Alaska News Nightly: July 21, 2011

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Glacial Outburst Floods Mendenhall Lake, River

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Flood waters are starting to recede in Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley, though a National Weather Service flood warning remains in effect until 10 o’clock Thursday night for the Mendenhall Lake and Mendenhall River. The lake started rising Tuesday afternoon, and by this morning, the lake and river were rising inches an hour. Travis Mason Bushman is a ranger at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center.

By Thursday morning, Mendenhall River was more than two feet beyond flood stage. A road nearby was closed and some residents there had water on their first floor. Some campsites at the Mendenhall Campground were flooded, and by late morning all the campers had been evacuated. The area remains closed for several days. University of Alaska Southeast Hydrologist Aaron Hood flew over the ice field today. He found an empty glacier lake on the east side of the Mendenhall.

While glacial lakes are not unusual, this one is an historical event for the Mendenhall.

The Taku River has an annual glacial outburst, and Hood says there’s a possibility this will become a more regular event for the Mendenhall as more ice melts.

Emergency Towing System Tried on Cruise Ship

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

With some of the most treacherous ocean conditions in the world, Alaska is no stranger to vessels in distress. That’s why emergency responders in the state are constantly looking for any advantage they can get when it comes to dealing with ships drifting at sea.

After the 712-foot cargo ship Selendang Ayu ran aground near Unalaska in 2004, officials began developing a standard emergency towing system that can be deployed around the state.

It was tried out Wednesday in Juneau for the first time on a cruise ship.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Launches

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The new federal agency designed to protect consumers from bad operators in the financial industry, like lenders and credit card companies, officially launched Thursday. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is described by its supporters as “a cop on the beat” for Americans as they do business. But Republicans in Congress say the Bureau has too much power.  They want it to have more oversight, go to Congress for its funding, and have a board of directors rather than one head. Democrats are fighting those changes, including Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, who says it would weaken the agency to the point of being ineffective.

“They want to have a board run it, you want to create a disaster, there you go. Having an agency run by committee, is the most ridiculous thing, bureaucratic idea I’ve ever heard. Second if you listen to the financial round table folks, people in the industry, they’re not having a lot of complaints about the agency and what their steps are.  They fear what might happen in the future. But we all fear – I fear walking in the street in Washington D.C. and getting hit by a car but that doesn’t stop me from leaving the building and walking home every day.”

Begich says already the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is causing mortgage and credit card companies to simplify their information for customers.

“I just looked at a document my mother just got for a purchase she’s doing, it was so easy to read! You could actually understand what the deal is. And I think… I don’t understand why people are so opposed to making sure consumers, taxpayers, know what the deal is they’re getting from their credit card company, mortgage company, knowing what the deal is in plain simple English.”

The new agency is part of the financial overhaul bill Congress passed last summer called Dodd-Frank. Only three Republicans voted for it in the Senate, and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski was not one of them. She agrees with most of her GOP colleagues that it creates additional bureaucracy and doesn’t have enough checks and balances. But unlike her fellow Republicans, Murkowski did not sign a letter this spring sent to President Obama threatening to block his nominee to run the agency. She was one of only two Republicans who refrained from signing. Murkowski says she agrees with the concerns raised in the letter, just not the threat attached to it.

“The language if you go back and read it was very, very limiting. It said we are not going to allow approval of anybody unless. I asked the rhetorical question, what if the President were to put somebody like a John Kyl in, for instance, I just pulled that name out of the air. But what if they were to put a person like him in. Are we still going to stand by our word that we are not going to allow this name to go forward? I wanted to evaluate the nominee. I don’t’ think it’s odd it just demonstrates once again I’m reading the fine print.”

The only other Senate Republican not to sign the letter was Scott Brown from the left-leaning state of Massachusetts, home to the woman who created the Agency, Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, who’s considering running for Senate as a Democrat against him.

Enough other Republican Senators signed the letter to effectively block the confirmation of President Obama’s choice to run the Consumer Agency.  This week he named to the job Richard Cordray, former Attorney General of Ohio, and champ of the game show Jeopardy, who’s been the consumer agency’s chief enforcement officer since early this year.

New Law Banning Synthetic Marijuana Goes Into Effect

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new state law banning synthetic marijuana has Fairbanks police taking action.  The law making synthetic canabinoids, which sell under brands names like Spice and K2, went into effect July 1. Fairbanks Police Chief Laren Zager says the law makes synthetic pot a controlled substance with possible sentences ranging from misdemeanor to felony.

Chief Zager says the law is warranted given criminal cases that have involved people under the influence of synthetic pot products, but acknowledges there will be a learning curve as police and prosecutors interpret the synthetic pot law in light of the legality of possession of small amounts, of real marijuana in Alaska.

Zager says police are coordinating with prosecutors and the state crime lab to enforce the new law. He says police know of only a few sellers of synthetic canabinoids in Fairbanks. Several other states have adopted similar laws.

Nationwide Blood Shortage Hits Alaska

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The Blood Bank is critically low in five different blood types, O negative, O positive, A positive, B negative, and AB negative.

According to Jessica Golden, of the Blood Bank of Alaska, type-O (oh) blood is incredibly important in the state:

“In outlying areas they have to have “O” blood. So we go through a lot more “O” blood than other states; and the reason for that is that many outlying clinics, or facilities, do not have typing facilities available to them when the emergency arises. So they have to have “O” blood, which is the universal donor, on hand at all times.”

Golden says that a number of recent traumas, a nation-wide shortage and even the time of year have attributed to the situation:

“When people leave Anchorage and Fairbanks to go out fishing, and hunting, or camping, all of those things, it becomes more difficult to get people to walk in the door, go to that blood bank and donate.”

The blood bank needs to see at least 200 donors come through their doors each day in order to maintain a safe level of blood.

Golden says that blood levels are typically at their lowest both during the summer as well as around Christmas time, which is also when the most blood tends to be used:

“It’s sort of an irony that the two go hand-in-hand; that the times you use the most blood are also the times when people are the least likely to walk in your door.”

If you’re interested in donating, visit alaskapublic [dot] org for links to the complete schedule of upcoming blood drives.

Hatchery Reports Sea Cucumber Spawning Success

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

An Alaska hatchery has figured out how to get sea cucumbers to reproduce in captivity. It’s an important development in an effort that could help the Southeast commercial dive fishery. But it’s still several years away from providing a reliable supply.

Iditarod Champ Keeps Youth Leadership and Suicide Prevention Program Alive

Heather Aronno, APRN – Anchorage

The future of a youth leadership and suicide prevention program is secure after a grant of $1.25 million was donated by the Teck Mining Company. The donation was made in the name of Iditarod Champion John Baker. In addition to his own contributions to the curriculum, Baker has friends and family members involved with the program. He says he believes that bringing focus to the suicide issue in rural communities is important.

“Well, anytime there’s any suicide then it’s going to be, and should be, an issue that we all need to face, so big or small, we need to face it as directly as we can.”

The Nortwest Arctic Borough School District went from having one of the highest suicide rates in Alaska to zero suicides in the last school year. Michelle Woods,Youth Leaders Program Coordinator, says the program was in danger of closing after federal funding for it ended last year.

“We had about one more year left of minimal funding that they had given us last year. So the fact that we’re funded for five years, that means we’re alive, our kids are  going to continue saving lives out there. It’s huge. Without it, we’d be dead in the water, literally.”

Woods credits the program’s success to the focus on training youth instead of adults. Due to the problems of retaining teachers in the bush, the program coordinators decided to focus their resources on people who would stick around. Woods says now youth who have gone through the training can mentor younger members of the community.

“So what we’ve done is we’ve taken that program and then we’ve expanded it to include youth leadership, with a very strong cultural component, one that’s appropriate for the Alaska Native culture.”

The Teck John Baker Youth Leaders Program is based out of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District. The new grant will be doled out over the next five years.

Alaska’s Biggest Summer Camp to Shut-Down

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

The biggest summer camp in the state is shutting down. The Kuskokwim Campus Talent Search Summer Camp in Bethel has played host to well over 1,000 students from the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. The program has always had a difficult, if not impossible, time complying with the federal grant that funded it.  When camp ends this week,   they’ll be closing their doors for good.  But not before completing a project that will stand for years to come.

Chitina Dip Netters Get Another Crack at Sockeyes

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Chitina dip netters will get another crack at pulling 10 additional sockeyes out of the Copper river next week, as a plug of reds makes its way upstream. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has announced a supplemental harvest period that allows the extra take beyond the normal personal and family season quotas. Area management biologist Mark Sommerville says the latest surge of salmon continues a stronger than anticipated 2011 run.

The Copper River management plan allows for supplemental dip net harvests whenever weekly passage through downstream sonar totals more than 50,000 salmon over the pre-season projection. Sommerville says current numbers are more than sufficient to trigger the supplemental take.