Alaska News Nightly: March 11, 2011

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Tsunami Impact Appears to be Minimal in Alaska
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
Japan is currently recovering from a major earthquake that has left hundreds dead. Alaska’s coastal communities braced themselves for the resulting tsunami Thursday night, but the impact in the state appears to be minimal.

Ferries Sent Out to Sea as Precaution
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
The Alaska Marine Highway System sent two ferries out to sea this morning to avoid high waves expected from the earthquake in Japan.

The small ferry Lituya left its dock in Metlakatla, in southern Southeast. And the fast ferry Chenega headed out from the Cordova terminal into Prince William Sound.

Marine Highway Chief Capt. Mike Neussl says the small ferries were in what were considered to be high-threat areas.

The ships were back in port in time for their scheduled morning sailings.

The only other ferry impact was on the Kennicott. Its Bellingham, Washington, arrival was delayed an hour and a half because the port was closed, also as a precaution.

No tsunami damage was reported at any marine highway terminal. The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center says waves that did reach ferry ports were less than a foot tall. The exception was 1.3 feet at Dutch Harbor.

Airfields were also impacted by the quake. Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport shut down power for a few hours due to concerns that waves might hit generators. One scheduled flight was delayed an hour. And three passenger jets were diverted to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to avoid landing in Japan.

Federal Court Orders New Trial for Kohring
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
A federal appeals court panel has ordered a new corruption trial for former State Representative Vic Kohring because federal prosecutors failed to share favorable evidence with his defense attorney.  This is the same issue that led a judge to reverse the conviction of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens – and involves the same prosecution team, and how they handled key witness Bill Allen.

Obama Rebuffs Oil Development Criticism
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
President Obama rebuffed Republican criticism Friday that his administration is not doing enough to encourage oil development.

With the cost of gasoline at the pump lurching higher because of instability in the Middle East, Republicans and the Alaska Congressional delegation are pushing the Obama Administration to expand domestic oil production.

But President Obama says his team is boosting production of oil and gas, and at a White House press conference Friday, he pointed to new numbers that show American oil production has reached its highest level in seven years.

The president says, however, that even if new wells are drilled tomorrow, that oil won’t be available overnight.  He’s pushing for cutting dependence on fossil fuels, both through efficiency and new technologies.  Obama repeated his call for a long-term comprehensive energy strategy.

The President called for bipartisan efforts on energy.

Alaska’s delegation wants to see the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge opened to development, and wants to see exploration wells drilled off Alaska’s coasts.  They say the Obama Administration is dragging its feet with offshore environmental permits, which has cost the oil company Shell time and money as it tries to move forward on drilling plans.  Shell canceled its Arctic development plans for this summer.

Unemployment Level Drops to Lowest Level in Over a Year
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Alaska’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in January, the lowest level in more than a year and a half.

January’s rate dropped 0.2 percent from December, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. December’s rate was revised down from the preliminary estimate of 8.1 percent to 7.9 percent.

It was also the 27th consecutive month Alaska’s unemployment rate has been below the national average, which was 9 percent in January. But state Economist Neal Fried says the difference between the two rates will narrow if the national economy continues its recovery.

The education and health care sectors continue to show strong growth in Alaska, up about 1,900 jobs since January 2010. Leisure and hospitality, including tourism, had the strongest growth from last year – gaining about 2,200 jobs. Oil and gas was relatively flat, with about 500 new jobs over the course of last year.

But Fried cautions the labor department’s new method of calculating employment could be skewing the numbers.

Juneau’s unemployment rate was among the lowest in the state in January at 6 percent. The lowest rate was in the North Slope Borough, which had 4.2 percent unemployment. Skagway had the highest rate at 29.9 percent. Anchorage’s unemployment rate was 6.5 percent.

Race Leaders on the Yukon
Tim Bodony, APRN – Anvik
The leaders of the 2011 Iditarod are on the Yukon.

Sebastian Schnuelle is currently leading mushers in the Iditarod, checking into Grayling at 10:48 this morning with Hans Gatt hot on his tail, checking in only 19 minutes later. Neither has taken their 8-hour break yet.

After resting for 8-hours, Hugh Neff, John Baker, Lance Mackey, Ray Redington Junior, and Martin Buser have left Anvik and are enroute to Grayling.  Robert Bundtzen has also made it through Anvik and is on his way to Grayling, but has not yet taken his 8-hour stop.

Sonny Lindner and Dallas Seavey have also departed Anvik after taking their 8-hour layover.

Hugh Neff has yet to win a sled dog race, though he has been a strong contender many times.  So today’s events have a special meaning for him.

Expert to Talk About Environmental Links to Human Health
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
An internationally recognized expert on environmental links to cancer and human health will be speaking in Anchorage Sunday evening. Dr. Sandra Steingraber will be discussing her newest book called Raising Elijah-Protecting our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.

Steingraber says she wrote this book titled after her second child because she says environmental crisis threatens two fundamental parental duties – protecting your child from harm and planning for their future. Steingraber says it’s not possible to keep you children safe when toxins are in their bodies.

She says both share a common cause, what she calls a ruinous dependence on fossil fuel. Steingraber’s previous books include Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal investigation of Cancer and the Environment. She, herself is a cancer survivor.

Sunday’s lecture will be at the Loussac Library, starting with a reception at 6:30 pm

Panel Focuses on Women Behind ANCSA Movement
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
The ad hoc “ANCSA at 40” committee recently hosted its third panel on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, or ANCSA, this one featuring some of the women behind the claims movement. The four panelists represented their people in meetings in Alaska and in Washington, D.C. during the struggle for ANCSA. They’ve served in a number of other leadership roles — in the Legislature; as staff to a U.S. Senator; as school board, tribal council, and borough Assembly members; and on the boards of Alaska Native regional non-profit and for-profit organizations.

Crime Bill Addresses Electronic Stalking, Legal Protection of Minors
Associated Press
The House Judiciary Committee today passed a crime bill designed to address electronic stalking and expand the legal protections for minors.

The bill, was proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell as a way to expand punishments for distributing child pornography and criminalize stalking using technology like global positioning systems or keystroke trackers.

The bill also allows the attorney general to subpoena Internet service providers for information relating to prosecutions.
The bill now heads to the House Finance Committee.