Alaska News Nightly: September 23, 2011

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Congress Unable to Agree on Short Term Spending Bill

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. Congress couldn’t agree on a short term spending plan to keep the government open after the end of this month, so the threat of a shutdown looms again. The lack of a plan’s passage also threatens emergency aid to victims of natural disasters.

Waivers Available for No Child Left Behind Act

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC & Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

States can now get waivers from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era education law.  In exchange they’ll have to come up with ways on the state level to boost student achievement and close gaps in performance. Alaska and other states have long criticized the law, saying it over-tests students and doesn’t account for the uniqueness of places like rural Alaska.

Bypass Mail Targeted in US House Legislation

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Alaska’s bypass mail subsidy is being targeted by a California lawmaker looking to trim costs and generate more revenue for the financially ailing U.S. Postal Service. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa the chairman of the House committee on Oversight and Government Reform is a primary sponsor of legislation called the Postal Reform Act of 2011. Within the legislation, section 408 would require the state of Alaska to reimburse the Postal Service for the cost of bypass mail. Congressman Issa was not available for comment today but Alaska district Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson says the subsidy costs USPS at least $70 million a year.

“That’s the amount that we lose basically on it. It undoubtedly costs us more than that, I know the representative was citing a number of about a hundred million dollars and that may be close to the total cost that it is to the postal service,” Swanson said.

Bypass mail is unique to Alaska and was put into place years ago through the efforts of the late Senator Ted Stevens. The Postal Service contracts with private carriers to fly mail to off road communities. Without it the price of everyday items would be cost prohibitive.

“Bread, milk, food, that sort of thing. It’s already expensive of course, but if the bypass mail system wasn’t subsidized it would be outrageously expensive and I can’t tell you if it would be 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 percent more but it would be significantly more than even the high price they pay now,” Swanson said.

Swanson says USPS takes no position on legislation designed to help them stop hemorrhaging billions of dollars, but he says recent measures the agency has taken to trim costs has gotten the attention of Congress and Issa’s proposal is one of several pieces of legislation being proposed to aid that effort. Swanson says USPS lost $8.5 billion last year and at the close of the fiscal year next week, he says they’re projecting $9-10 billion in losses for 2011.

“The amount of revenue we might possibly receive from the state of Alaska if this legislation were ever passed would just be a small, small portion of the losses we’re experiencing.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski sent a flurry of letters against the measure Thursday. One asks senators on the Homeland Security and Government Oversight Committee to oppose the legislation. Another went to the Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe asking him to affirm that he will preserve the bypass mail program. And Murkowski sent a third letter to Senator Daniel Akaka requesting a hearing of Senate Indian Affairs, saying that remote Native communities where often no internet is available would be harmed by the effort. Murkowski wrote that congress must not abandon the principle of ‘universal service at universal rates.’

Crews Work to Clean Up Petersburg After High Winds, Heavy Rain

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

City and State crews have been busy in Petersburg Friday, cleaning up damage caused by heavy rains and winds. This morning, a large landslide blocked Mitkof highway in Petersburg. The storm also caused an extensive power-outage, and downed multiple trees and electrical lines. The Alaska airlines cargo terminal lost a substantial part of its metal roof to the wind and several vehicles around town were damaged by fallen trees.

Rural Alaska Native Children Face Higher Rate of Dental Decay

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

A new report says rural Alaska Native children have more than four times the dental decay of others living in the U.S.  The Centers for Disease Control and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services conducted the study. It looked specifically at water fluoridation and diet.

AK: Prince William Sound Museum – A Hidden Gem

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Secluded Whittier, on the Western shore of Prince William Sound,  is best know as a recreational center.  Its crowded small boat harbor is the starting point for fishing and kayaking adventures, and some visitors get their first glimpse of Alaska cruising through glacier – laced fjords to Whittier’s docks.  But the community is hiding something… and those in the know, like KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer, are letting the secret out.

300 Villages: Denali National Park

Now its time for our weekly trip around the state for 300 villages. This week we’re heading up- to the tallest mountain in North America or more specifically the National Park that surrounds it. A few hearty souls live in Denali National Park year round. We caught up with one of them.

That was Richard Moore, a park ranger at Denali National Park. 300 villages is AK’s attempt to put every community in Alaska on the radio.