Alaska News Nightly: April 28, 2011

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Whittier Harbor Expansion Dredges Up Old Oil Spill
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Efforts to expand the harbor in Whittier have run up against an old oil spill.  Last month, Harris Sand and Gravel dredges began pulling up gravel that was oily.

That’s Gary Folley manager of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Prevention and Emergency Response Program.  Dredging work had to be halted until regulators from DEC and the Army Corps of Engineers decided how the contaminated gravel would be dealt with.  They ended up piling it up on Alaska Railroad property near the end of the Anton Anderson Tunnel that connects Whittier with the Seward Highway.

There is not much mystery about where the oil came from.

The tank farm dates even farther back to when Whittier was a military port during the Second World War.  During the earthquake the tank farm was hit by several tidal waves, one more than 100 feet high.  Millions of gallons of fuel were released.  A lot of it burned.  But evidently some sank.  Folley says the contaminated rock and gravel is really piling up.

That’s about 1,000 dump truck loads.  Folley says the gravel is being drained before being added to the pile, and work has resumed with more precautions to protect the waters at the dredge site.

Folley says the extra work will add substantially to the cost of the $4 million Whitter project.

Three Arrested for Illegally Selling Walrus Ivory, Polar Bear Hides
Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome
A federal grand jury indicted three people Thursday for the illegal sale of walrus ivory and polar bear hides from Savoonga.    A federal grand jury charged three people from Glenallen and Anchorage with 10 counts in violation of the Lacey Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Hundreds Rally in ‘Fed Up with the Feds’
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Hundreds of people rallied in Fairbanks Wednesday to protest what they see as overreach by the federal government.  The “Fed Up with the Feds” event was also a fund raiser for Jim Wilde, the Central man, arrested last fall following a conflict with rangers in the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve.

House Democrats Present Plan to End Special Session
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Thursday, House Democrats made public a plan that would successfully end the special legislative session – now as the end of its 11th day.

The Senate and the governor are at odds over the governor’s recent threats to use his line-item veto on capital projects in the districts of Senators who did not support the administration’s oil tax reduction plan.  The governor says contingency language in the Senate’s budget bill takes away that line-item veto power.

Anchorage’s Mike Doogan suggested three simple steps to resolving the dispute.  He says the governor needs to back down from threatening to veto projects based on oil taxes – the senate needs to withdraw the contingency language that threatens the governor, and the governor, the House and the Senate need to go over the capital projects in the budget to decide in advance which of them have merit.

“And that’s it.  Sorry that it’s that simple, but it is that simple,” Doogan said. “And if everyone could do their part and stop this – which I can only characterize as – bickering that’s going on about this, we could be out of here in two days, maybe three.”

Anchorage Democrat Les Gara said the House Finance Committee – of which he is a member – needs to be at work reviewing the controversial energy-related projects in the capital budget instead of going to Anchorage on Friday for hearings that do not advance resolution of the differences.

“And instead of pretending that we don’t know what these projects are about we’ve had the ;ast two weeks that we could have been holding hearings on them,” Gara said. “And we should move ahead and vet the projects.  We can do that in the Finance Committee, we know what the projects are.”

“We could have been holding hearings, we should hold hearings, and we should get this resolved as soon as possible instead of pointing fingers back and forth.”

For his part, the governor’s staff today commented that the governor has assured the Senate President and Co-chairs that he will not abuse his line-item veto authority.

Lawmakers May Have to Test the Issue if No Agreement can be Reached with Governor
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
If lawmakers can’t come to an agreement with the Governor, former Attorney General John Havelock says they may have to push through to test the issue. Havelock was attorney general from 1970 to 1973 under Governor Bill Egan.  He’s now in private practice and teaches public policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Havelock says it’s not predictable what the state supreme court might do regarding the idea of the constitutionality of bundling legislation to protect it from a gubernatorial veto.

Havelock says if the Governor receives the legislation with the projects bundled, he should disregard the contingency language and choose vetoes based on his opinion of what the constitution allows.

Havelock says the legislature then must decide if the vetoes are serious enough that they should work to override them or possibly seek legal clarity and sue.

Alaska’s constitution is unusual in the amount of power given to the Governor. Not only can he veto line by line but he can reduce the amount of money allocated to a project. Havelock says it’s very uncommon and there was fear that it would wreck havoc on the legislature’s appropriation power by allowing the governor to pick and choose.

Havelock says if the matter was pursued in court, the issue is important enough that he feels it would be fast tracked and would not be tied up for years.

‘I’m Going to College Program’ Draws 2,300 to College Campuses
Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham
Across Alaska, the ‘I’m Going to College Program’ is bringing more than 2,300 students from more than 30 schools to 13 college campuses. This is the first time Dillingham kids have participated. KDLG’s Daysha Eaton takes us to The University of Alaska Bristol Bay Campus where kids are getting a taste of college.

Family IDs Airman Killed in Afghanistan
Associated Press
The family of an Alaska-based airman killed in Afghanistan has identified him as Major David Brodeur of Auburn, Massachusetts.

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

Brodeur was assigned to the 11th Air Force, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

The family, in a statement, says he was an adviser to the Afghan Command and Control center under NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan. He was deployed in February. He was married and had two children.

Bear Tooth Theater Holds Discussion on ‘The Silence’
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
A lot of silence surrounds the issue of Catholic clergy abuse of children in rural Alaska villages. But a documentary film showing and panel discussion at the Bear Tooth Theater in Anchorage tonight are aimed at bringing the issue out into the open. The film is called “The Silence.” It aired on the PBS show frontline last week. Since then, producer Tom Curran says he’s heard a flood of reaction from viewers.”

The panel discussion tonight includes Curran, Patrick Wall, an expert on Catholic clergy abuse,  Gretchen Schmelzer, a psychologist who specializes in trauma and Elsie Boudreau a survivor of clergy sex abuse from St. Mary’s. Boudreau now works as an advocate for victims. She says the victims who speak out in the film are thankful they were a part of the project.

Elsie Boudreau is a survivor of clergy sex abuse and is featured in the documentary, “The Silence.” The film and panel discussion will start at 8pm tonight at the Bear Tooth Theater in Anchorage.