Alaska News Nightly: September 5, 2011

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Man in Jail After Biting Airplane Crew Member

Associated Press

A 39-year-old man is in custody after he tried to rush the exit door of an Alaska Airlines jet as it was taxiing to a gate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Airport spokesman Perry Cooper says passengers and the crew had to subdue the man on Monday, who was apparently anxious to get off the plane. One crew member was bitten in the arm during the scuffle and was taken to Highline Medical Center in Burien, Wash., for treatment of minor injuries.

The man was taken to Highline for a mental health evaluation, before being transferred to King County Jail. He was expected to be booked on investigation of felony assault.

Flight 108 from Anchorage, Alaska, landed in Seattle at about 4:30 am Monday. Cooper says no other airport operations were affected.

One Pilot Dies in Midair Crash Near Nightmute

Associated Press

Two planes flown by lone commercial pilots who were friends collided outside of Nightmute Friday.  The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.  A Cessna 208 belonging to Grant Aviation plunged to the tundra and burned, taking the life of Scott Veal, 24, of Kenai.  The other plane was a 207 belonging to Ryan Air.  It was piloted by Kristen Sprague, 26.  She was able to land on the tundra despite severe wing damage from the collision.  NTSB investigator Clint Johnson says the two pilots were in touch by radio.

Sprague was flying to Bethel from Tununak and Veal was flying to Bethel from Tooksook Bay.

Sunday, Johnson said  pilot Sprague lost track of the other plane shortly before it struck her plane’s right wing about 800 feet above ground.

It was the state’s third midair crash since July.

State Looks to Expand Information Gathering on Firearm Injuries

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

The State Epidemiology office is looking to expand the way it gathers information on firearm injuries throughout the state.

Lawmakers Hear About Halibut Allocation

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Legislators took a lesson in fish management and politics late last Thursday, and they got a chance to show their frustration with the federal government’s restrictions on Southcentral and Southeast halibut harvests.

Revered Alaska Artist Passes Away at 91

Associated Press

John Hoover, a revered artist in Alaska who used imagery and tales from Native traditions in contemporary works, has died at 91.

Hoover’s   work was shown around the world and was prized by collectors, corporations and museums.

His wife, Mary, confirmed his death, on Saturday in Washington state, where they lived on Puget Sound.

Hoover was born in Cordova, Alaska, and for years worked as a fisherman. He told the newspaper in a 1998 interview he turned to art after building a 58-foot fishing vessel in the late 1950s made him realize what he had done was much like sculpture.

In 2002, The Anchorage Museum held a retrospective of his work. In May the University of Alaska Anchorage awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Judge Gives Prosecution Time to Make Decision on Key Figure in Corruption Case

Associated Press

A federal judge in Anchorage is giving prosecutors more time to decide whether to call a key figure in the corruption retrial of former state lawmaker Vic Kohring.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline granted a request by prosecutors, giving them until September 30 to make arrangements for travel to New Mexico to meet with Allen.

Allen was chairman of a now-defunct oil field services company who pleaded guilty to bribery and tax violations in a corruption probe that ensnared Alaska politicians, including Vic Kohring.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Anchorage has taken over the corruption retrials of both Kohring and Pete Kott.

Last month, several Justice Department attorneys from Washington, D.C., withdrew from the Kott and Kohring cases. The attorneys said in court papers that they had not been involved in the cases since the convictions of Kott and Kohring were overturned and new trials were ordered earlier this year.

The Anchorage office had been recused from a corruption investigation that ensnared Alaska politicians in the late 2000s to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Kevin Feldis, chief of the office’s criminal division, said the recusal has been lifted.

Early Numbers Indicate Slight Rise in UAF Enrollment

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Early numbers indicate enrollment is up this fall at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  Preliminary figures peg Fairbanks campus enrollment at over 5,100, up 61 students from this time last year. University spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says numbers have yet to settle out, but the trend is toward an uptick.

Grimes says growth in natural sciences, may be tied to the $88 million Life Sciences facility currently under construction.

Grimes says if you look at UAF system wide and include five rural campuses and distance education programs, enrollment is currently at 7,890, an over 6 percent increase from last year, but she stresses numbers are not finalized until later in the month. University of Alaska Anchorage system early enrollment is at over 18,300, up 1.9 percent compared to this time last year.

Juneau Nonprofit Aims to Help Sitka Startups

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

The Juneau Economic Development Council has taken its show on the road. Its operations director, Margaret O’Neal, was in Sitka this week to promote what the council calls “gap financing” – putting up the money to help people get their business going. People like Tony Field.

“I’m considering and hoping to start up a bowling center here in Sitka,” Field said.

Bowling. Sitka used to have a bowling alley, doesn’t anymore, and Field believes the city could use one. But there are obstacles.

“It’s going to take a lot of money,” he said. “Money is obviously the driving force. There are several different options with that, and hopefully in the near future I’ll be starting to pursue those avenues.”

Field was in the audience at the Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon on Wednesday, where he and others heard a presentation from the Juneau Economic Development Council.

It included a long list of resources – banks, state loan programs, and more – but also details about what the nonprofit calls “gap funding” – loans to help first-time businesspeople get started and make a good impression on private lenders.

The money comes from funds set up by economic disaster relief money set aside to help Southeast deal with the decline of the timber industry in the late 1990s.

“Quite a lot of it went into different communities and we got a grant from the City and Borough of Juneau to set up revolving loan funds,” said Margaret O’Neal, director of the revolving loan fund for the Juneau Economic Development Council. “We had initially one for Juneau, two for Sitka, one for Wrangell, one for Haines, one for Thorne Bay, and then JEDC borrowed $1 million from the USDA to do a regionwide loan program.”

O’Neal says that regionwide loan program can make loans anywhere in Southeast except Juneau. After her Chamber presentation, O’Neal said helping startups, well, start up is one of the best parts of her job.

“People are pursuing their passions or maybe have inherited some money and now they want to figure out if they can do what they’ve always wanted to do,” O’Neal said. “The people I’ve spoken to so far haven’t always been in business for themselves. They’ve had day jobs and careers. Starting a business and being responsible for all the financial aspects of it are daunting sometimes.”

She says people shouldn’t confuse the economy with the stock market. And so, while the numbers on Wall Street rise and fall with investor confidence, it’s important to also look at local optimism and local confidence – will people spend money on what individual businesses are selling?

“I’m hoping the economy is turning around,” she said. “Seems like it might be.”  Whether it’s a good time to start a business depends on the business, she says.

O’Neal’s visit was sponsored by the Chamber and the Sitka Economic Development Association. Chamber executive director Jennifer Robinson says that optimism walks into her office a lot.

“I do get a fair amount of people coming into my office with questions about starting businesses in Sitka,” Robinson said. “More than I would expect. There are quite a few people looking into doing that. How many of them go somewhere, we’ll see, but there’s definitely an interest in that still, so people must feel optimistic that this is still a good place to be starting a business.”

Tony Field, the potential bowling center owner, says he’s one of those optimists, hoping that economic recovery will happen sooner rather than later, and believing that regardless, Sitka is ready and willing to spend money on strikes and spares.

Fairbanks Girl  Treated for Gunshot Sound

Associated Press

A 3-year-old Fairbanks girl was treated in Anchorage after suffering a gunshot wound over the weekend.

The child was seriously injured Friday afternoon at an apartment building in south Fairbanks.

Emergency personnel flew the child to Anchorage by medevac. The girl’s condition has not been released.

Blessing Ceremony Held for Totem Poles on Chief Shakes Island

Charlotte Duren, KSTK – Wrangell

On Monday, August 29th members of the Wrangell Cooperative Association, master carvers, and Tlingit elders gathered at Chief Shakes Island to bless the totem poles before restoration work begins. KSTK’s Charlotte Duren has more on the ceremony and what’s next for the project.

Tlingit elders and relatives of Chief Shakes gathered for a blessing of the totem poles on Chief Shakes Island Monday before the dismantling of the tribal house begins. Over the week six of the seven totem poles on the island will be lowered to clear room for the restoration work. Master Carver Wayne Price was at the ceremony says it’s an important start to the project.

“Part of the history is to let them know we are going to take them down, were going to repair them, were going to make them all better again, and then we are going to put them back up. It’s kind of just being aware of what totems mean to us, and what’s going to be happening. Usually the totem was put up and it didn’t come down until it fell down,” he says.

The totem poles will be lowered by cranes, and gently placed on to cribbing. Later tarps will be placed over the totems to protect them from the elements. Price says a great deal of preservation work will be done to the totem poles before they are put back up at the end of the Chief Shakes Tribal House project.

“We will be able to let it dry out so we can get all the moss and trees off and repair the spots we can. Basically give it a really good face lift. We will then put some wood preservative on it and some fresh paint and get it ready to put back up,” he says.

Price says restoration work like this is somewhat new to Wrangell and looks forward to the process. And across town, the Wrangell Cooperative Association is hard at work planning for the next stages of the project.

“What keeps me going is that they are going to look a lot better when they go back up next summer,” that’s the WCA Grants Administrator Tis Peterman. Peterman has been working over a decade to acquire grant funding for the project, which this year reached close to $700,000.

But even with all the excitement surrounding the project she says for many in the community watching the totem poles come down is a hard thing to see, but says she is excited for the final result.

“You know we have been in the planning stages for so long. First to say this is actually happening, but second I grew up with those down there, they have always been there my whole entire life. To see them being brought down just sort of worries me. I always have the greatest fear that once we take it all apart, will we have enough money to put it back together? So it’s sort of emotional when we talk about, but we know we have several good funding sources out there that are watching this from all over the state, so we are excited about getting them put up and spruced up,” she says.

The WCA has recently hired local Joy Prescott to document the entire restoration process, which will include updates on the WCA website and Facebook page. The restoration of the Chief Shakes House is expected to be completed by the August of 2012. Peterman says at that point a celebration will be held to honor all those who contributed in the restoration process. Chief Shakes Island will be closed to the  public while the totem poles come down.

Art Exhibit Showcases Indigenous Experiences with Climate Change

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

From Ethiopia to the Himalayas to Alaska, indigenous people are experiencing the affects of a changing climate.  The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is sharing their experiences in an exhibit called, “Conversations with the Earth.”  And it includes photos and stories from Alaska’s Arctic Village.