Alaska News Nightly: April 27, 2011

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House Finance Committee Heading to Anchorage
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
The House Finance Committee is taking the special legislative session to Anchorage.

The committee will hold two hearings there on Friday. The first will cover energy projects in the state capital budget, with testimony from Alaska Energy Authority and Alaska Housing Finance Corporation officials. The second will give Attorney General John Burns a chance to discuss the contingency language Senate leaders have put on a package of projects to protect them from Governor Sean Parnell’s veto threat. Tuesday, Burns said he believes the language is “unconstitutional.” A memo from a legislative lawyer released today Wednesday says it’s open to interpretation.

At a House Majority press conference Wednesday, Finance Co-Chair Bill Stoltze, a Chugiak Republican, said hearings held in Anchorage in the past have been a great success.

Stoltze says the committee will not take any action. He said he floated the idea of meeting in Anchorage to other members of the caucus who agreed to it. He added “there’s not a lot going on” in Juneau right now.

Most Democrats on the Finance Committee plan to skip the trip. Anchorage Representative Mike Doogan says it would be nice to sleep in his own bed, but the work is in Juneau.

Doogan and Fairbanks Representative David Guttenberg will attend the hearings by teleconference from Juneau. Anchorage Representative Les Gara will make the trip, so the minority has a presence in the room.

Legislative Affairs Director Pam Varni says the state will provide airfare, per diem, and room and board for finance committee members and some staff during the trip.

State Funding for Schools Remains Unresolved
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Among the few remaining issues that haven’t been resolved during the legislative special session is whether the state’s schools will get any increase in funding for next year.

Alaska-Based Airman Killed in Afghanistan
Associated Press
An Alaska-based airman was one of eight U.S. troops killed Wednesday in Afghanistan.

Officials at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage say the airman was assigned to the 11th Air Force, based at JBER.

A veteran Afghan military pilot said to be distressed over his personal finances opened fire at Kabul airport after an argument today, killing the eight U.S. troops and an American civilian contractor.

Those killed were trainers and advisers for the nascent Afghan air force.    The airman’s identity won’t be released until 24 hours after family notification.

Ruling Keeps Limited Entry for Charter Halibut
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
A charter halibut group is discussing whether to continue trying to block a limited-entry program in court.

Charter Operators of Alaska earlier this month asked a U.S. District Court judge for an injunction against the program. A Tuesday ruling denied that request.

The Homer-based group met on the phone today (Wednesday), but made no decision. President Jack Roskind of Whittier says they’ll meet with members this weekend.

“We’re literally talking our livelihood and what it’s worth to us to fight for our businesses,” he says.

The federal limited-entry system took effect in February. It impacts operators in Southeast and the central gulf, the regulatory areas known as 2-C and 3-A.

Limited entry is one of several efforts by NOAA Fisheries and other agencies to reduce the guided halibut catch, which has regularly exceeded its quota. Charter clients in Southeast Alaska are also limited to one fish per day, which can be no longer than 37 inches.

The judge who rejected the injunction will preside over another hearing next week. Roskind says he is not optimistic.

“We’re not really anticipating we’re going to win that. And the sooner he makes a decision the quicker we decide whether we have grounds to appeal his decision,” he says.

The charter group, mostly made up of gulf and Prince William Sound operators, says limited entry is putting about 330 people out of business.

Many Southeast charter businesses supported the program when it was proposed several years ago. And they still do.

Forrest Braden is interim executive director of the Sitka-based South East Alaska Guides Organization.

“We have a limited amount of fish that we’re given to fish on and it doesn’t make sense not to have some kind of a cap on effort and industry involvement. So we’re in full support of that,” he says.

Commercial fishermen have also faced substantial reductions in the amount of halibut they can catch.

Julianne Curry of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association says the new limitations for the guided fishery make sense.

“About a third of the charter fleet was turning over every year. That just doesn’t create an environment for regulatory stability. You don’t really know who the players are because they’re turning over all the time. So I think it’s a step in the right direction,” she says.

Many Southeast charter operators supported limited entry when it was proposed several years ago. But several of those involved in the discussion declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The limited-entry program issues charter permits to those who fished in 2008 and also either 2004 or 2005.

Some, but not all, of the permits can be transferred to other operators. The lawsuit seeks to include businesses in existence through 2010.

KGH Stream Team protects Cutthroat Creek
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
A major threat to an urban riparian system in Sitka has been removed.

A team of researchers conducting a longitudinal study of Cutthroat Creek this winter discovered that hydrocarbons – and possibly other pollutants – were contaminating the waterway and threatening both plants and aquatic organisms. The source? A pile of snow plowed from the parking lot of a nearby elementary school. The scientists? Fifth graders studying the stream during their lunch recess.

Gas Still Leaking as Aniak Residents Return to Homes, Offices
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Homes and offices are occupied again in Kuskokwim village of Aniak, two days after a dangerous gasoline spill caused an evacuation near a tank farm.

Crowley Petroleum says the neighborhood surrounding the gasoline leak is safer after clean up crews used specialized foam to dampen the spill’s noxious fumes, and pumps to collect 3,000 gallons of leaked gas mixed with water.

Three households nearest the farm tank are still displaced until more gas is collected. The leak is ongoing and crews need to remove more of the gasoline before they can gain access the source.

Crowley’s Public Information Officer, Jim Butler, says there’s no indication that any of the gasoline has escaped the lined containment area.

The spill is the second in two months for Crowley. The other happened at another storage facility a mile below Aniak in March. Butler says once the clean-up effort is complete Crowley will investigate the incidents to see if there is a connection.

Pellet Manufacturer Poised to Capitalize as Oil Prices Spike
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A Fairbanks wood pellet manufacturer, is positioned to capitalize on the spike in oil prices.  Superior Pellet Fuels opened a plant off the Richardson Highway south of Fairbanks last fall.  Company General Manager Chad Shumacher says the new mill has been running at less than 50 percent capacity as it works out kinks in the operation.

The pellet mill is turning waste wood from tree clearing into 300 tons of pellets per week. The pellets fuel specialized stoves and boilers, but have been slow to attract interest due to moderate oil prices in recent years. Schumacher anticipates more demand for pellets due to oil’s recent spike.

Pellet appliances burn cleaner than traditional wood stoves, and Shumacher says the local fine particulate pollution problem is also expected to drive demand for pellets. He says wood pellets are also being considered as an alternative fuel for coal fired power plants at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and local military bases.

Recycling Expands in Fairbanks
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Recycling is about to expand in the Fairbanks area.  K&K Recycling in North Pole has worked out a deal with the Borough and its waste hauling contractor to collect paper, glass, cardboard, plastic and metals at local transfer sites. K&K already collects recyclables from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and area military bases, but access to borough transfer sites has been a road block. K&K owner Bernie Karl says all parties are compromising to change that.

Karl says the first transfer site is expected to be set up next week.   He says his company has invested a half a million dollars in new dumpsters and trucks to collect and move materials to K&K’s North Pole facility for re-use, including fuel for a high tech biomass power plant being developed in cooperation with United Technologies.

Karl says borough residents will also see savings in landfill related costs. He needs 5,000 tons of biomass per year to fuel the power plant, a fraction of the 114,000 tons taken to the landfill every year.   Karl’s long range plan is even greener: channeling CO2 emissions from the biomass generator to a large greenhouse to grow produce.

Renewable Energy Alaska Project Conference Kicks Off
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Renewable Energy Alaska Project or REAP kicks off their 3rd annual conference on Thursday at the Denaina Convention center in Anchorage. REAP spokeswoman Stephanie Nowers says the conference focuses on the business of clean energy from building efficient new structures to retrofitting old ones.

Nowers says there will also be workshops that highlight available programs in the state such as RURAL CAPS energy wise.

Keynote speakers this year will be National Green Energy Building expert Jerry Yudelson and the director of the center for new energy economy, former governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter. The conference runs through Friday.

Local Boundary Commission Approves Dillingham Annexation Petition
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The group tasked by the State of Alaska to decide matters related to municipal boundaries Tuesday night approved the City of Dillingham’s proposal to annex the Nushagak Commercial Fishing District into the city boundaries. KDLG’s Mike Mason attended the two days of public testimony and the decisional meeting of the Local Boundary Commission and then filed this report.

Ordinance Allows Anchorage Residents to Keep Up to Five Chickens or Rabbits
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage chickens scored a nine to two victory at the municipal assembly last night.   Under a new ordinance residents can keep up to five chickens or rabbits on normal sized urban lots.