Alaska News Nightly: August 26, 2011

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Legislators’ Norway Trip Focusing on Economic, Natural Resource Issues

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A dozen Alaska state legislators are heading to Norway. The senators and representatives are part of a trip organized by the Institute of the North, a nonprofit group founded by former Governor Wally Hickel to improve understanding of northern issues. Fairbanks Senator Joe Thomas is going on the Norway trip, which is focused on economic and natural resource issues, including hydro power and oil.  Thomas says Alaska has a lot in common with Norway on the oil front.

The trip to Norway is costing the state more than $4,000 per legislator. Thomas says it’s a worthwhile investment for the perspective. The past legislative session was dominated by debate over whether or not changes are needed to Alaska’s oil tax system to spur development, and the issue promises to come up again next year.  Thomas says the Norway trip should provide some new insight on Alaska’s taxes.

Thomas says Norway is better for Alaska to compare itself to because both areas oil resources are on public property, as opposed to a place like North Dakota, where development happens on private land.  Norway is different from Alaska in that its oil development is off shore in the North Sea, and it has a state owned oil company that works alongside independent producers.

State Appealing Federal Protection for Polar Bears

Associated Press

The state of Alaska is appealing a federal ruling that upholds a 2008 decision to give polar bears federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Alaska Attorney General John Burns says the federal government’s decision was based on “uncertain predictions of future threats” of habitat loss, not on observed threats or declining bear numbers.

The polar bear is the first designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because of global warming. In June, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., upheld the government’s decision to protect the bear, finding it was rational given the facts and best available science.

Gov. Sean Parnell says the bear population has more than doubled in the last 40 years and doesn’t merit special protections. The state filed the appeal notice today.

Officials Search for Cost of Endangered Species Act Listings

Associated Press

State officials are also soliciting proposals for an analysis of the economic costs of Endangered Species Act listings.

The commerce department seeks responses by Sept. 19.

The department is seeking a study that quantifies the economic impact of the federal government setting aside critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. According to the solicitation, there has been a “constant expansion” of use of the act since the 1970s.

In Alaska, it says, potential or actual listings have stopped, slowed or threatened development. It says the economic impacts are “substantial” but wants to determine the size.

There is a $350,000 budget for the project.

The notice says the study’s author should seek to have the results published in a “respected, peer-reviewed journal.”

Northern Waters Task Force Meets in Unalaska

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

The Northern Waters Task Force met in Unalaska this week.

The group was created by the state legislature, and it’s tasked with coming up with recommendations on Arctic policy that work for Alaska.

KUCB’s Alexandra Gutierrez was there to learn about the role the Aleutians are expected to play in the changing north.

Former Anchorage Teachers Sentenced to 13 Years in Prison

Associated Press

A former Anchorage high school choir instructor will serve 13 years in prison after being convicted of two counts of sexually abusing a minor.

Christopher More was sentenced to a 25-year term Friday, but the judge suspended 12 years.

More was accused of having sexual relations with two of his students at West High School.

More apologized and asked Judge Philip Volland for leniency before sentencing.

He pleaded guilty to the two counts in March, and prosecutors agreed to drop four other charges.

New Bethel Dog Law Authorizes Volunteer  Animal Force

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

There’s a new set of dog control laws in the Western Alaska City of Bethel.  It includes the authorization of a new force of animal control volunteers.  On Tuesday night the city council there passed a sweeping set of changes aimed at improving the safety of people and property on Bethel streets.  The vote was passed unanimously, but not everyone on the council thinks the laws will help.

Ilisagvik College Offers Opportunity on the North Slope

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage & Patrick Yack, APRN – Anchorage

After graduating its largest class ever this past spring, Ilisagvik College kicked off its fall semester on Monday. In its effort to serve Alaskans, especially those on the North Slope, it has enacted a few new programs.

Last spring, Ilisagvik College completed one of its most successful years, graduating a school-best 87 students with degrees and certificates…and another 11 who received their GEDs. With that still fresh on her mind, college President, Doctor Brooke Gondara as the school year gets underway.

“Our dorm students arrived yesterday and are moving in tonight. Registration is taking place, the book store is going to be hopping. So we’re all very excited with the energy of the upcoming year,” Gondara said.

According to Gondara, being the only tribal college in the state and one of only 37 in the nation, Ilisagvik College is in an advantageous position

“We can respond very quickly and responsively to industry needs. And we don’t necessarily have to get all of our course offerings approved through another university system or those kinds of things. We are able to cut through some of the layers that happen at a bigger university in order to get things done. So we’re being able to continue to respond to workforce needs on the slope and put people, and particularly Inupiaq people, in jobs, in high skilled, high paying positions on the North Slope,” Gondara said.

Teacher education and training…especially in early childhood education is in high demand in the state. Gondara says the college is beginning to cater to those needs.

“We’ve got a project going on with that, that’s centered around language immersion through a language nest model that happens in the home, or in a small, home-based kind of care-giving center that also has a neat economic development component to it…so that families, or households, can earn an income while providing language-based child care; and that they can also enter into a degree or certificate programand pursue a degree in early childhood education if they would like to,” Gondara said.

Gondara says Ilisagvik also offers a strong GED program, but it takes a unique approach.

“Our pilot project has entailed reaching out to students in Kivalina who may be interested in completing their GED and coming to Barrow, and coming to Ilisagvik for a short-term period of time where we are building the structure of the program. Where they could work for, I believe, in a five-week module to complete their GED, get registered for classes at Ilisagvik, go home in the interim for a little while and come back ready and prepared to enter college life,” Gondara said.

Gondara says Ilisagvik currently has satellite campuses in eight villages, covering around 89,000 square miles.

SEACAD Receives Federal Honors

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

A Southeast regional law enforcement coalition spearheaded by Sitka’s police chief received honors from the federal government on Tuesday night.

Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs, or SEACAD is a coalition of 11 communities. It was named Outstanding Agency of 2010 by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Western States Information Network.

Sitka police Chief Sheldon Schmitt said the SEACAD task force is comprised of three full-time people, including a Sitka-based narcotics detective, who work with area law enforcement agencies.

Skip Coyle, who presented the award to SEACAD, said the coalition shares intellgence with a national database that helps officers elsewhere pursue and apprehend criminals.

AK: Letters – The Old Fashioned Kind.

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

It’s probably safe to say that most people, especially those under 50, rarely, if ever sit down, put pen to paper, lick envelope glue and put a letter in the mailbox. But an Anchorage club of self proclaimed letter nerds, all under 40, are doing exactly that.

300 Villages: The Barrow Whalers

Patrick Yack, APRN – Anchorage

And now it’s time for our weekly trip around the state for 300 villages. This week, we head north to Barrow. More specifically, to hang out with the Barrow Whalers football team.