Alaska News Nightly: June 9, 2011

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Red Tape Over Palin Emails Irks State Legislators

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Another lawmaker has stepped forward to provide Alaska citizens access to more than 24,000 pages of emails sent and received by Sarah Palin while she was governor.

The state will release the documents Friday, but is only making one public review copy available in Juneau. State House Speaker Mike Chenault – a Nikiski Republican – has requested a copy for his office in Kenai.

Juneau State Senator Dennis Egan and Anchorage Representatives Berta Gardner and Mike Doogan previously announced they’d be making their copies available at the Anchorage and Fairbanks Legislative Information Offices.

Nobody knows what to expect from the document dump, which covers the first 21 months of Palin’s tenure as governor. Many of the emails are expected to be from private accounts, which Palin often used to conduct state business.

Chenault says he’s as frustrated as anyone by the delay in the emails’ release. The documents were requested by news organizations and activists more than two years ago, when Palin was the GOP vice presidential nominee.

Those who’ve requested copies can pick them up Friday morning at 9 a.m. on the 3rd floor of Juneau’s Court Plaza Building – known as the Spam Can. The state is charging $725 for a set of six boxes.

National Media organizations like the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Network News outlets are descending on Juneau to review the e-mails. The event will be broadcast on Gavel to Gavel tomorrow at 11 a.m.

Search Ends for Missing Talkeetna Woman

Sue Deyoe, KTNA – Talkeetna

The week long effort to find missing Talkeetna resident Melanie Gould has come to an end.  The search was terminated this afternoon and all resources have been removed from the field.

Federal Government Encourages Shellfish, Finfish Production

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

The Obama Administration announced its Marine Aquaculture policy today, making it official that the federal government will encourage the production of shellfish and finfish in U.S. waters.  Any proposal to do so would have to work its way through the regional management councils, and at present only one council is looking at fish farming – that’s in the Gulf of Mexico.

Eric Schwaab, the Assistant Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says seafood consumption is growing in the U.S., but that growth is mostly being fed by imported fish, about half of it farmed.  The policy clearly states that fish farming must be compatible with healthy eco-systems and it should complement, not compete with, wild caught fish.

The biggest potential growth area for aquaculture is shellfish. Doctor Michael Rubino, the Manager of NOAA’s Fisheries Service, says shellfish already dominate the nation’s fish farming production, and in the near term, he doesn’t see that changing.

Shellfish farming has been on the rise in Alaska for more than a decade and is widely supported, but fin-fish farming is adamantly opposed here.  Fishermen see potential threats to wild stocks from fish farming.  Their concerns include habitat displacement, genetic contamination, parasites and disease.  NOAA’s Schwab says the new policies that were finalized today include safeguards:

The policies do not supercede any state regulations.  The policy calls for co-operation with the states. It also calls for the feds to provide technical assistance in looking for better ways to feed farmed fish.

Snowy Owl Rehabilitated, Released in Barrow

Jake Neher, KBRW – Barrow

A snowy owl is settling into its new territory just outside Barrow. The owl was found emaciated in Anchorage late last year. On Tuesday, after more than six months of rehabilitation, it was released back to the wild.

Dillingham High School Gets New Computer Lab

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

School is out for the summer, but when Dillingham High School students return in the fall, they’ll find a big change – a new computer lab. Like many schools around the state, Dillingham is trying to stay ahead of the technology curve. They’ve been checking out laptops to high school students for the past five years. This year they’re building the new lab.

Alaska’s USDA Research Station to Close

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska’s U.S. Department of Agriculture research station is slated for closure by September 1, because of federal budget cuts. Federal officials want to take $42 million from the USDA Research Service budget.

The Alaska station in Palmer is one of ten nationwide, although research also takes place in Fairbanks and Kodiak.  Dr. Norman Harris, who is the administrator of the Palmer Center for Sustainable Living, says the termination of the research station does not mean that the University of Alaska research program in Palmer is shutting down.

Dr. Harris says two federal scientists, and their staffers, will lose their jobs. That could mean as many as 15 job losses in Palmer. Dr. Harris says the losses will hit the operations of the UAA facility hard.

Another contingent of researchers in Fairbanks will also be terminated due to the budget cuts. Congress could restore the money in the 2012 budget.

White House Creates Rural Council

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The White House established a Rural Council on Thursday, the first of its kind, focused on rural America and its economy.  President Obama signed an executive order calling for a group of two dozen administration officials, including cabinet secretaries, to sit on the advisory group.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, is its head.

Vilsack focused his comments mostly on rural communities with strong agriculture or ranching, but Alaska’s villages are included in the sweep of the rural focus.

The Obama Administration has been accused of dismissing rural America – like when Obama the candidate was caught on tape talking about small town Americans clinging to God and guns. But Vilsack disputed the suggestion that Obama is doing this just to get rural voters on his side before the 2012 election.  And Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters Thursday that anyone who says the White House has given rural America short shrift is misguided.

The new Rural Council will come up with recommendations on investing in the economy of rural areas, and will help coordinate between local communities, tribal governments, and businesses.  It aims to boost job opportunities and improve the lifestyles of the estimated 60 million rural Americans.

United Way’s Graduation Campaign Attracts Enthusiasm and Checks

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage

Yesterday the United Way of Anchorage announced a new initiative combining community energy with educational expertise to boost the Anchorage School District’s three year graduation rate by 20 percent. Michele Brown, CEO and President of United Way of Anchorage, began by saying recent efforts to keep young people in school had enjoyed some success.