Alaska News Nightly: July 18, 2011

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Rep. Young Missing from Washington as Congress Nears Debt Limit Deadline

Libby Casey, APRN – Anchorage

Some members of Congress are calling this week a make-it-or break it historical moment, as they debate raising the nation’s debt limit and shrinking the actual debt. But Alaska’s Representative Don Young is not participating in the work in Washington D.C., instead he’s up in Alaska for the week.

The Congressman’s office says he has a long-scheduled fundraiser for a charity named for his late wife Lu Young that benefits Alaska Native families with cancer. It includes a fundraising fishing trip. His office said the fund raiser had been in the works for a year. He does not have public events on his schedule. The event will be in Whittier from Wednesday, July 20 through Friday, July 22.

Because he’s in Alaska, Young will miss a vote Tuesday in the House on a Republican-pushed bill called “Cut, Cap and Balance” which would require the federal government to make cuts, cap spending, and create a constitutional amendment ordering that the federal budget be balanced.

Young has not yet weighed in on the plan. He skipped a planning and information meeting with his fellow House Republicans on Friday.

The bill is expected to pass the House Tuesday but it will die in the Senate, where Democrats are opposed to it. President Obama says he would veto it anyway.

Two Fort Wainwright-based Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Two Fort Wainwright-based soldiers were killed in Afghanistan Sunday.  The members of the 1st Stryker Brigade combat team were part of group on foot patrol in the southern part of the country when an improvised explosive device detonated.  Seven other Strykers soldiers were injured in the attack.  The army is withholding the names of the soldiers pending the completion of the next of kin notification process. The deaths are the 6th and 7th for the 4,000 Fort Wainwright-based Stryker brigade since beginning a year-long deployment to Afghanistan in April.

BP Cleaning Up Oil Spill on North Slope

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

BP has had another spill on the North Slope. Liquids squirted out of a conduit under a road during a pressure test at the Lisburne field. An estimated 2,100 to 4,200 gallons of material from a well mixed with methanol escaped from an eight-inch pipe inside the conduit, and came out both ends of it, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s on-scene coordinator, John Ebel.

The liquids ended up on the pad, and in a pond on the tundra. It is not yet known how much crude oil was in the mix. They are now scraping up the gravel and the tundra. The spill itself was stopped fairly quickly, Ebel says, because workers could use valves on either side of the conduit to take the pressure off:

The pipe inside the conduit just burst, at about 900 pounds of pressure. Ebel says the cause of the break is not yet known. The response is ongoing, and will include cleaning the gravel and restoring the tundra.

Convicted Poacher Sentenced on Probation Violation

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

There’s been another twist in a high-profile poaching case out of Juneau. The man convicted of baiting bears and illegally shooting a wolf is now in jail. Park Myers the Third, 41, could be behind bars for up to a month because he was working while he accepted unemployment insurance benefits. Myers was still on probation after pleading guilty in the poaching case. It included the taking of a black wolf believed to be the friendly and popular wolf known by many as ‘Romeo.’

Officials Issue Warning on Fraudulent Food Inspectors

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Officials with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s food safety program are warning restaurant and processor owner/operators about fraudulent food inspectors. Jim Moore is an environmental health officer with DEC. He says he’s heard from three food establishment owners in the Bethel area who had been contacted about an inspection. Moore says the caller says they need to schedule an inspection and the proprietor will have to pay an up-front fee for the inspection. He says owners have been wary.

Moore says in addition to the three he’s heard reports of, other inspectors have also taken reports of attempts at fraudulent inspections. He says generally, inspectors do make a courtesy call to establishments to ensure that the proper staff will be on hand. But he says it’s not possible to call everyone. The permits are paid on an annual basis in November unless they’re for seasonal activity. He says the only time inspectors would collect money is when there’s been a violation and they plan a trip to the facility.

Moore urges restaurant and food processor owners to ask questions when they get calls regarding inspections. He says get as much information as possible, especially return phone numbers. He says impersonating a public servant of the state is punishable by state law and DEC has an environmental Crimes Unit to go after fraudulent inspectors.

Illegal King Crab Auction Raises Eyebrows

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Fairbanks

A big auction for blue king crab is underway in Seattle, and it’s got some members of the seafood industry talking. The product isn’t being sold by the usual distributors, and it isn’t from Alaska waters. KUCB’s Alexandra Gutierrez has more on a government sell-off of seized Russian crab.

Officials Tracking Elevated Bacteria Levels at Kenai River Beach

Ben Stanton, KDLL – Kenai

Elevated levels of bacteria have been found in water sampled at a Kenai River beach. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has been working with the city of Kenai to take regular samples, and DEC Environmental Program Specialist Tim Stevens says that while elevated, they are not at dangerous levels. Still, precautions should be taken.

The two types of bacteria found are fecal coliform and enterococci. Both are found in warm blooded animals.

Finding out which one is the source will be one of the next steps in the process. The numbers released Monday are from samples taken on the beach on the south side of the mouth of the Kenai River on Tuesday and Thursday of last week.

The south and north beaches are the popular areas for personal use dip net fishing in July. The city of Kenai is concerned that the large amount of fish waste, and the birds that the waste attracts, might be the cause of the bacteria. But until more data is collected over the course of the summer, the DEC is not prepared to make a conclusion.

Air Pollution Ballot Measure on October Ballot in Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fairbanks borough voters will consider a ballot proposition this fall aimed at reducing fine particulate pollution. Thousands of signatures submitted by citizen’s sponsoring the Healthy Air Protection Act have been certified by the borough clerk’s office, enabling the measure to appear on the October 4 municipal election ballot. Local air quality advocate and initiative sponsor Sylvia Schultz says the measure offers a comprehensive approach to reducing smoke that’s resulted in Fairbanks’ designation as a fine particulate pollution non attainment area by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Schultz says the measure, which also increase fines for violations, targets misuse of wood burning appliances. That’s been an issue since voters passed a ballot proposition last fall that prevents the Borough from banning, or regulating the use of, home heating devices. The vote reflected concern about high heating costs and intrusive government, but Schultz says signature gatherers for the new petition heard a lot of public frustration.

Fairbanks is facing a December 2012 deadline for developing a plan to get into compliance with federal fine particulate pollution standards.

Visitor Makes ‘Explosive’ Find on Sitka Beach

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

John Brown’s Beach in Sitka is closed, and an explosives team from the U.S. Department of Defense is expected in town this week to take a look at what appears to be a small, old missile at the north end of Japonski Island. The object might not have been found at all, had it not been for a tourist who wandered a little too far afield, and attracted the attention of the Coast Guard.

Native Corporation Finds Haida Canoe Near Kasaan

Joe Viechniccki, KFSK – Petersburg

The Sealaska Corporation has uncovered an old Haida canoe on the corporation’s timber land near the Prince of Wales Island community of Kasaan. The partially finished canoe may be centuries old and could provide a rare glimpse of canoe construction techniques using traditional tools.