Alaska News Nightly: August 2, 2011

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Former Murkowski Aide May Face Jail Time for Fishing Violation

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

A former congressional aide may spend as much as 10-months in prison for a fishing violation while was a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Arne Fuglvog submitted his resignation Sunday as fisheries aide to Senator Lisa Murkowski.  In a statement, Murkowski thanked Fuglvog for his years of service and said he has cooperated fully with the authorities, taken responsibility for his actions and accepted the consequences.

Monday, federal prosecutors filed a single charge of violating the Lacey Act against Fuglvog and announced a plea deal that had been in the works since at least April of 2011.

Prosecutors say Fuglvog falsely reported locations of his sablefish catches between 2001 and 2006.  From 2003 until he was hired by Senator Murkowski in 2006, Fuglvog also served on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council that’s responsible for managing sablefish and other species in federal waters off Alaska.

Prosecutors single out the 2005 season in which Fuglvog allegedly caught twice his quota of sablefish in the Western Yakutat area. He allegedly covered up his illegal fishing by falsely claiming that the other half of the catch – about 30,000 pounds – was caught in the Central Gulf. The violations occurred when Fuglvog was owner and operator of the fishing vessel Kamilar.

Fuglvog was charged with violating the Lacey Act because the fish – valued at $100,000 – was transported as part of interstate commerce.

He’s expected to plead guilty during arraignment next Tuesday, Aug. 9 in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.  He declined to comment Tuesday.  Prosecutors have declined to comment until after the court hearing.

As outlined in the plea agreement, the possible sentence includes a $50,000 fine in addition to 10-months in prison. He must also pay $100,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for enhancing fish habitat along the Gulf of Alaska coast. He must also have an announcement acknowledging his wrongdoing published in National Fisherman Magazine.

Fuglvog grew up fishing in Petersburg and was named Highliner of the year by National Fisherman’s Magazine in 2003. He also worked as president of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association and served on the Council’s advisory panel for nine years before his appointment as a full member. He was also a candidate to head up the National Marine Fisheries Service but withdrew from consideration in 2009.

Congress May Leave FAA in Partial Shut-Down Mode

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Congress may have sorted out a plan to raise the debt limit this week, but it’s in danger of leaving the Federal Aviation Administration in partial shut-down mode for the next month.

A dispute over rural air service and airline workers’ ability to unionize stopped Congress more than 10 days ago from passing a bill to keep the FAA fully operating. That caused the agency to temporarily lay off 4,000 FAA employees nationwide including 79 in Alaska. They’re out of work until a deal is reached, and they might be left hanging without pay until after Labor Day when Congress is supposed to come back from its August break. The partial shutdown has also halted airport construction projects, which is threatening 70,000 construction workers nationwide, according to the Obama Administration. It’s costing $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes, far more than the amount of money the original dispute is over.

Alaska’s Congressional delegation is imploring leadership to get something passed.  Senator Lisa Murkowski says members should not leave until a deal is reached.

“That needs to be resolved. It simply does. Whether it is the 79 Alaskans that have been furloughed, or the projects that are literally put on hold we can’t leave without this hanging. I know everyone’s been fixated on the debt issues, but we can’t get out of town until FAA reauthorization is positively dealt with as well.”

But the House went out on recess Tuesday, and the Senate is expected to gavel out soon. Either body could move forward to break the stalemate, but Senator Mark Begich blames one House member – Congressman John Mica of Florida, head of the Transportation Committee. He got legislation passed through the Republican led house that cuts rural air service in the lower 48 and sets new union rules for airline workers.

“Especially peak summer season, making sure the FAA is doing the job they need by doing the construction work that’s been scheduled that now will cost more, the revenue stream that goes to the airport, revenue not being collected now. This petty politics is killing and hurting this industry because of one individual.”

Senate Democrats have said the House bill is unacceptable, and they instead want a short term extension of what’s already in place to get the FAA running. Congressman Don Young may be a Republican but he does not like the Mica GOP plan and would not have voted for it, however he was out of town when the vote happened last month. For now neither side is capitulating, making it look increasingly likely that the furloughed workers will be out of work for a while.

Cordova Times Will Be Purchased By Its Editor

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

Prince William Sound’s oldest newspaper isn’t going anywhere.  The editor of the Cordova Times – Jennifer Gibbons – is buying the paper. The times is the first newspaper to be purchased after the Calista Corporation decided to shut down the six papers it owns under its subsidiary, Alaska Newspapers, Inc.

Permanent Fund Dividend Will be Lower than Last Year

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Alaskans can expect a lower Permanent Fund Dividend this year. Even though the Fund had excellent earnings in the fiscal year that just ended, most of those earnings stayed in the Fund.  The actual yield is based on the income from assets sold and from interest payments…and this year, the yield, or realized earnings, total less than last year’s. Permanent Fund Executive Director Mike Burns told Alaskans on statewide radio this morning that the amount they sent to the Department of Revenue to be divided among all qualified dividend applicants is down:

Last year’s dividend was $1,281. A six or seven percent decrease would drop that to $1,200, but the final calculation is sure to be less than that because of the increasing number of applications.

Still, the growth in the Fund’s earnings will likely boost future dividends, which are based on a five year rolling average.

Burns said he was very satisfied with the closing numbers this year:

Over the past few years, the Fund has changed the way it calculates the risk of its portfolio of investments. It remains about fifty percent invested in stocks, but it also has percentage goals for various sorts of risk. But the real reason for its high performance, Burns said, was the fact that the markets were all doing well, with even the depressed real estate sector showing growth:

The year-end report from the fund starts a countdown toward payment of the Dividend on October 6. The next step will be an announcement from the Revenue Department of the actual amount of the Permanent Fund Dividend, which usually happens in September.

Worker Alleges BBAHC Spends Big Bucks on Board Meetings, Despite Layoffs

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

This spring the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation cut 19 employees in two rounds of layoffs.  In Part One of this two-part story, KDLG’s Daysha Eaton introduced us to a laid off health care worker and got an explanation for the layoffs from the president and CEO of the Bristol Bay Health Corporation. In Part Two Eaton takes a look at the impact the layoffs are having on the Bristol Bay region.

Massive Amount of Carbon Released by North Slope Wildfire

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

An unusually large North Slope wildfire released a massive amount of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s the conclusion of research published this week on the 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire, the largest wildfire ever recorded on the North Slope. The tundra blaze burned 256,000 acres, or about 400 square miles mostly in the month of September. University of Alaska Fairbanks ecologist Syndonia Bret Harte says the character of the lightning caused fire was also unusual for the normally wet tundra.

Bret Harte says sediment cores showed no previous evidence of wildfire in the area over the last 5,000 years. Analysis showed the wildfire burned and released carbon stored in dead plant matter accumulated over the previous 50 years. Fellow researcher Michelle Mack of the University of Florida says that’s substantial even when you consider the entire circumpolar arctic region.

That means one fire released enough carbon to offset the annual sequestration of the entire arctic.  The individual event is not going to throw the world into climate change doomsday, but if it’s indicative of a new norm of warmer drier, more lightning prone conditions in the arctic, Brett Hart says that could trigger the release of vast stores of carbon from frozen soils.

Brett Harte says the massive release of long sequestered carbon would be a strong positive feedback to further warming. The Anaktuvuk wildfire research was published in the July 28 issue of Nature.

Dipnetters in Kenai Active Up Until Sunday’s Deadline

Ben Stanton, KDLL – Kenai

The annual influx of people to the city of Kenai has come to a close. The personal-use dipnet fishery at the mouth of the Kenai River ended at midnight Sunday. A few people were fishing right up to the deadline. KDLL’s Ben Stanton went to the river to find out who they are.