Alaska News Nightly: May 2, 2011

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Shell Hoping to Begin Drilling 10 Exploratory Wells Starting in 2012
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC and Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Shell Alaska is asking the federal government to review a new set of plans for drilling in the Arctic. Shell Vice President for Alaska Pete Slaiby says the company will seek to drill 10 exploratory wells over two seasons starting in 2012. Even though Shell has been working to get an air permit for five years, Slaiby says there are hopeful signs that things can move forward.

The company plans to file its plans with the bureau of Ocean, Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement or BOMRE on Wednesday. The plan calls for two drill rigs. One will drill two wells per year in the Beaufort Sea’s Camden Bay area and one will drill three wells per year in the Chukchi. The drilling plan is for 2012 and 2013.

Slaiby says there are estimates as high as 25 to 27 billion barrels of oil and 127 trillion cubic feet of gas in offshore Arctic waters.

Slaiby says the prospects are why Shell has continued to pursue permitting.

Conservation groups have been critical of off shore plans in the Arctic, citing severe weather and a lack of proper emergency oil spill cleanup equipment in such remote locations.

Delegation Cheers bin Laden Death, Encourages Vigilance
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska’s Congressional delegation is cheering the death of Al Qaeda leader and 9-11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.  But they’re warning of a need for vigilance toward terrorists… and asking tough questions about Pakistan.

Mat Su Lawmakers Present $378.9 Million Budget
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
While state lawmakers squabble over Alaska’s capital budget, Matanuska Susitna taxpayers are being presented with a proposed $378.9 million comprehensive budget by Matanuska Susitna Borough officials.  The Borough’s fiscal year 2012 spending plan includes $259.5 million for school district operations, $43 million for Borough operations and $19 million for capital projects.

The bulk of the budget will pay for school costs, to keep pace with the fast growing population of the Mat Su.

Public hearings on the Borough budget are set to begin this week, with the first meetings scheduled for May 4 and 5 in Wasilla.

Acting Borough Manager Elizabeth Gray authored the proposed budget.  Gray said during an overview of the plan last week that it aimed to maintain services while minimizing the effects of the Borough’s mill levy.

The Borough Assembly is expected to make amendments to the budget in the coming weeks before final approval of the plan.

Nome Woman Crowned Miss Indian World
Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome
Nome’s Marjorie Tahbone was crowned Miss Indian World on Saturday evening at the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Tahbone competed against 24 indigenous women from throughout North America.

Tanana River Ice Jam Causing Floods in Salcha Area
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
An ice jam on the Tanana River is causing flooding in an area of Salcha.  Fairbanks North Star Borough spokeswoman Sally Stuvek says water is affecting four homes so far, but several others are threatened.  Stuvek says the borough is coordinating a response with Salcha Rescue.

A stretch of the Old Richardson Highway has been closed due to high water. The area of Salcha along Pile Driver Slough is prone to ice jam flooding, and Stuvek says property owners are experienced in how to handle it.  There has not been an evacuation order so far, but National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb, who checked out the situation Monday morning, says there’s concern things could worsen.

Plumb says the ice on the Salcha River, which flows into the Tanana upstream of the community, is going out, and that could pile up on the ice jam. He estimates the jam to be a quarter to a half mile long.

New Camp Abatement Receives ACLU and Assembly Backing
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Months of legal battling between the municipality of Anchorage and the Alaska office of the American Civil Liberties Union has come to an end.   Last week the Anchorage Assembly unanimously approved an illegal camp sit seizure ordinance acceptable to the ACLU, and more importantly, the courts.

Potential Land Transfer Leaves Conservation Group, Forest Service Concerned
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
A survey team from the Bureau of Land Management will be in Sitka this summer to plat 11 acres of land selected by Sealaska – land selected by the regional Native corporation 36 years ago. The property is Redoubt Lake falls, one of Sitka’s most heavily-used subsistence fisheries. The possible transfer of public land into corporate hands has a local conservation group – and the U.S. Forest Service – concerned.

Fairbanks Pledges $1.7 Million to Ice Alaska’s Effort to Purchase Railroad Land
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Fairbanks Assembly passed a resolution allowing the borough to give Ice Alaska $1.7 million to help it buy land from the Alaska Railroad. The ice carving group and the railroad have been unable to agree on a long-term lease or purchase deal for the 30-acre property where the World Ice Art Championships are held. Short of a new deal, Ice Alaska has to vacate the railroad land by June 30. Speaking at last Thursday’s Fairbanks North Star Assembly meeting, member Nadine Winters said there’s a contingency stipulation in the resolution giving money to Ice Alaska.

The resolution sets a June 30 deadline for Ice Alaska to reach an agreement with the Railroad. The Railroad recently rejected a $4 million offer from Ice Alaska to buy the property, citing uncertain borough participation.  The new resolution assures the $1.7 million borough portion is available.

The assembly passed a second resolution which kicks in if Ice Alaska doesn’t secure a purchase agreement.  It would allow the group and other organizations to submit proposals for the funding to continue the ice carving event at another site.  The Tanana Valley Fair Association and North Pole’s Christmas in Ice have expressed interest in taking over the Ice Art Championships.  North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson said the local volunteers who put on the annual Christmas ice sculpture display, are already preparing in case they get a chance to host the larger February-March event.

Isaacson said dozens of large ice blocks have been stockpiled in North Pole.  He says volunteers can pull off the event, but the borough money is important for buildings and land.

Wind Power Dominates Discussion for Energy Cost Solutions
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
The high cost of energy and what to do about it was on the minds of many of the 1,300 members of Golden Valley Electric Association who packed the Carlson Center in Fairbanks last Tuesday for the co-op’s annual meeting. Wind power was a hot topic.