Alaska News Nightly: May 6, 2011

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House, Senate Give Final Approvals to Next Year’s Operating Budget
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The House and Senate Friday morning gave their final approvals to the negotiated operating budget for next fiscal year.

The plan, as approved by a joint conference committee on Wednesday, spends a total of $9 billion – $5.7 billion of it in state general funds.  Besides taking care of the day-to-day operations of state government, that spending also includes setting money aside for such things as this year’s permanent fund dividends,   providing money for new state employee union contracts,  saving a Billion dollars in the Budget Reserve and substantially increasing the Power Cost Equalization Endowment.

Conference Committee chairman Bill Thomas of Haines said the differences between the House and Senate bills started with more than two hundred eighty differences that had to be resolved.

The budget passed with no opposition in the House and with only one vote against it in the

Senate – as minority leader Charlie Huggins objected to cuts to the newly constructed Goose Creek Prison in his district.  The budget only pays for interest on the loans, the cost of utilities and basic security services.  Huggins said the prison project was finished under budget and ahead of schedule. And he wants to see progress toward putting it into operation.

Anchorage Democrat Les Gara, who is a member of the House finance Committee, pointed out that the budget only grew by about 4 percent over last year’s – well within the framework of inflation and population growth.  At the same time, he said there was a lot of money spent that will change people’s lives – scholarships for example.  He said it has been four years since the last input of money for students who need financial help.  Meanwhile, money for students who show academic merit has been brought up.

The budget next goes to the governor for final action.  Meanwhile, the legislature will return to the capitol on Monday to continue to work out the final major issue of the special session – the capital projects budget.

Report Says Reducing Black Carbon Would Have Immediate Effect on Climate
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
The United Nations Environment Project is looking at a report that suggests a short-term fix for climate warming – controlling black carbon and ozone.  The report say that unlike controlling Carbon Dioxide, which appears to be politically difficult and would take years to make a difference, dealing with black carbon would have an immediate effect on climate warming.

Less Oil in Petroleum Reserve-Alaska than Estimated
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Federal scientists say it looks as if there is a lot less oil in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska than they had earlier estimated.  The U.S. Geological Survey bases this on both better geological information and the fact that exploratory wells are finding gas rather than oil.  Its new report drops the recoverable oil estimate in NPRA to 500 million barrels – assuming a crude oil price of $90 a barrel.  The last report, back in 2003, estimated recoverable oil in a range between 5.9 and 13.2 billion barrels.   The new report only counts the amount of oil that would be found in the process of drilling for natural gas, which is now estimated at 18 trillion cubic feet, if the price was $8 per thousand cubic feet. The USGS’s gas estimate for NPRA is down slightly from that of eight years ago.

Air Force Grounds F-22 Fleet
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of F-22 fighter jets because of concerns over the jet’s oxygen supply system.

Captain Jennifer Ferrau, with Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force base says the stand down was ordered because of concerns over pilot reports of hypoxia or difficulty breathing problems.

Last November, an F-22 that had taken off from joint base Elmendorf-Richardson crashed about 100 miles north of Anchorage. The pilot Captain Jeffrey Haney was killed. Captain Ferrau says it’s not yet known if the oxygen system problems may have been the cause of the Alaska crash.

She says there are a total of 158 F-22 raptors at bases in Alaska, Virginia and New Mexico. The stand down was ordered May 3. It’s not known how long the jets will be grounded.

Fort Richardson Soldier Found Dead
Associated Press
Officials with Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson are reporting that a Richardson Soldier was found dead in his family quarters on post early this morning by a supervisor in his unit, who went to check on the Soldier’s whereabouts when he failed to report to work. The soldier was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team there.

The cause of death is unknown and is under investigation by Richardson’s U. S. Army Criminal Investigation Detachment.

The name of the soldier is being withheld pending completion of the next of kin notification process.

State Responds to Season’s First Wildfires
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The state is responding to the first wildfires of the season. State Forestry put out a few fires in the Fairbanks area this week, including one sparked by a campfire, and another by a burn pile.  Fairbanks area state forestry logistics supervisor Arturo Frizzera says as soon as snow melts, dead vegetation offers a ready fuel.

Frizzera says the dry surface fuels are usually ignited by people complacent about spring fire risk.  He says brush and debris burning is the most common source of early season fires.

Frizzera says the chance of low grass and brush fires will increase as things dry out up until green up. After that he says the wildfire threat includes lightning caused starts, and fires that consume a full range of fuels, especially highly flammable black spruce.

Redistricting Holds Last Statewide Public Hearings
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The state’s Redistricting Board held the last of its statewide public hearings Friday.  The Board next goes into deliberations on a final redistricting plan.  The Board is redrawing the lines of the Alaska voting districts in accordance with the most recent census figures, and it  has two options on the table.

Wolf Season Open Longer in Parts of Southeast
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
The wolf-hunting season is open a month longer than usual in parts of central and southern Southeast this year because of concerns over low deer numbers. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says the season will remain open until May 31. Petersburg Wildlife Biologist Rich Lowell says wolf predation is one of the reasons deer populations have declined in game management unit three, around Petersburg and Wrangell.

Lowell says the department’s voluntary hunter survey shows the area’s deer harvests have fallen well short of the state’s objective for the past six years.

He says the Game Board considered the longer wolf season as an alternative to more extensive efforts.

Meanwhile, the state is also trying to get a better handle on deer harvest numbers. Starting this fall, hunters will be required to report their harvest after the season.

Yakutat High Schooler Named Gates Millennium Scholar
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
A Yakutat high school senior will have her way paid to the college of her choice – for all four years, plus graduate school.

Maka Monture was notified last month that she is to become a Gates Millennium Scholar.

Special Day Helps Adoptees and Mothers
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Although one doesn’t receive the attention of greeting card companies or calendar notations, some people will observe Mothers’ Day on both Saturday and Sunday.