Alaska News Nightly: September 27, 2011

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LaHood Discusses State’s Transportation Challenges

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Federal transportation secretary Ray LaHood met with Alaska officials in Girdwood Tuesday morning to discuss the state’s transportation challenges – with a special focus on  the safety of the highway corridor between Seward and Anchorage. So far this year there have been three fatalities on the highway. Last year there was five.

Special Committee Working to Find Long-Term Fiscal Stability for State

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

A newly formed special legislative committee is taking the first steps toward finding long-term fiscal stability for the state.  The House Fiscal Policy Committee is ready to hire a consultant specializing in communications to strengthen the public’s trust and understanding of the state budget.

The special House committee is the offshoot of a Fiscal Policy Working group created by Kodiak’s Alan Austerman, now House Majority Leader.  It met for nearly two years, studying why previous attempts to reform the state’s fiscal structure have failed. The group ended during this year’s session with less than one page of recommendations, and Special Committee Chair Anna Fairclough – a Republican from Eagle River – says they determined that a knowledgeable public is key to any solution.  And that’s where the communications consultant comes into the picture.  Fairclough says people need to see Alaska’s future without oil money.

“I think we have a win if the general public understands that a gas pipeline,  use of the Permanent Fund dividend,  and a sales tax or an income tax, will not meet what we’re currently receiving in oil production.  That’s what scares me as an Alaskan – it’s wonderful that we’ve had this history, but if we don’t take a significant look at where we are today, how can we plan for where we’re going to be tomorrow,” Fairclough said.

Fairclough says the answers can best be found outside the capitol, where communities have already determined their own priorities.  She says that’s the message that needs to be brought back to the legislature – not as a partisan solution.   The consultant the committee will hire will devise a way to make financial presentations throughout the state,  and for giving the public a basic foundation in how government is paid for.   From that, she says, the goal is to build a consensus among a very broad spectrum of politics and philosophy.

“We can work together and we can figure out what the next best step is should Alaska see a downturn in income.  But we can’t throw stones at each other when people bring genuine ideas or concerns to the table,” Fairclough said.

The Task Force that set the direction of the committee was made up of people from the private and public sectors.  And it didn’t have any partisan stand.  Anchorage Democrat Mike Doogan was on it.  He says it became apparent that the public must be a part of the discussion of the state’s finances.  He says the state now has about $15 billion it could spend.  And everyone in the legislature has an idea on how to use some of it.

“Before we do any of that, it seems to me we should have some sort of idea what we’re trying to do overall.  And before we do that, it seems to me that we have to invite the general public into some sort of discussion about that.   Because if we don’t, what’s going to happen is the legislature will pick the three ideas with the most votes and the money will be gone,” Doogan said.

The consultant who will devise a communications plan will be chosen within the month.  The direct education process will begin after next year’s session.

Judge Rules on Land, Water Permits Issue

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

A Superior Court Judge in Alaska has issued a ruling in a lawsuit related to land and water permits given to the company looking at developing Pebble Mine.

Troopers Investigate Wanton Waste Near Sitka

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

Alaska Wildlife troopers in Sitka are investigating one case of wanton waste, and one case of failure to salvage all edible meat, from several deer found near town recently.
The first, last Wednesday (9-21-11), involved an animal found in the driveway entrance to Sitka High School.

Tim Hall is a wildlife trooper based in Sitka.

“The deer was left on the sign overnight, completely unsalvaged, not gutted, not field-dressed. No meat taken from it. Apparently left as a prank.”

Hall says the deer was a young doe. He does not know whether it had been shot or hit by a car, only that it was completely intact, and beyond salvage by the time it was discovered. He says school officials had removed the animal prior to the arrival of students that morning.

Prank or no, the failure to salvage meat from a game animal is a serious crime. However, not all waste is necessarily wanton. Hall says sometimes animals are simply salvaged poorly. He says the most common “motive” is simply not taking the time to do it right.

“Often it’s people being in a hurry when they’re butchering. It takes a few extra minutes to get the meat off the deer and grind that into hamburger or whatever people like to do with it. Or give it to charity, if you don’t want it. Those few extra minutes are apparently precious to some people after a weekend of deer hunting.”

That seems to be the case with three carcasses found on Sunday (9-25-11) on Sawmill Creek Road, near the intersection of Blue Lake Road. Two small bucks and a doe had each been shot one time, but large amounts of meat remained on the carcasses.

Hall says that unless all four quarters, the backstrap, and tenderloin have been taken, an animal may be considered all- or partially-wasted. The incident is being investigated as a lesser crime than wanton waste: the failure to salvage all edible meat. He says most folks find these crimes particularly difficult to forgive. “The big thing here is that people are outraged about deer being wasted. I think everyone who’s a legal, ethical hunter sees that as a disgusting thing to do.”

Anyone with information about either incident of wanton waste is encouraged to notify the troopers in Sitka at 747-3254, or call Wildlife Safeguard toll free at 800 478-3377.

The unsalvaged deer carcasses were donated to the Fortress of the Bear.

Voters Electing Nearly Entire Bethel City Council

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

When Bethel voters head to the polls Oct. 4 they will be essentially electing an entire council.  Six of the seven seats are up for grabs; the most ever. And voters could influence who fills the seventh and final seat which will open just a few weeks later.

Drilling Rig Breaks Down, Blocks Road While in Transit

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A giant drilling rig is completely blocking one of the main roads near Prudhoe Bay. BP was moving the rig, called Doyon 16, slowly between the Milne Point Field and Prudhoe Bay on Sept. 20 when one of its enormous wheels broke through the road surface. Crews have been working to free the rig. But in the meantime, the normal flow of traffic on the road has come to a halt.  BP spokesman Steve Reinhart says this is not a common occurrence:

Getting the rig unstuck also happens very slowly. Reinhart says crews will probably have it moving again by the end of the week.

National Indian Health Board Convention Underway

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

The National Indian Health Board convention is underway in Anchorage and many of the workshops will focus on funding issues.

Mental Health Trust Reworking Land Exchange

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

The Alaska Mental Health Trust is changing its approach to a major land exchange with the federal government. A legislative proposal to swap 20 thousand acres of its property in Southeast towns for federal lands it could log or develop has made little headway in an increasingly gridlocked congress.  So the agency plans to propose an administrative exchange, which could be approved by the Forest Service instead.

Satellite Lifts Off From Kodiak Launch Complex

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

The Naval Research Laboratory’s new military communications satellite, TacSat IV, lifted off without a hitch at sunrise on Tuesday from the Kodiak Launch Complex. The Narrow Cape rocket site is about 25 miles from Kodiak City.

Within a few minutes all that could be seen from the ground was a column of smoke illuminated by the rising sun.

The TacSat IV is an experimental spacecraft that will test advances in satellite communications and the use of special orbits to augment current communication satellites.