Alaska News Nightly: September 21, 2011

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Fuel Barge Adrift in Bering Strait

Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome

A barge carrying 140,000 gallons of aviation fuel and 5,800 gallons of gasoline is adrift in the Bering Strait, 11 miles north of the community of Wales. Wales is located right at what is known as the choke point, the 25-mile distance of water between Little Diomede Island and Wales.

ANWR Drilling Discussion Continues in DC

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The decades-long debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge continued in Washington on Wednesday, this time with a focus on what exploration would mean for jobs and the U.S. economy.

Stryker Brigade Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Another Stryker Brigade soldier from Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks has died in Afghanistan. 29 year old Specialist Ryan J. Cook, from Florida, died Sept. 18 when insurgents attacked his unit with an IED. Another soldier from the brigade was wounded in the same incident, but wasn’t identified. Next of kin have been notified.

The 4,000-Soldier Stryker brigade deployed to Afghanistan in mid April 2011 for a one-year tour. 12 other soldiers have died in the six months the brigade has been deployed.

F-22 Fighter Jets Back in Service

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

The nation’s F-22 fighter jets are back in service, four months after they were grounded over pilot complaints about a lack of oxygen.

Air Force officials began flying the stealth planes again Wednesday following a stand-down order imposed over hypoxia issues reported by at least 12 pilots in the last three years.

The Air Force has studied the plane for months, and officials announced this week that the analysis of data collected prompted the return to service. More information about what led to the decision was not immediately available.

The planes and pilots will be subjected to additional inspections and testing.

Nearly a year ago an F-22 crashed in interior Alaska, but Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz told reporters yesterday that they are convinced that crash was not due to the oxygen problem.

The Air Force has 170 Raptors, 40 of them based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

Legislators Return from Norway Trip

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

A group of 40 Alaskans – including a dozen legislators — have returned from a tour of Norway, where their goal was to get a look at another oil economy.

The trip was organized by the Institute of the North.

Larry Persily, the federal natural gas pipeline coordinator, says the participants found a few areas in which Norway deals with the oil and gas industry differently than Alaska – and says there was interest in exploring the new ideas.

At the top of the list was Norway’s State Direct Financial Investment policy – where the government itself actually owns a percentage of everything that is produced – as neither operator nor regulator, but as shareholder.

Persily says Alaskans on the trip also were interested to learn that oil and gas companies do not pay in advance to develop properties.   Alaska awards a lease to the highest bidder.  But Persily says the Alaskans liked the Norwegian idea of awarding leases based on merit.

Senate President Gary Stevens was among those attending the sessions. He also stopped for a related tour of Iceland.   He points to other elements of government – such as using oil proceeds to develop domestic energy sources – particularly renewable energy.

While in Norway, the Alaskans had the opportunity to meet with top government officials.  Persily and Stevens say there are several things Alaska will not try to duplicate – a 50 percent personal income tax,  a 25 percent value added sales tax – or a 78 percent tax on offshore oil profits.  Persily says the markets are different, too.   Norway’s customers are mostly in Europe — a lot closer to the resource than Alaska’s customers – and there is little use of the energy within Norway.  The exporter relies almost entirely on hydroelectric and other renewable resources for its own power.

Marine Highway Doesn’t Want Mat-Su Ferry

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Some legislators are suggesting the Alaska Marine Highway System take over the ferry Susitna. The $78-million vessel was built to connect Anchorage and the lower Matanuska-Susitna Borough. But there’s no place for it to dock and it’s unclear how it will be used.

Congress Considers Big Change to Forest School Funding

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

A key federal funding program for local schools in the Tongass and other national forests could once again be linked to logging levels, as it was prior to 2001. The US house is considering a draft bill that would substantially change the funding source for the Secure Rural Schools program, which has come under more scrutiny as congress looks to cut spending.

Man Hospitalized After Bear Mauling

Associated Press

A 65-year-old man is hospitalized after being mauled by a grizzly bear while hunting in Alaska.

65-year-old Donald “Skip” Sanford was attacked Monday near the Maclaren River Lodge off the Denali Highway.

Rescuers say Sanford told them the bear charged at him, head down.

Joe Snyder helped tend to Sanford’s wounds. He says the hunter has deep bites to the back of his skull, and one ear is torn. Alaska State Troopers say the wounds don’t appear to be life-threatening.

Sanford had to walk more than a mile back to camp, and friends floated him partway to the lodge. A speed boat took him the rest of the way.

Sanford was then flown to an Anchorage hospital by helicopter.

Fort Wainwright Paying Fine For Violation of Clean Drinking Water Law

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fort Wainwright will pay a fine of more $79,000 to settle a complaint by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the post failed to shut down three facilities that violated the federal Clean Drinking Water law by 2005 — and then failed to properly document the closures until this year.

Project Guttenberg Carries on Tradition

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The head of the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center is carrying on the legacy of the man who created the electronic book.  ARSC Director Greg Newby is volunteer head of Project Guttenberg, a non-profit organization begun by e-book creator Michael Hart.  Hart, who digitized the first book back in 1971, died earlier this month.  Newby, has been involved with Project Guttenberg since meeting Hart in New York in the 1980’s.  Newby says his friend was a visionary.

Volunteers with Project Guttenburg digitize books in the public domain, for which copy wrights have run out.  The project offers access to over 30,000 books on line.  While other groups and business distribute e-books today, Newby says Project Guttenburg remains unique.

Newby, who handles legal, fiscal and technology issues as Project Guttenberg’s unpaid director, says it’s estimated there’s about a million books in the public domain, providing no shortage of work for project volunteers to digitize and post for free on line.