Alaska News Nightly: September 22, 2011

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Former AEWC Executive Charged With Embezzlement

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The former executive director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission has been charged with embezzling nearly half a million dollars from the organization. Maggie Ahmaogak was executive director of AEWC from 1990 until 2007. According to the indictment released today, she began stealing from the organization in 2004. Assistant US Attorney Aunnie Steward says she stole the money in multiple ways.

In June, another former Executive Director of AEWC was also charged with stealing from the organization. Teresa Judkins, who took over the job after Maggie Ahmaogak was terminated, was accused of using commission funds to buy a snowmachine and take payroll advances she never repaid. A court date for that trial is set for March of next year. Steward says the Department of Justice learned of the thefts from AEWC.

Johnny Aiken is the current Executive Director of AEWC. He confirms that staff within AEWC contacted federal authorities about financial concerns within the organization. He’s been in the position since April of 2010.

Aiken says both past directors are respected, long time community members.

Aiken says AEWC commissioners brought in new staff after problems surfaced at the organization and he says all staff has cooperated fully with the federal investigation. He says they now have an independent accounting company.

The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission is a non-profit formed in 1976 to protect subsistence whaling of bowhead whales. It receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding each year from the Department of Commerce. It also receives funding from the North Slope Borough. This year that amount was $750,000. Borough Mayor Edward Itta wanted the organization to strengthen their accounting and auditing practices as well as stabilize staffing.

If convicted of stealing from the organization, Ahmoagak faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a fine of $250,000 plus restitution for the stolen funds.

Maggie Ahmoagak’s husband, George, is running for Mayor of the North Slope Borough.

Subsistence Bowhead Whale Quota Under Review

Associated Press

A federal agency is planning to evaluate the annual quota of bowhead whales that Alaska Natives can harvest for subsistence.

The environmental review, planned by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, would cover the years 2013-2017. The last environmental review done to support the quota level was done in 2008 and covered 2008-2012.

A draft of the new plan is expected in April. A public scoping period will run through October.

In a release, NOAA says its goal is recognize cultural and subsistence needs of Alaska Natives to the fullest extent possible while also ensuring that any subsistence hunting doesn’t adversely affect the conservation of the whale stock.

It says Native subsistence hunters from 11 northern Alaska communities take less than one percent of the bowhead whale stock each year.

Public Comment Period for ANWR Plan Extended to November

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is stretching out its planning process for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The public comment period for its draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan was extended to mid-November, pushing the final decision to late next year, probably after the 2012 election. Wednesday, six hours were set aside for a hearing in Anchorage.  The reason for all this time is easy to see:  The feds have proposed a wilderness recommendation for the coastal plain, for the first time ever.

Army Reports Second Stryker Death This Week

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Army is reporting the death of another Ft. Wainwright based soldier in Afghanistan, the second this week.   U.S. Army Alaska officials say Sgt. Timothy Douglas Sayne of Reno, Nevada  was killed Sunday by a roadside bomb in Kandahar Province.

The 31-year-old Sayne was a cavalry scout assigned with the Fairbanks based 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.  Next of kin have been notified.

The death follows that of fellow Stryker Specialist Ryan J. Cook, of Florida, who died of injuries suffered in a separate IED attack also Sunday in Kandahar Province.  The soldiers are the 14th and 15th Ft. Wainwright based troops to be killed in Afghanistan since the brigade’s current year long deployment, began in April.

Six Groups Under Consideration for Designing, Managing of Knik Arm Bridge

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority has accumulated a list of six engineering and development groups willing to consider designing and managing the project if it proceeds.  The Statement of Qualifications – or SOQ from the companies will be used to make a final decision on the authority’s private partner.

The authority has also begun appraisals for the right of way into the Government Hill area of Anchorage.

However, residents in the path of the more-than $3 billion project say there’s no money yet for the job – and the Authority is getting ahead of itself.   Bob French is President of the Government Hill Community Council.

The Authority’s Board Chairman Mike Foster says Kabata is on schedule — right where it needs to be – both in the design-management phase and with getting its right of way.   He says the green light comes from the Federal Highway Administration.

Foster says the state will offer design awards to three of the six companies now on the list.  Each will receive a two million dollar grant for a detailed project proposal.   He says the state will own the companies’ work.

Freshwater Seals Subject of Study Outlined at Fisheries Symposium

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The freshwater lake seals that apparently make their home in Lake Iliamna are the subject of an ongoing scientific project that was outlined in some detail during last week’s 27th annual Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium in Anchorage.

Petersburg and Wrangell Considered for New Mill Site

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

A former lumber mill owner from Washington State says he’s again considering building a new plant in Wrangell or Petersburg. John Glenn has ties to Petersburg and he’s proposed building a mill in the community in the past. His latest plan includes a facility that would manufacture construction-grade lumber and employ 40 to 50 people using a combination of old growth and second growth timber.

Memorial Service, Potlach Held to Honor Athabascan Elder

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A memorial service and potlatch are happening in Fairbanks today to honor and Hannah Solomon. The Athabascan elder, who grew up in the bush and went on to promote and preserve Alaska Native culture and traditions, died last week at the age of 102.