Alaska News Nightly: September 16, 2011

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Virginia Court Rules Against Kivalina in Favor of Insurance Company

Associated Press & Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled against the Northwest Alaska village of Kivalina in favor of an insurance company in a case that legal experts say is the first in the nation on whether insurers may be liable for claims arising from global warming.

The court unanimously ruled Friday that Kivalina’s claims against AES Corp. were not covered by the Virginia-based energy company’s liability insurance carrier, Steadfast Insurance Co. The ruling upheld a lower court decision.

Kivalina, a native community on a barrier island northwest of Kotzebue, alleged in a 2008 lawsuit that greenhouse emissions by AES and other companies damaged the village by causing global warming. Steadfast claimed it did not owe AES a defense or indemnity coverage because the complaint did not allege an “occurrence” of property damage. No one was available at the Kivalina city office for comment.

UAF Receives Large Gift From Mining Company for Endowment

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has received another large gift from a mining company.  Sumitomo, the company that runs the Pogo Gold Mine near Delta Junction, Thursday presented UAF with check for a little over $1 million.  The money – to be doled out by Sumitomo over three years will go into an endowment that supports research at UAF’s Department of Mining and Geological Engineering.  Pogo Mine general manger Chris Kennedy says the gift helps the mining industry meet demand for skilled workers.

Kennedy says Pogo just welcomed a new UAF-educated mining engineer last week. The mining industry is experiencing a worldwide labor shortage, but Sumitomo Pogo President Toshihito Toyoshima says the donation isn’t just about generating a work force.

The donation from Pogo comes as the price of gold hits record highs.  UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers calls it significant, and reflective of the university and mining business.

The Pogo gift follows on a similar contribution to the UAF Mining program from Kinross Ft. Knox Gold Mine last month.  The contributions qualify for tax credits that cover about 80 percent of the donations…money that would have gone to the state as taxes instead goes to the university.  Rogers says the state legislature created the education tax credit to encourage charitable giving.

The University is hopeful that other companies will follow Ft. Knox and Pogo in taking advantage of the state tax credits to support UAF.  The UAF Mining Engineering Research Endowment supports graduate student projects. It was created to compensate for federal research funding lost since the U.S. Bureau of Mines was eliminated in the 1990’s.

Fort Wainwright Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

Associated Press

A Texas soldier based at Fort Wainwright has been killed in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Alaska officials in a release Friday identified the soldier as 26-year-old Rodolfo Rodriguez Jr. of Pharr, Texas.

Authorities say he was killed Wednesday by insurgents using a pressure-plate improvised explosive device.

He joined the Army in March 2006, and twice served in Iraq.

The infantryman was assigned in March 2010 to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at the Alaska base. About 4,000 soldiers from the brigade deployed for a year’s tour in Afghanistan in April.

Nelchina Subsistence Caribou Hunt Closing to Taking of Cows

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

This year’s Nelchina subsistence caribou hunt closed for the taking of cows at midnight Thursday night.  The hunt has been going well, according to state Fish and Game area biologist Becky Schwanke in Glenallen.  She says as of Friday 1,160 caribou have been taken in the subsistence hunt, which is still open for taking bulls.

Schwanke says the area’s community hunt has taken 52 animals and the Unit 13 drawing hunts have taken 169 animals

The Nelchina caribou hunts are accessible by road and are popular with hunters. But there is some squabbling over who gets to hunt the animals, and some organizations have taken an opposing stand against state qualifications for the community hunting permits.

This week, justices of the Alaska Supreme Court listened to arguments concerning the constitutionality of the Community hunt, which was authorized by the state Board of Game in 2009, but was challenged in court. John Starkey, an attorney for Ahtna, Inc, the Alaska Native Corporation from the Glennallen area, could not be reached for comment Friday but had argued that the Community hunt is constitutional.

Michael Kramer, an attorney for the Alaska Outdoor Council, said that the community hunt excludes people who don’t live in the Ahtna villages.

Earlier, a state Superior Court judge ruled the Community hunt illegally favored rural hunters, so the Board of Game reworked the rules for the Community harvest, and it has gone forward this year.  The AOC is also challenging this year’s Community hunt in Superior court in Fairbanks.

Under the state constitution, all Alaskans are eligible for subsistence use of a resource.

The state Supreme Court has not handed down a decision in the case yet.

Two Arrested in Beating of Homeless Man

Associated Press

A man and a juvenile are in custody, accused of beating a homeless man in east Anchorage.

Anchorage police Lt. Dave Parker says 20-year-old Kenneth Towksjhea Jr. has been arrested on burglary and assault charges. He will be arraigned Saturday. A juvenile is also in custody in the early Friday morning beating.

Parker says Daniel Workman was found outside a mobile home, bleeding from heads wounds. He’s being treated at a hospital for a lacerated scalp and broken facial bones.

An officer and a police dog tracked four suspects to other trailers in the mobile home park. Towksjhea and the juvenile were arrested, and Parker says the other two men were determined to only be witnesses to the beating.

Volunteers Survey Anchorage’s Homeless

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage

For three days this week, a little over 100 volunteers walked Anchorage streets and trails, moved about the woods and visited shelters to survey the city’s chronic homeless.  They also went to several agencies serving the homeless.  The ultimate goal is to identify and find housing for the most vulnerable of Anchorage’s residents before winter arrives.

‘Forgone Harvest’ Addressed During Fisheries Symposium

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The issue of “Foregone Harvest” was among the topics addressed during a major fisheries science symposium that’s ongoing in Anchorage. Foregone harvest is defined as fish that are counted as escapement over and above what is necessary to reach established escapement goals. The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery was used as a case study during yesterday’s (Thursday) session of the 27th annual Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium being held in Anchorage.

The discussion about “Foregone Harvest” was led by Steve Langdon. He’s an anthropology professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Much of his talk was focused on opening up opportunities for the native people of Bristol Bay to harvest surplus sockeye salmon that make it past the traditional commercial fishing districts. He says there are challenges in law, regulation and policy for people in Bristol Bay to commercialize those salmon if they are not operating in the traditional commercial fishery.

Currently it’s illegal for sockeye salmon that make it through the commercial fishing districts in Bristol Bay to be harvested and sold commercially despite the fact that in some years a percentage of those fish are not needed to meet the pre-season escapement goals. Langdon suggested area villages, organizations and individuals could be strengthened if a system was developed to allow those fish to be harvested, either commercially or through subsistence fishing efforts, and then sold.

Often sockeye salmon fishermen in Bristol Bay are limited in the amount of fish they can harvest due to poundage limits placed on them by processors who only have so much processing capacity available. In some years the imposition of limits means that large numbers of fish make it through the commercial fishing districts and are counted as escapement. The symposium runs through tomorrow.

MSHA Updates Kensington Accident Report

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The Kensington mine accident that killed Juneau resident Joe Tagaban last week is the eighth U.S. mining fatality in 2011, according to the Mining Safety and Health Administration.  It was also the first explosives fatality for the year. An updated report from MSHA indicates Tagaban was waiting on a ramp for the blast to be initiated.  And when it was, small rock and debris traveled through a three-inch diameter diamond borehole, striking him.  The regulatory agency says the hole should have been mapped and plugged. The report lists several best practices for using underground explosives; that includes evacuating all persons from the designated blasting site.

The underground section of the Kensington mine where the accident occurred was closed for a week during the initial investigation.  While the mine is back in full operation, no blasting can be conducted in production stopes until MSHA says it’s safe. Stopes are openings – or rooms – created in the process of extracting the gold ore. Coeur Alaska spokesman Tony Ebersole says the company is working with MSHA to finalize blasting protocols in production stopes.  Blasting activities related to mine development are continuing. The company says it doesn’t expect the closure will impact 2011 production levels.   Through the first six months of this year Kensington has produced more than 49,000 ounces of gold.

AK: Cordova Fungus Festival

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Mushrooms we love to eat are usually found in the produce section of the grocery store. But that approach is too easy for a group of mushroom lovers who gathered in Cordova earlier this month. KCHU’s Tony Gorman joined them for mushroom hunting – and eating – at the Cordova Fungus Festival and has this story

300 Villages: Chatanika and Glennallen

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Now its time for the segment we call 300 villages. This week, we’re visiting Chatanika, an old gold mining area about 30 miles north of Fairbanks on the Steese Highway, and Glennallen, a community at the crossroads of the Glenn and Richardson Highways.

That was Shirley Franklin, a lodge owner in Chatanika. and Kathy Stratton, a library aide in Glennallen.