Alaska News Nightly: August 22, 2011

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Legislators Attend Council of State Governments – West Conference

Associated Press

At least one-fifth of the Alaska Legislature attended a conference in Hawaii this month, at a cost of nearly $35,000 so far.

The Anchorage Daily News reports the final cost is still being tallied from the Council of State Governments-West conference. CSG-West is a nonpartisan policy group comprised of lawmakers from Western states. This year’s event was at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.

Hotel bills for each of the lawmakers have ranged from $729 to $1,276. But that doesn’t include Senator Bert Stedman, a republican from Sitka, who was in a suite with a bill averaging more than $900 a night. He attributed that to a mistake by his office.

Lawmaker travel this year has also included a trip to Greece for the Special Olympics; a conference in New Orleans and plans for a “Norway policy tour” starting this weekend.

Request Yields No Independent Audit Proposals for Goose Creek Correctional Center

Associated Press

No one responded to the Senate Finance Committee’s request for proposals for an independent audit of the Goose Creek Correctional Center.

Committee aide Darwin Peterson said the audit’s scope and timeline may have been too aggressive. The solicitation sought a status report by Oct. 30 and a final report to the committee by Dec. 15.

The Legislature is scheduled to convene in January. During the last regular session, concerns were raised about the costs of the medium-security prison, expected to open next year at Port Mackenzie.

The request for proposals sought answers to a long list of questions, including whether decisions were made with full knowledge of funding limits and whether the site selected was cost-effective.

Peterson said other options are being considered, including limiting the scope or doing some work in-house.

Agriculture Official Visits Sitka, Southeast

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Harris Sherman is traveling around Southeast Alaska this week. On Saturday he met with the Juneau Economic Development Council, and then traveled to Sitka on Sunday to hear from business and community leaders about the future of the Tongass National Forest.

Sherman, who oversees the Forest Service, last visited the region about a year ago. Sunday’s conversation in Sitka was closed to the general public and the news media. Sherman spoke with reporters afterward.

“The ability to get together and work harmoniously on issues can make a tremendous difference,” he said. “And I think we’re seeing here today in Sitka and elsewhere, a much greater collaboration than we’ve seen in the past.”

[Click here to listen to the entire interview.]

Sherman says a lot of that collaboration is taking place between the timber industry and the environmental community. He says both sides have a vested interest in restoring the Tongass National Forest.

Among the groups represented on Sunday was the Sitka Conservation Society, which urged Sherman to increase funding to restoration efforts. Their proposal calls for $80 million over 10 years for restoration, $5 million over five years for fisheries enhancement, and $2.25 million for education programs aimed at tourists and schools. It also urges more money for research and rural development.

Andrew Thoms is executive director of the Conservation Society. He says the Forest Service, especially locally, is heading in the right direction.

“I think the Sitka District has really shown the way and their fisheries and watershed crew are leaders on the Tongass National Forest,” Thoms said. “We’re leading the way and we’re hoping for funding that continues that program and bolsters it. Today in the meeting they heard about how important permitting and licensing is for our hydroelectric projects, and how we need to shift resources from the timber program to the hydro program so that communities like Sitka, which are vying for projects like Blue Lake, can get those moving.”

Blue Lake is one of two sources of hydro electric power in Sitka. The city is in the middle of a project to raise the dam and install additional equipment that will help generate more power.

Sherman says for him, the takeaway message from Sunday’s roundtable was that various interests in Sitka are willing to work together.

“You’ve got a community that is working together; they’re very focused on what they want to achieve. I think they realize that a strong partnership with the federal government is important, as well as with the state governments, tribal governments. We’re going to work hard to build that partnership.”

Sherman is scheduled to be in Ketchikan and Craig for the rest of the week.

Land Slides Into Petersburg’s Hammer Slough

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

The City of Petersburg is declaring a local disaster after heavy rains caused a substantial landslide into a downtown stream on Saturday afternoon. There were no injuries or damage to nearby homes. But the slide took out part of the parking lot at the city’s Public Works facility and filled part of the stream with debris.

Nome Police Department Investigating Shooting, Attempted Suicide

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

The Nome Police Department is investigating a shooting and attempted suicide that took place Sunday afternoon in Nome.

Bristol Bay Times, Arctic Sounder and Dutch Harbor Fisherman to Stop Publishing During Transition to New Owners

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

The Bristol Bay Times is going to disappear for a while, along with The Arctic Sounder and The Dutch Harbor Fisherman. Those papers were sold off August 5, after the Calista Corporation liquidated their weekly newspaper chain. The new owners had hoped to keep the papers going without any interruption, but they will have to stop publishing during the transition.

Money Sent to Help Rural Alaska Farmers

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is giving $200-thousand dollars in grant money to an organization that will help farmers in rural Alaska.

Life Sciences Building Transforms Look of UAF’s West Ridge

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Fairbanks west ridge is taking on a new look, as construction of the new Life Sciences building progresses. The $88 million, three-story, 100,000 square foot facility will house classroom, laboratory, and office space for biology programs. The project is on track despite less than ideal weather.

Little Fish Keeping Big Fish on Consumers’ Tables

Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

Every big fish that lands on your plate got that big by eating lots and lots of little fish. That’s why some scientists, fishery managers and advocacy groups are paying more attention to the small prey in the sea. Some environmental groups now also want tighter regulation, and that’s making fishermen nervous.

Alaska Salmon May Be Added to Astronauts Menu

Brianna Gibbs, KMXT – Kodiak

In the near future, astronauts could be treated to the delicacy of Alaska wild salmon; even as they orbit high above the ocean the fish came from.