Alaska News Nightly: March 10, 2011

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Murkowski Questions Attorney General About Bill Allen Case
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says convicted felon and government witness Bill Allen has not been prosecuted for sex crimes only because of the facts of the case, not because he’s well-connected.

Allen ran the Veco Corporation, and was a key witness in the government’s corruption cases against numerous Alaskan legislators and former Senator Ted Stevens.  He pled guilty to bribery and extortion as part of a deal that put him in jail for three years.

But Allen is also accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl.  Investigators have evidence that Allen flew the teen between Seattle and Anchorage to engage in prostitution.  And Senator Lisa Murkowski says despite testimony from the victim and other information, no charges were ever presented to a grand jury.

Murkowski wants to know why Allen has not been charged, and pressed the Attorney General on it Thursday.

Murkowski says she may press the Justice Department’s Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility to examine how the Allen case was handled.

She asked Holder if that would be an appropriate step.

In April of 2009, Holder threw out the government’s case against Ted Stevens, because the team of prosecutors and FBI agents withheld vital information from his defense lawyers.

Murkowski questioned Holder Thursday when he appeared before the Appropriations Justice Subcommittee to talk about the President’s proposed budget.

Top Teams Resting at Iditarod
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The top teams in this year’s Iditarod are resting at the race’s namesake checkpoint Thursday evening. Big Lake musher Martin Buser arrived in Iditarod at 10:40 this morning. Hugh Neff followed him in at 11:25, with Lance Mackey, Michael Williams Junior and John Baker close behind.

Kyle Hopkins is covering the race for the Anchorage Daily News. He is back at the Takotna checkpoint, where he saw Buser leave at about 10pm last night.

Kyle Hopkins is reporting on Iditarod for the Anchorage Daily News.

Trent Herbst Wins Halfway Award
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Because he was first into Iditarod, Trent Herbst won the GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award that includes $3,000 in gold nuggets.

Iditarod spokesman Chas St. George says this year’s race has been full of surprises. St. George says he was beaming from ear to ear when teacher Trent Herbst arrived in Iditarod.

Mitch Seavey Out of Race
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage & Anchorage Daily News
Former Iditarod Champion Mitch Seavey is out of the race. Race marshal Mark Nordman decided not to allow Seavey to continue down the trail after he injured his hand slicing open a bale of hay early this morning at the Ophir checkpoint.

Six other mushers have scratched from the race this year, including Zoya DeNure. She made the decision at the Rainy Pass checkpoint after her dog Miller nearly died on the trail. DeNure was about a hour outside of Rainy Pass when Miller collapsed in the snow. She told Anchorage Daily News and photographer Marc Lester what happened next.

Musher Zoya DeNure, speaking to Marc Lester, with the Anchorage Daily News. There’s a longer version of the interview at

Crowley Cleaning Up Jet Fuel Spill in Aniak
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
Fuel sales and distribution company Crowley Maritime Corporation has contractors on site in the village of Aniak cleaning up a jet fuel spill of some 23,000 gallons. Villagers fear contamination of the Kuskokwim River but Crowley says an impermeable liner and bermed tank farm are keeping it contained.

Bethel-based Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation specialist Bob Carlson says the leak is sizable considering Crowley says it occurred over 24 or so hours. A DEC situation report states that Crowley reported fuel was unloaded from a 220,000 gallon tank on Monday and the spill was discovered on Tuesday.

Crowley spokesperson Mark Miller says they’ve hired contractors who have 11 people at work on the cleanup.

However, Carlson says the cleanup collected a small amount of fuel on Wednesday so it’s hard to say how long it will take.

Village of Aniak chief Wayne Morgan says he’s concerned because of the tank farm’s location:

Miller says the spill is contained within a polymer liner and an eight-foot-high berm. He says the containment area is sloped to a central low point where the cleanup crew has hoses and pumps moving the spilled jet fuel into a 30,000 gallon tank that’s kept standing empty just in case it’s needed for such an event.

Morgan says he hopes Miller’s right and the liner and berm will hold and won’t let any of the fuel seep into the Kuskokwim.

Carlson says he’ll go to Aniak Friday to monitor the cleanup.

Miller says the cleanup contractors are monitoring air quality every 30 minutes and have found it within safe standards. He says the cause of the leak from a 223,000 gallon tank is under investigation.

Ulmer Named Chairwoman of Arctic Research Commission
Associated Press
President Obama has named former Alaska Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmer as chairwoman of the Arctic Research Commission.

The commission develops a national Arctic research policy and assists in establishing a program plan to implement the policy.

Ulmer served as lieutenant governor from 1994 to 2002 under Governor Tony Knowles and was the first Alaska woman elected to statewide office. She is currently the chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage and she plans to step down June 1.

She was one of seven members of Obama’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Alaska Senators Say Brace for Public Broadcasting Cuts
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Both of Alaska’s Senators say brace for cuts to public broadcasting.  They say everything is on the table as spending cuts are debated in Washington.

Subcommittee Addresses Ethics-Related Questions
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
A state house subcommittee on legislative ethics released opinions this week on three separate concerns.

The first was a dismissal of a complaint against Anchorage Representative Republican Bob Lynn. A complaint was filed against him alleging he broke the whistle blower statute by writing in a published commentary that his former opponent had filed ethics complaints against him. Joyce Anderson, the administrator for the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics says the complaint was dismissed because the person who filed it was a member of the public.

Two separate opinions were sought by a lawmaker who did not waive confidentiality so it’s not possible to know who sought the guidance. The first opinion answered a legislative query about whether it was a conflict of interest for a lawmaker who is a shareholder and board member of a corporation that is in lease negotiations with the state, to vote on those leases.

The second part of the opinion addressed whether it was ethical for the lawmaker to lobby other legislators for funds to build a state building that may be built on land the corporation owes, or be built by the corporation that the lawmaker is a board member and shareholder of. Anderson says the ethics committee did not feel there was an actual conflict because the lawmaker did not hold more shares than others and did not stand to benefit substantially from the transaction. However, they did have a suggestion for appropriate conduct.

The ethics committee members wrote that the better course of action would be to avoid the appearance of conflict and refrain from assisting or promoting such legislation.

New Trash Cans Appear to Deter Bears
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
There are some modifications to be made, but a new bear-resistant trash can tested Wednesday in Sitka appears to be a success. That’s the word from city and state officials who watched as two captive brown bears took a crack at breaking into one of the cans.

KCAW’s Ed Ronco has more on the test, and how it could change the way residents handle their garbage in one Sitka neighborhood.