Alaska News Nightly: May 12, 2011

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Oil Companies Protest Possibly Losing Tax Breaks
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The heads of the nation’s biggest oil companies say they can’t handle losing tax breaks, despite near-record profits.  The CEOs of the five most powerful oil giants were on Capitol Hill Thursday defending against Democratic criticisms that they aren’t paying their fair share.  Instead the companies want less regulation so they can drill more – in places like Alaska.

House Passes Bill Opening More Coastal Waters to Drilling
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
While the U.S. Senate considered boosting oil companies’ taxes today, the House passed a bill the oil companies like.  It would open more U.S. coastal waters to drilling.  The bill, called the “Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act” passed 243 to 179.  All but nine Republicans supported it, and 21 Democrats crossed the aisle to vote in favor.

Many Democrats and the White House say the bill would interfere with federal policy, and undermine the regulatory process.

The bill would open up the most productive parts of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas development, including off Alaska’s shores.  It sets a goal of producing three Billion barrels of oil a day within 16 years.

Congressman Don Young took to the House Floor Wednesday to push for it.

The White House says it does not have a ban on offshore drilling in places like Alaska; rather companies which want to drill have to make their way through the permitting process before they get a green light.

Arctic Council Signs Search and Rescue Agreement
Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage
Representatives of the eight nations in the Arctic Council met in Nuuk, Greenland today to sign the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement.

The council also created an Arctic task force on oil spill response, which for now focuses on shipping, but will likely look at offshore oil and gas drilling in the future.

But, Lieutenant Governor Meade Treadwell, Alaska’s representative at the meeting, believes that the most historic part of this meeting will be the search and rescue agreement.

Treadwell says there are certain pieces of infrastructure that will need to be in place for this agreement to work.

This is the first legally binding contract that the Council has signed since its formation 17 years ago.

Senate Includes Oil Tax Accounting Computer System in Budget
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Senate has included $35 million in the capital budget for a computer system to better manage state oil tax accounting.  Senate resources Committee co-chair Joe Paskvan of Fairbanks says the move is aimed at remedying serious deficiencies in State Revenue Department accounting revealed in an independent 2010 report.

The report was commissioned by Governor Parnell’s administration, but the Governor did not request the money for the new computer system.  The issue follows on the heels of debate during the regular legislative session about oil production tax breaks proposed by Parnell. Paskvan says the computer accounting system should help answer questions about the performance of Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share or ACES tax.

Senator Paskvan says the revenue department needs to be able to show the difference between capital expenses eligible for tax credits and maintenance costs that aren’t. He says there has not been an audit of ACES since the tax law was enacted in 2007.  The Fairbanks Democrat believes legislators need to know more before considering tax reductions and new incentives aimed at spurring development.

Despite Dropping Water Levels, Crooked Creek Remains Flooded
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
Flood waters have dropped about 10 feet in Crooked Creek on the middle Kuskokwim River, but the village is still flooded. Emergency response workers traveled there Thursday, including a team from Red Cross, the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Emergency Coordination Center. Responders are working with residents to get them through immediate dangers.

Sudanese Refugees Work to Keep Children Connected to Homeland
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
On the map, the North African nation of Sudan is about as far away from Anchorage as you can get. The weather and the landscape are worlds apart too. But a growing number of refugees from Southern Sudan are living in the city.  And they’re working to keep their children connected to their homeland with language classes several nights a week. APRN’s Annie Feidt has this story as part of “The Changing Faces of Alaska” an occasional series on the diversification of the 49th state.

Founder of Carr’s Supermarket Dies
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The founder of Alaska’s Carr’s supermarket chain died Thursday in Anchorage.  Laurence Carr passed away at age 81.

Carr arrived in Alaska in 1947, and in three years had opened the first of his grocery stores. 40 years later he had a chain of 13 stores.  He merged his company with that of real estate developer Barney Gottstein to create the largest wholesale – retail and real estate organization in the state.  In 1990, the Carr’s Quality Centers were sold, although Larry Carr continued to work in real estate with Carr -Gottstein Properties.

Carr was once a candidate for governor, and received Alaskan of the Year honors in 1984. He was active in community service and in 1992 he was honored with a University of Alaska Anchorage Doctor of Laws degree.  Carr also served on the board of directors of Alaska Pacific University, and started and chaired the APU Endowment.

APU president Dr. Don Bantz says Carr’s work was invaluable to the small university, and the endowment provides scholarships and discounts to university students.

Carr is survived by his wife Wilma, son Gregory and daughter Jacqueline and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Proposed Settlement Would Allow Some Energy, Mining Projects to Move Forward
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
Alaska’s U.S. Senators say a proposed settlement allowing some energy and mining projects to go forward in the Tongass does little to safeguard Southeast Alaska’s economy.

Conservation groups and the U.S. Forest Service yesterday filed a judgment in Federal District Court with a list of 12 mining, hydro-electric projects and power-line interties they believe should be exempt from the national forest Roadless Rule.

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich say the proposal doesn’t address the region’s struggling timber industry and protects only a few hydro projects, while dozens more are under consideration by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Until March, the Tongass National Forest was considered an exception to the Roadless Rule.  That’s when a federal district court sided with plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by the Village of Kake and conservation groups, and overturned the policy.

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council attorney Buck Lindekugel was part of the settlement.  He says the projects selected meet the criteria of being safe for salmon.

Forest Service Regional Forester Beth Pendleton says the proposed judgment should reassure Southeast communities that projects important to their economy can continue.  Pendleton says the judgment also would allow the Forest Service to offer small scale sales of salvage timber near existing roadways in areas designated as roadless.

Federal District Court Judge John Sedwick must still approve the proposal.

First Salmon Opening of the Year Starts Monday
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The first salmon season of the year is set to start on Monday.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has scheduled the initial Copper River sockeye salmon opener for 7:00 a.m. on May 16.   Jeremy Botz the commercial fisheries manager in Cordova says a 1.18 million fish run is predicted for this year.

The first sockeye opener is met with fanfare from restaurant industry buyers and Seattle eateries prominently feature Copper River salmon on their menus.

Around 300 gillnetters participate in the limited entry fishery.  Botz says the first 12 hour opener will determine how soon and how long succeeding openers will be scheduled.

Copper River king salmon run along with the sockeyes.  Botz says the king run is weak this year, and fisheries managers will be watching the king salmon harvest numbers closely.  Fish passage is gauged with sonar counters and certain waters of the Copper River district will be closed to commercial fishing until the numbers of kings escaping upriver is determined.  Botz says it’s a waiting game.

Salmon prices are published at the first opener.

Sitka Welcomes ‘Westerdam’ Cruise Ship
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
The U.S. Coast Guard visited the cruise ship Westerdam during its stop in Sitka yesterday to investigate a reported collision between the 936-foot vessel and some ice on Tuesday evening near Hubbard Glacier.

The ship reported that it had struck some ice and had suffered some hull damage about 15 feet below the waterline.  The Coast Guard is conducting a routine investigation to determine exactly what happened.

The arrival of the Westerdam opened the large-ship cruise season in Sitka. The local chamber of commerce for the last few years has marked the occasion with a special “Welcome to Sitka Day.” For Sitkans, it’s an opportunity to venture out on a spectacular spring day and visit with people who may be seeing Alaska for the first time.

The Westerdam is the first of 102 large ship calls this summer. Sitka also receives 20 port calls from smaller ships.