Alaska News Nightly: June 15, 2011

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Resource Developers Concerned About National Ocean Council Initiatives

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Anchorage

Resource developers see a new White House initiative as a risk to Alaska’s coastal economy. And it’s coming as coastal communities anticipate the closure of the state’s Coastal Management program. The Resource Development Council is calling on its members to help give a state response to the new National Ocean Council.

Marleanna Hall, a projects coordinator for the RDC, says the group is concerned that the federal agency will begin to develop regulations affecting the state’s coastline.

The National Oceans Council was established last summer by executive order from President Obama. It combines the work of 27 federal agencies and is a cabinet-level council charged with dealing with the most-pressing problems facing the oceans.

Hall says it has issued nine action plans – dealing with a variety of ocean priorities – and is currently accepting public comments.

State Representative Bob Herron, D-Bethel, agrees with the possible effects of the National Ocean Council. However, he says the state still has the opportunity to continue to have a strong voice to protect its interests without relying on individuals and industry — The Alaska Coastal Management Program. Unfortunately, that agency is scheduled to close at the end of this month if the legislature doesn’t extend it.

He says the federal interest in ocean protection is not likely to be a short-term interest at the national level – no matter who is in the White House.

He says if the Coastal Management Program closes, the state will have lost an important tool in dealing with the federal government.

Gates Says Soldiers in Afghanistan Will Not Be Under-Funded

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says soldiers, including Alaskans, fighting in Afghanistan will not be given short-shrift during the coming troop draw-down. Gates assured Senator Lisa Murkowski Wednesday that a reduction in money for the Afghanistan War effort will not leave soldiers under-funded or under-supported.

Murkowski asked Gates about the plans Wednesday at a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. She brought up the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, which just saw a massive deployment of more than 4,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Gates responded that the money that will be saved will come from sending fewer troops overseas, not from skimping on support for the forces still there. Gates is leaving the job of Defense Secretary at the end of this month, but says that commitment comes from the highest levels.

Wednesday’s testimony on Capitol Hill was likely Gates’ last appearance before members of Congress. He advocated for a smaller, more mobile military, and said President Obama’s goal of cutting $400 billion over 12 years means real cuts, not just finding efficiencies. He also warned that military health costs are not sustainable without charging higher fees or reducing benefits.

The Defense Secretary announced he’s put an end to the controversial “stop loss” program, which kept soldiers in the Army against their will after their commitment was up, because the Army couldn’t afford to lose them.

Investigation Looms as Park, Center Part Ways

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

The Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center is parting ways with the National Park Service. The cultural center has been located in a wing of the visitor center at Sitka National Historical Park for 42 years.

But the center’s agreement with the park will not be renewed when it expires next week. And both the cultural center and park officials have confirmed a criminal investigation into mismanagement of funds at the center.

Dion Convicted of Killing Bonnie Craig 17 Years Ago

Associated Press

A jury in Anchorage has convicted a man of killing 18-year-old Bonnie Craig in 1994.

The Anchorage Daily News reports the jury deliberated just a few hours Wednesday before finding 41-year-old Kenneth Dion guilty of raping and murdering Craig.

Craig’s body was found Sept. 28, 1994, in McHugh Creek south of Anchorage.

Prosecutors say Dion bludgeoned the back of Craig’s head, causing her death.

Dion’s attorney says Craig had consensual sex with his client and that it wasn’t until later that the young woman fell to her death from the cliff.

Former Commissioner Pleads Guilty to DUI

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Former Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd has pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. Lloyd entered the guilty plea Wednesday, and the city of Juneau dropped an additional charge of reckless endangerment as part of a plea agreement.

Lloyd was arrested last August in Juneau following a traffic stop. Police said his breath test registered a blood alcohol content of nearly twice the legal limit.

Superior Court Judge Larry Card handed down the sentence. It includes the mandatory minimum of 33-days in jail with 30 suspended, three days to serve. An interlock device will be placed on his truck for six months once he gets his suspended license back. His license was suspended for 90 days.

Lloyd was $3,000 with $1,500 suspended. His three day sentence begins tonight.

Three Alaska Cruise Ships Struck by Norovirus Outbreak

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Federal health officials say three Alaska cruises have been hit by norovirus outbreaks so far this year. They say that’s more than usual, but not cause for alarm.

Crews Focus on Containing Hastings Wildfire

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

As the weather provides a break in wildfire activity, managers of the Hasting’s Fire response north of Fairbanks are taking the opportunity to make sure the 23,000 acre burn doesn’t flare back up when the weather dries out. Incident Commander Tom Kurth says the focus is on mop up.

The Hasting fire is 25 percent contained, and Kurth says it could still pose a risk, given the mid June time frame, and its proximity to populated areas.

Kurth says it makes sense to secure the fire perimeter while the resources are in place. Nearly 800 firefighters and half a million pounds of gear have been deployed in remote country around the Hastings Fire. The cost of suppression so far is $11 million. Kurth says fire mangers have tied lines into old burns, which will help reduce future fire risk north of Fairbanks.

Kurth says the Hastings Fire has taken out a lot of black spruce that natural succession will replace with less flammable brush.

First Surge of King Salmon Enter Yukon River

The first major surge of king salmon is believed to be entering the Yukon River. The Chinook run is expected to be weak, and fishery managers have eliminated one of two weekly-subsistence fishing periods at the river’s mouth to try to get more early-run fish upstream. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Steve Hayes told participants in a weekly Yukon River Fisheries Drainage Association teleconference, that salmon passage began picking up near the river’s mouth early Tuesday.

Yukon River commercial and sport king fishing are on hold until the number of fish returning can be gauged. Fishery managers have struggled in recent years to get enough kings to upriver spawning grounds as required by treaty with Canada. The first pulse of Yukon kings is comprised largely of Canadian stock fish. The pulse of kings typically arrives at the mouth of the Yukon between June 12 and 15 and lasts 4 to 5 days.

King Salmon Escapement Lags Behind Schedule

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

King salmon escapement to the Nushagak River continues to lag behind schedule and it looks unlikely that there will be any directed commercial openers targeting those kings this month.

Bill Noll, Former Mayor of Seward, Passes Away

Ellen Lockery, KSKA – Anchorage

Bill Noll, an Alaska entrepreneur and former Mayor of Seward, passed away suddenly on Monday in Anchorage. Noll was 72.

Noll was instrumental in founding the Seward Sea Life Center, and in establishing a coal export facility there.

Noll also worked to promote a hydroelectric project to supply rail belt energy needs. He was considered a visionary, and served as a Deputy Commissioner of Economics under Governor Wally Hickel and as Commissioner of Commerce under Governor Frank Murkowski.

Family friend Richard Wilson says Noll was a tireless advocate, often without pay, for state projects such as the Watana hydro project on the Susitna River.

Noll served as an Alaska delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2008.

Galena Could Strike Deal for Fuel Waste Cleanup

Jeremy Scott, KIYA – Galena

Fuel waste areas left by the Air Force during its stay in Galena could be cleaned up soon.

City Council voted Tuesday night to further talks about leasing a building on the former base to Air Force-hired subcontractors.

Those subcontractors would use the building for storage while they conduct a cleanup.

City Manager Tom Corrigan says the building may be needed for a long time to come, because many years of waste are buried in the ground.

All remediation efforts are by mandate of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

UA Union Will Meet on Health Coverage Changes

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Members of a University of Alaska Fairbanks union-organizing committee will meet tonight with members of the targeted UA staff group to talk about changes in the university’s health-insurance coverage that take effect July 1.