Alaska News Nightly: May 9, 2011

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Kuskokwim Villages on Lookout for Floods
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
It looks like it could be a high flood year for the Kuskokwim River. At least for the village of Crooked Creek, along the middle river, where high water has already inundated some homes.

Legislators Still Working on Remaining Issues
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The House and Senate returned to Juneau Monday to begin the fourth week of the first 30-day special session of the year. Members have given no indication that they are any closer to settlement of the few remaining issues.

State Operating Budget Likely Delaying Prison Opening
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The newly constructed state prison in the Matanuska Susitna Borough will most likely not open on time, because the state operating budget passed on Friday does not contain enough of the funds requested by corrections officials.

In March, the Senate Finance Committee cut the Goose Creek Correctional Facility start up funds, some $3.6 million, from the Senate version of the state operating budget, because of concerns about the eventual cost to the state of running the prison.  At the time, Senator Johnny Ellis said he was confident that the funds would be reinstated after conference committee talks.

But that has not been the case.  The version of the state budget passed  Friday contains a reduced amount for prison start up costs, some $2.4 million.

Richard Schmitz is spokesman  for  the department of corrections.

Schmitz says the original plan was to bring in a small group of prisoners to test the facility before opening the prison entirely. Now the available funds will be spent on bond debt and utilities.

The Matanuska Susitna Borough built the 1,500 bed prison, which is 85 percent complete, and under an agreement with the state, is leasing it to the state for twenty five years.  The idea behind the agreement was to provide in – state housing for about 1,000 Alaska prisoners now incarcerated in Colorado.

Goose Creek operating costs are about $50 million a year, plus lease payments to the Borough of almost $18 million a year.   It costs $20 million a year to keep Alaska’s prisoners in outside facilities.

Goose Creek was scheduled to open in June of 2012.  Schmitz says now that date will be delayed.

Corrections officials could ask for more money as part of the supplemental budget next year or request additional funds for the next fiscal year budget cycle.

Gas Line Route Studies Resuming in Late May
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Field studies looking at routes for a proposed gas pipeline from the North Slope to Canada are set to resume later this month around Delta Junction.

Redistricting Board Director Passes Away
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Ron Miller, the executive director of the Alaska Redistricting Board, died suddenly on Sunday.  He was 65 years old.  Miller spent the past 35 years in Alaska and has served under several governors.  He worked as an international trade specialist under Governor Steve Cowper, and served as executive director of the Alaska Industrial and Export Authority  under Governor Frank Murkowski.  Miller also served as executive director of the Alaska Energy Authority.

Miller gained the respect of those he worked with.  Taylor Bickford is deputy director of the Alaska Redistricting Board.

Bickford says he and the redistricting board members were shocked by the news of Miller’s death.

Miller leaves a wife, Oksana, and two children, Katya and Kolya.

Miller’s work for the Redistricting Board is considered crucial, according to Bickford.

The board’s final redistricting plan is expected to be ready on June 14.

Togiak Sac-Roe Herring Fishery Opens
Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham
The Togiak sac-roe herring fishery is now open. KDLG Reporter Daysha Eaton flew with Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologists Sunday, and filed this report.

Sand Point Experiences Another Quake
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
The city of Sand Point experienced another earthquake this morning. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a 5.0-magnitude aftershock jolted the community at 11 o’clock. The Sand Point police station says that no injuries or damage have been reported.

Natasha Rupert is a seismologist with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, and she says that the tremor took place in the same spot where two stronger earthquakes hit last Thursday. She adds that Sand Point residents should expect more aftershocks in the coming days.

The epicenter of all three quakes was approximately 30 miles from Sand Point

Blessing of the Fleet Held at Alaska Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Juneau’s annual Blessing of the Fleet was held Saturday at the Alaska Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial on the downtown waterfront, near Taku Smokeries. This is the 20th year the blessing has been held at the spot – and it could be one of the last. In the next few years, the memorial and blessing will be moved to make room for a planned $63 million expansion of Juneau’s cruise ship docks.

Bruce Weyhrauch with the memorial’s board of directors says the new floating berths won’t allow fishing boats to get close enough to shore to participate in the blessing.

Weyhrauch says the board is working with the city to find a new spot for the memorial. The preferred location is still downtown, near Marine Park. He admits moving it is a sensitive issue.

Moving the memorial is expected to cost $2 million. Funding is already included in the city’s spending plan for the new cruise ship docks.

Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit Wraps Up in Anchorage
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit wrapped up in Anchorage over the weekend. The theme of the gathering was Securing a Future for our Children.

The conference dealt primarily with concerns over the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act or ANCSA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act or ANILCA and the current status of Alaska Native hunting and fishing rights.

The keynote address was given by Ada Deer, a Menominee Nation tribal member and former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs under Bruce Babbit. Deer was instrumental in helping to solidify the federal recognition of Alaska’s 229 tribes. She spoke to a packed room about the similarities of the Menominee’s fight to regain their federal tribal status after the termination of their rights as a sovereign entity in the 1950s. The Menominee eventually prevailed and regained their federal status and she says Alaska Natives can also get certain provisions of ANCSA repealed.

Deer said, although it’s more complicated to get numerous tribes to unify on a consistent message rather than just one, as in the Menominee’s case, it will be easier with current mass communications methods.

She says the prospect of less control over tribal lands in the future and what she calls the disenfranchisement of Native youth from the corporate roles is something that will make the lives of young Alaska Natives more difficult in the future. She says this inequity offers all Alaskans a way to get involved.

Deer says Alaska Native people will need bipartisan support at all levels to get this done. Mike Williams Sr. of Akiak is a long time advocate for change to ANCSA. He helped organize the conference. Williams says now that the conference has wrapped up, the next step will be for tribal leaders and advocates to strategize about how to repeal the 1971 extinguishment of Alaska Native hunting and fishing rights, dealing with the Venetie decision where the US Supreme court ruled ANCSA lands are private property, not Indian Country – and the afterborn issue.

Williams says jurisdiction over tribal lands also needs to be addressed. He says ANCSA complicates what Native village residents can do with the lands they selected for hunting and fishing.

Williams says he is in favor of tribes in Alaska being able to take land into trust to protect it from sale and taxation in the future.

Snowshoe Workshop Seeks to Preserve Traditional Artistry
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Last week two Athabascan master artists and a prominent culture bearer held a four day workshop on traditional snow shoe making at the Anchorage Museum’s Arctic Studies Center.   The immediate purpose was to help three apprentices make their first pair of snowshoes, but as KSKA’s Len Anderson reports, there were other goals as well.