Alaska News Nightly: June 20, 2011

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House Rejects Special Session for Coastal Management Program

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The House of Representatives has rejected a request for a special session to consider extending the state’s Coastal Management Program. The program is set to close July first.

Alaska Dispatch Hosts Arctic Imperative Summit

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

The Arctic Imperative Summit, now meeting in Girdwood, is a gathering of political and civil interests, all of whom are interested in how to best deal with the fast changing Arctic environment.   The summit, hosted by the web magazine Alaska Dispatch, is aimed at examining transportation and development opportunities, as world powers re-imagine the Arctic.

Navy Officials Meet to Plan for Diminished Arctic Ice

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Meanwhile, on the East coast, the U.S. Navy is trying to keep tabs on how diminishing Arctic ice will impact future shipping. Monday through Wednesday, high ranking Navy officers, U.S. Coast Guard officials and heads of federal agencies are meeting in Washington, DC for the fourth Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations.

The biennial symposium is co-hosted by the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and the National Ice Center. Its purpose is to provide an overview of the activities of government agencies that are responding to a more accessible Arctic Ocean. The meeting also serves as a forum for recent scientific research and study reports from panels such as the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment. Although the continued downward trend in Arctic sea ice is concerning scientists, a discussion of the mounting call to have the U.S. sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is high on the agenda.

Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel says it was a mistake on the part of the U.S. government not to sign the 1984 UN treaty. He says the Arctic will come under a great deal of exploitation because of development, now that melting ice is opening up shipping passages that were blocked for centuries.

Gravel was a delegate to the UN negotiations on the Law of the Sea during the 1970s and is a long time advocate of the law.  He says it’s a misunderstood issue

Gravel was not successful in promoting the Law of the Sea to U.S. government interests in the past. And he says, today’s political climate in Washington, D.C. makes it unlikely that the U.S. Senate will change the federal government’s perspective on the Law of the Sea, given the conservative makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gravel says all Arctic nations need to get together and appeal to the United Nations to create an environmental regime which would have the power of approval before any exploitation could take place in the Arctic.

Roadless Rule Exemptions Still Unclear

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

An Assistant State Attorney General says it’s unclear if exemptions to the federal government’s Roadless Rule actually allow road building in protected areas.

In a recent decision striking down an exemption for the entire Tongass National Forest, federal district court Judge John Sedwick listed 17 projects that could move forward under other Roadless Rule provisions. But Assistant Attorney General Tom Lenhart says the decision didn’t specifically okay road projects.

The state on Friday appealed Sedwick’s May 24 ruling. It also filed suit against the rule as a whole in federal court in Washington, D.C., citing conflicting opinions on its legality issued by courts in the U.S. 9th Circuit.

The Roadless Rule is a conservation policy adopted by the U.S. Forest Service in the waning days of the Clinton Administration. It’s been the subject of numerous legal battles, but still remains in effect.

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council Executive Director Lindsey Ketchel says this latest appeal shows the Parnell Administration isn’t interested in sitting down at the table to hash out longstanding differences over management of the Tongass.

Also on Friday, Governor Sean Parnell and Attorney General John Burns ordered the Department of Law to appeal a decision by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ordering a new Environmental Impact Statement for the Juneau Access project. In May, the panel ruled two to one that the state and Federal Highway Administration didn’t sufficiently consider changes to the ferry system in its “no-build” option for the road project.

Parnell Vetoes Ban on Felons Serving on State Boards and Commissions

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Governor Parnell has vetoed legislation that would bar a convicted felon from serving on a state government board or commission unless the conviction has been set aside.

The provision was tucked within a bill extending the termination dates of several boards, including the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Parnell called the provision overly broad. In a letter to House and Senate leaders, he said it failed to recognize that a person may have been convicted of a non-violent felony, rehabilitated and able to benefit society. He also said no legislative committee record was established for the prohibition.

Besides the ABC board, the bill would have extended the Boards of Nursing, Dental Examiners, and Barbers and Hairdressers past their June 30th sunset dates. But Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Director Shirley Gifford says the veto does not mean the boards stop operating after that date.

In his letter to lawmakers Parnell suggested they pass a clean extension of the boards next session.

Anti-Panhandling Campaign has Mixed Success

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage

In early May, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan and Police Chief Mark Mew announced a campaign against illegal panhandling at city intersections. This week Chief Mew described how the municipality’s enforcement effort was going.

Dwight Yoakam Concert Cancelled Due to Safety Concerns

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A concert promoter in Anchorage is refunding more than 1,000 Dwight Yoakam tickets for a show that was supposed to happen this weekend. The concert was scheduled for June 25 in the Alaska Dome. But the city says the inflatable structure, designed for large sporting events, can’t safely handle a music show. Bob Winn is general manager of Blues Central and was organizing the Blue Jeans on the Green event. He says it was a huge disappointment to get the news last week that the city fire code wouldn’t allow it to proceed in the Alaska Dome

The managers of the Alaska Dome thought their occupancy permit allowed for non-sporting events. James Gray is acting fire marshal for Anchorage. He says the city didn’t feel they could put anything in place to allow the concert to safely take place in the dome. He says music events and sporting events are very different:

Winn says he wants to reschedule the concert for another facility on a different date. Blues Central is offering full refunds to anyone who purchased tickets. Winn says he’s lost tens of thousands of dollars on the event.

Sealaska Board Elections Go Online

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Sealaska’s board elections are online this year. The Southeast-based regional Native corporation has set up a new system for shareholder balloting.

Voting, meanwhile, is a little quieter this time around because the ballot has no resolutions. But it’s not for lack of trying.

Sheldon Jackson Campus Hosts Sitka Fine Arts Camp

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

Sitka Fine Arts Camp is underway on the campus of the former Sheldon Jackson College. The opening of camp earlier this month is just the latest step in the transformation of a campus that, just four years ago, faced an uncertain future.