Alaska News Nightly: September 29, 2011

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Groups Suing to Stop Shell’s Plan to Drill in the Beaufort Sea

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Environmental groups are suing to stop Shell from drilling next year in the Beaufort Sea. Last month, the Interior Department gave conditional approval to Shell’s plan to drill up to four exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea beginning in the summer of 2012.

Holly Harris is with Earthjustice. She says Shell isn’t ready to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. And she says drilling endangers the fragile wildlife in the area:

A dozen conservation groups have joined together on the lawsuit, along with the Native Village of Point Hope. Rosemarie Ahtuangaruak lives in Barrow and is a tribal liaison for Alaska Wilderness League. She also has concerns about a potential spill. And pointed out the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away.

The agency that completed the review- the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management- is not commenting on the lawsuit. But in an interview with APRN earlier this month, BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich stood by the agency’s decision on Shell’s Beaufort Sea exploration plan. And he emphasized approval of the plan was conditional.

Bromwich says Shell will need to demonstrate they can have containment resources available to deal with a potential blow out in the Beaufort Sea.

150 Gallons of Oil Spill in Unalaska

Associated Press

State conversation officials report a freight ship has spilled about 150 gallons of heavy oil in Unalaska.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation says in a situation report that the ship Nelson Star spilled the oil when it was moored Wednesday at the Unalaska city dock.

A company was hired to contain and recover the oil. Boom has been deployed.

The report says a light sheen reached shore, but no wildlife has been affected.

The cause of the spill wasn’t immediately known. The Coast Guard is onsite monitoring the cleanup.

Officials Celebrate Groundbreaking of Tanana River Bridge

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Officials celebrated the start of construction of a bridge across the Tanana River at Salcha Wednesday. As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, the event marked the first phase of a project important to the state and military.

Rep. Young Introduces Bill Rolling Back Regulations from Past 20 Years

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Representative Don Young wants to roll back all federal regulations enacted in the last 20 years.   Young says the bill he wants to introduce would start a process of sorting out burdensome and costly regulations.

Young says he picked 20 years ago because the country was more prosperous then, and the time span crosses party lines. Young says he knows the chances of getting such a measure through Congress are slim, and that the president would veto it.

Federal Agency Says Halibut Catch Sharing Plan Needs More Input

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

A federal agency wants the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to provide more input before implementing a controversial catch sharing plan for halibut in Southeast Alaska and the central Gulf.

An extended public comment period on the proposed plan ended September 21st and brought in thousands of comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The catch-sharing plan would adjust the allocation of halibut between the charter and commercial fishing fleets and impose catch restrictions on charter fishing boats in the two areas based on abundance of the flatfish.

Agency spokesperson Julie Speegle says NMFS announced the need for additional input at this week’s meeting of the North Pacific Council in Unalaska.

The agency published its proposed rule for the catch sharing plan back in July and planned on publishing a final rule this December, after a review of the comments, and in time for the plan to take effect in 2012. The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which sets the catch level coast-wide, meets in January.

Speegle says it’s unclear if additional review by the council will change the timeline. The agency is asking the council to address the issues at a special meeting, or at its next scheduled meeting in December.

Accountability Office Says IHS Program Flawed

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Most facilities funded by the Indian Health Service can’t afford to have specialists on staff in areas such as heart disease or intensive care for newborns. IHS provides funding so they can contract with private care providers for those services, but a Government Accountability Office report says the program is flawed. But a federal administrator says IHS has many strengths overall.

iPhone App Sheds Light on Yup’ik Language

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

The Yup’ik language is getting some international attention thanks to a new iPhone App. The application is meant to give people, worldwide, a little sampling of life in Rural Alaska.

SE Votes on Plastic Bags, Hydro, Alcohol Tax

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – CoastAlaska

Alaskans in communities across the state head to the polls on Tuesday, October 4th. They will choose city and borough leaders and voice opinions on a variety of ballot measures.

In Southeast Alaska, those measures include taxing plastic bags, funding hydropower projects and dropping a senior-citizen exemption for a tax on booze and smokes.

Kake Apartment for Elderly Receives Money to Improve Energy Efficiency

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

An apartment building for senior citizens in Kake will get $50,000 from the federal government to improve energy efficiency.

The Kake Elderly Apartment Building has 12 units and serves low income tenants over the age of 62. The money is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development arm, and will be used for a new roof, windows, smoke alarms, doors and energy efficient appliances in all of the units.

A USDA statement says energy efficiency is especially important in Kake, where electricity costs more than 60 cents per kilowatt hour.

Judith Mason is spokeswoman for the Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority, which runs the apartment building in Kake.

Mason says the improvements to the building will also mean local jobs. The Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority serves 12 communities. Within the KCAW listening area, the organization serves Kake, Yakutat and Angoon.

Rescued Seal Pup Returns to Wrangell

Charlotte Duren, KSTK – Wrangell

Each year the Alaska Sea life Center rescues over a dozen seals, and after months of rehabilitation at their center, the marine animals are returned to the wild, to live out the rest of their natural life. Recently a baby seal pup was returned to Wrangell after nearly three months of rehabilitation at the center. KSTK’s Charlotte Duren attended the seal pup release and has this report.

A crowd gathered at Pat’s landing in Wrangell recently to watch the release of ‘Margo’ a baby seal pup who was rescued back in May near the Wrangell harbor. Margo was only about 4-days-old when local Steve McCalland and a friend found her sitting alone on the downtown harbor dock.

“Matt and I were just going down to check on the boat and we heard this awful noise at the end of the harbor and there was this baby seal desperately trying to get up on the dock. Went back and she was up on the dock,” he says they waited for a bit to make sure the seal pup was in fact orphaned, and at that point began making some calls.

“I didn’t know what to do, who do you call for a baby seal? So I called Chris and she made a bunch of calls, and I guess she called the Seward Sealife Center,” he says.

“They said yeah you can pick it up, put it in a kennel and put it in my shop and took it to my work and put it on the plane,” That’s Chris Pacheco; she says it was awesome experience taking care of the pup and say’s they are fortunate to have center like this in Alaska.

The Alaska Sea Life center in Seward is the only center of its kind in the state, so for those who do come across injured or orphaned animals they are the ones to call, otherwise according to the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act It’s illegal to keep or injure marine life.

“It’s kind of a bitter sweet for me. You put so much time into these animals, 24-hours a day. Although you make sure these animals don’t bond to you, you always bond to them.” That’s Sea Life Center Coordinator Tim Lubbling. He says for the past three months the center has been doing extensive rehabilitation work with Margo to make sure she is fully prepared to be set back into the wild.

Some of that work includes five to six weeks of tube feeding, food foraging practice, followed by a graduation period when the seal is introduced to other marine life at the center and expected to forage and survive on its own. All of this Lubbling says is to prepare the animal for the wild.

“This one in particular was fantastic because it did come in so weak it was fighting from the get go. And being able to return it out here and have a community support it, it’s really rewarding to me, and knowing I can get on the computer tonight or tomorrow is kind of rewarding, I give so much thanks to the community for making that first call,” he says.

On Margo’s back is a state of the art satellite tracking device which enables the center and the public to track the seal, its diet, and location over the next 7 -8 months. Mary Lanza sponsored Margo’s recovery and says she plans to continue tracking the seal.

“It’s a great opportunity to get awareness out to all communities that this program even exists, and no matter where they are in Alaska can help with the preservation of these animals. And this would have been an animal that otherwise would not have survived,” she says.

To track ‘Margo’ the seal pup or for more information about the Alaska Sealife Center, go to