Alaska News Nightly: March 15, 2011

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Japan Quake Cause for Reevaluation of Proposed Tsunami Warning Center Cuts
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The U.S. House, Tuesday, passed yet another temporary spending bill that would keep the government running for three more weeks. It’s also expected to pass the Senate.

Heavy-lifting now needs to be done on agreeing to a long-term spending plan, and that’s where things get tricky.  The House passed $61 billion in cuts last month, but it included many things that displease Senate Democrats.  One of them is a $126 million cut from the west coast’s tsunami warning system.  It would force the National Weather Service, which runs the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, to cut spending the rest of this fiscal year by 30 percent.  That’s come under fire this week in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami that hit Japan.

Congressman Don Young and Senator Lisa Murkowski voted with their Republican colleagues to pass that House bill that cuts the tsunami funding.  Young did not return requests for comment Tuesday.

But Senator Lisa Murkowski says she voted for that bill as a symbolic act to demonstrate the need for cuts, and that there are many elements in it she doesn’t like.  The Republican says she’ll fight to keep money in the tsunami warning program.

Senator Mark Begich says the attempt to cut the tsunami warning system is indicative of the Republicans’ tactics right now.  He calls it playing politics.

Both Begich and Murkowski are expected to vote for the short term spending bill that will hit the Senate this week, but they are also seen as critical votes on a longer-term bill, since both are moderates being courted by their parties and the White House.

Murkowski Maintaining Support for Nuclear Energy
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski is not backing down on her support of nuclear energy in the wake of Japan’s crisis, but she says the disaster has been an enormous hit to that nation as well as nuclear technology.

Murkowski has been a top proponent of nuclear power as part of a broad energy portfolio, and her position is watched carefully since she’s the top Republican on the Energy Committee.  Today the Senator encouraged withholding judgment of nuclear until more is known about what happened.

The U.S. gets 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear, and Murkowski says it’s been generated safely for decades, so she’s calling for people to keep what’s happening in Japan in perspective.  She says it is important for the U.S. right now to make sure that the nuclear facilities operating could sustain a double-whammy event of earthquake and tsunami.

Democratic Senator Mark Begich agrees that nuclear power plants will need to undergo scrutiny to make sure they can cope with disasters, and he says no form of energy – including nuclear – should be taken off the table right now.

Begich says this highlights the potential of Alaska fossil fuels and says this should encourage the Obama Administration to explore Alaskan gas and oil.

Alaskans Ponder Local Consequences of Disaster Abroad
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
As a horrified world watches events unfold in Japan’s fight to contain damage to nuclear power plants in the earthquake-ravaged country,  people at home in Alaska are wondering just how much, or how little, the disaster will affect us here, and how much we can do to help.

John Baker Claims 2011 Iditarod Title
Diana Haecker, KTNA – Talkeetna
Hundreds of people lined Nome’s Front Street to watch as Kotzebue musher John Baker won this year’s Iditarod Trail sled dog race.

Baker and his ten dogs made their way up under the burled arch in Nome at 9:46 this morning. He is the first Alaska Native musher to win the Iditarod since Jerry Riley did it in 1976. Along with Baker’s family, race officials and selected media, drummers and singers with the band Pamuya were on hand to provide the soundtrack to an emotional finish that had Baker’s family in tears.

This was Baker’s 16th Iditarod Trail sled dog race. He has made the top 10 in 11 races. He also made history today by setting a new race record of eight days, 18 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds on the trail. Baker shaved exactly four hours off the record set in 2002 by Martin Buser. But Baker said he didn’t set out to break any records.

Baker says he didn’t let himself contemplate winning while he was out on the trail.

After Baker was checked in and signed off on having finished the race, sponsor dignitaries handed him his $50,400 winner’s check and the key to a brand new Dodge Ram truck.

Ramey Smyth came in second, arriving 64 minutes after Baker. Hans Gatt was the third to make it into Nome at 3:20 pm.

Weyhrauch Receives Suspended Sentence, Fine
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
Former Juneau Representative Bruce Weyhrauch was fined $1,000 and received a suspended sentence of three-months in prison for working with unregistered lobbyists.

Coastal Management Program in Danger of Disappearing
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Legislators are coming to the conclusion that they do not have time this year to convince the Governor of the importance of the state’s Coastal Management Program.  That’s the program designed to coordinate developers with local, state and federal entities to avoid delay and litigation over details of project plans.

The program will go away this year if the legislature does not extend it – and Governor Parnell has threatened to veto any changes to the program that would give local residents more input on the terms of government permits.  Parnell has said he sees the coastal management program as a barrier that gives local governments and residents veto power.   However, coastal and rural legislators want a more active local voice.

Bethel’s Lyman Hoffman told reporters Tuesday morning that he has decided to support a simple, unaltered one-year extension of the program – although the governor wants the program to operate unchanged for six more years.

But the House Resources Committee is continuing to work on changing it this year. Wednesday, the committee will consider amending the governor’s six-year simple extension.

Hoffman, though, defends the time needed to completely re-write it – and to show the governor the advantages of a stronger program.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the Resources committee will hear possible amendments, but will not move it on to the next committee.

Community Catch Share Program Unveiled in Washington DC
Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak
A plan for community catch share programs in fisheries nationwide was unveiled in Washington D.C. by a panel of fishermen and environmentalists Tuesday morning. Brought together by Eco-Trust, an environmental investment think-tank based in Oregon, the panel sought to present a framework on how communities can benefit from catch-share fisheries management.

Census Report Shows Changes in Alaska Native-Owned Businesses
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
The U.S. Census Bureau has just released a report on American Indian and Alaska Native-owned businesses, which it measures every five years. The count includes individually owned businesses, and excludes businesses owned by Alaska Native corporations and tribes. The latest count shows how things have changed between 2002 and 2007.

Author Brings Inupiaq Movie Star Back to the Light
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Movie theaters in Fairbanks, Juneau, Anchorage and a number of other communities are featuring a largely forgotten Inupiaq movie star named Ray Mala – thanks to the efforts of an Alaska author who has been researching his career.  The Ray Mala Film Festival is touring the state.  Born Ray Wise, in the gold rush town of Candle, north of Nome, Mala moved to Hollywood during the silent film era.

According to Lael Morgan, a longtime Alaska journalist and publisher, movies set in the Arctic were all the rage in the Lower 48 states by 1915, and Ray Mala had some skills that were very helpful for those early film makers – he knew the country, the weather, the wildlife, and he could turn the hand-crank on a camera at low temperatures.

Mala was soon in front of the camera, playing roles as Eskimo men, and made it big when he starred in a 1932 movie made by Woody Van Dyke, entitled “Eskimo.”  Morgan says Mala was a genuine movie star.

This discrimination drove a number of other so-called “exotic” stars out of the business entirely, but, because of his skills and his personality, Ray Mala had a career in Hollywood that spanned decades.

The Mala family and Morgan are still unearthing movies in which Ray Mala was involved – both in front of the camera and behind it.  The festival is only able to offer a sampling.  Among them “Eskimo,” an earlier film “Igloo,” and a travelogue Mala shot with his first mentor in the industry, Frank Kleinschmidt.

Lael Morgan’s book “Eskimo Star,” is being released along with the film festival.