Alaska News Nightly: August 8, 2011

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Salazar’s Third Visit to Alaska Focuses on Development Issues

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Business leaders in Alaska got a chance to meet with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Monday morning. He is in the state for a third time in as many years to discuss development issues. At Monday morning’s roundtable, representatives from Native Corporations oil companies and other industries pressed the need for a more streamlined permitting process for development.

States Offered Waivers From No Child Left Behind Bill

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

The Obama Administration announced Monday that it plans to start giving states waivers from the No Child Left Behind education reform bill. Congress is stalled on re-authorizing the federal education law, and many states are having trouble meeting the law’s standards for Adequate Yearly Progress. The original goal of No Child Left Behind was for all students to be proficient in basic reading and math by 2014. With that deadline approaching, states are finding that more difficult than anticipated, particularly for special needs students.

Melody Barnes, the Chairwoman of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the administration can’t afford to wait any longer for Congress to act to reform No Child Left Behind.

The announcement Monday contained no specifics about what the terms will be. But in general, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, they will begin giving waivers to states that propose their own ways of meeting standards. They will announce more details next month. Alaska Education Department spokesman Eric Frye said the state will “certainly be interested,” but he couldn’t comment further without knowing more details.

The terms of No Child Left Behind require the Adequate Yearly Progress measurement to escalate each year, and that’s increasing the number of failing schools. Alaska and a number of other states have said they can show progress but want to use different standards, known as “growth,” or “trend” models. Secretary Duncan said he would be open to that.

Duncan said he hopes this can be a transition or bridge to a new education law, but re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is already four years overdue.

Rising Gold Price Good for Business In Alaska

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The price of gold has hit a new high of over $1,700 an ounce. It’s the latest surge in precious metal prices in recent years, and it’s driving a lot of interest in gold in Alaska. Bobby Curry, the general manger of Oxford Assaying and Refining in Fairbanks says business is good.

Curry says the company deals in gold nuggets, coins and bullion. He says they also handle a lot of raw gold, due to a small scale mining boom.

Curry says he’s even had someone come in who found an ounce and a half gold nugget with a metal detector in the historic mining area of Chatanika, north of Fairbanks.

The state has four public mining areas, one each near Eureka and Talkeetna, and two in Nome. State Department of Natural Resources Mining Geologist Bill Cole says Nome’s West Beach area opened this year in response to public demand.

Cole says most of the small scale operations in Alaska are on existing claims, but that new claims are also being staked. A record number of mining permit applications are being processed for work on state and federal lands. Steve Lundeen, the statewide mine inspection coordinator with the Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks says activity has risen dramatically.

Lundeen says there’s also new claim staking happening on federal land, despite a fairly limited amount of B.L.M. property that’s open. He says the agency is looking at opening new areas. He says Alaska saw a similar mining boom when the price of gold spiked in the 1980s.

Redistricting Challengers Will Present Case in January

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The case challenging the Alaska Redistricting Board re-map of legislative districts is slowly proceeding. A status hearing was held Friday on three consolidated suits filed by the Fairbanks North Star Borough, two local residents and the city of Petersburg. Fairbanks Borough attorney Jill Dolan says plaintiffs are waiting on some key information to move forward.

There’s an expedited time line for the case. A trial has been set for January, and the redistricting decision has to be rendered before a candidate filing deadline next summer. The Fairbanks complaints object to the inclusion of parts of Ester and the Gold Stream Valley in a massive voting district that extends to the Bering Sea. The Redistricting Board created the large district, and others in the state, in an attempt to meet a federal voting rights act requirement to protect the strength of the Alaska Native vote, but the board also falls under a state constitutional requirement that voter districts be compact and include similar communities. Fairbanks attorney Mike Walleri, who is representing the Goldstream and Ester residents, says the case is progressing as anticipated.

The defense referenced a federal voting rights official’s deployment to Africa for delaying the Redistricting Board’s response to the complaints. The case is being watched around the state.  During Friday’s hearing, attorneys indicated the city of Ketchikan intends to intervene on the defense side. The Fairbanks Borough’s Dolan says she also continues to field questions from interested parties, who could join the case.

Dolan says there’s interest by incumbents who are impacted by the plan. The revision of Fairbanks districts would pit incumbent Democratic state senators Joe Thomas and Joe Paskvan against one another. Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy is presiding over the case. He set the next hearing for August 26.

Fatal Crashes Claim Four Lives In Nome, Elim

Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome

Three people have died in two fatal accidents that occurred in Nome and Elim in the early morning hours Sunday.

The first crash was between a dirt bike and a pickup three miles North of Nome. William C. Booth – also known as Chase – was reportedly riding the dirt bike, without a headlight, on the wrong side of the Glacier Creek Road when he collided with a pickup driven by Bryce Warnke-Green. He was brought to the Norton Sound Regional Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Alcohol and marijuana involvement are suspected.

Chase is the son of two-time Iron Dog champion Evan Booth.

Roughly four hours later a rollover was reported on Moses Point Road, north of Elim. Heather Saccheaus, 19, was driving a Ford Ranger with five other passengers when she lost control of the truck and it rolled about 4 times. All but one passenger were ejected. Saccheus and Oscar Takak, 19, were declared dead on the scene. Two passengers were flown to Anchorage for treatment of serious, but non-life threatening injuries. Two others were treated at the Norton Sound Regional Hospital for minor injuries. All occupants were from Elim and alcohol and speed are factors in the crash.

New Program Will Ease Healthcare Access for Mexican-Americans in Alaska

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Ventana means “window” in the Spanish language, and on Monday, a window opened up in Alaska for Mexicans in our state to receive improved health care through a Mexican government program called Ventanilla de Salud. The program aims to facilitate Mexican-American access to health care in the U.S. through advice, referrals and free or low cost preventative care.

Anchorage based Mexican consul Senor Javier Abud joined with city officials and Mexico’s Secretary of Health, Doctor Jose Angel Cordova in cutting the ribbon to mark the opening of the health window during a brief ceremony Monday morning.

Dr. Cordova says this most recent program, one of 47 the U.S., is paid for by the Mexican government.  The focus is on preventative health care.

The Ventanilla de Salud program works both ways, Dr. Cordova says, providing health services for Mexican migrants and for their ‘ families that remain back in Mexico. After a pilot study over the past year, he says, the service is ready to formally begin in Alaska.

The University of Alaska is working on a needs assessment study.

Francisco Javier Diaz de Leon is the Executive Director of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad, an arm of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs which works to establish a connection with Mexicans living outside their native country. He says 98 percent of all Mexican migrants live in the U.S., and many of them do not understand that the U.S. does not have socialized health care, as in Mexico.

The Institute works with agencies within the Mexican government to develop policies to help Mexicans outside Mexico.

Diane Ingle, director of Anchorage’s Health and Human Services Department, says the Ventanilla de Salud provides the city with a microcosm to test out how to better help underserved populations within the city. The Consulate of Mexico is providing the municipality with $25,000 to pay for both outreach events and for a part time employee who will work with the program in the consulate.

Scientists Have Tentatively Identified Mysterious Orange Goo

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

Federal scientists say they have tentatively identified the mysterious orange goo that showed up recently in a lagoon near Kivalina. It appears to be a concentration of microscopic eggs.

Jeep Rice, research biologist at the Ted Stevens Marine Institute in Auke Bay, says their lab staff first tried to figure if it was plant, animal, or mineral. Several chemists were brought in because of concerns that it may be some kind of chemical pollution. But Rice says the chemists weren’t needed once they spotted the basic egg structure under a high powered microscope.

Since the eggs are so small and their internal features are very hard to distinguish, it’s unclear what laid the eggs. Rice suspects some sort of invertebrate, perhaps a crustacean. But Rice says it’s hard to tell for sure.

The orange color of the goo seems to come from a lipid oil droplet in the center of each egg. The eggs that were collected for sampling either dried up or died despite being refrigerated for transport.

Kivalina area residents were concerned earlier this month when the never-before-seen substance showed up. Rice says it’s possible the eggs just happened to concentrate in that lagoon because of wind or tidal action.

As for the eggs that remain near Kivalina, Rice would advise against eating them. They have not been tested for natural toxins.

Genetically-Modified Salmon Developer Fights Back

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The company that wants to produce genetically modified salmon is pushing back against its critics. And it’s gathering support from trade groups that claim politics are getting in the way of science. But opponents in Alaska say the arguments won’t change their minds

Kuskokwim River Boasts Massive Chum Salmon Run

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

The Kuskokwim River had a massive Chum salmon run this season. The fish may be called dog salmon, but it’s gaining in popularity in international markets, and that’s a good thing for small time commercial fisherman on the river.