Alaska News Nightly: June 8, 2011

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Scientists Says Ketchikan Facing ‘Massive’ PSP Event

Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan

Some of the highest concentrations of paralytic shellfish toxins ever recorded have been found in recent scientific samples collected around Ketchikan. The findings come as state health officials investigate a recent spike in probable paralytic shellfish poisoning cases in Metlakatla.

Critics Label Redistricting Plan ‘Flawed’

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

More than a few complaints are being heard about the draft final redistricting plan released this week by the Alaska Redistricting Board. Democrats in particular have branded the plan “flawed.” Although the authors of the plan defend it, court action is likely before a final state voting map is approved.

Special Session Cost Alaska At Least $960,018

Associated Press – Juneau

The special legislative session cost the state at least $960,018.

Legislative Affairs Executive Director Pam Varni said the bulk of that is due to payroll costs, per diem and travel. Per diem equates to $232 a day for the 57 out-of-town lawmakers and $174 day for the three lawmakers from Juneau.

The budget impasse that led to the special session continued for much of the session, resulting in days with no committee meetings and floor sessions that amounted to little more than lawmakers gaveling in and out.

Hastings Fire Expected to Increase

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A large acreage increase is expected when the Hastings wildfire north of Fairbanks, is re-mapped.  Fire Information officer Tacy Skinner says weather condition caused major activity overnight Tuesday.

The fire breached containment lines on the southeast and western flanks, and moved farther north toward Washington Creek.  Skinner says so far fire suppression work, including line building, burn outs and air drops have been able to protect homes along the Chatanika River on the fire’s south side, and in subdivisions to the fire’s northeast.

Over 800 firefighters are assigned to the fire. Cloudy skies, lower temperatures and rain showers eased the fire situation in Fairbanks today

Solving A Biological Puzzle On Middleton Island: Part Two

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

On Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska a biologist from the United States Geological Survey is studying a colony of Black-Legged Kittiwakes. Scott Hatch calls kittiwakes the “white lab rats of the seabird world” because they’re so common and easy to study. But these birds are anything but boring.

‘Tribes for Tribes’ Gather in Anchorage

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Tribal representatives from across the state are gathered in Anchorage today, intently working on language for an accord, or treaty, between Alaska tribes to compel Congress to enact an Alaska Native Restoration Act. Edward Alexander is the 2nd chief of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Government of Fort Yukon representing 1,400 tribal members. Alexander lists off the accord’s three main principles:

“Making sure that all the people born after 1971  are automatically enrolled to their village and regional corporations, making sure tribes have land so they can have jurisdiction and they can also have some say in how those lands are managed and so forth and of course something that’s very important to all of rural Alaska, our hunting and fishing rights.”

The working group is called Tribes for Tribes, but Alexander says it’s informal and is not trying to compete or replace Alaska Intertribal Council or AITC or the Alaska Federation of Natives-AFN. Alexander says lower 48 tribes such as the Menomonee, Cherokee and Choctaw were successful government and business entities until the Dawes Act broke up their reservations and land became allotments that got so fractionated it became impossible to develop. He says Alaska tribes don’t have that particular problem.

“We have a different problem. Our lands was put intothese state chartered corporations and some of those corporations are selling those lands, some of those corporations are basically defunct and the lands are either gone or at risk and then when people try to find out how much land has been sold, they can’t get a straight answer from anybody.”

Alexander says concern over ensuring the land would be there for future generations prompted a transfer of corporation land so the Fort Yukon tribal people own the land. He says they’re unique in that regard and they allow the corporation to have economic development rights and they work together, but other Native corporations don’t work as well with tribes and the corporations’ hold title to the land.

He says there is concern in the villages that some of the Native corporations are claiming to be tribal governments and demanding government to government consultation with the federal government.

“That should concern all all Alaskans, that corporations can meet and have sort of back door negotiations with the federal government by claiming this tribal status that they don’t legitimately have. It’s kind of Orwellian in a way when you have a corporation involving themselves in the governance of people.”

Alexander says although critics say amending the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to enshrine the desired changes would be difficult, but he says changes to ANCSA have happened frequently.

“Out of all of those past 40 years of amendments to the ANCSA, probably all 40 of those years have been corporations changing ANCSA for their benefit but now the tribes are looking at it and saying, you know, we need to work on a few things here too.”

The Tribes for Tribes group will agree on final language for the accord later today and then set about the task of getting as many of the 229 tribes in Alaska as they can to sign it.

Senators Warn Against Letting Coastal Zone Management Program Die

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska’s U.S. Senators are continuing to warn the state that letting the Coastal Zone Management Program die could have dire consequences. The program gives Alaska a say in offshore leasing and other federal actions related to the state’s coastlines.  It’s set to expire at the end of the month. The state legislature failed to approve extending the program, and hit a stalemate with the Parnell Administration over how to move forward.

Senator Mark Begich is the most outspoken of Alaska’s Congressional delegation and isn’t hiding his disgust that time is dwindling. He’s calling on Governor Sean Parnell to come up with a solution as the state’s executive.

“You know the governor participated and then he backed off. It’s like, OK, just step up, say you’ll extend for a year or two, whatever you have to do, then continue to work with the communities to solve this problem.”

Parnell has placed the blame with the state Senate, saying its members didn’t accept the deal brokered with the House and the governor’s office.  But Begich says there should be a way to temporarily extend the program while disputes over local control and influence are worked out.  He warns that bottom line, if the program dies, the federal government will make decisions without the state at the table.

Begich said last week (on APRN’s Talk of Alaska) that if the program dies it could jeopardize a future deepwater port in Alaska, which he says will be necessary for oil and gas development in the Arctic.

Senator Lisa Murkowski says she doesn’t see that as a big looming issue because she doubts studies will recommend putting a port three miles off Alaska’s coast in federal waters, but she still shares Begich’s concerns. Murkowski says all infrastructure projects that could help develop more oil and gas could be at risk. She says losing the program will cede power to the feds, which in her book is a bad move for Alaska.

If the Coastal Zone Management program dies at the end of June, federal officials say it will probably take two to three years to get the program back up and running, because the federal approval process takes 18 to 24 months.

Chum Bycatch Issue May Be Moved Back

Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome

While the agenda at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Advisory Panel meeting moved ahead of schedule, it’s possible that much of the action on the chum bycatch issue will not take place until later this year. The meeting is taking place this week in Nome.

Public Input Wanted for Road to Umiat

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Army Corps of Engineers is taking public input on the state’s proposed road to Umiat. A series of meetings beginning tonight in Fairbanks seek comment as part of the scoping progress for an environmental impact statement.  The $400+ million road from the Dalton Highway, 100 miles to Umiat, is to access oil and gas in the foothills of the Brooks Range and the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska. Department of Natural Resources Petroleum Geologist Paul Decker says the road will leverage development in a region where only a few exploratory wells have been drilled in the last 25 years.

A number of leases have been sold in the Foothills area, but most recently a consortium lead by Anadarko Petroleum relinquished dozens of them back to the state.  The road faces opposition from the Brooks Range village of Anaktuvuk Pass. Village Mayor Esther Hugo says locals fear it would hurt their subsistence lifestyle and dependence on caribou.

Hugo says the road and potential new oil and gas development could provide a lot of jobs, but that the village does not feel the trade off is worth it.  Public meetings for the environmental impact statement for the Umiat Road are scheduled for Fairbanks, Anchorage, Nuiqsut, Barrow and Anaktuvuk Pass through June 16.  There’s $8 million in the state capital budget to fund environmental impact statement work for the proposed road.