Alaska News Nightly: May 26, 2011

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Fall Kills Two More Denali Climbers, Injures Two Others
Sue Deyoe, KTNA – Takeetna
A fatal fall high on Denali took the lives of two climbers late Wednesday night and severely injured two others. These are the third and fourth deaths on the mountain this year, with seven deaths overall in the Alaska Range this climbing season.

Postal Service Cuts May Affect Juneau Residents
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The U.S. Postal Service is making changes around the country to try to shrink a budget deficit of billions of dollars. Alaska is no exception. The post office is reorganizing how it oversees the bypass mail program in the state. And it is considering a big change in how Juneau residents receive mail.

Coal Creek Fire Grows to 3,000 Acres
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
One of two wildfires burning east of Healy has grown substantially, and could start sending smoke toward Fairbanks.   The Coal Creek Fire is mapped at 3,000 acres, burning in mixed hardwoods and black spruce, about 15 miles northeast of Healy.  The fire is in a limited suppression area and has been allowed to burn, but state fire information officer Terry Anderson says concern about remote structures has prompted a reconnaissance mission.

Anderson says fire growth and smoke are issues as hot dry weather persists.

No mass suppression efforts are planned, but Anderson says there may be pointed responses for isolated private properties and mining operations.

Anderson says the Coal Creek Fire started last Saturday, the same day the nearby Francis Creek blaze ignited, closer to the Parks Highway and Usibelli Coal Mine. A lot of work has gone into the Francis Creek Fire to keep it from moving west into populated areas.  Spontaneous combustion of coal seams is the suspected cause of both fires.

Near-Record High Temperatures Sweep Across Central Interior
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Near record high temperatures are forecast across the central interior Friday and Saturday.  Highs are expected to top out anywhere from the mid 70’s to mid 80’s across an area extending from Fairbanks to Denali Park, Delta Junction, Tok and Ft. Yukon.  National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Thoman says the region has been significantly warmer than normal for the last week.

Friday, Thoman says Fairbanks could break the May 27 daily record of 82 set last year. The hottest day is expected to be Saturday, but Fairbanks all time May record of 90 degrees, set on May 28, 1947, is not expected to go down.  Thoman says the high pressure weather pattern offers a mixed bag in terms of wildfire danger.

Relative humidities could dip into the 20 percent range.  No strong winds are expected.  Thoman says it’s been a very dry May so far in Fairbanks.

The hot weather is forecast to moderate a little after Saturday but it is predicted to continue to be warmer than normal through Monday.

Murkowski Votes Against Budget Plan Passed by House
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski was one of only five Republicans to vote against a GOP budget plan to privatize Medicare.   It failed last night on a vote of 40 to 57, with no Democratic support.  The plan, crafted by Wisconsin Republican Representative Paul Ryan, previously passed the House on GOP support.

The other Republicans who rejected it were Maine’s Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown of Massachussets, and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul says the budget doesn’t go far enough to curb the national debt.   But the other four, including Murkowski, are expressing reservations about the Ryan approach.

Instead Murkowski supports a plan authored by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey that does include many of Ryan’s ideas – but does not privatize Medicare.  That failed 55 to 42.

Sealaska Debate Heats Up in DC
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Congressman Don Young is known for his hot temper, but at a hearing Thursday on the Sealaska Lands Bill, his words were directed at a visiting Alaskan.

The controversial bill would let the Sealaska Native Corporation select lands from within the Tongass National Forest in Southeast.  Young has reintroduced his version of the bill despite hearing community concerns.  Senator Lisa Murkowski has taken a different approach and altered her bill to try and come to compromises; her legislation was heard Wednesday by a Senate committee.

Young, at today’s meeting of the Indian Affairs Subcommittee, chastised Craig resident Bob Claus, the Forest Program Director with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.  He accused Claus and his conservationist colleagues of ruining the timber industry, and now trying to harm the Alaska Native community.

Claus says his opposition to the Sealaska bill is shared by some of his Alaska Native neighbors, but Congressman Young verbally attacked him and said he “gets concerned” when a quote, “white guy talks about what the Natives are saying.”

After the hearing Claus defended his words, and said he didn’t speak for Alaska Natives, which he says would be inappropriate.

Young’s colleagues on the Indian Affairs Subcommittee joined him in supporting the Sealaska bill, both Republicans and Democrats, even though the Obama Administration is opposed to Young’s version.  The two House Democrats who attended the hearing said the legislation is an issue of Native rights.  But Bob Claus says it seems they don’t understand the difference between a corporation like Sealaska which has shareholders, and a tribe, which has members.

The Alaska Native leaders called on to testify represented the Sealaska Corporation, like board member Byron Mallott, who says they will be good stewards.

Both those for and against the bill say their approach will save jobs.

The executive director of the pro-timber group the Alaska Forest Association, Owen Graham, got supportive questioning from Congressman Young.

Devastation in Japan Prompts Support from Alaska Seafood Industry
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The devastation in Japan from the massive earthquake and tsunami back in March has prompted a large outpouring of support from the seafood industry in Alaska.

Sarah Palin Embarking on East Coast Tour
Associated Press
Sarah Palin is embarking on an East Coast tour this weekend, hitting historical sites that her political action committee calls key to the country’s formation, survival, and growth.

Limited details of Palin’s “One Nation” tour were released on the website of SarahPAC. The tour is beginning in Washington, D.C., and moving up the East Coast.

The tour comes as speculation mounts that Palin will enter the Republican presidential race.

She has also authorized a feature-length film about her career.

Bible’s New Testament Translated to Athabascan Gwitchin Language
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
After more than 50 years of work, a translation of the new testament of the Bible into the Athabascan Gwitchin language is finally done. The translation involved perhaps a dozen people.

Bethel Musician Awarded $5,000 to Pursue Passion
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
A Bethel musician has been awarded 5,000 dollars from the Rasmuson Foundation to pursue his music.