Alaska News Nightly: July 1, 2011

Individual news stories are posted in the Alaska News category and you can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio

Nixon’s Moon Rock Creates Legal Battle

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

A long lost piece of moon rock, given to the State of Alaska by President Richard Nixon more than 40 years ago, is now the subject of a legal battle between the state and a former resident turned Deadliest Catch boat captain, who claims to have found it when he was a teenager.

Supreme Court Upholds Smoking Ban in Juneau

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

In a case that could have statewide implications, the Alaska Supreme Court on Friday upheld the City and Borough of Juneau’s smoking ban for private clubs.

The Fraternal Order of Eagles sued the city in 2008, arguing the ban violated their freedom of association under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, as well as their privacy rights under the Alaska Constitution.

In October 2009, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the city, and the Eagles appealed to the state Supreme Court.

City Attorney John Hartle defended the ban, designed to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke.

The Supreme Court agreed, ruling that “The City has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from the well-established dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke.”

Eagles’ attorney Paul Grant says the case is now over.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case last September at Juneau Douglas High School as part of its Supreme Court LIVE program.

EPA Grants New Coastal Drilling Permits to Shell Oil

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The Environmental Protection Agency has granted new draft air quality permits for Shell Oil Company to drill exploratory wells off Alaska’s coast. They’re up for public comment for thirty days, after which the EPA can grant the permits, moving forward on a process halted last year because of environmental concerns.

Shell says Friday’s news is a major step forward in their attempts to drill next year. Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith gave a statement:

“This is the news that we’ve been waiting for. The issuance of these draft permits keeps in motion a critical series of events that will ultimately determine our ability to drill in 2012. So it’s good news.”

The EPA had initially issued air quality permits to Shell last year for its plans to drill in the Beaufort and Chuckchi Seas, but environmentalist and Alaska Native groups raised concerns to the Environmental Appeals Board, which remanded the permits.

EPA Senior Policy Advisor for Air issues, Dave Bray in Seattle, says the new permits address the previous problems. He says they reduce the pollution Shell’s ice breakers can emit.

“When under the clean air act regulatory system the drill ships and support vessels would be regulated under the Clean Air Act, which was technically when a facility becomes an OCS source. And it all involves when they get anchors down, and when they’re at drill site. And so this permit now makes them subject to Clean Air Act regulations at an earlier stage in the process. Which was one of the concerns originally raised.”

Bray says the draft permits also address new standards that have come into place in the past year. But environmentalists say their early read of the extensive permits reveal problems.

Brendan Cummings with the conservation group Center for Biological Diversity complains the EPA’s permits are business as usual. He says new emission numbers are arrived at by “clever accounting.” Cummings says the EPA has been pressured by Alaska’s Congressional delegation and state officials to move forward.

“Unfortunately this whole process reeks of a fore-ordained conclusion. Shell and its supporters, Begich and Murkowski has put so much pressure on the EPA, doesn’t seem to be rationally weighing permit, instead it’s just come up with a document it hopes will pass muster and allow it to say yes to Shell.”

The public comment period on the draft air quality permits will end on August 5. EPA officials say any criticisms or challenges are limited to the changes made by the new permits, and can’t cover things already signed off on.

Meanwhile, a major component of Shell’s Arctic drilling plan is now bound for Seattle for upgrades. The drill rig Kulluk left Unalaska yesterday, after being moored there for nearly a year.

According to Curtis Smith, the purpose of the upgrades is to reduce the rig’s emissions by 90% in preparation for the 2012 drilling season

UAF Program Connects Fisheries to Cafeterias

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

Salmon could soon be on the menu in every school lunch room in Alaska. University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers are looking into the best ways to improve the diets of Alaska school children, while at the same time strengthening local and regional markets for sustainably harvested fish.

Coast Guard Officer Disciplined For Intoxication on Duty

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

The U.S. Coast Guard has made a change of command on the Petersburg-based cutter Anacapa permanent, following an investigation last month.

The former commanding officer Lieutenant Matthias Wholley was temporarily relieved of his command on May 30.

Coast Guard spokesman Dana Warr says the Anacapa was underway from Petersburg doing scheduled engine trials May 30 and he was relieved of command by the executive officer that morning. Warr says Wholley was given a breathalizer and found to be over the legal alcohol limit

Wholley will forfeit a half month’s pay for each of two months. He has been in the Coast Guard for over ten years and took-over command of the 110-foot cutter in August of 2009.

Body of Missing Climber Found on Denali

Sue Deyoe, KTNA – Talkeetna

The body of a missing climber has been found on Denali.

Mountaineering rangers using a high-powered spotting scope located Juergen Kanzian’s body yesterday.

This Week on AK: Culinary Swap

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

This week, we take a ride on the ferry Tustema. Or, I should say, we sample a stop on the ferry- a very mouth watering stop.

Every summer, the Tustemena brings passengers to and from the Aleutians. And when it stops in the village of Chignik, the passengers and locals get to trade places for an hour. KUCB’s Alexandra Gutierrez has this story on the culinary swap between the town’s bakery and the McTusty.