Alaska News Nightly: April 20, 2011

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Threatening Song Lyrics Lands Student 45-Day Suspension, Possible Expulsion
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Hundreds of South Anchorage High School students stayed home from school today because of violent threats from a fellow student. Wednesday is the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Earlier this month, a student circulated rap song lyrics that graphically describe carrying out a deadly massacre at South Anchorage High. Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau says as soon as the school learned about the song, the boy was placed on a 45 day suspension. The district is now recommending he be expelled. Comeau says it’s not unusual to have these types of threats around the Columbine anniversary.

The school had an increased police presence in the building Wednesday. The mother of one boy who is singled out in the song lyrics circulated an e-mail yesterday expressing concern that the student who wrote the song isn’t locked up at McLaughlin Youth Center. Lisa Connors also says her son has been targeted by the student all year long. She says she wishes the school district had taken action sooner.

Connors says her son traveled out of state because he was so traumatized by the incident. Comeau says the police investigated the incident, but the student who wrote the lyrics is still at home with his parents.  Comeau says she understands the family’s concerns.

The school district is holding a meeting for parents and students on Friday at 6:30. Comeau wants to make sure they feel their kids are safe at school. She says since the Columbine school shooting, the district has had extraordinary support from the Anchorage Police Department whenever students make threats against classmates or teachers.

Science Center Grant to Aid Longliners, Sperm Whales
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
Sperm whales in Alaska have learned how to seek out longline fishing gear as a source for easy meals. Now, a $350,000 grant given to the Sitka Sound Science Center will let scientists and commercial longliners work together to figure out how to discourage the behavior.

House Accepts Senate’s Susitna Hydro Bill
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The House accepted a Senate bill taking the first steps toward a hydroelectric dam on the Susitna River, designed as a source of electricity for the entire rail belt.

The bill authorizes initial permitting and field studies. The capital budget contains $65 million to get the work started, but supporters estimate that the dam’s final cost will be more than $4 billion.

Anchorage Republican Lance Pruitt said that hydroelectric power is essential for the Railbelt’s future – and he reminded members to keep the project in their view.

Dillingham Democrat Brice Edgmon  reminded members that low-cost energy is a statewide goal.  He said prices are continuing to go up – to what he called the “Code Red levels” the state saw in 2008.

The bill also provides money for two smaller dams – both involve loans to build projects in Cordova and on Prince of Wales Island.

The bill passed both the House and Senate on unanimous votes.  It now goes to the governor.

Legislation Would Help Alaskans Pay High Heating Costs
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A proposal by Fairbanks State Senator Joe Thomas would help Alaskans pay for the high cost of heating their homes. Senate Bill 133 was introduced on the last day of the regular legislative session, positioning it for consideration next year.  It sets up a formula by which Alaskans would receive varying amounts of money depending on the local price of energy and climate where they live.  Senator Thomas says residents of the state’s coldest places who depend on high price heating oil would get more support.

The formula in Thomas’s bill uses a base rebate of $200, then factors in the price of energy and the number of heating degree days, to come up with individual pay outs.  Adults would get a full rebate, while kids would get half.  Senator Thomas stresses that the SB 133 is in only in working form, and that cash payments could be swapped for fuel vouchers. He says the bill will be refined during the interim, for consideration during the 2012 legislative session.

New Wildlife Tasers Protect NOAA Whale Necropsy Team
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
The state Department of Fish & Game has started field trials of a special Taser designed for use on large wildlife.

Sitka area management biologist Phil Mooney included the Tasers recently in a plan to protect researchers as they conducted a necropsy of a gray whale.  Mooney says the Tasers give wildlife authorities a powerful deterrent against a brown bear, should it be needed.

Fish and Game personnel worked with the  necropsy team to set up a flagged perimeter around the whale. Three scouts patrolled the flag line, and a fourth watched the beaches from an anchored boat.

In addition to the Tasers, those patrolling the perimeter were equipped with more conventional bear deterrents like cracker-shells and rifles.

Mooney says the Tasers were used successfully last year at the Port Armstrong hatchery to create “an exclusion zone” for the safety of hatchery workers. Any bear entering the zone was hit with the Taser, even if it was not creating a problem.

A beached whale, though, is a natural attractant for bears, and an important food source in the early spring.

Mooney says the plan did not call for the 17-member necropsy team to hold its ground in the event a curious bear arrived. In fact, the plan called for the exact opposite.

Mooney carried two different versions of the Taser, one with a range of 30 feet, and another with an extended range.

Mooney says both these devices are still being studied by wildlife authorities, and he also doesn’t expect the wildlife Tasers to replace conventional deterrents for the outdoor-going public.

The Tasers have other wildlife applications besides stopping a charging bear.  Mooney says the devices are being studied for situations in which an animal needs to be captured temporarily.

ASAA Hears Pitch for Girls-Only Wrestling Post-Season
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
The Alaska School Activities Association heard a pitch for regional and state wrestling tournaments for girls during its regular meeting in Sitka this week.  Mt. Edgecumbe High School wrestling coach Mike Kimber told the ASAA board that more girls would participate in the sport if they knew that there would be a girls-only competition at the end of the season.

Bristol Bay, YK Delta Broadband Project Gets Go-Ahead
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The highly anticipated project to bring true broadband internet service to the Bristol Bay and YK Delta regions has received the go ahead from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Produce Hits Anchorage Farmer’s Markets
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Alaska Grown program is working to promote local produce and other farm products in a bid to strengthen the state’s fragile agricultural economy.  A variety of produce is available at farmer’s markets that are already springing up in Anchorage shopping malls with the coming of spring.  This month, savvy consumers can save money and put food on the table by taking advantage of a glut of locally grown potatoes.

Alex Davis, owner of AD Farm near Palmer’s Lazy Mountain, is already making the trek into Anchorage two days a week to man his farm products stand in an urban mall parking lot

April’s chilly breeze offsets the warmth of the  noon sun, but the sunlight shines through glass jars filled with golden honey, stacked next to jars of homemade jam.  Huge loaves of fresh bread wrapped tight in  plastic, duck eggs, organic parsnips and ice cream  entice lunchtime customers.   And then there’s the German butterball potatoes piled high in bins

Davis says his dwindling stock of last season’s German butterballs are going fast.  That’s not the case for some other varieties of potato grown in the Matanuska Valley.

That’s Ben VanDerwheel, a major producer of potatoes and other vegetables in Palmer.

The variety most available in stores now are called NORKOTA, suited for growth in a chilly climate.

VanderWheel says last summer’s cool and drizzly weather was responsible for a bumper crop.

VanderWheel says, last year his fields averaged 22 tons of potatoes an acre.  The potatoes are stored all winter in modern facilities with ventilation and humidification at his farm.  But new crops are to be sowed in mid May, so last season’s crop has to move out.

The Norkota potatoes are mild flavored and versatile.  Mash ‘em,  fry ‘em, bake ‘em. If you like your spuds, now’s the time to stock up.  It’s a buyer’s market for Alaska Grown potatoes.

Franci Havemeister, Director of the Division of Agriculture, challenges all Alaskan’s to eat more Alaska Grown products in April, for a healthy family and for a healthy economy.

VanderWheel says Alaska potatoes are priced to compete with Washington state potatoes shipped into the state by major grocery chains.

He says the Alaska Grown trademark can be found on red and yellow Yukon gold potatoes, too.

Candy: Traditional Easter Treat
Jessica Taft, APRN Contributor
Every holiday has a food tradition that goes along with it: Hotdogs on Labor Day, Turkey on Thanksgiving, and gingerbread on Christmas. For Jessica Taft, an Anchorage resident, the Easter holiday is an excuse to indulge in one of her favorite treats – candy.