Alaska News Nightly: April 29, 2011

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Department of Law Issues Opinion Regarding Senate Budget Bill Language
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Members of the House Finance Committee met in Anchorage Friday to hear the State Department of Law’s opinion regarding language in a Senate budget bill.  As it stands now, the state legislature is still in special session because of an impasse between the Senate and Governor Sean Parnell over language which in essence forces the governor to pass all or none of the one hundred and five capital projects in the bill.

State Attorney General John Burns told the finance committee members that section 36 – the contingency clause of the bill is, in his opinion, unconstitutional.

Burns told the panel that the Senate’s approach to the capital projects is a first in Alaska’s history.  He also warned the committee members that another clause in the bill, section 37, should be removed from the bill.

Finance committee member Anna Fairclough said after the session adjourned that the focus on the validity of energy projects coming out of the debate is not the real issue.

Representative Les Gara says he’d like to see the governor sit down with Senate members and assure them that their projects won’t be vetoed.

Orphaned Polar Bear Cub Heading to Anchorage
Lori Townsend and Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage
A polar bear cub is expected to arrive in Anchorage Friday evening after Fish and Wildlife officials determined that it was orphaned.

Fish and Wildlife was informed about the cub by ConocoPhillips after it was observed on the Alpine field on the western edge of Prudhoe Bay.

According to Rosa Mehan, supervisor of the marine mammal program for Fish and Wildlife in Alaska, officials were able to verify that the female cub, that’s about four months old, was indeed an orphan before they captured it.

Mehan says the fate of the mother is not currently known and that a number of things could have contributed to her disappearance.

It has not been decided where the cub will be staying in the future, but, for now, it will reside at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. The cub will be fed Esbilac, a commercial puppy milk replacement, boosted by heavy cream for the high fat needs of a polar bear diet.

According to Mehan, the one place it will not end up, however, is back in the wild.

Ice Avalanche Kills Climber Near Ruth Gorge
Sue Deyoe, KTNA – Talkeetna
An ice avalanche killed a climber near the Ruth Gorge in the Alaska Range early Thursday morning. It’s the first climbing death of the season. Those involved in the accident and those that climb on the Ruth Glacier on a regular basis are examining the event and wonder what could have been done differently.

Two Removed from Cook Inlet Beluga Recovery Science Panel
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Concern over the autonomy of scientists on the Cook Inlet beluga recovery science panel has prompted NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to remove the two panel members who work for the state of Alaska. The issue arose in January when Commissioner Cora Campbell wrote to NMFS saying despite the terms of reference laid out by NMFS stating scientists must serve on the panel independent of their respective agencies, ADF&G scientists would adhere to department policies and not act independently. Doug Mecum is deputy administrator for NOAA fisheries in Alaska. He says the state’s scientists were taken off the panel last week.

Mecum says NMFS did however make a change in how the science panel will conduct their meetings. Initially, panel members were to meet privately and then release their information to the other panel working on Cook Inlet beluga recovery, the stakeholder’s panel that represents oil and gas industry members, conservation groups and the state of Alaska. Now Mecum says, the science panel meetings will be open to the stakeholder group. He says partially, it’s a compromise.

It’s not yet been decided how that participation will be managed. Doug Vincent Lang is the deputy commissioner for the state’s fish and game department and also the endangered species coordinator for the state. He says the decision to remove the state’s scientists is disappointing.

Craig Matkin is on the science panel representing the North Gulf Oceanic Society. He says it’s unfortunate the state scientists had to go because they had valuable information that now leaves a vacuum, but he’s concerned about opening the meetings up to the stakeholders.

Matkin says as the members figure out how to proceed, the recovery plan for belugas that hover at precariously low numbers, is not moving forward.

The science panel’s most recent scheduled meeting was canceled because of concerns over the prospect of a government shutdown. It’s not known when the next meeting will be scheduled.

Redistricting Board Wrestles With District Map Changes
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The state’s Redistricting Board is wrestling with changing the voting district map to match this decade’s census figures.  But other groups are submitting alternative plans of their own, and three statewide scenarios are competing for public attention.

Phone Survey Could Help Cull Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault
Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham
A new telephone survey, especially for women, is being conducted in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau and in the Dillingham area. Its results could have a big impact on how regional and state programs address two of Alaska’s most persistent and terrible social issues: domestic violence and sexual assault.

Amateur Radio Plays Vital Role in Disaster Response
Joshua Tucker, APRN – Anchorage
In Alaska, Amateur Radio operators have played a critical role responding to disasters in the past. After the ’64 earthquake phone lines were down. People in  Anchorage had no way of communicating with Homer, Seward or Kodiak to see if the to see if the towns had survived. It was Amatuer Radio operators who re-established contact, reporting back that the towns were not gone – just badly damaged. Since then, members of Alaska’s Amateur Radio Emergency Service have built up more resources on their own to respond to disasters.