Found Near Tanana River
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
An ancient home site discovered in the interior last summer has yielded one of the oldest human remains ever found in North America.

Murkowski: ANWR Drilling Back On The Table
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski says unrest in the Middle East puts oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge back on the table.

In a speech to the state Legislature this morning, Murkowski said she expects the U.S. House will pass legislation to open the refuge this spring. She says she’ll do everything she can to push the idea in the Senate.

Murkowski also called on state legislators to give oil companies bigger tax breaks.

Rep. Cissna Returns To Juneau On Ferry
Casey Kelley, KTOO – Juneau
State Representative Sharon Cissna returned to Juneau today aboard the state ferry Matanuska, vowing to keep fighting for the rights of airplane travelers who are being subjected to what she calls “intrusive” searches.

Four days ago Cissna was kept from boarding a flight to Juneau after she declined to undergo a pat down search at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. She’d already submitted to a full body scan as required by the Transportation Security Administration. But Cissna – a breast cancer survivor – says TSA officials told her the pat down search was necessary because the scan showed she’d had a mastectomy.

Having been through the pat down once before, she refused.

Cissna’s colleagues in the state house passed a resolution supporting her yesterday. The Anchorage Democrat says she’ll meet with some of her fellow lawmakers this weekend to discuss other resolutions they might take up to speak out against unnecessary TSA searches.

Cissna has received media requests from around the world since she declined the pat down. Her office in the state capital building is filled with flowers sent by people across the country who have heard about her refusal.

The TSA has not commented on Cissna’s specific case.

Rare-Earth Elements: How Important Are They?
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
Governor Sean Parnell has asked President Obama to direct federal agencies to join a statewide study to explore Alaska’s deposits of rare-earth elements, substances that are essential for today’s high-tech economy, and national security. KUAC’s Tim Ellis describes the importance of rare earths, and Alaska’s potential role as an important source of the elements, in this first of two reports.

Athabascan Tribe Voices Concern Over Coal Mine
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Chickaloon tribe is taking its concern over a proposed mine in the Mat Su Valley to an international audience. The Athabascan community near Palmer is opposed to a coal mine project being developed by the Usibelli Company that would access coal at a site called Wishbone Hill. The tribe filed a document presenting their concerns to the United Nations Independent Expert on water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, a Portuguese human rights expert appointed by the U.N Human Rights Council who will be taking testimony in the U.S and meeting with State department officials. This is her first trip to the United States. The Wishbone Hill issue is a test case in Alaska to see how the U. N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples might be used to intervene in development projects. President Obama declared U.S. support for the document in December.

The tribe claims the area of development is where they have traditionally hunted and fished, especially for potlatches and other important gatherings and ceremonies.
Harrison will be testifying in California to the U.N.’s de Albuquerque about the tribe’s fear that the coal mine will pollute Moose creek, a waterway the tribe has spent more than a million dollars successfully restoring as a salmon spawning creek. Harrison says bringing their case to an international audience should help pressure the U.S. to uphold the U.N. Declaration.

Harrison says he is hopeful that new DNR commissioner Dan Sullivan will come to Chickaloon and listen to the tribe’s complaint with the coal mining project. But he’s concerned about what he perceives as a problem with the state’s mandate of developing resources while keeping the environment clean.

During a recent broadcast of the statewide call in program Talk of Alaska, Commissioner Sullivan addressed this issue of a perceived dual mandate as he responded to callers from Chickaloon and Palmer who were concerned about the prospect of the Wishbone Hill coal development plan. One caller said her son’s school is within site of the project and she worries about the possibility of coal dust blowing into the school yard on windy days. Sullivan said resource development is critical for the future of the state.

Sullivan said when he testifies to the state legislature, he often starts by quoting article 8 Section 1 of the state constitution that reads in part that the state encourages development of resources for maximum use consistent with the public interest. He said it’s a broad statement but clearly one that was important to the delegates who wrote the constitution.

Commissioner Sullivan will be meeting with the Chickaloon tribal council on March 14th to hear their concerns. Another meeting is also scheduled for Sutton.

Climate Science Center Opens In Anchorage
Andy Fischer, APRN – Anchorage
Alaska has long been seen as ground-zero for the impacts of climate change. Residents from Southcentral to the Arctic have been dealing with problems like coastal erosion and the destructive Bark Beetle for years now. Partly in response to problems like these, the U.S Department of the Interior has opened a new Alaska Climate Science Center in Anchorage. The dedication took place this morning.

Clearing Of Historic Route Planned in Becharof Refuge
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The Becharof National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula is planning on clearing a historic travel route within the refuge.