Alaska News Nightly: May 16, 2011

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Three Wainwright Soldiers Killed by IED
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Three soldiers from the First Stryker Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Wainwright were killed today by an improvised explosive device in the city of Spin Ghbarga, Afghanistan while conducting a mounted patrol.

A fourth Soldier, assigned to the unit the Stryker Brigade is replacing, was also killed. Two other Soldiers from the brigade were wounded in the same incident.

Major Bill Coppernall is a U.S. Army spokesman.  He said the men from the Brigade were only there a short while.

Coppernall says there is little more information on the nature of the incident.

The 4,000-Soldier brigade began deploying to Afghanistan in mid-April for a one-year tour in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The brigade’s last deployment was to Iraq during 2008 and 2009 during which the unit experienced five combat deaths and two non-combat deaths.

The names of the Soldiers are being withheld pending notification of the families.

Italian Climber Dies on Denali
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
An Italian climber was killed in a fall today on Denali. Luciano Colombo, died in a 1,000 foot fall at about 10:00 a.m. this morning as he was on his way back down the mountain. He fell from a pass at about 18,000 feet. Mountaineers at a camp 1,000 feet below watched the fall and when mountaineering rangers responded, they discovered Colombo had died from trauma.

Maureen McLaughlin is a public information officer with the National Park Service.  She says the area where the climber fell is very steep – about a 45-degree slope.

Colombo was 67-years old. This is the second death on Denali this year. 38-year-old Beat Niederer of  Switzerland, died from unknown causes near 18,000 feet last week. McLaughlin says it’s unusual, but not unheard of, to have two deaths already in the first few weeks of the climbing season.

Bear Attack Leaves Nome Man in Critical Condition
Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome
A Nome man is in critical condition following a brown bear attack Sunday east of Nome.

Obama Singles Out NPRA as Part of Plan Boosting Domestic Oil Production
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
President Obama is singling out the oil in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve as part of a plan to boost domestic production.  He’s also starting a new team to coordinate Alaska drilling permits.

Legislature Ends Special Session
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The Legislature ended its special session Saturday night by passing a $3.1 billion capital projects budget – and failing to find a structure that would keep open the state’s coastal management program.

Funds for Tanana River Bridge Included in Capital Budget
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
The $200 million bridge across the Tanana River at Salcha may yet be built. The bridge to access military training grounds appeared to be dead until Fairbanks-area representatives late last week convinced fellow lawmakers to include it in the $3.2 billion capital budget approved over the weekend.

Mat-Su Borough Members Debate This Year’s Budget
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly members have started debating this year’s $379 million Borough budget.

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

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.

Acting Borough Manager Elizabeth Gray authored the proposed budget, although the Borough’s new manager, John Moosey, is now on the job and will be the one to implement the version that the Assembly approves.

Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss has asked for more than $2 million in reductions. Moosey says he’s spoken with Assembly members to come up with about $1.8 million in cuts as an alternative.  Moosey says there’s always debate about what services are essential and what services are the most highly valued by the community.

The Borough Assembly is expected to make amendments to the budget before final approval.  Further Assembly budget discussions are scheduled for Monday evening, and for May 23 and 25.

The Borough was a winner in this year’s state budget.  The state capital budget, which the state House passed Friday night, and was accepted by the Senate, includes $37.5 million in  funding for the Port MacKenzie Rail link and reinstates the Department of Corrections’ original request for $3.5 million for initiating operations at  Goose Creek Correctional Facility in 2012.

Biologists to Begin Sea Otter Study in Southeast
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Biologists will begin capturing sea otters in Southeast Alaska this week in an attempt to learn more about the population. The scientists will capture and release 30 otters at two different sites, near Ketchikan and Juneau.  Jim Bodkin is a researcher with the United States Geological Survey, based in Washington State. He says the team will use lots of different techniques to learn as much as possible about the otters.

The project is part of a effort that began in 2008 to understand why many sea otter populations are struggling from the Gulf of Alaska to southern California.

In Southeast Alaska, the otter population expanded rapidly for several decades at the end of the last century. But in the last 10 years, those population growth rates have been cut at least in half.

Bodkin says one test they’ll do on the otters is an advanced technique, taken from human medicine. The researchers will measure a panel of genes in the animals to see what types of things they’ve been exposed to recently.

Bodkin says otters tested in previous years from California showed a record of large wildfires that had happened the year before.

In August, biologists will sample 30 more otters in Washington. They’ve already studied populations near Katmai, in British Colombia and in California. The next step will be comparing what they find from all of the populations.

Totem Pole Marks End of Sitka Park’s Centennial Year
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
Hundreds of Sitkans gathered along the beach at Sitka National Historical Park on Sunday to help raise a totem pole commemorating the park’s 100th anniversary.

The pole was supposed to go up in early April, but the near-shutdown of the federal government that weekend postponed it until this month. As it turned out, organizers called the delay a blessing in disguise, comparing the snow from April to yesterday’s blue skies and warm temperatures.

The pole, designed by Sitka carver Tommy Joseph, now stands looking out at the water next to the park’s visitor’s center. KCAW’s Ed Ronco attended Sunday’s festivities and sent back this audio postcard. It begins with Kenny Grant explaining the name of the pole.

Sounds from Sunday’s totem pole raising at the Sitka National Historical Park. The park is built around the site of a Kiksadi fort site. A separate ceremony on Sunday included the installation of a plaque commemorating the Kiksadi Survival March across Baranof Island after the fort was lost to the Russians in 1804.