Alaska News Nightly: April 26, 2011

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Senate’s Contingency Language Fuels Debate
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Nine days into the special legislative session, there has been no visible progress on the major issues that led to a stalemate at the end of the regular session.

While the Senate has made some concessions in its version of the Capital Budget, the big disagreement with the House is over the use of contingency language to protect projects from threatened gubernatorial vetoes. Anchorage Democrat Hollis French brought up the subject on the Senate floor Tuesday – supporting Finance Co-Chair Bert Stedman, of Sitka, for adding the protection.

He called it “inverted logic” for the governor to threaten vetoes depending on lawmakers’ support for a bill cutting oil company taxes. And he said the Finance Committee was trying to provide a $400 million, statewide energy program while the governor was – “swinging his veto axe.”

French referred to the Governor’s position on the subject when he was a member of the Senate. In 1997, Parnell voted for a budget that contained several sections of contingency language.

Minority Leader Charlie Huggins argued that, while he likes the thought of an “omnipotent” legislature, he recognizes the need for a balance of power. He said the issues now center on how the two sides come to a solution “with dignity.”

Neither House nor Senate Finance Committees met Tuesday – and there was no business conducted during floor sessions. All are rescheduled for tomorrow.

Attorney General Responds to Contingency Language
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Following the debate on the Senate floor, Attorney General John Burns hastily called a press conference to counter arguments that the Senate’s inclusion of contingency language is on solid legal footing.

Burns said the use of “packages” of projects, that could support each other against gubernatorial vetoes, is “invalid and unenforceable.”

Burns said the writers of the constitution intended having a strong executive branch with a strong control over the state’s finances. He did not go so far as to advise the governor to veto the language items, saying that is premature until a bill is given to the governor.

Latest Capital Budget Cuts $45 Million from Southeast School Maintenance
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
The latest capital-budget compromise cuts more than $45 million worth of Southeast Alaska school maintenance projects. Damaged roofs, rotting walls, electrical upgrades and numerous other repairs will have to wait – unless they’re restored.

Valdez Marine Life Slow to Recover After 1964 Quake
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
University of Alaska Fairbanks research shows tiny marine life in Port Valdez was slow to recover following the 1964 earthquake. UAF scientists tracked invertebrates in deep water and intertidal zones of Port Valdez following the 9.2 magnitude quake. Their findings were recently published in the Journal: Marine Environmental Research. Assistant Research professor Arny Blanchard, says it took decades for some species to recover after the quake moved massive amounts of sediment over the deep sea floor.

Blanchard says a study led by UAF’s Dr. Howard Feder that looked at the tsunami scoured near shore environment of Port Valdez, also showed drawn out recovery for some species, like mussels. Blanchard says the research may transfer to other more recently earthquake impacted areas like Japan and Indonesia.

Blanchard says the shape of the glacial formed fjord at Port Valdez restricts water exchange between surface and deeper environments, a challenge to rebuilding marine life after a catastrophic event like an earthquake and tsunami.

New Documentary Investigates 9-11 Events Involving Whitehorse
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
A new documentary investigates a bizarre chapter in the horrifying events of 9-11 that involved the remote Yukon community of Whitehorse. That morning, a Korean passenger 747 sent out a text message that made it seem as if it was being hijacked. The plane was supposed to land in Anchorage, but air Traffic Control diverted it to Whitehorse- sending panic through the community, as parents raced to the school to collect their children.

Whitehorse filmmaker Max Fraser spent five years working on the documentary. He says the incident left a very deep impression on him and he wanted to figure out why it happened.

Max Fraser’s documentary is called “Never Happen Here – The Whitehorse 9/11 Story.” It doesn’t yet have an air date in the United States.

Dillingham Hopes to Annex Nushagak Commercial Fishing District
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The city of Dillingham is hoping to annex the Nushagak Commercial fishing district. The move could bring in an extra 700 thousand dollars in tax revenue each year. People for and against the proposal voiced their opinions at a public hearing last (monday) night in front of the state’s annexation board.

USDA Organic Initiative Program Helping Growers Obtain Organic Certification
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Organic farm products are carving their own niche in Alaska’s grocery markets, although getting organic certification can be a challenge. Now organic growers or those with aspirations to further their participation in the locally produced produce movement can get help through the USDA’s organic initiative program.

Renowned Educator, Advocate Passes Away
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
A renowned educator and advocate for incorporation of indigenous world views and observations of nature into western education has passed away. Dr. Oscar Kawagley died in Fairbanks on Sunday after a long struggle with cancer. He was co-director of the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative, and Alaska Native Knowledge Network, and taught at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Center for Cross-cultural studies for more than 20 years.